Betty down the street swears that a video series and three hours of one-on-one tutoring a day taught her two year old to read and define everyday words like "onomatopoeia" and " tax deduction." Then there's Uncle Bob who scoffs at your attempt to teach your preschooler to count to 10. With conviction he demands that you, "Just let 'em be kids, confound it!"

What is a homeschooling parent to do? Where is the line? Is "confound it" still used, and what does it mean?

 

 Preschoolers looking at a book

3-year-olds are always this attentive.

As it turns out, both Betty and Uncle Bob make fair points. Your child will flourish with a little bit of intentional instruction, but they don't need to forfeit their overall kidliness in the process. Fortunately, there is a time and a place for both sides of the coin when homeschooling preschool-age kidsters.

You're Already Homeschooling

First things first. It is time to cast ye ol' homeschooling label out yonder window. If you have ever sung "Wheels on the Bus" or the "ABC's" to your child, congratulations! You are officially homeschooling. By simply talking, singing, and reading to your kid, you are laying important foundations for future learning. So, take a breath and get your sing on.

Reading

Let's face it. Sometimes it's hard to determine which educational activity is best for kids. But let's go out on a limb here and say the importance of reading is pretty much a given. Experts agree that reading out loud to young children is one of the single greatest indicators of eventual success in school and life. That is cartoon-style-piano-falling-50-stories-to-the-head heavy, as far as importance goes.

Fortunately, reading cannot be overdone, as much as the 50-story-piano analogy may suggest otherwise. Plus: it is fairly easy to do. If you can read this, you are equipped to read to your preschooler. Congratulations. And whether you are reading one-word picture books out loud or using song ballads from The Hobbit as sleepy time material, all is fair in love and books.

Here are a few brain massaging ideas to help you as you read to and with your child. Remember, it is never too early to master the oh-so-important life skill known as critical thinking.

  • Talk about the pictures.
  • Talk about the story.
  • Talk about how the pictures relate to the story.
  • Predict what will happen next.
  • Ask a lot of open-ended questions. (What is the "bowl full of mush" in Goodnight Moon? What is it doing on the nightstand? Seriously, it's weird.)
  • Identify specific words on a page. Mush!
  • Consider what different characters may be feeling and why.

Play

As much as you hate to admit it, Uncle Bob was right. For the earliest of learners, you can't beat the power of play. While it is tempting to sit 3-year-old Johnny down with a pencil and paper to practice advanced ABC's, it has been recognized that the best way for young children to build foundational knowledge is interacting with the world around them.

This means allowing your youngsters unstructured time to make mud pies, slide down slides, and use chalk to draw Picasso-esque pictures of family members. You don't even have to tell them who Picasso is. (Yet.) Check out this fantastic list of play-based benefits.

Better yet, short bursts of structured learning can be incorporated into playtime. Yeah, we knew you were dying to tell them about Guernica. So hey, let's prepare kids for school, and make it entertaining. Here goes:

  • Play active learning games. For example, have your child find and run to different colored items around the room.
  • Sing songs.
  • Point out different letters or numbers when you are out and about.
  • Play dough—Nuff said.
  • Use kid scissors to shred up some construction paper.
  • Count anything and everything.
  • Scribble and draw with pencils.

Make sure that you go at your child's pace, and encourage them along the way. Semi-direct instruction that is fun and engaging (and super short) is the best way to build up a kiddo who will love learning.