by Rebecca Kocsis
I was sitting quietly with my husband before church. The wife of one of our pastors introduced me to a friend who was planning to homeschool. She hoped that I could help her friend with her curriculum dilemma.
“I have been researching, and praying, and I just don’t know what curriculum to buy for my children. What do you think is the best?”
The answer to that question was highly subjective and depended on numerous variables. There was only one way to begin figuring that out.
“How old are your children?” I asked.
“My daughter is three, and my son is one.” Then it was clear why this precious mama couldn’t decide what curriculum to use.
“I think the reason the Lord isn’t giving you direction is because it isn’t time to buy anything yet. He’ll show you when the time comes. Right now, while your children are so very young, there are only a few basic things that they need to learn. They need to learn to pray and to love Jesus, to obey you, to pay attention—and have abundant time to play. That’s what your children’s preschool curriculum should be.”
That was several years ago. Since then I have been asked the same question many times. My answer hasn’t changed. Before you go out and buy one single piece of curriculum for your preschool aged child, focus on these basic areas.
“Grammy, let’s talk about Jesus.” I looked down into the smiling, eager face of my three-year-old grandson. Though I was in the middle of some important grown-up activity, it was of no real importance to little boys. How could I refuse? It immediately took me back 30 years when his daddy was my own tiny boy. He had a precious way of praying. He talked to Jesus like He was right there and fully expected Him to answer; maybe even audibly.
“Umm, Jesus?” Followed by a lengthy, expectant pause. “Thank you for this food.” Another expectant pause. “And would you help Daddy be safe at work?” Followed by another pause. I imagine that Jesus was answering him in his heart, but the way he prayed it was like he was expecting an audible answer. More than once when he prayed, I would look up and wait to hear the Lord’s voice myself.
My little boy knew that he could talk to Jesus. He knew Jesus loved him and he loved Jesus back. He was also learning many “Bible words” by heart through songs and games. And he was a preschooler.
In the end, it won’t matter how old your child was when he started to read or which college he attended. Our child’s relationship with the Lord and his eternal destiny is what really matters. God is not impressed with a Harvard MBA. He is, however, impressed with what you think of His Son, and what you did with the opportunities and abilities He gave you. How often we forget that while raising our children. The voice of the world would say otherwise—loudly.
Be intentional about teaching your child about Jesus, informally as you go about your day, and formally in a consistent daily devotion time. Informally is pretty easy. We just need to be mindful of those teachable moments as they arise. Life has a way of making it happen. Playing worship music in the home and while you are in the car goes a long way in putting you in the right mindset. Formally could be as simple as reading a short portion of a good children’s Bible and talking about how they might apply the lesson to their little lives, followed by time for everyone to pray.
I reluctantly included the word “daily” in the consistent devotional time, because I don’t want to place guilt on mamas when it doesn’t happen every day. We have enough mom guilt as it is. It surely didn’t always happen at my house. However, “regularly” should be your goal. It doesn’t have to be the same time of day or in the same exact way. Coming before Jesus with your children in prayer and the study of His Word should be a regular activity at your house.
You should know … sometimes our devotional times weren’t all that warm and fuzzy. Actually, there were days when I had no sense of the Holy Spirit being present at all. One of the kids would have a bad attitude. Squabbling would erupt over the usual things.
“Mommy, she’s touching me with her feet.”
“He breathed on me.”
“Hey! Give me back my pillow!”
“How long till we’re done?” Then I would be struggling with a bad attitude.
Remember, it doesn’t matter how you feel. You are still making an eternal investment in your child’s spiritual life. Do the best you can. Just be faithful. The Lord will be faithful to bring about the fruit.
In our adult minds, play is something you do when your work is done. Not so for very young children. Play is their work. To us it may simply appear that they are amusing themselves. However, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests it is perhaps the most important way that preschoolers learn. During play, they interact with others and with their environment. They learn cause and effect and spatial relationships. They learn intuitively about socially acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.
Preschoolers can learn by playing with everyday objects and pretending. Choose toys that are open ended and can be played with in several different ways. Contrary to popular belief, the best toys are not necessarily the most expensive. Just because it has bells and whistles doesn’t guarantee it has value for learning. The bells and whistles, in fact, may very well hinder your child’s creativity.
