Home Educator's Family Times - Home Education & Family Services - Homeschool Support Network
June 2001
Volume 9, No. 3

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Making the Most of Those Preschool Years

By Valerie Bendt

It is with some reservations that I use the word preschool in this article. The term presupposes two things: that there is a specific time at which education begins - 'pre' and that there is a specific place where education transpires - 'school.' However, I believe that education is a lifelong endeavor, and begins at birth, or possibly even before, as the child learns through many of his senses while yet in the womb. I also believe that while the entire creation is given to us as a place of learning, the best environment is a loving, caring home. So, in using the word preschool in this article I will borrow a commonly used term meaning the time prior to that where society believes we should send our children out of the home to 'school' to get an education.

Educational psychologists claim that more than half of a child's learning occurs during his first few years. These are important formative years that should not be neglected. But how do we teach our 'preschooler' or entertain him while teaching our older children. It is important that our 'preschooler' does not feel he is a burden or in the way. I know this is often difficult, because we do not have perfect children. My oldest daughter recently reminded me about the measures that we had to take to keep my son, Raymond, out of trouble during his preschool years.

I remember the day I caught Raymond chasing his brother, Robert, with a hammer, a real hammer. I grabbed him as he ran by and asked, "What are you doing? " He said politely, "I was pretending that Wobert was a nail."

It's hard to discipline a child when you are laughing. Raymond didn't always make me laugh though. But I realized the most important thing I could do to help Raymond was to give him my time. Our children don't need special programs. They need us. These little ones are so precious. It's important that we give them lots of hugs, cuddles, and books read on laps. It's important for them, and it's important for us. They won't be little forever. Let's not one day regret that we did not spend more time enjoying our preschoolers. But sometimes our many duties make it difficult to give the necessary time to our preschoolers, especially when we have school-aged children to teach as well.

We teach our children by a method called ?unit studies'. (For more information on unit studies see How to Create Your Own Unit Study by Valerie Bendt, Common Sense Press.) This system allows those of us with large families to effectively teach all our children, of different levels of maturity, at the same time. While I'm working with one child who needs some individual attention, an older child reads aloud to a preschool child. I select a relatively simple book, often relating to our topic of study, for the older child to read aloud. This helps to occupy the preschool child, who requires closer supervision, while affording the older child practice with his oral reading skills. This aids in developing the sibling relationship, the older child's teaching capabilities, and the preschool child's language development while also expanding his general knowledge. The preschool child feels he is part of the learning experience. I find that this is extremely important. He must feel included.

While I am working individually with one child, and an older child is reading aloud to a preschool child, my other children are reading silently from books geared to their reading levels pertaining to our topic, or they are engaged in some independent learning activity. Not only does this system work well for organizational purposes, but it fosters the development of numerous skills, as well.

Every child needs some individual attention, every child needs to be able to teach someone else, and every child needs to be able to learn some material on his own. Let me repeat this, because it is important. Every child needs some individual attention, every child needs to be able to teach someone else, and every child needs to be able to learn some material on his own. But most importantly, every mother needs to be able to maintain her sanity while educating her children, and a system such as this allows her to do so.

You will find if you begin your day by spending time with your preschool child, the day will go more smoothly. He needs to feel that he is important too. (I realize that many of you have more than one preschool child, and of course this intensifies the difficulties.) As I read to my preschool child or play a game with him, or do a puzzle with him, I admonish my older children not to interrupt us because we are doing our schoolwork. This sets an example for the young child to follow when I'm working with the older children, and it makes him feel grown up.

It is also helpful to set up play situations in the room where you are teaching so your 'preschooler' can entertain himself for short periods of time while under your supervision. This prevents unwanted surprises elsewhere in the home. When my daughter Mandy was little she was always at the sink. She usually chose to use the sink farthest away from where I was working or teaching. One day while I was preoccupied with one of the other children, I looked up to find that Mandy was missing. The sound of running water led me to the bathroom where she was doing a little science experiment. She was discovering what toys would fit into the drain and clog the sink. This led to the creation of a beautiful waterfall that flowed out of the bathroom and down the hallway. I knew that I needed to be more creative with the activities that I provided for her.

I realized that what I needed to do was to create a controlled messy situation for Mandy close by where I could constantly supervise her. I laid several beach towels on the family room tile floor. Then I placed a dishpan of water with plastic cups, bowls and plates on top of the towels. Mandy enjoyed being able to wash the dishes. And when she was through, I used the towels to mop up the mess. The floor was never so clean. It was great because Mandy could be happily entertained within my sight. But I found that the benefits of having her play quietly right in the room with us were twofold. Mandy was not only busy, but she was listening as I worked with the other children.

I recall that when she was nearly three years old I was doing a Sign Language Unit Study with my older children. Whenever we do a unit study I always read aloud at least one biography about an individual that somehow relates to our topic of study. While conducting this unit study I read aloud to my children The Story of My Life, Helen Keller's autobiography. Meanwhile Mandy played happily at my feet.

It wasn't until nearly a year later that I realized how much she was really absorbing. I was getting ready to do a workshop based on the Sign Language Unit Study that I did with my children the previous year. So I went to the library to get all the books we had used. Mandy went with me, and now she was nearly four years old. I pulled a copy of Helen Keller's autobiography from the shelf. Mandy took the book from me and looked at the photograph of Helen Keller on the cover and said in a matter of fact tone, ?You read this to us, Mommy. That's Helen Keller and she couldn't see and she could hear. ? I was dumbfounded. Children, especially young children are like sponges. It's important that the things they soak up are worthy things.

If you would like lots of simple, yet entertaining ideas for putting together play situations for your preschool child, then I suggest the book 102 Activities for Preschoolers by Peggy Zorn and Leslie Retchko. Some of the ideas are so simple that I think, Wow, I could have thought of that. But, I'm glad I didn't have to! It's nice to let someone else do the thinking sometime.

I encourage you to have fun with your preschoolers. They will not be little for long. Have a positive attitude toward them. Don't feel that they are a burden, preventing you from teaching your older children. The educational experiences your preschoolers will encounter are as important or even more important than those of your older children, for it is in the formative years that they develop habits and impressions that will affect their academic performance and their desire to learn for the rest of their lives. The most important lessons that you will teach your children are not academic lessons, but the lessons about relationships. And the best place to learn these lessons is in the confines of a loving home. May the Lord bless you as you seek His best for your family!

Valerie will lead workshops at the New England Homeschool & Family Learning Conference, July 20, 21, in Boxborough, MA.

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