A child is a learning machine. From the moment a newborn enters the world, everything is new and each day offers multiple opportunities for learning. Parents are charged with the duty to encourage that learning in every possible way. Lifelong learning is the goal.
Aside from meeting the basic needs of comfort and shelter, nothing can be more important than providing an environment that encourages young children to notice, explore and appreciate the world around them. Education does not begin with kindergarten, school is not separate from the rest of life and real learning is not confined to the classroom. Curiosity and creativity aren’t taught; they are innate. So is questioning. So is discovery.
With the current response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the advent of widespread virtual learning — from kindergarten through college — parents of young children are increasingly concerned about the effects of homeschooling on their own lives and on the education of preschool and kindergarten-age youngsters.
The best advice? Relax!
Early learning opportunities are all around you. Although it may be a somewhat unusual view, early schooling should not be primarily about skills training, but rather all about discovery. It’s more important to expose young children to possibilities than to help them achieve goals. Think about how a child learns to talk, to walk and to feed himself. It’s trial and error, isn’t it? There will be some bumps along the way, and some spills and setbacks, but mastery of those skills is a natural progression over time. There are no tests necessary!
The same should be true of pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. While it’s important that children develop readiness skills for more concentrated exposure to reading and math concepts in the primary years, it’s also vital to instill the love of learning in a young child. Children do not distinguish between play and learning. Neither should parents. Active little bodies encourage active little minds. Children thrive through contact not only with others of similar age, but with older children, adults and senior citizens. They also need the stimulation of nature, and play is as instrumental to growth as food.
There are many creative “laboratories” for early learning experience, and the home kitchen is one of the best. So is the back yard, a garden, a walk in the woods, or a trip to a farm. Life, for a child, is a playground full of wonder. Birds, “critters,” flowers, clouds, running water, music, colors, sounds and tastes are all memorable experiences. Running through a sprinkler, playing in the dirt and drawing on a sidewalk with chalk are more important than staying clean and coloring inside the lines.
The same should be true of finding other interests, learning other skills, and tackling new ideas. So, with that in mind, we encourage you to look upon homeschooling and virtual learning not as a stress-inducing chore, but rather as an opportunity to help your child develop curiousity, creativity and competence. In that way, you will help your child become a self-assured learner and a well-rounded human being.
Judging Learning Readiness
Since universal public education became the norm in the 19th Century, there has been a debate about readiness criteria, as well as continuing discussion about what are the most valuable tools for encouraging early learning. Some parents are concerned that they won’t recognize the signs of learning readiness, or that they are ill-equipped to recognize learning deficiencies. Many parents who do not possess degrees in education are hesitant about their own competencies, fearful that they might lack necessary skills to help their children succeed in school. Others simply believe that education is a job for the “professionals.” And, it is certain that a few parents don’t see the value of education at all.
Today, classroom learning might not be an option until the world returns to more normal” times after the Pandemic. If your child is four or five, and you’re concerned about your child’s developmental progress, there are effective readiness tests available that will help you assess the timing and chart a path to focus on needed preparation and skill-building in a world gone virtual.
At the least, you might want to utilize these basic tools to allay your own fears about your child’s readiness, and to assist with the transition to homeschooling and virtual learning this fall. There is no doubt that virtual learning will mean a shift of priorities, and very possibly some major adjustments to adult schedules as well. But if you view it as an adventure, so will your child. One factor to keep in mind: Isolation is not advantageious. Although there still might be limitations on gatherings or public outings, if you’re dealing with a child at home and virtual learning techniques, make time for a walk in the park, a trips to the woods, or other socially-distanced and appropriate activities with relatives, neighbors and friends.
It’s also important to communicate honestly with your child, whether homeschooling in the fall is a choice or a necessity. Children have fears too, and adults needs to share their concerns and the facts about Coronavirus in age-appropriate ways.
A Basic Homeschooling Curriculum
It is said that pre-K and kindergarten are all about learning to learn, preparation for a more structured first-grade experience. Most activities for four and five-year olds are geared towards fun activities, games and art projects that “sneak in” some basic math and language concepts. Age-related worksheets and online games that are short and require minimal time to complete are ideal. Young children typically have short attention spans and are easily distracted. Those are traits that should not overly concern you at this point in a child’s life. However, it is important that a child be given some help in task completion, and offered incentives for good behavior.
Even a young child should be able to sit still for the period of time it takes to read an age-appropriate book, to listen to a musical selection or watch an appropriate video. Helping in the kitchen is a wonderful way to introduce a child to math and measurements, to shapes and colors, and to tastes and textures. And what young child doesn’t love playing with dough? The bonus is that most “kitchen fun” comes with a bonus — it’s good to eat!
Getting out of doors is another way to break up a homeschooling day. Go for a walk; count the colors you see or name all the creatures you encounter. As always, encourage your child to talk and to ask questions. Give real answers to those questions. Don’t fall into the “why — because” trap. Your child deserves better. Ask a child what they think. “Why do you think the sky is blue? Why are clouds white? What makes grass green? When you return home, look up the answers together, either in a book or online.