How many of our children have found that a large plastic ice cream bucket makes a great makeshift drum one day, then is taken into the bath tub on another, only to be worn as a hat a little later, and then used to tote around one’s favorite collection of toy animals on another day?
What is your child learning with that bucket? He is exploring sounds and developing his auditory faculties, strengthening the connection between his left and right brain, learning cause and effect, exploring his world by pretending, learning to sort and classify objects, and more. All of these are valuable pre-reading skills. And you didn’t spend a penny on it. Chances are the more simple the toy, the more it will foster open ended play and creativity.
Young children are naturally curious. As such, they are great little scientists. Give them time to observe and explore outside. They will learn much about how the natural world works. Let your budding biologist collect to his heart’s content, then spend some time talking about his collections and observations. Whether it be bugs, rocks, or leaves; you can use those to talk about life cycles, seasons, and then classifying, measuring, and comparing.
There is always a time for guided play, and I believe that’s the best way to introduce academic study. Shapes, colors, letters, and numbers can all be learned during play time. Talking with and reading to your children will do more to develop their language skills than learning to recite their ABC’s. Knowing the names of letters is useless when it comes to learning to read, and can actually make it confusing. What they really need to know are the sounds the letters make.
It’s not uncommon for those with young children to turn on the TV to occupy their youngsters “so they can get something done.” A word of caution about that. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV viewing at all for children under two years old and no more than 1 to 2 hours a day of quality programming for those two and older. The first years of life are critical for brain development. Television and other forms of electronic media get in the way of exploring, playing, and interacting socially.
Before the days of electronic media, children’s play often involved the use of their hands. They spent more time stringing beads, pounding blocks, finger painting, cutting and pasting, molding play-dough, and other like activities. As they did, they developed hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity. Teachers are reporting that more children now than in the past are experiencing difficulty developing writing skills. It is believed that time in front of the TV is contributing to this problem as it has replaced much of the traditional forms of hand-oriented play.
For preschoolers, play time is more important than academic study. It may seem ironic, but exposing young children to flash cards with letters and numbers gives them less academic preparedness than exposing them to the world around them, talking to them, reading to them, and giving them time to play and pretend. So give your small children time to play. Stay home. Turn off the TV. Read to them and talk to them. Go outside. Let them get dirty. Let them make a mess. Then you can teach them how to help clean up.
Another valuable skill you can help your preschooler with is the habit of paying attention. This really is an extension of playing. We’ve seen children go from one toy to another in a matter of moments, only to have the entire toy box strewn across the house in a matter of an hour.
In order to be prepared for formal academics children will need to be able to listen for more than two minutes at a time. Let’s be realistic. Since preschoolers are small, so is their attention span. A general rule of thumb is to expect no more than 3-5 minutes of focused attention per their year of age. That should be your target.
I cannot tell you why a three-year-old can sit through a 20-minute TV show or a full-length movie and yet struggle to listen to you read a picture book for five minutes. And we know they can play with a favorite toy all afternoon. There are many factors involved in how long or how well a child can pay attention. Are they hungry or tired? Do you have a busy house? With multiple distractions? Do they need to “get the wiggles out” first? Deal with those before tackling a focused activity. Then take a break.
Practicing listening to you read or playing a game a little bit longer—day by day—will go a long way in preparing preschoolers for formal academics. There will always be the exceptions. Some children can attend longer, and some not as long. Some days will be better than others. You should expect inconsistencies at this age. But you can also expect them to gradually improve at paying attention. It’s a worthwhile habit to help them develop.
I cannot stress enough the need for young children to learn obedience. Quite frankly, if your children do not respect your authority, you will be able to teach them precious little. It lies at the core of your responsibility as a parent to help your children gain this invaluable trait of self-discipline.
Let’s be honest. No one enjoys being around undisciplined little rascals for very long. They can turn what would otherwise be a pleasant activity into a nightmare. On the other side of the coin, children who are respectful and obedient are a joy to be around.
However, you ought not train your children in obedience simply because you want your kids to stop annoying you and others. As pleasant as that may sound, your purposes should be more farsighted than that. Children who learn happy obedience now, will find it much easier to obey God’s Word as they become young adults and are accountable to Him in the future. In helping them learn to obey you and respect your authority now, you are making an eternal investment in your children’s walk with the Lord.
