The Not Really Kindergarten Post

In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother's first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet and growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it for the most part spent out in the fresh air.

~Charlotte Mason

I hesitate to call this post "the kindergarten post." There have been lots of notes requesting "The Kindergarten Post." So, if you've been asking, this is it. Sort of. But more accurately, this is the starting to think through "Learning at Home with 3-6-Year-Olds" post.

I had several opportunities to observe and teach in many different settings while in college and right after graduation. The three that I look upon most fondly all had quite a few things in common. One of those things stands out: they considered the "kindergarten year" to be more than one year.

In the two private school settings (each of a different philosophy), children were grouped in "family groupings" and a class was composed of children who were three to six years old. In the public school setting, I taught in a "transitional first grade," a class specifically designed to give children a three year kindergarten and first grade experience. In all three settings, there were very bright children, who were still "technically" kindergartners during their six-year-old year. And in all three settings, children were peaceful. These were three settings that considered the integrated development of the child and weighted social and emotional growth equally or more heavily than academic growth.

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Karoline has been talking incessantly about kindergarten.  A couple of months ago she asked her daddy if she is in kindergarten now. He shot me a quizzical look and I nodded. We pay very little attention to "grades" around here. If she wants to say she's in kindergarten, she certainly can. And she is. She's four. In this house, kindergarteners are between three and six years old. {Interestingly, one of the big indicators for first grade readiness in all three of the programs above was the loss of baby teeth, also called the change of teeth. Not sure why I put that there. Couldn't find another place to mention it.}

So, Karoline is officially in kindergarten. And since Sarah Annie will be three in late October. (Can you believe it? Yeah, me neither.) She will soon be in "kindergarten," too. I asked Karoline early last week what she wanted to learn in kindergarten. She was sitting all curled up on the blue chair in the room that has become our craft studio. I was sewing. The reply came quickly, "I want to learn to sew." Well, ok, we can do that. We'll learn together.

I had a hunch. So I did a little experiment.

The next time I asked Karoline what she wanted to learn in kindergarten, I was cooking. She wants to learn to cook.

I began to futher test my theory.

I'm knitting. She wants to "knit better."

I'm dusting. She wants to polish furniture.

I'm doing laundry. She wants to learn to fold socks "the tricky way."

If I'm doing it, she wants to learn to do it. And if it has to do with bringing order and beauty to her environment, all the better. She is sensitive to order and beauty in her world right now. 

And so she shall work alongside me, both of us using our hands. Whether we call it "practical life"  or  "life skills," little ones should be spending lots of time doing meaningful activities with their hands. They should learn to use real tools (whether knitting or sewing or cooking or woodworking or vacuuming dust bunnies) carefully and to return their environments to order every single time. And those environments? 

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Those environments, the ones in which peaceful children thrive, are thoughtfully prepared. They don't have to be special child-sized rooms; they just have to be rooms where children are welcomed and considered. They have to be spaces where children come alongside an adult who cares and learns what it is to be a compassionate, empathetic, to respect space and boundaries, to care for the small environment that he shares with his immediate community.

In two of the three environments I mentioned above, the schools strive as much as possible to create "homelike" spaces. There is intentional "family grouping," which means classes of children aged two-and-a-half up to and including age six. Those of us who educate at home already have the underpinnings of the best early childhood school environment. We have a home atmosphere and we have family groupings.

The goal within the environment probably should be clearly defined in our minds, though, even at home, maybe especially at home. We must be intentional, lest the opportunities slip through our fingers. And we must be patient. This is not about barreling through a checklist of academic proficiencies. There is a movement afoot to accelerate through academics. Is he reading yet? Can he work equations? Is his handwriting clear ? What grade is he in?

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Those are not the questions of my intentions in the early childhood years. I close my ears to them. Because they are not true to my own sense of what is valuable for our family. When I first started homeschooling, a generation ago now, I was primarily motivated by the opportunity to spend our days learning together as a family.  I had taught in classrooms. Some quite good, some really awful. The idea of  family groupings so appealed to me in college that I did a senior honors project on it. Little did I know back then that the idea would grow organically in my home. We were creating our own family grouping in our own nurturing environment. We wanted to teach them to think creatively, to pursue their passions, to wonder and watch. And Mike and I both firmly believed in providing the time. Time. The desire to homeschool grew out of a life-changing experience. I talked at length in this old piece on preschool about what cancer taught me about time and young children. Really, none of this will make much sense unless you read that. 

