Saturday, June 23, 2012

Homeschool Preschool

I posted a couple of months ago about the preschool plan I was crafting for Linus and Veda. With a little more time to refine my thoughts about preschool and how preschool might work for us, my thoughts have evolved a bit.

Initially I sought to to recreate a Montessori experience as closely as can be done in a home environment. The more I researched it, though, the more stressed I became about it. Why? A couple of reasons:

1. When in the whoopie pie am I supposed to find the time to plan all of those activities/shop for the materials/create the materials/assemble the materials? Not practical at this stage when they require constant attention. And where am I supposed to store all of that stuff when it's out of rotation?

2. Creating a schedule that accommodates weekly activities like library story times, our signing class, and play groups on certain days and at differing times... it's a little confusing. Then there's fitting in play dates, fun excursions to places like the zoo, running errands... When I sat down to create a schedule that included all of that stuff and the things I wanted to include as part of our preschool schedule like outdoor time, Montessori tray activities, arts and crafts, music, free play, puzzles and games, circle times... it was literally impossible to fit everything in in a day.

Then for about five minutes I wondered if I should enroll the kids in one of the local Montessori schools. Tuition? We'd be paying more for preschool on a monthly basis than for our mortgage. Not an option. Not for preschool.

Then I started thinking about how kids benefit from preschool and early childhood education. A few highlights: Preschool helps kids learn skills, both academic and social, that will prepare them for kindergarten. The kids for whom preschool makes the most positive difference are children who do not have opportunities to practice those skills in their homes or daycares.

This might be a good point to interject why I've been putting so much thought into the whole preschool thing in the first place. Preschool is a very different animal than it was 20 years ago. These days preschool is being pushed for every child (not just for underprivileged children), and governments are scrambling to fund expanding public preschool programs. With more rigorous academic standards (or the perception of more rigorous academic standards) being the talk of the day, parents are eager to give their children a leg up in the school game. Most of us know that the early childhood years are a period of crucial brain development, and we want to set our children up for success.

Then there's the issue of homeschooling. With so much of the general public still critical of homeschooling, homeschooling parents feel a lot of pressure to prove that we're doing right by our children. We want it clear to everyone that our children are bright, thriving, and performing just as well or better than their conventionally-schooled peers. I find myself falling into this desire-to-please-others trap a bit, but I keep reminding myself of this...


Not that there's anything wrong with being that kid. You'd better believe that when my kids do something amazing, I'm the proudest mom on the block.

But who wins the preschool game? I think it's the kid who learns organically through practical life and play activities. It's the kid who gets to play outside every day. It's the kid who still loves learning when he starts school and pursues academic achievement out of intrinsic motivation rather than a desire to elicit praise from adults. It's the kid who gets to pursue his own interests and gets plenty of help in areas where he needs support.

I hope it's my kids. And I hope that I come out of it still enthusiastic about another thirteen years of homeschooling because I haven't burned myself out trying to adhere to a rigid schedule and forgoing what little decompression time I do have to whittle away at an impossible To Do list.

What ARE we going to do?

1. Keep doing all the great stuff we're doing now - kiddie/family concerts, yoga in the backyard, library storytimes, trips to aquariums and planetariums, reading lots and lots and lots of books, playing with toys, making friends, swinging and sliding, digging in the sandbox, coloring, sculpting with play dough...

2. Include a Montessori element, primarily following the book Teach Me to Do It Myself by Maja Pitamic. But I'm not going to worry about the low shelves, the minimalist environment, offering several choices. We'll just work on things as we're ready for them.

That's it. I think it's appropriate.

Bottom line, I have to remember that even though there's a trend toward formal preschool for everyone, staying at home with them is really, really great, and I'm not letting them down.

Not when we do stuff like this:
Drawing. We try to make some kind of art every day.

Playing with science: dropping colored vinegar into baking soda (Yup, from Pinterest!) 

... And learning that we get bigger fizzies if we drop the baking soda into the bowl of vinegar 

Practicing our balance by walking on a painter's tape course 

Making hand print crafts at one of our town's summer recreation events for children

Attending an event for our library's summer reading program that featured reptiles and exotic animals

Going on play dates

"Helping" me out in the kitchen, which involves lots of great fine motor practice 

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