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September 17, 2007 9:00 AM   Subscribe

I have decided to home school my preschooler. It is just for this year. I'm a little lost at how much schooling I should be giving him to prepare him for kindergarten next year.

So, I have designated Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays our school days with Fridays being our "Field Trip Friday." So, most of the learning is being done on Mondays and Wednesdays. I'm a little insecure as to whether I'm teaching him well enough. I don't want to bore him and I certainly don't want to force learning on him making him hate school.

My issues basically boil down to these:

1. How much time should I be dedicating to his schooling especially since it is one-on-one?

2. How do I make lesson plans? Do you know of any good resources for spelling lesson plans out for me? I need free resources.

3. Content of learning: What should I be focusing on? Right now we are doing "Letter of the Week." This week is the letter "F" and we will be learning about fish, making a fruit salad, and playing football.

At this point I feel that there is not enough "oomph" in his school day. It gets a little more complicated since he has a demanding 1 year-old brother that splits my attention.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
posted by Sassyfras to Education (28 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not trying to snark, just questioning here as I am by no stretch an expertin in early childhood education, but isn't the "schooling" of pre-school more about socialization and less about academics?
posted by Pollomacho at 9:05 AM on September 17, 2007

He won't need any academic preparation for kindergarten. Anything you do to prepare him will be extra, which is fine. Read to him, teach him his ABC's, perhaps even help him to start recognizing simple words etc. By the end of kindergarten though he should be able to read simple books.
posted by caddis at 9:06 AM on September 17, 2007

We sent one of our two kids to junior kindergarten, one went straight to senior kindergarten. Both did about the same in SK. JK is lots of fun, but it's really optional from an academic viewpoint. And not all kids are ready for school by that age, so not going may be better for your child, depending on where they're at developmentally.
posted by GuyZero at 9:13 AM on September 17, 2007

How old is he?

I used to teach kindergarten. There is really absolutely no advantage gained by formal instruction in letters and numbers at the preschool age, despite our pressured society that believes you can accelerate cognitive development. All children will learn at a different pace, and at this age, early learning is not necessarily an indication of later performance ability during the school years. What children at this age most need, intellectually, is:

to be read aloud to, and with, interactively
to engage in contextual conversations about number, place, categorical thinking
to expand vocabulary
to learn to observe and take notice of causes and effects
to be exposed to a great variety of life experiences so that they can begin to build mental constructs
to take on chores and responsibilities appropriate to their abilities
to experience a relatively predictable daily routine

In many Western countries, formal education, even in reading, is not begun until the age of seven. I'm not suggesting that's always a good idea or would work in our culture, but many of them have higher literacy rates than the U.S., so it's not necessarily hurting, either. Some children learn to read with little formal instruction, from reading with parents. Others who eventually become wonderful, enthusiastic readers are significantly delayed in beginning reading abilities.

IF you've already made the decision that you want to provide structured formal instruction, take a look at the resources you can find on early learning and cognitive development. Google away, or visit the library. This book is an excellent guide to instruction for preschool teachers. Make sure the things you choose to do are age-appropriate, pleasant, and not stressful or demanding. Emotional health and exposure to the world of ideas and literature are the primary important development. At this stage, concentrate on teaching holistically, not focusing on specific skills training. School will do that. For right now, help your child build healthy relationships, enjoyment of learning, and the emotional intelligence that will let him grow to be a persistent learner with curiosity and confidence that he can learn things, even when they're a bit hard. And these things come from contextual learning in life experience, not from skill-and-drill teaching.
posted by Miko at 9:14 AM on September 17, 2007 [6 favorites]

Read to him. We've had good success with Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons. Otherwise, things like colors, counting, etc. As for time, it probably won't be much per "session", so it's useful to spread stuff out throughout the day. Relax and have fun. It's an adventure for everyone involved. We're particular fans (and users) of the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling for which Ambleside Online is a good resource. Take a look at the Year 0 booklists there.
posted by jquinby at 9:19 AM on September 17, 2007

I would call your local school where he will attend Kindergarten and ask what they expect him to know when he walks in the door next fall. There are numerous web sites devoted to home schooling curriculum - I'm sure that someone will chime in with a recommended.

caddis - I know, it sounds ludicrous that a parent needs to worry about preparation for Kindergarten. But, in this era of No Child Left Behind, the schools are being held to standards (yes, all the way down to K) that, if they are not met, mean a loss of funding. I have a neighbor who is having anxiety attacks because her Kindergarten daughter is being recommended for "special services" because she can't count up by 10s yet (kids who are coded are not subject to NCLB standards in the same way, so the school doesn't get "dinged").