Our primary goal in this home, with these children, is not academic excellence. It is time

Our primary goal is living a life of faith wholeheartedly together as a family. Our primary goal is to give them time for intimate relationships–with God, with nature, with art, with literature, with science, with us. This is what we have chosen. It is what is right for our family–for this husband and wife and the children God has given them.

Please don't misunderstand. I think academic excellence is a worthy endeavor. I just don't think my children need to get a leg up on algebra in the second grade at the expense of time in relationship to other significant people. Instead of the academic questions above, the questions framed in our home are, "Is he managing his time well?" "Does he listen to his siblings when they talk or just barrel over them?" "Is he orderly?" "Does he respect boundaries?" "Does he ask thoughtful questions?" "Is his speech sprinkled liberally with familiar references to God?" "Can he still himself and listen and watch with ears and eyes wide with wonder?" "Does he care?"

I believe that if I can work towards the affirmative in those questions in the early years, the academic success will come. And it will come with social, emotional and spiritual peace. 

Can he read? It matters not just yet. And if he can, well, then, good for him. Let him read–just don't cram stories down his throat with endless required booklists and a hurry-up demeanor.

Can he wonder? Is he curious? Do we have time to just sit and watch and ponder aloud together? We will read to him, yes, and that sense of story will serve him well when it is time to learn to read. But even more importantly, just now, that world of books will pique his curiosity. He will be motivated to learn. He will care that he can find in books what he wants to know.

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I live in the most highly educated corner of the country, according to some studies. The pressure on children to excel academically is real and palpable. From very young ages, some local children are carted from one "opportunity" to the next by intellectually eager parents, all with the primary intention to assure admission to the finest universities. How they will be presented on a college application is buzzing in the minds of children before they even enter grade school. It's all about getting in–even in preschool. It's all about proving oneself smarter and more accomplished. It's all about getting ahead of the other guy, jostling for position, one-upping academically. 

I'm not anti-competition. Ahem. I think we can all agree that my kids compete. And I totally think we should nurture gifts. The real world is full of competition. But I'm adamantly opposed to sacrificing innocence and wonder and childhood joy to the grown-up agenda of beating out the other guy. I'm opposed to sacrificing family life to the building of a child's academic curriculum vitae. A child has an opportunity to be a child just once.  I don't think we should squander childhood by thrusting children into the competitive marketplace too soon.

My friend and college study buddy, Jan, was here last week and we were reminiscing about former students. There was a little boy who was in one of the 3-6 programs mentioned above when he was pre-school age. He was my student. And he was incredibly bright. Brilliant. His parents were academics and it was clear that the priority for his education was to be the smartest. Blessed with abundant natural intelligence, he was very, very, very smart. But he couldn't remember to replace his coat on the hook after time outdoors. He never played with the other children. He rarely would look me in the eye when he spoke. 

He left the 3-6 program to begin official kindergarten in another school. Coincidentally, he was in Jan's first kindergarten class. He was younger than most of the other children and she still remembers that he asked her if they were going to study plate tectonics. His intellectual achievement had so outpaced his social and emotional growth that he was seriously out of balance. Her major goal for him that year was to get him to play without awkwardness and to carry on conversations with his peers. 

There is a healing, a growing, a creating that happens in a child's play and in meaningful work done with his hands alongside a nurturing adult. They can catch up if they fall behind in math. I'm not sure you can ever restore to a child what is lost if they are not allowed the innocence of non-competitive, wholehearted play. If they miss out on plenty of unplanned time in a thoughtful environment. If they are too busy for large quantities of time with adults who love him unconditionally. If no one safeguards freedom within limits to learn about himself first. I'm not sure a child ever recovers from intense academic pressure that can lead them to think that their value is directly correlated to their proven, measurable academic conquests. There is so much more to the education of a child. There is a weaving of the social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual that comes of plenty of time with quality materials, working with their hands, absorbing the good from a nurturing environment. There is a value unmatched in an imagination fed by quiet wonder.

Unhurried childhood is a window of opportunity and it is much, much more valuable and much, much smaller that many people recognize. It's irreplaceable. So we don't skip it.

