Can anyone recommend a curriculum for pre-K and kindergarten? This is a frequent question homeschooling bulletin boards and email lists. It's a perfectly reasonable question, but some of the responses can be confusing to new homeschoolers.
We all come into homeschooling with some common preconceptions of what the program should be - but many who have been at it for a while or raised homeschool grads are likely to strongly suggest not setting up a structured
study program for young children. This is where some misunderstanding can come into play.
Saying that a structured study program for a young child is inappropriate is not at all the same as saying that learning is unimportant during the early years. It's simply that many experienced homeschoolers and other educators feel there are certain kinds of activities that are much more important and appropriate in early childhood than studying the 3 R's - and that to establish a structure that emphasizes the 3 R's at that age can actually be detrimental. If a child is asking to learn to read, of course, that's a whole different matter - but it's simply a question of helping that child learn to read, which is very different thing from setting up a curriculum.
An enlightening article to read on this subject is Much Too Early, by David Elkind, Professor in Child Development at Tufts University, and author of Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk and many other books. Dr. Elkind is a consultant to schools, mental health associations, and private foundations. This article explains in some depth why he feels that certain common educational practices for pre-schoolers and kindergartners are not only inappropriate but harmful; and he describes the kinds of educational activities that are appropriate for that age group.
Dr. Elkind's views are shared by a number of professional educators and researchers. You can find some interesting - and perhaps surprising - reading in the articles collected on this page: Preschool and Kindergarten Learning Activities
If you've been raising a child up to the age of "pre-school" or "kindergarten," you've already begun homeschooling. In those early years, the most appropriate homeschooling activities are things that gently introduce a child into the wonders of his immediate world and the imagination. As Einstein said,
Imagination is more important than knowledge - and those early years are the perfect time to provide an atmosphere where the child can freely dream and play and explore and grow in both body and imagination.
These are lots of things a parent can do to help a child develop a love of learning and searching - things that will carry through as a foundation for a life of joyful and successful learning. Most of these are things a parent does at one time or other anyway. A bonus is that your child will be getting a good foundation for later studies, even picking up some elements of reading, writing, and math!
- Tell stories or read a lot of wonderful books to the child with no expectations beyond immediate enjoyment of the imagination.
- Provide beautiful picture books that can inspire and give children things to think about and daydream about.
- Go to children's book readings at the library.
- Keep children's reference books and nice software on hand - like encyclopedias - so that you can look up simple answers to their questions.
- Take leisurely walks, observing every wonderful little bit of nature out there - birds, bugs, plants, sounds, colors, and changes. Take along a good magnifying glass and peer into the amazing beauty to be found in the throat of a wildflower.
- This is a beautiful old inspirational poem about the rewards of joyful and relaxed time with little ones - great to print out and keep in a spot where it can serve as a frequent reminder during busy times:
I Took His Hand and Followed.
- Look for faces and animals in the clouds; and in the early evening or on a moonlit night, find faces and animals in the silhouettes of trees against the sky.
- Listen for the farthest away sound you can hear - and the loudest, as well as the quietest.
- Listen to children's audio tapes together. Make your own together as well - and record yourself reading favorite little books to your child so that they can be listened to when you're not right there, or are busy driving or otherwise occupied (these can be a treasured keepsake in later years). These tapes can also come in handy later when a child is learning to read - they can follow along on the written page while they listen.
- Watch sunsets together. Where is the sun going - or is it just that the earth is turning away from it? One children's book that can add to observations:
The Planets in Our Solar System.
- Daydream together about where the birds are going when you see them fly off into the sunset.
- Put up a bird feeder outside a window where you can see all the different kinds of birds coming and going. Watching birds keeps us in touch with the world around us.
- You can make a simple bird feeder. These free bird feeder craft patterns and projects use many creative techniques and supplies to make a variety of bird feeders: Bird Feeder Projects.
Get up before sunrise sometime and listen to the birds as dawn breaks, or if possible, sleep outside to watch the morning rise. It's a special experience to see how a day quietly begins in the bird world.
- Observe the phases of the moon - find an explanation made simple for children. One children's book that can help add to observations:
The Moon Seems to Change.
- Discuss the season and the changes in the sky and weather - now and then make observations about the sun being in the southern sky in winter and the northern sky in summer and how that changes the light and shadows.
- Go out and observe the night sky together - ponder together the mysteries of what's out there, and share a little of what you know about the stars. One book that might help add to observations: The Sky Is Full of Stars.
