What Your Preschooler Really Needs

By Susan Lemons

Sorting Through Conflicting Advice

The world has a lot to say about parenting nowadays. From Dr. Spock to Dr. Phil, from the Super Nanny to our own families, a plethora of “experts” scold us with a never-ending barrage of advice-most of it conflicting.

The world has a lot to say about parenting nowadays. From Dr. Spock to Dr. Phil, from the Super Nanny to our own families, a plethora of “experts” scold us with a never-ending barrage of advice-most of it conflicting. The newspapers and magazines scream at us about the “needs” of children and the latest “unbiased study,” while the publishing companies profit from the confusion by churning out numerous books on parenting every year. Slick ad campaigns report that parents need only buy the latest “educational” toy, or enroll their innocents in the newest “educational” program to guarantee academic success and future happiness for their children.

Meanwhile, parents are stressed and confused. According to CBS News, 54% of parents with 2-5 year olds admit to feeling worried about their children’s academic progress, and more than 90% think that starting “early” is the key to success. Parents are enrolling toddlers into rigorous academic tutorial programs in record numbers, and routinely over-schedule their youngsters with play-dates, lessons, sports, and classes, all in hopes of giving their children some sort of “advantage.”

Whatever happened to childhood?

Homeschoolers are not immune to these phenomena, either. We see what is going on around us, and often feel the need to compete with our neighbors-no matter how hard we try not to. Many of us feel pressured to “prove” ourselves to our own extended families, as well. To make things worse, the push for early learning has now trickled all the way down to the curriculum suppliers; some are now providing an academically based curriculum for children as young as two years of age.  The result of all this? Parents who wonder, “What is best for my child? Am I doing enough? What does my preschooler really need?”

What Preschoolers Need

My answer: Preschoolers need what they have always needed. Preschoolers haven’t changed. Preschoolers need their parents. 

Everything your preschooler needs to know can be taught simply through good parenting. Now, what I mean by good parenting, is “warmly responsive, loving and consistent care, balanced with discipline” (Moore’s Home Grown Kids).

The simplest definition of good parenting I’ve ever heard is from Anne Ortland, who says, “Good parenting is simply becoming what you should be-and then staying close enough to your children that it will rub off.” She challenges us further by asking, “What will you become, so that your children will do great things for God?”            

Mrs. Ortland’s quotes neatly summarize what the Bible says about discipling our children. Proverbs 23:26 says, “My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways.” Luke 6:40 says, “The disciple [we could insert “student,” or “child” here] is not above his master [parents]; but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.”

I believe this is the greatest challenge facing Christian parents today: becoming what we should be and setting a proper example for our children.  I’ve heard it said that when our children are misbehaving, we should always look to ourselves first-because our children are like a mirror, reflecting with their behaviors all we do and say. Good parenting is just as much about controlling ourselves as it is controlling our children-remembering that as much is “caught” as is “taught.”

Besides becoming who we should be, and discipling our children, there are specific things good parents can do to help their young children learn and mature:

Remember what your children need most-YOU. More than the newest learning toy or curriculum you could buy, your children need both quality and quantity time with you. Preschoolers spell love T-I-M-E.

Provide for your children’s emotional needs by allowing your children to become closely attached to you. These attachments are normal and healthy for young children. In fact, children who are strongly attached to their parents grow up to be confident, independent, and emotionally stable.

Develop a sensible, regular routine for daily life and stick to it as much as possible. A regular time for meals, snacks, naps, and stories provides children with security, and keeps them on an even keel emotionally. Bring your preschooler into your daily routine, talking about everything you do. True, your bed won’t be made quite as neatly, but children’s best play is Mommy or Daddy’s work.  Let your children learn while keeping you company-not only how to work, but how to count and measure while cooking, science while gardening, and so on.

Read, sing and talk with your children.

Reading aloud to preschoolers is such a joy. Get expressive and use different voices while you read, pausing to ask your children about the pictures or about what might happen next. Encourage your children to chime in with books that have repetitive phrases. Look for books that will answer those “why” questions.
Sing: You don’t have to have perfect pitch to enjoy music with your children. Many finger plays don’t involve singing at all, just chanting in a sing-songy voice. And if you don’t remember the classic songs and finger plays of childhood, there are plenty of CD’s to help you learn. Your voice is a musical instrument that goes with you wherever you go, and no matter how horrible you think you sound, your children love your voice and need to hear it. Also, be sure and help your children develop a taste for the classics by exposing them to the best in classical, folk, and religious music.
Talk: Help your children grow their vocabularies and base of knowledge by talking to them about everything, and “expounding” on their speech. For example, if your child says, “Mommy, look at that funny bird,” you might say, “Yes! That bird is called a sparrow. Do you see his brown feathers?” Talk to your children constantly, about everything you are doing. Talk to them about everything they see, labeling things with their proper names.

Provide a stimulating home environment rich in books, music, and open-ended toys that grow with your children. Open-ended toys are toys that can be used many different ways. These toys encourage pretend play, imagination and creativity. Toys like play-dough, blocks, cars, dolls, puzzles, and Legos fit the bill. Keep paper, crayons, felt tipped pens, and other art supplies available for your children to use any time. And don’t forget children’s favorite play-outside play with pets, swing sets, balls, worms and tricycles. Children need time outside to play, explore, and run off steam every day the weather permits.

Let early learning be child-centered and developmentally appropriate. Don’t rush into formal academics; instead, explore your children’s interests through picture books and real-life experiences. Preschoolers don’t need to do any sit-down, written work; let them master pre-writing skills through drawing and crafts, and teach concepts through play, discussion, and games.

Provide your children the opportunity to succeed by allowing plenty of practice with new skills and concepts through repetition. Repetition strengthens and reinforces learning.

Most importantly, disciple your children in the ways of the Lord. Introduce favorite Bible stories and themes of the Bible, and use them to teach simple doctrinal truths like “God loves me,” “God made me,” “Jesus is God’s son,” and so on. Teach, practice, and train to develop good habits, manners and morals.

Parents who endeavor to do these things need never fear that they are not providing enough for their children. In fact, they are providing the very best for their children. No “educational toy,” “preschool program,” or “expert preschool teacher” can provide the love, individualized attention, and discipleship training loving parents can. I know this from first-hand experience-I used to be one of those “expert preschool teachers.” When I was on playground duty, children would gather around me to talk or be held.  I loved those children; but that love in no way compares to the love I have for my own children. After the first of my four was born, I realized that as a preschool teacher, I was nothing more than a poor substitute for Mom.  Those children weren’t gathered around me because I was such a wonderful teacher; they were simply hungry for love and attention-the kind of love and attention they should have received from their own parents. Much of their day was spent in loneliness and confusion.

Don’t let the messages of the world make you doubt your decision to disciple your children at home. Stand firm in the face of the “expert’s” advice. Your children will never need anyone or anything more than they need you. Let them have the love, time, and attention of their own parents. That’s all they really need.

Susan Lemons and her husband have been married for 23 years, and have homeschooled their four children (ages 19, 15, 6 and 4) “from birth.” Susan has earned both Associate and Bachelor Degrees in Child Development, and serves the homeschooling community as a mentor, “first contact” for new homeschoolers, and conference speaker.

This article was originally published in the Mar/Apr ’07 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com.