Gosh, I've gone on for a long time and still not gotten to the nitty gritty. I will, in God's time, no doubt. No rushing;-)

Actually, if you're eager to read more right now, there is this series from five years ago (oh my goodness, how cute was Katie when she was three?!):

It's a wonderful thing!

The Art Box

Language Arts for Little Ones

Number Fun

Leading Little Ones to the Good Shepherd

Practical Life

Oh, and then there is that matter of more than four years worth of books and such for the 3-6 bunch, all organized alphabetically over at Along the Alphabet Path. More suggestions for warm activities and stories at home than anyone would ever need:-)

Be back in a bit with more on what life with little ones is like in the heart of my home these days.

~~reposted from the archives

Comments

  1. says

    Ah, how this is on my mind and heart lately! My little one is 4 years old, and we did a preschool co-op last year, which was wonderful though we drove about half an hour for it. All the other children are going to a “real” preschool next year. My poor girl is an only child, and I’m not sure if God will bless us with more. We’re pretty isolated where we live, and I SO LOVE our time at home, but I’m not sure if that’s the best thing for her. I’m not sure if she really plays without awkwardness, for example, since she doesn’t get many opportunities to play with others. Anyway, thank you for more food for thought. :>)

  2. says

    Okay, so I am totally with you philosophically, and this worked really well for my twins, who just played together and around us until this year, at six, when they asked for some book work and began what looked like real school. By June they were about half way through first grade reading and math, and we will continue from there in the fall, when they will turn 7. It will all even out eventually.
    However, some of my children are like the one you describe who cannot remember to hang up his coat, and I don’t quite know how to slow down the household enough, and be present enough, to create order for the little ones while still meeting the academic needs of the older ones. It feels like everyone is getting the short straw right now, and I don’t have the patience of a Montessori directress. The little boys take out works and destroy them while I try to help an older one with math, so they do not have the chance to learn the good habits. By the time I am folding laundry, I am too fried to have the patience to teach a little hand to match up socks, and while I am sometimes happy to pull out and fix dropped knitting stitches, they seem to come to me at the most inconvenient times, and it is so hard not to show that I am annoyed at being interrupted in something else. Maybe this is burnout? It was hard with school kids and babies, but this year, if you count the 3-6 grouping, I will have 6 children in elementary school at home, and it is just a lot to juggle along with the laundry, meals, sports, doctors appointments, etc.

  3. says

    “Unhurried childhood is a window of opportunity and it is much, much more valuable and much, much smaller that many people recognize. It’s irreplaceable. So we don’t skip it.”
    This is my educational philosophy with my youngsters, too. The trouble is getting up to speed by third grade. I have to teach them to manage their school time and they really are resistant to the school load that accumulates by age 9 or so. They like being 3-6 so much better. But, I believe what you say is the truth, and I have seen it in my older kids play out. I have a new 7 year old transitioning out of this phase now, and so far she is excited about it, but we haven’t gotten up to full speed yet.

  4. says

    You said, “But I’m adamantly opposed to sacrificing innocence and wonder and childhood joy to the grown-up agenda of beating out the other guy.”
    Amen, sister. Thank you so much for this post. It echos so many thoughts I have had lately. This was beautifully written.
    You are a gem!

  5. says

    this is a beautiful post. I am in tears as I have been struggling with what to do with my 5 yo. You have brought me such comfort and i will carry your words with me as I face others who push academics at an early age. You have reminded me of why I love Charlotte Mason so!

  6. Cheryl says

    What a beautiful post. Thanks for writing this. I agree with the importance of the intangible lessons at this age and being present with our children.

  7. Michelle says

    Thank you for this. This is what I want to do, and this is why I love our time at home.
    But how do you create the orderly, intentional space for your children if you are fully present for them at the same time? I have a mobile baby who does not sleep alone, and a 3-year-old who needs more order.

  8. says

    Beautifully written, Elizabeth. I agree with so much of what you said about the wee set, and have seen the truth of it play out not only with my own children, but with the multitude I have nannied for, over many, many years.
    The early years pass so swiftly: love and time, love and time, that’s what children need, that’s what families need. One of the most beautiful things about homeschooling is that there is so much time: to be, to grow and learn as a family under the loving gaze of God.

