I waited patiently for 5 years to start homeschooling…okay perhaps not all that patiently. I “might” have been guilty of trying to push academics on my little ones. Thankfully they pushed back just as emphatically and won…and then went back to their play.
In the year Ethan turned 6, which is the year Aussie kids start Prep (it used to be called preschool) or Grade One, we started trialling a school routine. For two reasons I knew I needed to keep our school day simple and not too long. Firstly, the boys might revolt if I tried to make them sit and work all day at the mere ages of 6 and 4; and secondly, being my first year I didn’t want to burn myself out either. Both parties needed to ease into formal school time.
To keep things simple, we focused on the basics – the things I considered important foundations – Bible reading, beginning Mathematics, beginning sounds and something interesting to read about and explore.
Our mornings started by snuggling on the couch listening to bible stories from a children’s bible. This was a habit that would continue over the years and change very little.
In Mathematics we counted a lot of things. We counted while skipping and jumping on the trampoline. We played lots of simple Math games – some that I printed off the internet and some that I purchased. Early Math was relatively easy to incorporate into our days as it was something that came fairly naturally.
We approached beginning sounds in much the same way. We did a little bit of bookwork which Ethan really enjoyed. He felt very grown up doing “real work”. But, like Mathematics, the rest of our learning happened while moving and playing. Our favourite ‘beginning sounds’ activity was writing letters on the floor tiles in chalk and then hopping on each, and making its sound before moving on.
With both Language and Mathematics I learned that these skills, while they seem easy to us, won’t be learned overnight. They take time and lots of practise. I also observed that as I added new concepts to their repertoire, often they would start forgetting or confusing something they already knew. It wasn’t something I needed to lose sleep over as in time the puzzle pieces would all slot nicely into place. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Shame I didn’t know that at the time – but second borns reap the benefits thankfully.
Our last core part of our curriculum was our “something interesting to read about and explore” work – otherwise known as themes or interest based studies. While I knew we would go on to study Geography, History and Science as separate subjects I didn’t want to dive right into all of them in the first year. I wanted to tantalise the boys with little bite sized pieces of what was to come.
Our first themes were plants, elephants (after we fed them at Australia Zoo and fell in love with them), and the human body. I didn’t set any timeline for our themes. We just continued to explore the topics until our interest started to wane and then we moved onto the next topic.
I had no elaborate plan for what we would cover during each theme. All I did was keep a folder of cool activities and ideas for each theme and then selected from the collection during my planning time. I did have a basic idea of broad concepts within each theme so we could work in some sort of orderly fashion. This was useful for some topics more than others. For example, when we explored the human body I made a basic list of body systems, key organs and body parts that could be explored and grouped them into a logical progression of study.
What about music and art and all the other subjects, you might be thinking? Well that’s the beauty of themed based work. It can integrate activities from many different subject areas. Our unit on plants, for example, sounds like a Science topic, which it was. But at the same time we utilised art and craft skills to make garden collages, a plastic cup flower and stain-glass flower petal pictures. We utilised our Language skills when we read non-fiction books about plants, scoured plant books for activity ideas we’d like to try and enjoyed fiction stories where plants and gardens were central in some way. Our Math skills were put to use as we made graphs and measured the growth of our plants. In SOSE (Studies of Society and Environment) we visited plant nurseries, Botanical gardens and watched DVDs about deforestation and the importance of plants. And of course we learned and listened to songs and music about plants, trees and flowers.
This theme-based or unit study approach eased us into our studies while allowing us to sample a little of everything that was on offer. No we didn’t choose to continue with this approach in the following years, as I felt the approach can be a little too shallow for older students, but it was an ideal choice for us in our first years.
“School” in this first year was no more than an hour or two long and I did my best to include my then 4 year old. He insisted! The rest of the day was spent running and playing as they always had.
During this time it was more important for me to have other homeschoolers to socialise with, than it was for the children. As I started out I needed people to share our challenges and successes with. I also learned a lot from what other homeschoolers were doing. Some people have said that homeschool groups were beneficial to their children when their peers started heading off to school for the first time. It was important for them to see other children that weren’t going to school and to feel just as “normal” as their school-bound peers. Different but normal.
These first years were a steep learning curve but I learned that education is a life-long journey. Small consistent steps with the end goal in mind was vital. I also learned that mistakes are inevitable, we just have to make sure we learn from them. And that commitment to this challenging but ultimately rewarding task is what will see us through those days when we’re considering giving up.
Enjoy your preschool years.
Get messy occasionally.
Soak up the sunshine.
Be a bit silly.
Treasure those first days as you begin your homeschool journey.
They are the beginning of some wonderful experiences together.