- Sprout and root bulbs or seeds indoors.
- Put a folded wet paper towel flat around the inside of a clear glass jar. Let your child insert a few beans between the paper and glass. Keep them wet and watch together as the miracle of life is demonstrated in the sprouting bean.
- Grow a sweet potato vine or avocado seed in water, grow a miniature garden - there are lots of fun things you can do with plants:
Fun Plant Projects for Kids
- Plant a little garden or grow some plants in pots. Make a scarecrow. Make a string bean teepee. Grow Morning Glories and enjoy their amazing beauty in the mornings.
- Introduce your child to music, songs, dancing, and maybe even marching to music.
- Learn and say rhymes together - check out some children's books of nursery rhymes and other fun rhymes. This is an inspiring and informative article by Dr. Mary Brown on the value of rhythms for children: Mother Goose and other Nursery Rhymes
- Tell or read fairy tales - the old stories that have been handed down generation to generation but have been sadly lost amidst the activity in our faster paced modern world. There are also some good audio tapes of fairy tales.
- Encourage them to have fun learning about their bodies and what they can do! Hop, skip, run, climb, slide, swing - play fun, active games.
- Find local homeschool support groups for playtimes and little field trips with other homeschooling families.
- Find interesting things to see and do in your community or on short trips - including parks, museums, and many other wonderful resources. Check on the Internet and with travel books - also with your chamber of commerce - for local ideas. You'll probably be amazed to find what's right near you. Take a look in A to Z Home's Cool's Field Trips page for ideas; and if you happen to live in California, be sure to check BestHomeschooling.org's Guide to California Field Trips.
- Provide a sandbox or sand table and sand toys, including figures of people and animals.
- Make and play with bubbles - find fun bubble recipes and ideas in this site: The Secret of Bubbles
- Make playdough and other fun art materials - see recipe links below.
- Do finger-painting, and paint simple pictures with watercolors.
- Provide a simple easel and poster paints to always be available.
- Set up a little play store area with play food, empty milk, egg and other cartons - as well as a little toy cash register and play money.
- Provide large and easy to handle blocks made out of small boxes and shoe boxes.
- Help your child make simple playhouses and castles - see links below.
- Set up some shelves, boxes, or hangers where there are costume elements that your child can easily access for pretend play - hats, capes, masks that don't restrict vision, and whatever other fanciful items you think of.
- If your child wants to learn a little bit of writing - or drawing - provide them with some of the beautiful, waxy colored pencils by Lyra. They can now be found on a number of web sites - try Waldorf Supplies.
- Establish family traditions and celebrations - and create memories. There are some suggestions in this article by Meg Cox about ordinary rituals: Teaching Practical Skills - and a lot more in her wonderful book, The Heart of a Family : Searching America for New Traditions That Fulfill Us.
- Allow for plenty of relaxed play and independent activities.
Many more ideas: Lots of delightful web pages provide terrific learning activity ideas suitable for young children - many of the best are listed in this set of descriptive links:
Preschool and Kindergarten Learning Activities!
From personal experience, and that of many friends who have traveled this path, I feel I can say that the sooner a parent lets go of the idea of being a teacher, and embraces the idea of being more of a tour guide or docent, the sooner it will all fit smoothly together and allow the magic to proceed. Lead them through the world and tell them a little about what you know - while also letting them lead you while they explore in their own way.
You can just go about living your lives, exploring, observing, and posing questions for yourselves. That is an appropriate pre-school/kindergarten curriculum for a homeschooler. Your child will ask plenty of questions - you won't need to worry about what to
teach. Promise! They want to learn and will learn about their world, because it's a built in human drive - we need only to give them some freedom, provide rich opportunities, and model the joy to be found in learning.
Childhood is short and fleeting - and important - don't let them miss the opportunity to fully experience it and be a child during those very important golden years.
Copyright 2005 Lillian Jones
Lillian Jones, the editor of BestHomeschooling
, once trained to be a teacher and taught in public schools for a short time before realizing that she didn't feel comfortable in the system. Later, while homeschooling her son, she found that teacher training was much more of a hindrance than a help. She has long been active in homeschooling activism and online support, especially with the HomeSchool Association of California
. Her writing has been published in a number of popular publications and books about homeschooling, most recently in the book, See, I Told Me So!
. She now pursues her lifelong passion for art, painting and traveling.