Counting bears, matching games, dot-to-dots, posters, glueing googly eyes on a paper bag puppets…sometimes I wish I could be one of those moms. It’s not that I do not think these items have a place in the education of my children. I’ve just discovered over the years that they do not have a more important role than the simple discovery of life that toddlers and little ones are supposed to be doing every day. When did knowing the letters of the alphabet at age 2 displace playing with bugs and sticks? I used to think that if I had the right games and materials and “proven this” and “method that,” all my teaching would practically be done for me. But there is a price to pay when you have all that stuff, not the least of which is the expense of the stuff itself. Having children almost every year has made it virtually impossible to have any semblance of real preschool, which has been God’s mercy in hindsight. It’s really hard to glue googly eyes on anything when you’re nursing a newborn.
My experience has taught me that my children did not retain nearly what they “should have” retained from all the preschool activities we tried to do early on. What I should have been practicing all along – K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) There is no rush to know all the letters of the alphabet and all their sounds, especially when the children want to be running and jumping and building forts on the couch and figuring out how to jump over the cushions. The attention span is all of 5 minutes at those young ages anyway, so why did I frustrate myself trying to make them learn something that they were not ready to learn? I have found that teaching the children to do real activities has made a MUCH bigger impact than trying to get them to single out vowel refrigerator magnets – and it’s FREE! Unloading the flatware from the dishwasher – that’s sorting – hey, that sounds like…math! Helping mom sort darks and lights, match socks, put different kinds of toys in separate bins – these are all “educational” and I did not have to purchase hundreds of dollars of stuff that will sit in my cabinet unused (and make me feel guilty every time I walk by it) because my children would rather play with bubbles in the kitchen sink.
The push for early childhood education is unbelievable these days. One of these years, you will have to be born in the right hospital in order to get into the right university! A large portion of state and city budgets will be spent trying to expand programs like Head Start. But there are plenty of critics of these kinds of programs who say that the results are only seen very early and by the time a child is in fifth grade, the difference between kids who spent hours of their days in directed play and those who did not is minimal at best. But by that time, all those tax dollars are gone.
My twins are almost two, and they do not know their letters yet (gasp). My firstborn daughter knew her letters by that age, and though I was really proud of that at the time, I realize now that she was not having any fun. She is an advanced reader, but I do not believe that had anything to do with me forcing her to play with special flash cards and fridge magnets. It has more to do with what we used when she was ready to start learning how to read. I’m more relaxed with the babies, and I know they will learn how to read when they are ready. No amount of expensive toys is going to change that. These days, preschool consists of reading aloud to them while they play on the floor at my feet, and even then I sometimes feel like I’m just talking into the air. The rest of the days are spent in discovery mode – touching things, talking about things, listening to things, and all of that centers around their interests. Why weren’t we doing it this way years ago?
All this does not change how I feel about projects once school does begin. If there ever were children who loved hands-on learning more than my kids, I would love to meet them. The wonderful thing about homeschooling is that I have so much freedom to teach my children in the way that they learn. So far, Chavah is my most kinesthetic learner. She simply cannot learn or retain anything unless she is hopping on one foot or filing her nails (yes, it’s a big deal to her) or coloring. I have to learn that moving around and not sitting still can be appropriate in the classroom. Sometimes it goes against my own learning instincts, because I am easily distracted by movement. But we’re all on this learning journey together, right?