Insights on Teaching Preschoolers
by Marilyn Boyer
To Begin With
Preschool is one of my favorite ages to teach. The love of learning is so strong. Everything is so exciting and fun for this age, and my goal was not to squelch but enhance that God-given love of learning.
I do believe a schedule benefits children by building in them a sense of security. For this reason, I scheduled times to work with my preschoolers so they knew what to expect and what was expected of them.
Let me clarify that when teaching multiple ages at the same time, it is your preschoolers and those you are teaching to read who will require the majority of your time investment. Our goal is to develop self-directed learners, and as a child reaches junior high and high school age, much of his learning becomes parent guided, but self directed. In other words, you don’t have to follow the model we learned of a lecture-based teaching style.
I found early on that, to a large degree, my success in homeschooling many was dependent on how I managed my preschoolers. Preschool children have the potential of being a major distraction to the learning environment and must be handled wisely.
When to Begin
The key to when to begin structured learning varies with each individual child, but generally when they express a desire to “do school” is when we would begin, around the age of 3-to-5 years old. If you’re not sure if your child is ready, try a small amount and see how he responds to it. If he is not ready, wait a little longer, but if that eagerness was there, that was my cue.
Making it Work
Okay, so if your preschooler can handle 5 or 10 or 15 minutes of structured learning time, what do you do with them after that? (Also, you can split up structured time to five-minute segments if they have short attention spans.) I would spend time with my preschoolers early, before we started our homeschooling each day—just a few minutes, reading, cuddling, etc. Then at snack-time again, they knew they would have a few minutes of mom’s attention and again after school would be time to read Leading Little Ones to God together. If they know they have times to count on your attention, they aren’t as likely to want it non-stop while you’re working with the older kids. Older kids need to expect a little noise from little ones, but little guys need to be trained to use “school-time voices” during school time. (We had “van voices” and “church voices,” too!)
Generally, I would do a little structured learning by using a workbook or activities I created myself. Resources I found helpful were Rod and Staff preschool workbooks that I used with many of my children; Alphagator Al, to teach letters; and Proverbs for Preschoolers, which I initially developed for my own kids to teach basic letter sounds and tracing of letters, as well as Bible verses. Recently, I have discovered a delightful preschool workbook by Christian Liberty Press—I wish I had preschoolers presently to use it with. I’ll try it out on the grandkids!
I would prepare in advance of the beginning of school (we generally begin after Labor Day each year), either a box or special storage place for a multitude of fun learning activities especially for my preschooler. The goal was to have many activities ready and waiting to be changed as the need occurred. You want to change activities before they tire of the one they are doing. That way, they look with anticipation to using it again another day! Of course, I would buy special drawing pads, markers, crayons, Bible coloring books (such as ours, Thru the Bible Coloring Pages). These activities I would keep and let them use only during “school time,” not the rest of the day. (Our school day ran about two to three hours per day for all of our children.) A download called “Schooltime Activities for Preschoolers” is available to you with some of our favorites to help your creative juices start to flow.
For instance, a very simple activity was gluing shapes onto construction paper and making up their own creations. I would cut up a box of brightly colored shapes from construction paper and let them use a glue stick to attach it to their paper. They loved this one! Another favorite was a set of Lauri puzzles called Familiar Things, perfect for very young children who can’t handle the wooden puzzles yet.
Another favorite was simply playdough. I made a recipe that isn’t crumbly like the store-bought type. I supplied molds of farm animals, people, food, etc., plastic knives, rolling pins, cookie cutters, some ABC cookie cutters as well as animals, biscuit cutter, etc. and many of the children would be occupied for a good length of time. The mess to clean up was worth it to me! Check out that download for lots more ideas.
We found that often the older children would want to do the fun things the younger kids were doing, but this is great. Use it as motivation for them to finish their schoolwork in a timely manner. I am always on the lookout for new, quiet, fun, educational activities and I will share them with you as I find them.
Included in my preschoolers’ week were the following things:
Instruction in Bible doctrine. We tend to underestimate the ability of little children to understand the truths of Scripture. Some of the resources I used to use are out of print, but Leading Little Ones to God is still in print, and I used it with all my children. The readings are brief, but powerful and accumulate over time to build a wonderful base.
Character Training. This is key; a child can’t learn to develop character in his life if he doesn’t understand what that is. I have an e-book which will guide, you, the parent to teach character to your child as well as supplying charts for the children to learn character: How to Raise Kids of Character.
A helpful resource to use with your children is A Child’s Book of Character Building, as well as the Uncle Arthur set of character building stories (these would make a great Christmas gift from grandma!).
Bible Story. Be sure to use a great Bible story book to walk your child through the stories of Scripture in an orderly fashion. We have loved My Bible Friends for preschoolers and The Bible Story for elementary aged children, but also have many others. The Picture Bible is wonderful as well.
Scripture Memory. We begin with our 2-to-3-year-olds, teaching them Scriptures to address the character needs they have. We start with Hide it in Their Hearts flashcards, a set of verses my daughter has illustrated for me to use with the children. Also, we use Scripture songs, Thy Word Creations, Steve Green’s Hide ‘Em in Your Heart CD and DVDs, Hymns for a Kid’s Heart by Joni Eareckson Tada, and more.
Scripture Saturation of the Home. When my oldest kids were my youngest kids, I asked God to show me ways to implement Deuteronomy 6, making my home a place saturated with Scripture. I made a project out of putting the Word of God before the eyes of my children in simple but effective ways to encourage them to hide it in their hearts. Years later, people asked us to share those projects and the result of that was a book Rick typed on a Brother word processor each night! I would tell him what to write and he would interpret my directions. My seventh child was the baby at the time; I remember gathering the little ones after family time to add a little bit each night to what is now Fun Projects for Hands-on Character Building. It has hundreds of projects, but remember, we only did one at a time and once a project was created, it could be used over and over again! Somehow, just be sure Scripture is a priority and not an afterthought in your plan for your child training! Kids need to be taught a daily awareness of God.
Keep Your Focus
Above all, remember: Even though life often seems overwhelming right now, time is passing—time you will not be able to regain. Your children are growing older every day. Learn to number your days so your children will be able to present to God a heart of wisdom. Keep your goals in focus. Expect bad days, but good days, too, and learn not to stress. Rest in God and His guidance in your life as you point your little ones to Him. Love your kids, teach them to love and serve God, and remember to make time to enjoy life with your little guys. Seek God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you—that includes the specifics of your homeschooling plan for all your children. It’s all about Him!
Marilyn Boyer is a homeschooling mom with more than 30 years of experience. She has 14 children, ages 34 through 10. She has written several books for moms and character studies for kids. She and her husband Rick operate The Learning Parent to encourage and equip parents to raise children with a passion to make a difference. Marilyn is a frequent speaker at homeschooling conventions and ladies’ retreats.