Many parents of kindergarteners approach school with trepidation.
There are a lot of transitions their child must make, and for the first time, they feel like they have to get “serious” about schooling. At this point, the vast majority of parents shuffle their little darlings off to the local public school, and all goes well.
But for some families, institutional schooling isn’t a good fit. For others, they may not agree with the ideology of traditional education. If you find yourself in one of these camps, and it’s clear that a brick-and-mortar kindergarten is not going to be right for your child, how do you figure out what to do next?
Homeschooling is an obvious option, but one that many parents find daunting. They don’t always feel qualified to make all of the decisions regarding their child’s education, and they’re quite sure that they aren’t qualified to teach all of the subject matter that will have to be covered between kindergarten and high school graduation.
There is a common misconception that homeschooling a child means educating her exclusively at home and teaching every single subject yourself. This could not be further from the truth. What homeschooling really means is that a parent takes direct responsibility for making all of the decisions about the direction and content of a child’s education instead of allowing an institution to make these choices. The parent becomes responsible for deciding what is taught, as well as who teaches it and how.
And really, it’s not as daunting as it may sound. If you are beginning to work at designing a kindergarten program for your child, you have lots of options. So many, in fact, that perhaps you find it overwhelming. Here are a few considerations to help you navigate through the possibilities and find what will be the right path for your child.
Consider philosophy first.
If you’ve opted your child out of traditional schooling, then there are likely good reasons that led to this decision. If you do not want an institutional education for your child, then why would you seek to replicate that in your living room? Knowing what you don’t want is one thing. Knowing what you do want is entirely another.
Spend the time really considering your goals your child’s education to look like. Are you interested in a Montessori education? Do the philosophies of Steiner or Charlotte Mason appeal to you? Or are you looking for a more Classical approach?
Knowing which kind of education you’re trying to create for your student will help you make the appropriate choices when it comes to content and pedagogy.
Focus on play.
With small children, making learning fun is very important. Virtually everything that is traditionally taught in the first few years of school can be taught in an outside-the-box, play-centered format.
Do some research on educational games, play- and movement-based learning theory, and pay attention to the activities your child enjoys. Some kids are going to love spending time on worksheets at the kitchen table. Others are going to prefer to run around the yard. Some will absolutely need to get their hands dirty and make every letter out of peanut butter playdough before they remember the shapes. Others will need to bounce on a mini trampoline in order to absorb basic math facts.
Just because you learned while sitting in a row of desks doesn’t mean that your child should too. Keep an open mind to exploring alternative learning methods and formats.
Keep lessons short.
Young children have notoriously short attention spans. This is developmental. You can work on expanding a little bit at a time, but don’t push too hard.
Who says that school has to happen in 1-hour blocks separated by recess? Who says it has to happen between 9 and 3? Who says you have to sit at the table the whole time you’re learning?
Why not break up your day into 15-minute chunks of intensive, entertaining, engaging lessons with your child and provide ample free time for play, adventure, and processing in between? Homeschooling means having the luxury to tailor a learning schedule to your child’s needs.
Remember that they are always learning.
Young children are always learning. Just because the content isn’t laid out in a teacher’s lesson plan with neatly delineated objectives and outcomes does not mean that there is not valuable development going on. Building a stick fort is learning. Playing in the leaves is learning. Building with Legos is learning. Fighting with a sibling is learning.
If you simply include your child in everything you do, from making the bed, to cooking, to grocery shopping, to yoga practice, you’ll find that she is learning a great deal that her peers who are confined in a classroom are not. Learning is organic!
Make note of teachable moments.
We all know that children are most receptive to learning when their interests collide with a practical application of that knowledge. Commit to being present with your child and looking for those teachable moments. Stop and talk about the bugs on the sidewalk. Get into the chemistry behind why leaves change color in the fall. Discuss how the soda fountain at McDonald’s knows the difference between Sprite and Fanta when you press the button. It’s shocking just how much your child will learn by simply asking questions and having someone there who is invested enough to answer her thoroughly.
Go to the library.
It seems old-fashioned, I know, but it’s fun! Let your child pick out all kinds of books: picture books, science books, art books, cookbooks, all the books! Our family rule was that for every “brain candy” book (or fun read) that our kids chose, they also needed to choose a “nutritional” book. So, for example, if Captain Underpants comes home, so does a book about spiders and how they build webs.
Create a thoughtful learning plan.
You can use the following tips to outline what learning will look like at home for your kindergartner:
Include daily chores and work.
Helping out to maintain the home is another way of learning. Involve your child in home and auto-care chores, cooking, self-care, and community involvement.
Talk about everything.
And I do mean everything — from the science and math that surrounds us in the world to why the lady in the grocery store looks different than you.
Build your schedule around math and language arts.
In no more than 15-minute chunks, give concentrated effort, every single day, to these two subjects. If you are working diligently on these building blocks, the other subjects will fall in (according to interest) around them. “Lesson time” should not take more than about an hour a day at this stage of an education, and especially not all in a single big block.
Make time for reading.
Make a point of reading aloud and reading together every day. Include books your child is interested in as well as books that you are interested in. I regularly read poetry over breakfast, literature or history at lunch, and fun books in the evening. If your child don’t appear to be listening, that’s okay; she is still hearing you.
Create a learning environment.
Do the research to find the quality tools and items that you need to make your home into a fun and educational place to grow up. Do art together and let it get messy. Have fridge magnets that are hands-on fun. Create learning and play stations that you change up every couple of weeks. Make a point of doing big projects together using materials like cardboard and tin cans, or marshmallows and hard noodles, or pipe cleaners and beads. Start Pinterest boards to get more ideas.
Keep it in perspective.
Kindergarten isn’t complicated. The overarching goals are to foster creativity, to get the basics of math and language arts going, and to learn to live cooperatively together in a community. As long as you’re ordering your days around these goals, your child is going to thrive.
Don’t be afraid to enroll in community classes, participate with the local private or public schools, connect with homeschool groups, and plan play dates as often as possible. Homeschooling shouldn’t be an isolating experience, but rather one that brings the world home to your child and provides a springboard towards her dreams. Have fun together!