  9. says

    What a timely post for me!! I just like feel a weight was removed from my shoulders. We have been trying to discern whether or not we should send our 4 year old to kindergarten to help his Japanese ability, or keep him home and find a couple other outside classes that would put him into an environment where he would need to use his Japanese (e.g. Kumon, music class, or a sport).
    The kindergarten he would attend is attached to our church and run by beautiful sisters It’s Montessori, so of course it also has that “family grouping.” Yet, I balk at the thought of how rushed our time would be in the morning trying to get him there, and how tired he will be by the time he gets home, possibly allowing for little time to enjoy that slow peaceful life here at home. I think you can tell which way I’m leaning!
    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I was hanging on every word, and nodding vigorously all the way through!

  10. says

    I have been thinking so much about this recently. You have put into words what I desire for my children. My boys are 1 and 3 now and since I have slowed down our household this year I have seen a tremendous change. I have been changing my philosophy on education and parenting which has been a wonderful peaceful change. I need to work on patience though. I think I need to work on a family mission statement and goals, then read them every day to remind myself. You have given me so much to think about! THANK YOU!!!!

  11. says

    So encouraging. My guy is almost 8 but he sounds alot like the little fellow your friend Jen had in her class. I feel pressure at times due to his age to push but it will come in time. The real thing is to be together and let curiosity be our teacher on many levels. Thank you for this….really helped me take a deep breath.

  12. says

    I am SO glad I read this today!
    My almost 4 year old daughter is wanting to “do school” too and I’ve been mulling over what kind of curriculum to create for her. I always seem to fall into the trap of pushing academics over life skills and relationships, much to my regret.
    Thanks for this reminder. I’m off to print this to be re-read along with your previous posts. And I’ll be looking forward to more. :-)
    And I am so happy to read your thoughts on education again!

  13. Leanne says

    This all reads very well and in a perfect world it would be so. There is no way dual working parents could maintain an unhurried life. That is our norm. I would also argue that intellectual development does not occur at the expense of emotional fitness. Our first grader was doing algebraic equations but parents and teachers alike compliment us on his kindness, inclusion of the excluded, and overall good nature.

  14. Lucy says

    What a great post. I homeschooled my oldest (now 10) this last year to give him exactly that – time. We didn’t do clubs or camps this summer to give our children time. My youngest is starting kindergarten in a couple of weeks, but I refuse to do all-day kindergarten. I want him to have time. My two older kids were talking about the summer and they (sounding like a couple of old people) noted how fast the summer went by and where did it go? I told them they read their summer away – checking out 75 books from the library, swimming in the kiddie pool, visiting friends, playing with dolls, reading more books.
    They’re all going to school this year, partly because I need time. But I think we’ll be back to homeschooling eventually because school just takes too much… time.

  15. says

    Dear Leanne, I am the homeschooling mother of nine children and a freelance author who has always worked from home to earn income (with the exception of the year I “took off” to battle cancer.) Until 6 weeks ago, my husband had worked two jobs since 1992. However, since I don’t think you consider us dual working parents, I highly recommend the voices of authors in Simplicity Parenting http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/0345507983/4reallearning and 10 Habits for Happy Mothers http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/0345518063/4reallearning. 10 Habits was written by a practicing pediatrician whose husband is also employed outside the home. They’ve raised four children. I think you might find the chapter on simplicity particularly interesting. A classic book that dovetails nicely is David Elkind’s The Hurried Child http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/073821082X/4reallearning which has been expanded and updated to consider the risks of today’s culture.
    It sounds as if you’ve done a masterful job ensuring that all your child’s developmental needs have been met even though you have not maintained unhurried life. I’m interested to hear how you’ve achieved such peace. Incidentally, I don’t think that homeschooling is the only way to ensure balanced development. The schools I mentioned above obviously were mindful of the whole child and teachers like my friend Jan are blessings to the children in their classroom. My caution was for the parents who are sacrificing whole-child development for academic one-upsmanship.
    I do firmly believe, however, that almost all of us need to look carefully and critically at our children’s “schedules,” and simplify.

