by Valerie Bendt
Educational psychologists claim that more than half of a child’s learning occurs during his first few years, so these formative years are important and 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.
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. One day I caught him chasing his brother, Robert, with a hammer. I grabbed him as he ran by and asked, “What are you doing?” He said politely, “I was pwetending that Wobert was a nail.”
It’s hard to discipline a child when you are laughing. Raymond didn’t always make me laugh, but I realized the most important thing I could do to help him was to give him my time. Our children don’t need special programs—they need us. We need to give them lots of hugs, cuddles, and books read on laps. It’s important for them, and it’s important for us. These little ones are so precious and they won’t be little forever. Let’s not one day regret that we did not spend more time enjoying our preschoolers.
Preschool Group and Individual Instruction
Sometimes our many duties make it difficult to give the necessary time to our preschoolers, especially when we have school-age children to teach as well. In my family, we teach our children by a method called “unit studies.” This system allows us effectively to 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.
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. As I read to my preschool child or play a game 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.
Set Up preschool Play Stations Nearby
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. 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, and create a controlled messy situation 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.
When Mandy was nearly three years old, I was doing a sign-language unit study with my older children. Whenever we do a unit study, I read aloud at least one biography that relates to our topic. While conducting this study I read The Story of My Life, Helen Keller’s autobiography.
It wasn’t until nearly a year later that I realized how much Mandy was really absorbing. I went to the library and pulled out a copy of the same book. 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 couldn’t hear.” I was dumbfounded. Young children are like sponges. It’s important that the things they soak up are worthy things.
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 as, 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.
If you would like 100 simple, yet entertaining, ideas for putting together play situations for your preschool child, then I suggest Making the Most of the Preschool Years. Some of the ideas are so simple you may think, “Wow, I could have thought of that.” But sometimes it’s nice to let someone else do the thinking!
Just remember, the most important lessons that you will teach your children are not academic lessons, but lessons about relationships. And the best place to learn these lessons is in the confines of a loving home.
Valerie and her husband, Bruce, homeschooled their six children. Drawing from nearly 25 years of homeschool experience, Valerie offers wisdom and encouragement in her books. Making the Most of the Preschool Years and her other books are available from her website on the internet, at amazon.com/valerie-bendt and at ValerieBendt.com. This article first appeared in the Virginia Home Educator, Spring 2006.