This article from the NAEYC might help to get you started.
posted by Flakypastry at 9:21 AM on September 17, 2007

Response by poster: To clarify, we threw around the idea of sending him to a preschool, but thought that he may not be ready for it. However, his big sister just started school and now he's demanding (in his sweet way) that he wants to go to school, too. Since we're not sending him to a preschool I thought it would be fun to do our own little school here - informal, but introducing him to the basics and finding the happy middle ground of teaching him and him having a lot of fun. He asks me multiple times a day when we're going to do more school or if it's time for school yet. He wants to learn and I want to teach him but I don't want to be throwing worksheets at him all the time. I want fun and creative for his sake!
posted by Sassyfras at 9:22 AM on September 17, 2007

Response by poster: Miko - he is four.
posted by Sassyfras at 9:26 AM on September 17, 2007

Oops. Four is probably a little too small for my suggestions, but YFYOMV.
posted by jquinby at 9:31 AM on September 17, 2007

The "Field Trip Fridays" seem like a good idea, but keep in mind that they don't need to be complicated. For example, when you go to the grocery store, have him help you count out the apples as you put them in the cart. Also, as you're teaching him to read, point out letters and words wherever you see them.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 9:35 AM on September 17, 2007

That's a great sign that he's ready for some learning...I'd just use the NAECY link I gave you and make sure it's consistently positive.

Flakypastry, NCFB or no, you can't accelerate learning that isn't ready to happen. Yes, schools are overclassifying kids as deficient as a result of the legislation, but that doesn't mean you can force cognitive development. You can't, even if you really want to keep them out of 'special services.' The solution would be to oppose the legislation, not to try to drill a kid out of the system. This is how kids end up learning to count to ten as a musical little chant rather than counting with one-to-one relationships between number name and object counted. Not that kids can't learn to do that by the age of three or four; many can. But it's highly individualized. The basic rubric is: involved parents who like to learn, interact with kids, and read a lot to themselves and to their child = successful student. But that doesn't always happen. Many excellent and bright parents find that their children are on their own timetable. And it almost always comes out all right in the end.

The anxiety is extreme. Dealing with parental anxiety about learning stages was one of the reasons I left that form of teaching.

It sounds to me as though this boy is excited about being a 'big kid' and going to school like his sister. That is probably driving his motivation to ask for schooling - and it's lovely. Make the most of it. Make it fun and positive. What a good chance to give him an excellent impression of what school might be like.
posted by Miko at 9:38 AM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

you can't accelerate learning that isn't ready to happen

Absolutely, no question. We don't know what the poster's child is ready for or not - but I do think that it' s a good idea for her to call the school and make sure that her child, if ready, is prepared to walk in the door with the same knowledge as the kids who are in preschools in town that are tuned into what the schools are expecting.
posted by Flakypastry at 9:45 AM on September 17, 2007

I am not a teacher (yet) but childhood development is an interest of mine. To better understand my POV, I was sent to preschool for 3 years. The normal course for children at this school was 2 years. The teachers and my parents felt that I was not ready for kindergarten due to my maturity level and socialization ability. So I spent another year in preschool. Looking back it has made such a difference in my life.

Sassyfras, while your intentions are completely admirable and noble I want to stress the socialization aspect of preschool. Learning to get along with other children his own age will do more good for him than any "book" learning you could possibly teach. Having said that I think your current course of action is fine. If you want to have more structure to your teaching there is a fine methodology that I was taught:

1. what is it that you want the children to learn
2. How will you explain it to them
3. How will you know that they comprehend it.

keeping these guidelines in mind along with what Miko laid out above should give you great direction. good luck
posted by remthewanderer at 9:52 AM on September 17, 2007

Make sure he is spending time with other kids and away from you. One of the most difficult things about adjusting to kindergarten for some kids is being away from their parents and with a large group of other kids, especially if you feel like he's "not ready." Can you put him in an activity at least once a week that will put him with a teacher and a group of a dozen or so kids his own age to give him some confidence about being independent?

