Even in homeschooling, many preschool curriculums and learning resources focus on early reading skills, such as learning the alphabet and letter sounds. Some include basic math activities such as counting to 100 and single digit addition up to 10, sometimes not even using pictorial representations of numbers. Preschool curriculums for homeschoolers often have weekly themes that center on the alphabet letters or a selected age-appropriate book. What if none of these activities are actually necessary or developmentally appropriate? What do preschoolers really need?
Early formal learning gives no advantage.
While I was in college, I worked at two different preschools and assisted in all the different age-segregated rooms from newborns up to the four- and five-year-old room. What I saw happening in both of these environments greatly influenced our later decision not to send our children to preschool, and then ultimately, to homeschool. By choosing to keep our children at home, we avoid many of the emotional and behavioral issues created by sending our children to formal preschools. However, many of us still fall prey to the lie that early formal learning gives our children an edge later.
Why do we insist on this? I think that we believe that early reading instruction = head start = long term learning benefits. The statistics do not bear this out. Early reading does not result in higher literacy rates. In the last 10 years, the percentage of adults with below-basic literacy remained at 14 percent. Those with the highest literacy levels also remained stable at 13 percent. And, that 13 percent is low compared to the American Colonial rate of 20 percent. This is true even though enrollment in academic preschool programs has increased.
If we wait, it will not take year after year of teaching letter sounds. It really doesn’t take that long to learn to read. Check out this post for more on that.
What do preschoolers really need?
As homeschoolers, we have many options and can choose activities that are developmentally appropriate. Preschoolers learn best through play, but they also need
• An unhurried, predictable routine.
• Lots of sensory experiences.
• Lots of time outdoors exploring and moving their bodies.
• Consistent discipline.
And the most important need of all is to hear—YES! Very young children are navigating the milestone of learning initiative. They want to do things “all by myself.” They often try to help with tasks such as cooking and cleaning, but they make innocent mistakes (such as using your new blouse that was lying on the floor to clean up their dirty boot tracks). They need you to be okay with their messes and very patient and forgiving of their mistakes. It is important to give them opportunities to try things and succeed so they develop confidence, not guilt and shame.
I struggled with this myself. With four small children, it was hard to say, “YES.” Cleaning with a four-year-old takes twice as long and, with a toddler and baby, well, I’m sure you can relate to how I felt. I didn’t say YES as often as I wanted to, not as often as I probably should have. But, I did find ways for them to do meaningful things, and I know I did a better job of this with my younger two than with my older two. After all, there weren’t any more babies after them!