What to Do with a Preschooler?
by: Vicki Bentley

What to Do with a Preschooler

by Vicki Bentley

A young mom writes:

“I’m new at homeschooling – I have 2-year-old twins. I want to teach them and get them ready for preschool. Please send me info to help me start off on the right foot. “

Another mom writes:

“I have a 3½- year-old boy, a 2½- year-old girl, and a 7-month old baby boy.  I've read the preschool article on the website, listened to the sessions on beginning homeschooling from the convention, read a few books and magazines, talked to homeschooling moms...but now that I'm really looking at schooling my children, I just get overwhelmed and don't know where to start.  I can see the goal or vision that my children will love to learn, to learn about God, to learn reading, math, problem solving history, art, music, and everything in between but how do you start?  They don't seem to even want to sit still and read a book. They just want to play with toys and pretend.”

Vicki answers:

They are little; let them play with toys and pretend!  But you pick the toys, so you shape the play.  Their play is their work - it may look easy to you, but it's not all easy to them, and it is developing their thinking and providing life experiences – sort of like hooks on which they can hang their future learning.

Provide them with stimulating, age-appropriate, developmental toys (not videos or video games, etc.). You might want to peek through the Timberdoodle or Discovery Toys catalogs online for a few ideas. Consider Legos or building blocks, thinking skills puzzles, art supplies, musical instruments, life-skills imaginary play (role playing or dress-ups), etc. Your music can be educational and inspirational. And your everyday activities can be helpful for their brain and skills development.

For example, putting puzzles together is a pre-reading skill, while helping Mom set the table is a math skill (one-to-one correspondence). Having them help put away their things in an orderly fashion (which they won't be able to do yet, but can watch you joyfully walk through it with them) is classification and organization - science, math, and English skills.

It is not uncommon for little children to seem uninterested in a read-aloud session, but don't let that stop you from reading to them! If your child will sit quietly for five or ten minutes as you snuggle and read together, that's super, but if not, read to her anyway while she plays quietly with blocks (or colors or dresses baby dolls or cooks). She is absorbing more than you think she is! Also, try reading at a time that she tends to be quieter naturally, such as a morning wake-up cuddle time in your bed or a bedtime snuggle in hers. Or maybe your afternoon quiet time could always begin or end with a short picture book read-aloud.

Character training is a biggie at this age - Marilyn Boyer's Fun Projects for Hands-On Character Building has great, practical ideas for everyday moms like us.  And her mommy book, Parenting from the Heart, has plenty of gentle encouragement from a mom of many.

If nobody told you that they had to go to school at age five, what would you be doing with them? What are you doing with them now? Interact with them naturally. You don't have to invent lots of artificial learning experiences—you have plenty of "real" ones already!

Let the children cook with you—they are measuring and pouring (math and science). Let them divide the cookies or the pizza (fractions and mathematical thinking). Be sure to read to and talk with them a lot; when they will occasionally let you get in a few pages of a picture book, ask them what they think will happen next.  When they ask you a question, ask them, "What do YOU think?" and let them explain to you (even if their answer makes absolutely no sense; you can then tell them your explanation, too).

When Grandma sends a present, write a thank-you note and let each child scribble at the bottom of it (then translate for Grandma!); tell him he's signing it for her. Write his name and let him try to copy it (but don't push—make the tools available). If he doesn't do well with a pencil, let him trace alphabet letters in sand or rice or un-popped popcorn kernels. Then try the pencil again in a few weeks.

Later, you'll write the note and he'll REALLY sign his name. Then a few months later, maybe he can write the THANK YOU part and you can add..."for the red truck you gave me. Love, ..." and he can sign his name. Then by maybe age six or seven, he will likely be able to write the Dear Grandma part, the thank you, and sign his name, and you just fill in the rest.

Your goal is to get him to learn to express himself, to communicate—not to make it difficult or a test. And if your niece and nephew are reading at age five and he isn't, don't panic or feel peer pressure! Of course, you want to keep an eye out for signs that he may need further help, but age two isn't it, if your little one seems to be able to express himself to you in an age-appropriate way and behave like an average, active, preschool boy. 

By the way, Dr. James Dobson once said that, to a school teacher, the ideal little boy is ... a little girl! Boys are different than girls—God wired them that way. Expect the little boys to be pretty active and less interested in some language stuff, at least to begin with.

If you think you may have a right-brained child or one who seems to learn a bit differently than you are comfortable with, Dianne Craft has some simple activities to stimulate healthy brain function.

If you aren’t confident that you know what’s age-appropriate, there are a number of excellent resources available that will help regardless of what teaching approach you utilize.   Check out the list of resources at the end of this article.

Your local homeschool support group or MOPS group may have some field trips and activities geared specifically to the attention span and interest level of two-to-four-year-olds. 

HOWEVER … Don't let what you see around you put pressure on you. Ask the Lord to guide you in being a joyful mother of children. My goodness - you have little ones! You have enough on your plate to just make dinner and get the laundry caught up! (That’s why my Home Education 101 workbook has an entire chapter devoted to “Getting Dinner on the Table the Same Day You Homeschool”!). Let your babies be babies. 

The bottom line: This season will be shorter than you think, so enjoy being a mommy!  

Vicki Bentley is happily married to her high school sweetheart Jim and is the blessed mother of eight daughters, foster mom of over fifty since 1985, and grandma to fourteen wonderful grandbabies (so far). She is the author of Home Education 101: A Mentoring Program for New Homeschoolers, My Homeschool Planner, The Everyday Family Chore System, Everyday Cooking, and various articles. Vicki has a heart for moms, with strong practical wisdom and encouraging words.  Vicki is the coordinator for HSLDA’s Early Years program.   This and other helpful articles can be found at www.hslda.org/earlyyears

Visit Vicki’s websites: www.everydayhomemaking.com and www.HomeEducation101.com

[The following or other resources could be included as a side bar.  Nancy Manos, Editor, Arizona Home Education Journal]


The Three R's of Learning by Ruth Beechick 

Making the Most of the Preschool Years by Valerie Bendt 

Before Five in a Row - Check out www.fiveinarow.com and browse through Jane Lambert’s Before Five in a Row guide for some fun and educational activities based on classic kids' books from the library. 

Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready by June Oberlander has developmental activities for children from birth to age five.

Mommy, Teach Me!  by Barbara Curtis

Parenting From the Heart by Marilyn Boyer, www.thelearningparent.com

Preschool at Home by Debbie Feely, www.cheaofca.org

Dianne Craft - Check out her articles at www.hslda.org/strugglinglearner and at her site www.DianneCraft.com

Contact Vicki Bentley when reprinting this article, gmabentley@cs.com