  16. says

    Dear Mary Alice,
    I still owe you a note about sports. It’s in my head:-). In that note (which isn’t yet written;), I have told you that you are in that really intense period before it *does* begin to get easier. Soon, you will have children who are old enough to leave at home with little ones, while you truck middle ones hither and yon. You’ve just got to hunker down and get through. Very soon, the upper end of your crew will be contributing more substantially to those parts of your household management that create order. It *is* coming.
    At the stage where you are, you need to buy whole-hog into eliminating anything extra. You aren’t a typical mom. You can’t go to mom’s night out and Pampered Chef parties like other moms. At least I couldn’t. My focus was here–my kids, my house, my husband, my work. That’s all. And when you have as many children as I do or you do, your “that’s all” is objectively much more work than most people do.You need to eliminate as much actual stuff as you can because the reality is that you need more stuff than most people have and you must store more stuff than your house was designed to hold. Everything about your life is “more.” It just is. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but raising a large family and doing it well is . a. lot. of . work. And we get tired. And it’s hard. Burnout? Yes. You are objectively tired. And it’s very hard to patient when we’re tired.
    And those of us who come from colleges where we were affirmed in our intelligence and in the excellence of our educations, often go to bed at night wondering why the heck we can’t just figure this out and make it all go smoothly?
    The answer, I think, is that it’s not a problem of the intellect. It’s not about management. It’s not a problem of work ethic. It’s a yielding to the grace of God. It’s understanding that His idea of a job well done differs from the idea of the world. It’s resting in the peace that you *are* doing it and you’re doing it well, it just looks differently than you expected it to look. You are struggling alongside your children. They see your effort. They see you working relentlessly towards establishing peace and order. And they see you yielding to your Father’s will even though it all doesn’t look beautiful and orderly all the time. There is much character building happening in the trying. Keep re-directing. Keep turning him around to go hang up his coat. Keep helping to restore all those Montessori works to their proper order. Keep praying (sometimes aloud) and keep asking their forgiveness when you blow it.
    One thing that really, really helps me is having my house to myself. When i can arrange for Dad (or someone else) to take everyone out for a big chunk of time and I can restore order to my environment–by myself, without them wrecking some other corner of the house when I’m working in one–I do feel like I get a power surge and I can continue. Summer is a great time for deep-down work on atmosphere. Do you think maybe that would help? A little silence in your own home, making friends with your own stuff?

  17. says

    Elizabeth- I am soaking up everything you have written in your posts and follow-up comments. I could not agree more and I only wish that I had not fallen into doubt so many times. What made the most impact on me was your statement that you do not strive for academic excellence. I have worked toward the peaceful, unhurried life ever since my boys were young but I would, from time to time, wonder how to work toward academic excellence at the same time. With DS 9 and 10 and baby daughter almost 2, I am still struggling to define how to maintain this lifestyle. The biggest challenge I am having is academic excellence- at what point DOES this become relevant? Is there any age at which childhood and happiness need to be sacrificed for academic excellence? I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on this.

  18. Vicki says

    Thank you for your blog and sharing with all of us! You are such an encouragement and like everyone has said, your posts come at perfect times for all of us! I’ve been struggling so much lately on the decision of sending my children to school or keeping them home. At times I feel inadequate to give them everything that they need. I’m pregnant with #6 and my pregnancies are very hard. I tend to lack during these times and of course these are the times that I struggle with if I should put them in school or not. Anyways, every post and article that I read of yours encourages me in some way or another so again thank you! Never worry about those FEW who don’t have nice things to say because you help SO many! :)

  19. Meagan says

    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts on creating peace amongst many young children. I’ve *only* got 4 (the oldest is 6), and I (like Mary Alice) also completely agree with the principles you lay out in this post, it’s just the methods that confound me with so many little ones underfoot. Schoolwork to complete, household to maintain, doctor appointments, the list seems endless… I want the peace and natural rhythm you write about and sometimes feel guilty when our days don’t look remotely like that! I will continue to soak up ANY wisdom you share.

  20. says

    “They can catch up if they fall behind in math. I’m not sure you can ever restore to a child what is lost if they are not allowed the innocence of non-competitive, wholehearted play.”
    A quote worth pondering. Beautiful post Elizabeth.