Also, schedule frequent play dates with kids his own age, at both your home and theirs, so that he can learn to share his toys and take turns deciding what to play and listen to other adults' rules. You could even hire a babysitter or swap sitting duties with another mom one afternoon a week while you run errands, just to give him some time with an authority figure who isn't you. All of those miscellaneous social skills will be really helpful for him. You can do all of this in addition to the more academic stuff you're already doing, but it will help make adjusting to the social aspects of school next year much easier for him.
posted by decathecting at 9:55 AM on September 17, 2007

Depending on how ready they are to start reading, my parents actually taught me using the Teach Your Child to Read link provided by jquinby. I believe I was around 3.5 when they started with the book. My first year of preschool was at a regular preschool, then my second year they sent me to a private kindergarten, which was much more focused on lessons and learning. For better or for worse, it didn't count toward public school back in the day, so I essentially came into regular kindergarten a step ahead. Read to your children, as much as you possibly can.

If you can, find another social outlet for your child, where they can interact with other children of the same age. There was a link (I think on the blue) how children don't get enough time playing with other kids without forced adult involvement.
posted by shinynewnick at 9:59 AM on September 17, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice so far! Keep it coming. Socially, he gets play dates a few times a week (either our house or a friend's house), once a week day at the park (that will be starting soon once the weather cools a bit) and once a week in a teacher/student environment.

I misspoke when I said he may not be ready for school - I think he's ready socially; he'd do fine. A big motivation for not sending him to preschool was a financial decision. I don't think preschool is necessary. I do think that he would benefit from some "formal" learning - recognizing letters, drawing, counting, etc. I try to incorporate all of this into our daily doings (let's put five peaches in the bag!) but have been concerned that I may not be "formal" enough.
posted by Sassyfras at 10:14 AM on September 17, 2007

I really wouldn't worry about the formal nature of it. You'll get plenty of opportunities in everyday life, as it sounds you're already capitalizing on those. I have an almost 8 year old and an almost 2 year old, and I try to work through questions rather than give the answer outright (with the older one, that is). It can get a little draining, there are times when you don't want to have a 10 minute discussion that mainly consists of "Why?" "Why not that way?" and "No.." from my son. It's well worth it, though.
posted by shinynewnick at 10:39 AM on September 17, 2007

Best answer: make sure that her child, if ready, is prepared to walk in the door with the same knowledge as the kids who are in preschools in town that are tuned into what the schools are expecting.

There's no need for this. Assuming it's a public school, the requirements to enter kindergarten are usually that the child is five years or older by the first day of school and has proper vaccinations. Anything else is gravy, from a public school point of view. No matter how 'good' one child's preschool preparation may have been, another's will always have been better, and another's worse. It's the curse of the Taylorized education system we've inherited. Someone can always afford the greater resources and someone always has had less. Preschool and a tutor. Montessori preschool. Full-day preschool. Foreign-language preschool. Grandma's house. Benign neglect. The array of children a teacher is presented with on the beginning day is heterogenous, and instruction has to meet the children where they are.

Most local school districts can tell you that it's helpful or recommended that your child know things like his or her first and last name and address, parents' names, and certainly they're happy if a child is already well advanced in letters or numbers. But I can tell you that these 'academic' skills are far, far less important than the child's self-care and emotional health. These things create true readiness to learn in a way that factual knowledge does not. The children who had the most trouble during my time teaching were not those who arrived with the least formal knowledge, but those with separation anxiety, belligerent natures, were easily upset, had poor self-care habits, had little persistence, angered quickly, and so on. These were far more serious impediments to learning than the lack of alphabet knowledge. All that is easily taught to a secure, happy child who is developmentally ready.

