By Kendra Fletcher
She had a million questions, but the night was young and we propped our feet up by the fire pit, watching the party-goers refill their cups. Country music blared loudly on the stereo, and we scooched our legs out of the way as children darted past us on their quest for important play dates on the lawn.
She was starting from square one: two nephews struggling in school, their mom single and sweating through her own classes at the junior college. “I think I could do this,” she was timidly telling me. I knew she could. She has a master’s degree, but really, a loving parent who knows how to read can do this without the hard-won degrees or any classroom experience at all. Homeschooling preschoolers requires two things: (1) a desire to teach a child to love learning and (2) a big huge heart with the capacity to embrace quirky kid stuff and their pea-sized attention spans.
She asked me where I find my curriculum, and I smiled the maniacal smile that always seems to naturally emerge whether I mean for it to or not. It’s just sort of a reflex. Whenever I’m asked about homeschool curriculum, the first things that come to mind are the massive vendor halls I’ve encountered at various homeschooling conventions over the years and how unbelievably overwhelming all of those materials can be. Math-U-See? Rod and Staff? Charlotte Mason? What do these and the hundreds of other homeschool buzzwords and company names mean to someone who’s just beginning—someone like my friend who desires to homeschool her nephews or perhaps someone like . . . you?
I wished that night that I could just hand her a toolbox full of everything that would be helpful to prepare a preschooler for the next few years, but there are really so many variables and so many options. Aren’t we blessed? From dollar-store coloring books to high-quality preschool television shows to pre-packaged, all-inclusive curricula, there is something out there to get the job of teaching letters, numbers, shapes, colors, and an awareness of our communities for every type of teaching and learning style.
As Christians, often we make the choice to homeschool because we want the time to impart Biblical wisdom to our kids. We know the value of memorizing Scripture and desire to take advantage of the earliest years when memory work comes so readily to a spongey mind. You already have the tools for that—your Bible, some scratch paper, a pen! Write your favorite verses down, and begin over breakfast when your preschooler is a captive audience with her mouth full of Cheerios and her ears wide open to hear. Those littlest ones will be memorizing circles around you in no time.
What else would go into that great big preschool toolbox I’d give to my friend? Books. Picture books and nonfiction and classic children’s books and nature books and books about art and books about God. Books about topics you love (think: surfing, food, pets, cars, camping, etc.). Piles of books from garage sales, baskets of books from the library. Opened, read aloud, and read aloud again.
I’d include as many age-appropriate art supplies as I could fit into the box: crayons, colored pencils, scratch paper, and finger paints are all standards, but I’d also make room for washable markers, yummy-smelling play dough and stamps—but no glitter. That would just be mean.
There would be room for toys that stretch the imagination and teach through playing. There’s so much value in lining up cars, building a train track, nurturing a baby doll, and peddling a trike as fast as the wind. Little neurons are fired and problems are solved; no worksheet can do the same job as quickly or as thoroughly.
I’d send her an iTunes gift card to purchase wonderful music that would fill the ears of everyone in her home: classical standards, praise music, tunes from around the world, peppy jazz, and fun children’s ditties like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “London Bridge.” I’d encourage her to create a playlist to accompany breakfast, one that might soothe a sleepy or frightened child, and one with which to dance around the kitchen like crazy people on a mission to get the dinner dishes washed while having as much fun as possible.
And bubble bath. I’d include bubble bath in two scents: one for the little guys and one for her. Homeschooling preschoolers is hard work, and sometimes the most restful end of the day is one enjoyed in deep, warm water with a magazine and a glass of something cold in hand. Mamas (or aunties) of homeschooled preschoolers need plenty of time to recharge.
I’m already praying for my young friend who is contemplating the serious matter of homeschooling her nephews. She’s going to need the Holy Spirit to whisper gently in her ear and remind her during the most challenging days why she began this whole thing in the first place. She’s going to need reminding that her successes and failures are laid bare at the cross, where Jesus did it all already, and where she can rest in the knowledge that He loves her and those two sweet children more wholly than anyone else ever will. As with anything God calls us to do, she’ll be equipped with exactly what He wants her to have, whether or not I’ve included it in her great big preschool toolbox.
Preschool Toolbox Toys and Tools
• Waldorf Dolls: http://www.waldorf-toys.com/english.php
• Corolle Dolls: http://www.corolle.com
• CitiBlocs: http://www.citiblocs.com
• Legos: http://www.lego.com
• Kettler Trikes: http://www.kettlerusa.com/toys/tricycles/2822
• Brio Trains: http://www.woodentracks.com
• Wooden Puzzles: http://www.melissaanddoug.com/childrens-wooden-puzzles
• Stack and Roll Cups: http://www.fisher-price.com/fp.aspx?st=2341&e=detail&pcat=bubrilliant&pid=38607
• Fisher Price Farm: http://www.fisher-price.com/fp.aspx?st=2053&e=product&pid=37354
• Homemade Play Dough: happybrownhouse.com/2010/10/01/homemade-playdough-recipe-printable
• Jolanthe Erb has created a treasure trove of early learning printables for you to use with your preschoolers, and every single one is free: homeschoolcreations.com/EarlyLearningPrintables.html
• Crayon Crafts: happybrownhouse.com/2012/02/20/mommy-me-pretty-paper-factory
• Timberdoodle Company chooses quality homeschool products for all ages, and their preschool resources have been a hit with our family for twelve years: http://www.timberdoodle.com
• Download free audio stories for little ones at StoryNory: http://www.storynory.com
• Elizabeth Foss and friends post wonderful, creative, and inspiring lesson plans that can turn a preschooler’s day into a delightful literary adventure: http://www.ebeth.typepad.com/serendipity
• Our 5-year-old positively squeals with delight when one of Shirley’s craft packages arrives in the mail: http://www.shirleysprepackagedcrafts.com
• The magazine that is chock full of ideas for families also hosts a site with searchable resources for games, parties, crafts, and reviews: http://www.familyfun.com
• If your preschooler is itching for workbooks, Rod and Staff offers a quality, time-tested, and affordable preschool curriculum: http://www.rodandstaffbooks.com/list/Rod_and_Staff_Preschool
• Take the 1000 Good Books list to the library with you and discover a stack of reading for you and your preschooler to enjoy: http://www.classical-homeschooling.org/celoop/1000-primary.html
• The Crafty Crow is a lovely compendium of crafts even non-crafty moms like me can pull off: http://www.belladia.typepad.com/crafty_crow
• Terrific and free unit studies, lapbooks, and lots of other preschool goodies: http://www.homeschoolshare.com
Kendra Fletcher is the homeschooling mother of eight, aged 19 down to 4. She has never known what it means to homeschool without the presence of preschoolers and loves to encourage other moms who are beginning their homeschool journeys with little ones underfoot. Kendra reviews for the TOS Homeschool Crew and is the author of a popular E-Book about creating a Circle Time for your homeschool. Her website and blog can be found at http://www.preschoolersandpeace.com.
Copyright 2013, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.