In the fall, rake leaves, and then invite neighborhood kids to jump in the pile if they’ll help bag the leaves afterwards. Reward them with apple cider and homemade cookies! In the spring, make lunch a picnic in the back yard. For winter, bundle up and build a snowman with your child, Talk about circles and globes, or about why winter is cold and summer is hot. When spring comes, plant seeds and watch new sprouts form leaves and flowers. Grow culinary herbs, encourage sampling and use them for cooking.
Necessary Supplies for Homeschooling
You probably have most of what you’ll need for kindergarten homeschooling. It’s the stuff of daily life, and it need not be geared specifically toward your child. Here’s a basic list: Some of the items might surprise you.
- Colored paper: Construction paper, index cards, post-it notes, wrapping paper, old paper bags;
- Lined paper and grid paper;
- Pictures: Travel brochures, advertising flyers (particularly for food, cars, furniture or toys), old famly photos, postcards, or inexpensive prints of flowers and trees, buildings, statues and art;
- Pencils, rulers, scissors, glue, clear tape, chalk, crayons, washable markers, watercolor paints;
- String, yarn, ribbon, buttons, glitter, fabric scraps, popsicle sticks;
- Books of all kinds, picture books and an old encyclopedia set;
- Blocks and balls of various sizes; Legos and jigsaw puzzles;
- Old sheets, pillows and quilts or blankets;
- An apron, and a small stepstool that will allow your child to help out in the kitchen!
- Decks of playing cards;
Whether you have one preschool or kindergarten-age child or a houseful of children of varying ages, the same principles apply. Your day of homeschooling should include some active time, some quiet time, some music, some talk, a game or two, and limited screen time.
Vary the schedule from day to day, if possible. Don’t always expect compliance, and don’t ever expect perfection. Do expect occasional meltdowns and pushback. Remain flexible, especially with younger children. Most importantly, foster independence by building in some independent “study” or activity time for each child. You’ll need the breaks as well. Take a 20-minute power nap during a child’s quiet time. Learning to be good to yourself will teach your children that it’s important to have “personal time” and to take care of their bodies.
Play along with your child. Discover the childlike wonder of watching a spider spin a web, laugh with your child as you watch squirrels collect nuts, witness birds catching worms or chase a butterfly. Talk about the life cycles, habits, homes and foods of the various animals.
Activities and Excursions
Keeping a young child occupied can be a full-time job. And it can be exhausting. But, remember at the same time that learning continues throughout life. So, as you begin the task of homeschooling your child, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that you will learn new things as well. That’s the exciting part. Strive to make it a reality. Do so by opting in to every experience you make available to your child, whether it’s becoming more familiar with your city or learning about science, art, astronomy or branding cattle.
Plan activities that involve more time than money, but that pay big dividends in terms of memories:
- Attend concerts in the park;
- Go to the library. Take part in story time;
- Go to a play;
- Visit the zoo, an aquarian, a science or natural history museum, or an art exhibit;
- Plan a picnic excursion when wildflowers are in bloom, and take pictures of your child in the field;
- Visit a wind-power field and marvel at the size of the sleek turning turbines;
- Follow a walk-path around your city’s municipal park. A caution here: Try not to simply sit and watch while your child is active at the playground, but plan an activity that involves both of you, even if it’s lying on your back on the grass and watching the clouds!
- Go fishing or have a rubber duckie race at a slow-moving creek;
- Participate in a neighborhood charity fun run;
- Get out the chalk and play hopscoth on the sidewalk. The next rain will wash away the evidence!
- Build an indoor fort out of old blankets and make up a story about it;
- Cook with your child — it doesn’t have to be fancy — and then have a special lunch together.
As Robert Fulghum noted in his runaway bestselling book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” never forget that the world is full of wonder, and that it is the small things that have the most impact. He notes: “Remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned — the biggest word of all — LOOK.”
The Importance of Words
Language development is the basis for all learning, so it should be no surprise that language readiness is a prime factor in school success. To encourage your young child’s language proficiency, educators stress the importance of talking to your child, in complete sentences, from infancy onward. Second, child development professionals insist that reading to and with children from the time they are young fosters competency in later years and contributes to school success.
Word games, then, should become a part of your homeschooling curriculum. Use rhyming words to encourage creative thinking. Make up a story about “a fox in a box, who was going to smash a window with rocks because he was afraid he lost the key to the door locks until he remembered he hid it in one of his socks.”
Children love nonsense rhymes and silly stories! You will, as well, as you giggle with your child and realize that they are learning important lessons and having fun at the same time.
That should be a lesson for every parent.
While we’re on the subject of words, it’s never to early to start learning another language. If you speak even a few words in another tongue, teach them to your child. If they’re part of his heritage, so much the better. If you have a friend from another culture, introduce your child to foreign foods and teach them a bit about the history of the country.
There are so many ways to encourage learning in children, and they are so willing to learn, that there is little excuse to bewail the fact that schoolrooms may not open in the fall.
Instead, celebrate with your children the larger classroom that encompasses the entire world!