I remember when I first started homeschooling my young children several years ago. I had all these images and imaginings in my head. But I never knew what this amazing adventure was going to look and be like.
I thought of projects, and laughter, and smiles, and the kids reveling in their learning…I was quite the dreamer and idealist, no?
AND THEN reality struck when I got a good dose of truth pretty early on.
I had no idea what I was getting into, but I also do not regret those years one bit.
I have grown so much through these years. My kids have grown SO much. And, most importantly, we have grown closer throughout them.
Some things have helped me to simplify and bless the early years of the homeschooling young children adventure.
I have learned many things over the years, so my hope is that they are a blessing for you, too.
Tips for Homeschooling Young Children
An Overview for Ages 1-10
An overarching idea to always keep in mind is that there is a fine line between love and boundaries.
It is a GREAT thing to love our children.
BUT if we love them by giving them everything they want or don’t hold clear standards at home, they will not receive the right foundation to become mature and beneficial adults in the world.
I know this is years down the road. I know it seems FAR away.
Growth comes together in stages
Small steps done regularly throughout a whole life make for huge gains over time.
It is okay to set boundaries, and it is okay for children to take time to understand them.
You are both learning, all the time. Make sure you give yourself and your children plenty of grace as you learn what it looks like to live out love and law (i.e. Grace AND Boundaries/Rules).
Ages 1-4: Introduction to Life at Home
Most people do not really think about “homeschooling” when they have kids in this age range. But, if you have babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers to whom you have taught the ABCs, 123s, colors, shapes, and animal sounds, you have already begun the process of teaching your children.
So much of the earliest years is all about setting the foundation for a learning environment. Even taking a few moments each day to simply help your child learn about something helps.
These years become structurally important to build upon the lessons of the following years. It helps things down the road to focus on your homeschooling why and vision for the future.
During this season it is beneficial to work on the basics that will help simplify your teaching time later. Provide time for little ones to practice the art of stillness benefits everyone.
It takes practice to sit in one location and happily sit with a toy. Blanket time or toys in a pack ‘n play, or gated area are all solutions we have used for a baby or toddler. If a tantrum followed, we regularly and repeatedly encouraged them to sit and play.
Parenting is a long road…but it’s good.
It tends to be the whole “regularly and repeatedly” part that trips us parents up. Truly, it can quickly become annoying to hear a toddler throw a tantrum when they don’t get their way.
If you have a child like this, be thankful for their persistent design.
Try to teach what you need to teach while also giving them the freedom to roam as they are made.
Set a timer for 5 minutes to start. Encourage that little one to stay put until the timer goes off. Then, let them know they can get up. Make it visible for them if possible.
As soon as the timer goes off, make a big stink about how great a job they did sitting. Even if they did not do well at first, praise them for the specific things they did do well.
Do not, however, lie to or flatter a child who fought. Rather, focus on ANYTHING they did right. If they sat quietly for 10 seconds because they were taking deep breaths from being upset, YAY! Praise them for it.
Remember, training a child takes time
Training a child to sit obediently takes time and love, so gear yourself up for this journey.
It is a process.
As they become more and more familiar with what you want them to do, and understand that this is only for a specific period of time, they will fight less and less.
As this happens, work on gradually increasing the time incrementally until you reach about 30 minute stretches at a time (this will likely take months).
Then, you will have set a fine foundation for future learning times.
It’s NEVER too late
Even if you missed teaching these things when your child was a young toddler, you can still begin to add in the concept with an older toddler or pre-schooler.
They may resist at first, but consistency, firmness, and gentility will surely help them to learn the new expectation that they will adjust to soon enough.
Just stay consistent.
I am a big fan of timers, so even if you need to set a timer to remind yourself to practice this at a specific time of day, do so. There’s no shame in recognizing the need for technological helpers.
This REALLY will pass
As a child hits the older ages in this range, the ability to sit for a period of time allows for the introduction the early basics like coloring, writing, building with blocks, looking at books, playing with creative toys, or you reading a book out loud, etc.
All of this is learning, even if not put on a white or blackboard and lectured out each day.
The fundamentals are being developed, slowly but surely, when kids receive time to practice the art of stillness and focus on one task for a period of time.
Little people need to move
Do not overlook the importance of movement and learning through exploration during this period of time.
The points mentioned above are focused on small periods of time, rather than an overarching norm in the day.
The normal expectation during the day really needs to be a lot of exploration and changing of activities. Even if you simply give your children guidelines or boundaries to allow for this, it is still important for it to occur.
Creativity is fostered through exploration and learning about new things.
This is when the more common stuff of homeschooling tends to begin to enter the minds of most parents who have decided to take on the role of teacher, too.
Most parents jump into curriculums and projects, paperwork and portfolios at this time, but unless required by your state, there is a lot of wiggle room for the amount of depth you jump into just yet.
