"I'm homeschooling?" An overwhelming thought for some! But don't be frightened by the word. Working with your child at home can be an exciting journey into lifelong learning for both you and your toddler, even if you decide to place your child in school when kindergarten time comes along. And it's a good way to "dip your toes" in the waters of homeschool to decide if this is what's right for your family.
Believe it or not, you're already doing it
Without the benefit of a certified teacher in a classroom, your child has already learned many things from you and with you. He is probably walking and talking and recognizing people, places and sounds. And wasn't that your child who figured out how to open that jar or cupboard? Yes, this is homeschooling!
Things are progressing just as they should; your child is living and learning, with parents who provide opportunities, love and protection. You are your child's guide to a world full of possibilities. You are getting the head start that many families never have. You are farther along than you thought!
As you work with your child, you may wonder if you're doing enough or the right kind of activities. Homeschool methods and styles are as varied as the colors in a rainbow. Here on TNH, Stefani Leto outlines the unschooling method. At the end of this article are a number of resources on more structured methods.
Tools of the trade
No matter the homeschooling method your family chooses, you will most likely provide learning "tools" that stimulate and capture your toddler's imagination. Most of these are everyday things and activities that you might not even count as educational, but they most certainly are.
One of these could be as simple as a walk in the park to see ducks, leaves, joggers and other wonders. It may be a stack of nesting bowls or a pile of pans to sort, count and bang--hey, that's music! There are numerous arts and crafts supplies to dabble in: play dough, thick crayons, paper, and (gulp) paints.
Dress up can be as much fun for parents to watch as it is for the toddler to play. Provide hats, scarves, gloves and dad's big shoes. A cape and a crown are always a big hit. Books, books and more books. Memorizing stories is a child's first step to reading. Another 4-star activity is music and dancing, and don't forget the camera or camcorder for this one!
Aside from parents, Mother Nature is one of the best teachers that your child could have. Do you remember the first time you saw the stars in the sky? I don't either, but I still remember the look on my 4-year-old daughter 's face when she saw them for the first time. Unforgettable.
Let them walk on a beach and play in the water and sand. Sit them in the garden while you weed, away from dangerous plants, of course. Let your child smell, feel, then taste some fresh mint or parsley.
My children still love to sit in the driveway and just look at rocks, the special ones get a place in the very large collection. (We almost have enough to re-rock the driveway by now!) Point up to the trees and birds, down to the slugs and snails, over to the cat with her kittens, and the deer in the field.
You don't need to say or do anything special or "educational" about these things. Just let your child discover his world at his own pace and in his own way, and be there to facilitate and guide.
People are the best toys
The most important "tools" are people. Introduce into their lives older children, younger children and some the same age, family and friends, working and playing. Sit on the porch with your toddler and watch the mail carrier deliver mail from house to house, until she gets to yours.
Park near a construction site and watch the people and machines do their work. I have spent untold hours doing this with my son. You'll soon have a tough time getting from point A to point B without several "learning" detours.
By now you probably recognize your own role as a homeschooling parent. That's right, it's not far from what you are already doing. Add or subtract a few details and it is most likely exactly what you are doing!
Your role does not magically change when your toddler is school-aged; you just move on to more age-appropriate "tools." You are still a guide providing opportunities that stretch the imagination and allow it room to grow. Don't forget that as a guide, you're on the same path as your child. Have fun traveling it together!
- Babybug Magazine is a great inspiration for toddler activities. Many times Josie and I have copied projects that Kim and Carrots, the continuing characters in the magazine, have done. It's a sturdy board book-style magazine that is for ages 6 months to 2 years, but honestly, Josie is 2 1/2 and is just now really getting into it. [Note: This was written a LONG time ago! Josie is 17 now!--Ed.]
- The Abecedarian Academy is a delightful site completely dedicated to "homepreschool," with links, lesson plans, resources and lots of other great stuff.
- Cafi's Homeschool Index is a great resource for anyone looking into homeschool, or who wants to work with his or her toddler at home; you can search the index for just preschool links.
- Jon's Homeschool Resource Page--A comprehensive resource site with information on publications, books, websites, curricula, support groups, you name it, categorized in many different ways..
- Home Education Magazine--It's great! Subscribe today! I've been reading it since before I even got pregnant the first time! The HEM website has great bulletin boards that you should check out for ideas on preschool at home.
- One homeschooling family's schedule--This is the schedule of a Christian, curriculum-based homeschooling family with older children and preschoolers, living in Hawaii. I include it merely as an example at the way other end of the unschooling approach.
Patricia Moon is a homeschooling mother, an active member of her community and a freelance writer who is married to her editor/fan club president.