  21. says

    Thank you for writing so eloquently what I have endeavored to explain to friends and family. My oldest is an almost-six year-old boy, who will start his second year of “kindergarten” at home. I seem to get gracious but confused nods when I try to explain the virtues of his experiences on our little farm, helping his dad and grandfather vs. sitting down learning his math facts. This was so good for me to read!
    I linked to your post here:
    http://redefining-normal.blogspot.com/2011/07/why-wait.html

  22. says

    I know it must be hard sometimes to find time to blog, and at times you might wonder whether it’s worth it. You are so appreciated! This blog post is very important, and very appreciated by many people who need to hear words of calm and commonsense. Thank you!

  23. Ellen S. says

    Thank you for this post for the words I needed to hear to not question my desire to homeschool when those around me don’t understand. Awesome. Thank you.

  24. says

    I just realized comments were open!!! Yay!
    I have 4 kids 5 and under and was just beginning to stress about Kindergarten this year. The post was the perfect redirect for me!! A good reminder of what is truly important!!
    Elizabeth, your writing has blessed me more than I could ever tell you. I feel fortunate to have found you early in my mothering career. You always point me to Him, and for that I am eternally grateful. I find your words always to be seasoned with grace and love and they encourage me to move forward! Your blog archives is often one of my first stops when I need to be encouraged.
    Thank you for sharing your gift, I know it has been a struggle at times.
    PS – I would love to see a post on the transition out of Kindergarten, it does make me a little nervous =)

  25. says

    Hi Elizabeth, thanks for this post. I have been thinking alot about how I parent my girls and how to really homeschool them with love. This post has really helped me put words to things that I was thinking, and made things clearer! I linked to this post on the blog post I wrote about my thoughts! If you have time to visit I would be honored! Peace and Smiles,
    Stephanie
    http://discoverydaysandmontessorimoments.blogspot.com/2011/08/intentional-parenting.html

  26. says

    Elizabeth, I feel so blessed to have found your beautiful corner here and to be able to soak up your wise words as a young mother. The things you say here always make me nod in agreement and are always so real and encouraging. My little ones are currently 4 and 21 months and we have started so many wonderful ideas and projects in our home- and always find more here! Thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom and encouragement here, it is a priceless gift and blessing :)

  27. Andrea says

    I’ve been waiting this post (in my mind)for a couple of days… I previously read your preschool posts from five years ago. My little one (the biggest, actually) is 5. A very smart and creative girl. So, this is my story: We are missionaries and we had decided to homeschool our children. But our daughter is the oldest of our family and our parterns’ children. She has no friends or her age and she is very shy with extrangers, even other kids. But she loves to interact with little people, children younger than her. So we were considering the option of public school. I feel a lump in my throat when I think so. I dreamed with homeschooling since I was pregnant with her and now I feel like I’m giving up to my dreams. Plus, I’m quite behind in my language learning, so, those three hours that she would spend in “school” I could concentrate more on my learning. I also have two little boys, 2 and 4 months. And now that I think about it… with them… I wouln’t have those “free” hours either. I’m definitely trying to try the homeschooling. We’re still praying about it. Any comments and advice are welcome :) Than you for hwat you do Elizabeth, you are real blessing in my life. One of those older women who mentor me, even through the web.

  28. Diana says

    Thank you so much for sharing this post. It is very encouraging to me as I wade out into the homeschooling waters. I yearn for my children to have sweet, peaceful and fun childhoods, but often get overwhelmed with the needs of these three little ones (4.5, 2 and 2). They are precious and your thoughts (in this post and many others I have read over the last 6 months) remind me that I have a big task but that God will take my efforts and multiply them. God bless you and your family!

