You want to give your preschooler a great education, but maybe you’re wondering just what that looks like? Join your host Mike Smith and his guest, Vicki Bentley, this week on Home School Heartbeat, as they discuss how you can nurture your child and his preschool skill set.
Mike Smith: Our guest this week is Vicki Bentley, HSLDA’s early years learning consultant. Vicki, welcome back to Home School Heartbeat!
Vicki Bentley: Thanks Mike! Good to be here.
Mike: Vicki, many parents with preschoolers want to give their children the best education possible, starting even before kindergarten. In light of this, how much structured learning time do you think a preschooler should really have?
Vicki: Well, Mike, if you mean structured learning as opposed to play-based learning, studies show that developmentally, these young children benefit—actually need—lots of physical and creative play. Building, pretending, exploring, discovering—trying out their ideas. Remember that what looks like play to us is work to them. Now if by structured you mean having an outlined plan, a lot of moms feel more comfortable having some specific goals. Moms, you’ve already been homeschooling for several years in kind of a lifestyle of learning, so adding some structure can be as simple as what you’ve already been doing, just done a bit more purposefully, focusing on intellectual encouragement. So with some age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate expectations, preschool through kindergarten—even up to first grade—an hour of one-on-one structured, purposeful learning time is usually plenty. And you can break that into smaller time chunks of, say, 15 minutes at a time.
Mike: Well, thank you very much, Vicki. This is going to be a very helpful week, I can see that, for many preschool parents. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.
Mike Smith: HSLDA’s early years consultant, Vicki Bentley, is with us again today. Vicki, in what ways can a preschool parent help develop their preschooler’s pre-reading skills?
Vicki Bentley: Well, the primary way is to create what Barbara Curtis calls “a language-rich environment.” Now, reading is just one facet of language-learning, so lullabies and nursery rhymes and repetitive songs like “The Wheels on the Bus,” and Bible verses and songs, and naming everything the child sees, playing sound and letter games, and, especially, reading to him all lay the groundwork for reading. Now, practically speaking, working puzzles develops visual discrimination that’s needed to distinguish say, a “b” from a “d” or a “p” from a “q.” Phonetic sound games, and then letter games. Maybe using sandpaper lowercase letters or letter magnets, letting kids cut out the B-words from the magazine. These are all foundational, fun ways to introduce reading concepts. Now, read to your child a lot! At the end of that picture book page, ask him, “What do you think is going to happen next?” or why he thinks something happened. This builds his listening and his comprehension skills. Reading to your child, whether cuddled on the sofa or a story on tape in your voice, not only helps him learn to read, it builds a love of reading and language, and it builds his relationship with you.
Mike: Well, thanks, Vicki, that’s very helpful. Now next time we’ll talk about math skills, so parents, you don’t want to miss it! And until then, I’m Mike Smith.
Mike Smith: Vicki, what ways would you recommend for a parent to help their preschooler develop early math skills?
Vicki Bentley: Well, mathematics is simply the study of the patterns and order in the world that God has made, so point out the patterns in the world around your child. You can start by counting everyday objects. You probably already started out pointing out two eyes, five fingers, ten toes; now teach him to count to twenty, then more. Then try skip-counting: 2-4-6-8; 5-10-15-20. Maybe, “How many houses do we pass to get home? How many legs are on the dining room chair? If we have five chairs, how many legs are there altogether?” When you’re at the grocery store, let him pick out three apples, or three apples plus two more. Or the bunch with the most bananas, or the second box of crackers on the shelf. Then at home, setting the table teaches one-to-one correspondence, which is a foundational math concept. Sorting those Legos and the Matchbox cars and the crayons—that’s classification organization, math and science and language skills. And, of course, kids love scales and tape measures and measuring cups, so you can teach basic operations and fractions using food or cooking. Cut the pizza in half, then fourths, then eighths. Give a child 10 crackers to divide with his siblings. Not only will he learn about division, he’ll probably figure out the remainder.
Mike: Vicki, that’s great advice. And homeschooling, we know, is a great way to help your child get a head start in many things, including math. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.
Mike Smith: Vicki, as our early years consultant, do you have any tips to help parents teach their preschooler about good character?
Vicki Bentley: Well, first, remember that our children are often little mirrors, so, as parents, we need to model the behaviors we want our children to learn, and remember they’re watching us all the time! When we drive, when we cook, when we talk on the phone to someone frustrating us, when we respond to our spouse or our own parents. Also, I think it’s important to train our children in character in the context of Scripture, using biblical terms. The Bible doesn’t instruct our children to be nice (which actually comes from the word for foolish, by the way), but to be kind, to honor one another, to be gentle, to be obedient, to care for one another, and so on, so that’s the terminology I use. In books such as Little Visits with God, they hear how the children in the stories handle their dilemmas in a manner that’s pleasing to the Lord. You could minimize meltdowns by having little practice sessions, kind of roleplaying how to speak gently and respectfully at a friend’s house, or how to obey and honor Mommy in the grocery store. We taught our children as preschoolers to bring a cup of hot cocoa to the garbage collectors in the winter and a cold drink in the summer, and to be hospitable and sharing, because our goal was to encourage them to serve the Lord and to serve others. And our children have grown up to be very giving, compassionate people who love the Lord and others.
Mike: Well, thank you for sharing this, Vicki. To live wisely, knowledge should go hand in hand with godly character. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.
Mike Smith: Vicki, are there any resources you can recommend to preschool parents who homeschool?
Vicki Bentley: Well, in our article “What to do with a preschooler,” we do include suggestions from less structured to more structured, with links to some of my favorites. Remember that children’s play is their work; it looks easy to us, but it’s not easy to them. It develops their thinking, and it provides life experiences, kind of like hooks, on which they can hang their future learning, so provide age-appropriate developmental toys, such as Legos or building blocks and thinking skills and puzzles and art supplies and dress-ups and tools and musical instruments and baby dolls and cooking toys, and then, of course, those picture books for read-alouds. You can check your local homeschooler MOPS group for field trips and activities geared specifically to that attention span and interest level of your preschoolers. Some of my favorite books for parents areThe Smarter Preschooler, Homepreschool and Beyond, andMommy, Teach Me! Then Making the Most of the Preschool Years has lots of preschool ideas, while the Before Five in a Row guide has some fun and educational activities that are based on classic kids’ books from the library. And of course we have these resources and more just for you at hslda.org/preschool.
Mike: Vicki, these resources, as well as your other insights this week, will be very helpful for many parents. Thank you so much for joining us! And, until next time, I’m Mike Smith.