Teaching elementary reading and math is what the kindergarten curriculum is built around. The learning experiences of kindergarten won't be much improved by advance learning.

I also learned to read well before school started, but without the benefit of any programmed instruction. I learned by reading with adults and reading signs and paging through library books and living a life around books alongside readers.

I don't think preschool is necessary. I do think that he would benefit from some "formal" learning - recognizing letters, drawing, counting, etc. I try to incorporate all of this into our daily doings.

Your instincts are exactly right.
posted by Miko at 10:44 AM on September 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

Socialization is probably the biggest boost preschool gives children entering kindergarten. I'm not sure play dates are going to accomplish the same thing; learning to wait one's turn, follow directions, and be away from parents are not things that usually happen on play dates. I would advise looking into a preschool gymnastics class or some other movement class that you watch, but don't participate in.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:44 AM on September 17, 2007

Oops, I hit post too soon. I taught preschool (up through adult) gymnastics classes for many years, and the most significant thing that came up with homeschooled kids was their inability to not be the center of attention, or to easily understand basic group dynamics, like waiting in line at the water fountain. Our classes for two to eight year olds never had more than six kids per group, and even groups that small were a difficult integration for the five years and up homeschoolers (of course, all kids in the 2-4 year range were pretty much new to group activities).
posted by oneirodynia at 10:53 AM on September 17, 2007

Our preschool is within the local school system and most of the learning took place in "centers", not sitting at a desk like they do when they get older, so I think your informal approach is very appropriate for your childs age. I would not worry at all about making your lessons more formal, just let him learn in a fun environment. You might turn the tables on your child and let him be the teacher for an hour or so and see how he conducts his "classroom". That may give you an idea on how he perceives school and what would make him feel like he is going to school like his older sibling. As others have said much of Pre-k, is about learning how to deal with others. My kids progress reports had as many sections on behavior as they did on academics. Listening, keeping hand to yourself, following rules, etc are all on the checklist. Unless he usually has a problem in situtions he has to adhere to a system, I wouldn't worry about that either. He will adjust quickly.
posted by domino at 11:07 AM on September 17, 2007

I'm not a teacher, but I've read a lot about preparing your child for school. Miko's comments echo what I've studied. The prevailing wisdom seems to be an emphasis on socialization, unstructured play and introduction to the building blocks that enable learning. My mom was a primary school teacher and always emphasized these concepts for us. A good friend is a kindergarten teacher who is considered an expert on play-based learning and she says much the same thing. Apparently, before children can learn to read or do math, they need to learn certain concepts. Larger/smaller, less/more, order/disorder, before/after, cause and effect and so on. Rote memorization of letters and numbers is less important than being able to identify patterns, recurring symbols and so on. Most children have mastered these concepts some time around age 6.5 and are ready to really start reading at that point. Learning to read earlier has not been proven to improve long-term academic success. In fact, for many children, learning primary subjects early on can lead to boredom or frustration and acting out. Purely academic materials are not the only way to challenge a child.

FWIW, I didn't learn to read until I was 6.5. By the next year, when I was in second grade, I was testing at an 11th grade reading level. Strictly anecdotal results, I realize.
posted by acoutu at 11:08 AM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I agree that reading aloud and working on craft projects would be best at this age. And sing/dance together. School for your child is what you say it is. He will probably like any structured activity you do together.

I disagree with the advice you got on socialization. 4 year old children do not need that much peer interaction at all, and if they have playgroups and brothers/sisters, you should not worry AT ALL about this. (I don't think you do worry about this, but I just wanted to counter the opinions on this thread). I agree with you that preschool is not necessary. Remember that the age at which children are sent to school varies very much per country.

It is possible that he will find it a little harder to get used to kindergarten, but I was surprised to see that even children who went to daycare and preschool did not settle as easily into kindergarten as I expected. But even if he finds it more difficult: that should not be a reason to force him now. It is going to be difficult at some point, why is it better to force that difficulty at four than at five? What's next: everybody has to go to daycare at six weeks, because otherwise they'll have problems when they are two years old?