  29. says

    This speaks very much to what I’ve been thinking and pondering as I plan six-year-old Bella’s “first grade year”. We have to meet some state requirements because she is considered to be in first grade. Still, I want as much as possible to maintain the focus on prioritizing time for play and crafts and practical life.
    I am glad you mentioned the link between losing teeth and academic readiness because it helped to crystalize certain observations I’ve been making. Bella has been about 6 to 8 months behind her peer on average in reaching many developmental milestones. When her peers were drawing stick figures, she was scribbling blobs. Then about half a year later I noticed that she was suddenly doing stick figures. Same with writing letters and cutting with scissors and other tasks. And I’m also noticing that those same children who wee ahead of her in drawing and cutting and writing have started losing teeth and she has not. I suspect she’ll lag there too. IT hasn’t at all concerned me. Not that any of these were tasks I was pushing her to achieve or anything. Just observations of what she does as she explores her world and tries to use the tools she has. It’s an interesting correlations which does suggest that cognitive development is very much about physical development in the brain.
    I feel like echoing Mary Alice above, though. Bella is the child who doesn’t remember to put her coat or shoes away and I don’t feel like I can be mindful enough to train her to do that. It takes a lot of attention from mom and I’m scattered myself with trying to mind three children who are smaller than she is. (Not to mention the fifth who will be arriving in five short months.) But I also think that much of that is her personality as well. I think I can work for some small improvements in her mindfulness but I’ve been trying to work on the coat and shoes very deliberately for four years now with periods when I did have greater attention and mindfulness that I feel I have now. I’m at the point of saying that I suspect she will always be rather scattered and unaware of her physical surroundings because she is a dreamer. My younger children are much more successful at those kinds of tasks than she is so it’s not all about my lack of mindfulness, some of it is, I believe, innate. I’m working to accept that part of who she is and not get too frustrated with my inability to “fix” her.

  30. Judy says

    I’m a mum of older teens now, but do remember the feeling of anxiety surfacing I felt when other mothers talked about their children’s achievements during the early years – academic, music, sport. My go to book in those moments was one by an Australian author, Angela Rossmanith, titled “When will the children play?” – a wonderful antidote to all the pushing to perform.
    I did not homeschool my children beyond age 5, though I appreciate the reasons others do, but was very intentional about providing slow hours in which imaginative thinking and appropriate social interractions could be developed through play. Reading good books aloud for long hours encouraged focussed listening, built a love of story, provided opportunities for conversations focusing on the books’ characters’ traits helping to shape a Biblical/moral world view, curiousity about the world, and a large vocabulary. These were/are the foundation stones best built in the early years. and through mid-elementary. Academic skills, in time, become the tools by which all these things will be expressed, but they need not be (dare I say, should not be) the primary focus of a mother’s interractions with a 3-6 year old.
    Elizabeth, you are so wise, blessing mothers of young children with this truth.

  31. Amy O says

    Wow. I so needed to read this today. My daughter has a few cousins, all within the same age range (all will be 3 y/o this fall) and the questions drive me berserk, “Is she doing this yet? Can she count to ten yet? Does she know her alphabet? What preschool are you sending her to?” We have discerned that homeschooling is right for our family right now, and this is precisely why. I want my child to be able to be a child, to get to have “wholehearted play” and to discover the world around her in an unhurried environment. Thank you for putting my thoughts about all of this into words. I am very excited to start her on a very slow walk down the Alphabet Path come fall. Thank you!

  32. Christine says

    I am still hoping to hear your thoughts on the Reggio-Emilia way of early childhood education. From my reading on the subject, it seems a lot like the way enriched home education (with lots of humanities) works. I am eclectic and have incorporated ideas gleaned from Charlotte Mason, Montessori, classical, unschooling, unit studies, and (dare I say?) Waldorf arts and crafts, but Reggio-Emilia seems to be a lot like my “greatest hits” approach. ECE is not my background, but I have been a home educator for 22+ years.

  33. says

    Wonderful post! I agree 100%! I have a special needs child and 2 typically developing little girls. it’s funny to watch it all – to feel the urge within myself – to see the rat-race for to have the brightest little light bulb. I honestly pray that my kids hearts are what shine. Brains are so overrated! :) Just kidding!
    It breaks my heart to see “bright” “well-mannered” little Christian kids stare and say unkind things to my smart little boy with Cerebral Palsy (and I wonder how great at it I would have been as a child – not on a pedestal here!). But truly empathy, kindness, grateful hearts (especially my own – to soak this sacred time in) – these matter so much more than having a little genius!
    Thanks so much for sharing your right-on post!!!

  34. says

    I love this post, thank you so much for the reminder! We’ve been homeschooling for 4 years now, and I think I am finally comfortable enough to take a relaxed approach for my youngers. I have a question, though, how do you give so much time to the 3-6 crowd, when there are many older children needing guidance with their school work? I have a 1st, 2nd, and 4th grader and three in the 5 and under range. This is one of the first years we’re doing more intensive reading, writing and projects, so I feel like I have little or no time for the youngers. If you have any advice, that would be appreciated, or maybe a link to an old post?

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