I believe that these years are best suited to a gentle practice of the next level of learning that follows the basics from the previous section, while still allowing for plenty of creative time and movement to facilitate a deeper learning and practice through play.
Ease into it
This stage is a great time to further develop the fine motor skills that are being practiced and developed more and more.
Work on holding a pencil/crayon/pen with a proper hold. Encourage them regularly to apply more or less pressure on their utensil tip to get a better result. Give them short, simple words or phrases to copy down and practice penmanship (whether you choose to do print, cursive, or both is up to you…we do both).
Introduce manipulatives in math with simple counting tasks. Count socks while folding laundry, or the number of birds in a picture in a book. Point out various things you see while taking a walk, or out for errands, and ask them to do basic addition tasks that they can handle.
Introduce phonics and the foundation for reading, and then give them simple words while living your day. I love to simply ask my early reader how to spell things like CAT or DOG as they begin to grasp phonics, and then gradually increase the difficulty over time. It’s been a great thread to weave learning into living.
Ensure a period of “reading time” where they will practice on their own the things they have been practicing at other times with you.
For us this is placed during the daily quiet time, which allows the littles to get a good rest, while those ages 6+ do reading for a set time (usually 1 ½ – 2 hours Monday-Friday).
I only keep books I trust, and usually classics, around for them to use for the most part, but they are free to choose a less formal book options during free time reading the rest of the day. Quiet time is still considered school time, so the kids are allowed to choose from pre-determined books for this period of the day.
Begin to set the foundation for use of resource books, like the dictionary and thesauruses, to look up important information. This is an important skill for learning down the road.
I also try to keep table time and sitting periods minimized in this age group, because it is still a season of lots of movement.
Embrace the world’s classroom
Learning happens in a lot of forms, and book work is only one of them, so consider taking the classroom outside and engage with life and creation as the lesson of the day.
Be patient. It takes time to learn and recognize how YOUR child was made, what THEIR strengths and weaknesses are, and any character quirks that need to be fine-tuned over the years to come.
Again, this is a process, not a project; it will be long-term and eventual. So adjust any expectations of immediate results or changes to be in alignment with a long-term vision for your family and child.
The brain really begins to develop even further during these years. They are a great time to dig in a little deeper with learning and thought development.
It is a good time to begin a more intention curriculum plan at this time, but even that is a personal choice as to how much, how soon, and how intentional.
Find what is working for your family, your goals, and your child and stick with that.
As long as the child is learning new things and move forward in their comprehension, you are succeeding in home education.
It is okay to simply encourage a child to keep doing their best, especially if you have a “late bloomer” in reading, or slower than expected math master.
Do not get caught up with standards, averages, percentiles, and grades. They are NOT real world methods for assessment. Be patient and continue to work on the problems. Your child will come around.
The goal in this season is to continue to foster the love of learning, not to engage in a particular method of learning.
The method may look very different for each child.
Know the vision that you have for your family and where you want to lead them. Then provide ample options to let them follow, while still having a mode of decision-making and control.
For instance, allow them to choose whatever book they want from a pre-selected group of books that you have okayed for them.
This is choice with boundaries and it is something that you will continue for the rest of your mothering journey.
Kids, too, benefit, because as adults they will need to know how to make good choices according to God’s Ways. This is a life skill, so don’t be afraid to let them learn it.
Choose a math program you like, are comfortable with, and suits the needs of your child. And then let them go at it!
In our home we focus on self-taught studies that I oversee from a standpoint of administration, rather than teacher.
We teach the kids to turn to resources for their learning, rather than simply asking mom all the time.
Dictionaries, thesauruses, and the lessons in their books are the first places they need to turn if they have questions about materials.
I usually listen to what they ask to see if they really need my help, but only if they have already given the problem some thought and are clearly coming up short.
Some kids need help a bit more than others. As soon as they grasp the concept, though, I back away again to let their brains take charge.
In addition, I also firmly believe that kids still need time to continue to develop their creative interests. It does not benefit children to keep them constantly in some kind of formal learning environment.
I do not believe it fosters a love for learning.
Many children benefit from involvement in artistic skills and trades that they may love more and more throughout the years.
I believe it is invaluable to try to keep some free time available for kids of all ages. In this way, they can continue to move from play to skill development over time.
(…And Beyond) Uncharted territory for us so far
I have an idea and a vision for this next season of growth. We are continuing to work towards it in our home. The foundational years discussed here have really set the stage for a fun and engaging time in years to come.
Don’t be afraid to make a change
It is never too late to make a game change and choose a different path.
If your homeschooling experience is not looking the way you want, change it!
Never be afraid of change, especially when it is done with intention! This is often the best, and most successful, kind of change.