One of the biggest drawbacks of homeschooling, in my opinion, is that your children are held to much higher standards than other children. They cannot just be shy, or they cannot just be very active, if they are not decidedly average it will be blamed on homeschooling. But I guess that if you only plan to homeschool through preschool, this will not be too much of a problem.

I recommend everybody who think that children need peer interaction from a very early age to read Gordon Neufeld's book Hold on to Your Kids.
posted by davar at 11:16 AM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There may be varying interpretations of socialization in this thread. Socialization can simply refer to being introduced to your own culture and learning how to live in it. You can do that within the family, the neighbourhood, etc. For example, you could bake cookies and incorporate socialization and basic learning blocks. That is, you could say please/thank you, get ready to bake, follow a recipe in order, take turns pouring ingredients, measure cups of flour, talk about what's happening to the ingredients, examine the effects of baking, talk about why the cookies are hot, share the cookies or even the experience with others and so on. If the child interacts with someone else (even a parent, sibling or friend), learns social norms and what-not, it's part of socialization. It doesn't have to involve group play.
posted by acoutu at 11:27 AM on September 17, 2007

Read to your children, as much as you possibly can.

shinynewnick nails it. Reading aloud to your child has it all - imagination, concentration, knowledge, vicarious experience and there's no better way to stimulate interest in self reading in a child.
posted by Neiltupper at 2:26 PM on September 17, 2007

Having a bunch of other kids to play with is a good idea. Are there local parenting groups in your area? My family was active in La Leche League, and most of my childhood friends were from that group, not from school.

As much as I think it's important to read to your kid and give him a good foundation with letters, words and numbers, realize that there can be unintended consequences: An early reader will be phenomenally bored by regular school, and this may cause problems later. Many "troublemakers" are smart kids just trying to amuse themselves.

If the little guy is facile with first-grade concepts before even starting kindergarten, he might be better served by a private school with more individualized instruction and more challenging work, or homeschooling, for the rest of his school career. Dropping someone smart and eager into a class that doesn't recognize and take full advantage of his ability is a recipe for disaster.

(Email in profile, if you want personal horror stories.)
posted by Myself at 2:58 PM on September 17, 2007

My boy started Kindergarten just a couple weeks back. He has been reading quite well for nearly a year now (much to my suprise!).

For reading, and indeed any subject at that age, a child really needs 2 equally important things:

1) A source of information from which to learn. Usually a parent or teacher. For reading this can be as simple as just reading to the child every day. I've never met a kid who doesn't love attention from a parent and reading a story before bed or whatever is an easy way to do it. I don't think flash cards or deliberate "teach your child to read" type things are in any way nescessary.

2) A desire to learn it. Usually #2 is neglected or ignored. If a child does not want to learn something no amount of parental drilling is going to do any good.

For my boy a large part of his motivation came from video games. Reading time gave him the background he needed (associating printed words with ideas etc...) but he also really wanted to understand the menus in Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart.

He is much, much further along in reading, writing, counting and basic math than I was at his age. And more importantly he enjoys these things because they are involved in games he likes to play for fun. Self motivation is infinetly better for learning than being forced or bribed.
posted by Riemann at 4:06 PM on September 17, 2007

The goal should be to instill a love of learning and a desire to learn. At age four, that can be as simple as plenty of reading and providing opportunities to explore the world around them.

Go for walks outside. Take the time to observe animals, plants, and insects. Enjoy looking at art or listening to music together. Kids are naturally curious so this is all pretty easy.

Here is a nice resource for early years books to read and a guide for Charlotte Mason method homeschool things to do at early ages before formal schooling.

I must add a quick word about socialization since several have mentioned it. We often joke about it in homeschool circles as being the "s" word, since everyone seems to ask about it.

Think about it. What prepares a child more for the real world: only being with people their own age and with similar experiences and backgrounds, or learning to interact with people across ages, experiences, and even cultures? The real world is obviously more like the latter.

Real socialization takes place in every day life: at the grocery store, the park, church, with siblings, etc., and yes, playing with other kids (hopefully of many ages.) Take your child out to the places you go and let them interact and watch you interact. Then watch as their "socialization" skills mature past those who have been limited to interaction with only their peers.
posted by douglsmith at 10:18 AM on October 16, 2007

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