Teaching Young Children At Home

by: Diane Flynn Keith
posted: May 12, 2005

From 1992 to 2000, I published a magazine for homeschool families called Homefires, The Journal of Homeschooling. I was sorting through some back issues recently and stumbled upon an article that I thought you would enjoy.

Pardon me boys... Is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo...

How do you teach young children? What do you do all day? How do you provide a "stimulating environment"? These questions are asked frequently by parents of young children who understand the immense magnitude of what it means to take responsibility for their child's education.

Many of their friends have already enrolled their children in preschools. As these potential homeschooling parents consider a different alternative, their confidence in their own ability to provide what their little learners will need is about as solid as Jell-O. Parents want specifics to help allay their fears. In an effort to support and encourage parents to teach their young children at home, Homefires has compiled resources, information and sage advice from parents who have or who are homeschooling their young children.

Providing A "Stimulating Environment"

What are some of the things you can do to assure a stimulating and rich environment in which your children will learn? Don't underestimate the benefit of an attentive, at-home parent who answers questions, reads aloud, plays games, and teaches basic skills like cutting with scissors, using a pen and pencil, counting money, or recognizing shapes and colors.

In most homes the kitchen is an excellent place to engage kids in games that improve dexterity (scooping rice from one container to another), while introducing the concepts of sorting, measuring and counting (separate the peas from the beans; we need 2 cups of flour, set the table for four people, etc.).

This sure beats mud pies!!!

Your young children may want to learn to cook. It's chemistry and science and an important adult life skill that they are eager to learn. Most two-year-olds can learn to break and even separate eggs under the watchful and loving supervision of mom or dad.

Parents can expose kids to art and music or take them to museums or on field trips. There are lots of ways to fill your days. But the single most important aspect of educating your young child at home is allowing your kids plenty of time to help you, watch you, talk with you, and follow you as you go about your daily routine. Interaction with adults is good for kids. They are collecting information about how to be, think, and behave as an adult, which is their ultimate educational goal.

Note: *Montessori * classrooms are filled with miniature adult appliances. Why? So kids can learn through their play how to do adult work.

Did you read the word "play " in that last sentence? Please don't forget that play is a child's work. Through play they act out and try on their future roles as adults.

They play with dolls and stuffed animals and try on the role of parent and nurturer. They become architects, engineers and interior decorators as they build houses and forts with the raw materials around them (furniture, blankets, sheets, scarves, clothespins, clotheslines, etc.).

They try on careers as they raid the costume box (or your closet!) and transform themselves into grown-ups, super heroes, bad guys, good guys, doctors, police officers, grocery clerks, postal employees, ballerinas, and football players.

If allowed, they will use all 5 senses to investigate, explore, examine, and process and store data about all of the materials in their environment. Create an environment that welcomes their play and exploration - one where you don't have to say "no " too often.

Note: The kindergartens of Waldorf schools are based on children's imaginative play and the emulation of the teacher as she bakes bread, washes clothes, and tidies the classroom.

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Materials for Learning Experiences:

The following list of materials are for use at home with your young child and will support their learning. It was compiled by three moms for a seminar they gave on how to develop a Homeschool Cooperative for young children. All of the items can be used in creative, open- ended, investigation and play. Most of the materials are common items found around the house.

Painting Materials:

Arts & Craft Supplies

Additional Materials To Purchase/Collect/Assemble:

Scissors; potter's clay; lickable stamps; sidewalk chalk; crayons; hole punchers; rubber stamps with ink pads; markers of various colors and sizes; spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves; hand & finger puppets; masks (store bought party masks to decorate with ribbons, punch-outs, etc., or plaster strips with water to mold to child's face and decorate when dry); blank puzzles for creating your own; flannel board & pieces; paper maiche; baking soda and vinegar; popcorn, buttons and peanut shells for stringing; picture frames to decorate.

Materials from Nature: Can be used for play, glue & paste activities, painting, as math manipulatives, etc.: snail shells, dirt, nuts, moss (dried), grass, rocks, pebbles, feathers, sand, sticks, leaves, bark, flowers, sea shells, egg shells, bird seed, seeds from fruits like peach pits, nectarine pits, apricot pits, bees wax, pine cones, crystals, etc.

Good Advice For Parents

Homefires interviewed the mom of a home-preschool-coop (similar to a homeschool support group, but designed to meet twice a week with activities for very young children). We asked her to give our readers her best piece of advice about how to homeschool young children.

She said that parents of a young child, especially if it is their first child, need as much support for themselves as for their kids. Co-ops provide support for parents. "In addition to discussing the logistics of planning activities for the children, we shared our worries, frustrations, and joys with deep and heartfelt abandon - and that allowed us to support each other. For example, when one parent shared their pain over their own child's behavior with other parents in the co-op, we recognized their struggle, and supported them in developing or implementing ideas to improve the situation."

The most common problem parents of young children share is their lack of confidence about what to do with their kids all day. Resources are so plentiful that they can seem overwhelming to many parents. Co-ops and support groups can be helpful in sorting through resources. They are also inspiring because you get ideas from other people. It helps not to have to reinvent the wheel. When looking for activities to do with your kids, make selections based on what sounds like it would be fun and interesting to YOU. It takes time to understand your child's learning style and to know their interests. And the truth is most really little kids are interested in anything as long as it's presented with enthusiasm and joy by mom or dad.

Diane Flynn Keith,
for Unpreschool
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Homefires, The Journal of Homeschooling
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