You Can Preschool: An Interview with Vicki Bentley

March 30–April 3, 2015   |   Vol. 122, Programs 61–65

You don’t have to wait until elementary school to start teaching your child. This week on Home School Heartbeat, educational consultant Vicki Bentley helps you design a fun but effective homeschool program for your preschooler.

“Preschool should just be an expansion of what [parents] are already doing to motivate and teach [their children].”—Vicki Bentley

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Are you embarking on the preschool years? Follow the link to find resources for homeschooling your preschooler—as well as information about a special, free HSLDA membership just for parents of preschoolers.

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Are you thinking about homeschooling your preschooler? Then Vicki Bentley has some great tips for you. Find out more on today’s Home School Heartbeat.

Mike Smith: This week, my guest is Vicki Bentley. Vicki is HSLDA’s Early Years educational consultant, and a veteran homeschooling mom. Vicki, thanks so much for joining us this week!

Vicki Bentley: Thanks, Mike! It’s great to be here with you.

Mike: Vicki, parents of preschool-aged children may be thinking, “Why preschool? Do we really need a plan? Is this really homeschooling?” What do you say?

Vicki: Well, I like to remind parents that they’ve already been homeschooling their young children. They’ve taught them to talk, to communicate. They’ve taught them a variety of basic skills as well as character lessons. So preschool should just be an expansion of what they are alreadydoing to motivate and stimulate and teach them.

Now, in the context of that natural relationship, parents can just be a little bit more purposeful in providing what Renee and Mike Mosiman refer to in their book The Smarter Preschooler as an “intellectually stimulating environment … sort of a Lifestyle of Learning!” Now, a lot of moms feel more comfortable having some specific goals. So I usually encourage them to have age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate expectations. For preschool, an hour of one-on-one structured learning time is usually plenty—even in four 15-minute blocks, say—and then provide lots of intellectually stimulating play!

Mike: Vicki, for parents who are embarking on preschool, how academically structured should that program be?

Vicki: Well, Mike, if you mean structured learning as opposed to play-based learning, studies show that developmentally, young children benefit from—they actually need—lots of physical and creative play. Building, pretending, exploring, discovering, trying out their ideas. We have to remember that what looks like play to us is work to them.

So for basic academics, foundational math encourages everyday mathematical thinking. Things like counting and sorting objects, cooking, measuring and pouring, dividing the pizza, counting out the M&Ms. Even setting the table is one-to-one correspondence—a math skill!

Everyday language practice includes alphabet puzzles and notes to Grandma, telling you about their latest adventure, or even just cuddling up for read-aloud time. And if that’s not structured enough, there are guides to help you plan a few activities based on some of those library books you are already reading together, or on other interests your child has. We have some suggestions for parents at hslda.org/preschool.

Mike: Vicki, what do you say to parents of preschoolers who are worried that their child doesn’t have the attention span to do school?

Vicki: I’ve had moms tell me, “My two year old and three year old doesn't want to sit still and read a book. They just want to play with toys and pretend!” I tell them, they’re little! Let them play with toys and pretend! But you pick the toys, so you shape the play. Their play is their work, their early learning. It looks easy to us, but it's not all easy to them, and it’s developing their thinking and providing life experiences, sort of like hooks on which they can hang their future learning.

So provide them with stimulating, age-appropriate, developmental toys like Duplos or Legos or building blocks, thinking skills puzzles, art supplies, life-skills imaginary play. Even your music can be educational and inspirational. And everyday activities can be helpful for their brain and skills development. Like working puzzles—that’s a pre-reading skill. Helping Mom set the table is a math skill (one-to-one correspondence). Tidying up includes classification and organization—basic science, math, and English skills.

So in the context of everyday living and their everyday play, it’s much easier to move at the child’s natural pace and in his learning style. And in only a few 15-minute sessions a day!

Mike: Well Vicki, what does a child need to learn in preschool?

Vicki: Well, Mike, we’re introducing colors and numbers, shapes, size, social skills, emotional development, listening skills, reading readiness, motor skills. Things like that.

According to Barbara Curtis, there are five qualities we can help our kids develop that are going to facilitate their lifelong education: independence, order, self-control, concentration, and service. So we want to create a learning environment that develops these through, say, sorting, and pouring, and using scissors, and matching, and puzzles, and those lacing sewing cards, and imaginative play, some foundational math, and nature studies, and some basic science experiments, culture, and geography, fine arts—and then lots of read-aloud time!

If you wonder which concepts you should be covering at various levels, check out our article, What Should I Be Teaching? And we have suggestions for curricular materials for you to use (from less structured to more structured) in our article, What To Do with Your Preschooler, at www.hslda.org/preschool.

Mike: Vicki, would you tell our listeners about HSLDA’s new membership option for parents of preschoolers? We’re so excited about it!

Vicki: Well, our free membership for qualifying parents of preschoolers—whose oldest child is not yet 5—gives parents virtually the same benefits as a paid membership. Their children will generally not yet be compulsory attendance age. But parents of preschoolers will still have access to our legal staff, who can help them understand their state’s requirements, such as notification, visits, proof of progress, and so on. They will have access to latest Court Report magazine, plus our PerX program and our online curriculum market.
But a major practical benefit is the personal access to our toddlers to tweens and special needs education consultants for help with preschool suggestions, getting started, learning styles, curriculum options, and lots more! Our desire here at HSLDA is to equip parents to make an informed decision about home education. And the place to begin is www.hslda.org/preschool

Mike: Vicki, we’re really excited to be able to offer our experience and assistance to parents of preschoolers. Thanks for joining us this week! And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Vicki Bentley

Vicki Bentley is the mother of eight daughters, foster mom of over 50, and grandma to 17 wonderful grandbabies (so far). Vicki has homeschooled 17 children since 1988, alongside her husband Jim, and led a local support group of over 250 families for 14 years. She has served on the executive board and convention committee of the Home Educators Association of Virginia and has addressed state and national conventions, university teacher organizations, and many mothers’ groups. She is the author of My Homeschool Planner, Everyday Cooking, The Everyday Family Chore System, Home Education 101: A Mentoring Program for New Homeschoolers, High School 101: Blueprint for Success, and other homeschool and homemaking helps, and coordinates HSLDA’s Toddlers to Tweens and Group Services programs. Vicki has a heart for moms, with practical wisdom and encouraging words.

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