Simple obedience is such a crucial point. So crucial, in fact, that I have advised more than one new homeschool family to put the books away for a period of time and focus solely on this character trait. When their children make significant progress in respecting parental authority and are growing in obedience, then they can add academics into the mix.
One last point on this. I cannot stress the need for children to learn to obey the first time parents ask them to do or not to do something. Allowing them to wait until you’ve counted to three, or have to shout, or they see you turning red in the face and losing your temper to comply; this is not obedience. If they do not obey you the first time you say something, then you need to calmly do something about it. That means you have to stop what you are doing, get up, and help them comply. If a child is habitually disobedient, there should be consequences; consequence enough that they remember it the next time they are tempted to disobey.
This is much easier said than done. It requires time and persistence on your part. Think of it as an investment. We are admonished by the Word that discipline is not pleasant, but afterwards it “brings forth the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” Don’t we all want peace and righteousness to reign in our homes? Considering all that your children have to gain by it, it’s worth the investment.
The Next Step
After your preschooler has gained considerable proficiency in obedience, is truly learning to love Jesus, and spends many hours playing daily — indoors and out — then and only then, you might consider putting together some informal lessons two or three days a week. The key word here would be informal. These “lessons” should be incorporated as part of their play time. Plan to spend no more than 10 to 15 minutes on an activity unless your child is completely engrossed in it. Make sure to end on a positive note.
How well I remember our first years of homeschooling. Because I had no idea where to begin, I compensated by spending more money than necessary on curriculum we really didn’t need. I wanted to make sure that I covered all of the bases. The problem was, I had only a foggy idea of what those bases were. With that in mind, I’d like to suggest a few basic resources to help you get started. These can be implemented with minimal expense, and you will use them well into your child’s primary years. They won’t be a waste!
Early Education at Home: A Curriculum Guide for Parents of Preschoolers and Kindergarteners, by Jean M. Soyke
A precious resource filled with structured yet informal lessons for very young children. It incorporates hands-on activities and different learning styles. Plan on using this book for two years, maybe more, as it is flexible enough that it can be adapted for older or younger children. I call this book precious, because looking at it again brings back precious memories of when my now grown children were very small. I’ve bought numerous copies over the years and given them to my children and friends with young children. Out of print, but found easily online. Costs about $15 – $30.
The Three R’s by Ruth Beechick
This is a compilation of three books on early reading, language and arithmetic skills. These will take the mystery out of teaching your young children and save you a mountain of money not buying expensive teaching materials you don’t really need. I wish I had known about this resource while teaching my older children. I implemented it with my youngest two with great success. Do not homeschool without it.
Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt
You know you want to read really good books to your children, but don’t know where to start? Start here.
Preschool at Home by Debbie Feely
The author rightly believes that you as the parent are your child’s best teacher. Accordingly, she gives the parents ample ideas and suggestions to use at home during the preschool years. Costs $5.99 from CHEA’s Online Store
Home Grown Kids by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore
The authors are considered by many to be the parents of the modern day homeschool movement. This was written to help today’s parents give their children a wholesome, first-class, flexible education at home. Out of print, but found easily online. Costs about $10 – $15
Have you found a great preschool resource that you’d like to share?
From Kid’s Health
How Media Use Affects Your Child
4 Sept. 2012
From Stanford University, How Young Children Learn
By Jeanne W. Lepper
1 Aug. 2001
From Healthline, The Importance of Play: How Kids Learn by Having Fun
By Kimberly Zapata
28 Sept. 2020
The Brain Balance Center
Normal Attention Spans by Age
The Edvocate, How to Improve Your Children’s Attention Spans
By Matthew Lynch
21 Nov. 2018
Rebecca and her beloved, Ed, homeschooled all five of their children, graduating their youngest in 2006 from their homeschool. They are now the proud grandparents of an ever-growing tribe of energetic boys and girls (12 to date) who are their greatest delight. Rebecca served for 15 years as a PSP administrator and for several years on CHEA’s Regional Advisory Board. In addition to serving on CHEA’s board of directors, she also serves as General Manager. She is the author of the devotional booklet Let Not Your Feathers Be Ruffled.