What is Considered as “School?” – The Preschool Years

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There are so many moms out there who, once they choose to homeschool, begin to question…”What do I teach my preschooler? What can I ‘count’ as school?” Then the enemy takes over and begins to berate these moms (including me at one time) making them think there is no way they can teach their kids. There is TOO much to teach! Too many subjects! Too many objectives! Homeschooling is overwhelming!!


Let’s slow down a minute.

Do you remember that cute poem entitled, “All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten?” Do you remember the list from the poem?

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.

There was a research survey that took place back in 2009 which interviewed over 200 kindergarten teachers. The survey asked a variety of questions and it found that a majority of kindergarten teachers are frustrated with current educational trends and think that classrooms should focus on play and exploration. “Teachers reported that they used shared reading, guided reading, shared writing, teacher read-alouds, journals, and literacy centers in over 75% of the classrooms at least three times weekly, confirming that explicit reading and writing instruction is prevalent in today’s kindergartens. This contrasts significantly with the 1992 study, when literacy materials and formal reading instruction were not necessarily a prominent part of the daily kindergarten curriculum. The preponderance of specific literacy practices now reported by teachers reveals a shift away from child-centered pedagogy, towards a more curriculum-based approach(Gehsmann et al., 2005)”(Gallant).

So what does this mean for homeschool moms?

First, we need to change our thinking. Most parents who homeschool went to formal school growing up. It’s what we know. But that doesn’t make it the best way to learn. Learning can take place anywhere, with any medium, at any time. I have had to loosen up my definition of “school.” And it’s a hard philosophy to break, especially for someone who used to teach in a formal classroom setting.

Not all children are ready for formal instruction when they are 5 years old. Obviously if there is a child who shows early reading or mathematics capability, then a mom should not hold her child back. But for the most part, formal instruction in kindergarten has been pushed into classrooms when teachers know that play is the best method of learning for early childhood youngsters. “Teachers most frequently reported (80-97%) that they believed that they should provide children
with open-ended materials and experiences, encourage building with Legos and blocks, design the classroom for problem solving, expect children to be motivated if the curriculum is appropriate, and make teaching decisions based on children’s abilities and interests.”(Gallant)

Second, we homeschool moms need to realize that too many objectives will cause a child to memorize without any depth of knowledge. Have you thought about how formal school works? Kids go to school and the first 4-6 weeks are review. They go through the school year and usually do not finish a single text book. THEN when kids return to school the next year the kids spend time reviewing stuff that, possibly, wasn’t even covered the year before because text books weren’t completed. This causes gaps in learning. And there is so much time spent on achievement test preparation that no one topic or subject can be explored into any amount of depth. “The packed curriculum leaves little time for students to acquire a deep understanding of the subject or to develop life-long skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and communication. Therefore, we should unpack the curriculum and reduce the amount of factual information students are expected to memorize. In addition, we should help students become active, independent learners and problem solvers .” (Lujan and DiCarlo)

Lastly, recognize that our choice to homeschool gives us the gift of time. Below is an example of a typical full day kindergarten schedule in a public school.

8:10-8:30   Opening, Attendance, Calendar Work
8:30-9:00  Whole Group Word Study: sight words, shared reading, phonemic awareness, introduction to reading strategies, pocket chart stories
9:00-10:15  Guided Reading and Literacy Workstations
10:15-11:00  Math Investigations
11:00-11:40   Recess and Lunch
11:40-12:00 Shared Reading or Printing Practice
12:00-12:45 Music, Movement, Art
12:45-1:30 Social Studies or Science
1:30-1:45  Recess
1:45-2:00 Snack and Emergent Reader Practice
2:00-2:40 Writers Workshop
2:40-2:50  Closure
2:50  Dismissal

This is a crammed schedule of spending too much time on one subject. This schedule plans for 2 and 1/4 hours of reading instruction. I usually do reading instruction for 10-15 minutes a day. Kids are so tired and seem to hate school by second grade. These kids have a total of 1 hour of “down time” out of a 7 hour day of school. Is it a wonder that there are behavior problems? I know I don’t have this all figured out, but I enjoy the fact that I can allow my kids to sleep until 8:30. We’ll start school around 9:30 or 10 and do calendar, Bible, reading, math, spelling, handwriting, art, science, social studies, or music until about 12:00. We don’t do every subject everyday. And we don’t move on to the next level until the first has been completed. If it takes a year, great! If it takes longer, fine. Six months? Then move on! Homeschooling should be freeing, not binding.

I have all the time I need to teach my kids. The kids can play outside, construct with Legos, play dress-up, work in the garden, sit at the table and work with math manipulatives, etc., etc., etc…. We also do reading and music in the car whenever we are driving around. It’s GREAT!

Yes, we do formal reading, spelling words, math facts, and handwriting. But if it is an “off day,” it is ok to postpone “school” and just be family. And there are moments when both kids are playing so nicely with each other that I don’t interrupt them in order to do “school.” They already ARE teaching each other through play, socially and emotionally.

So…back to the poem. Those are really good objectives for kindergarten. If the child wants to learn to read, then teach him how. If the child wants to learn how to play the piano, then make it happen. I’m not a proponent for unschooling or Montessori philosophies. These do not fit my teaching style, but in the young years exploration is THE best and most successful way for children to learn.

…Excuse me, I have to run. My kindergartener is building a robot from a box.


What is Considered as “School?” – The Preschool Years — 7 Comments

  1. I have struggled with all this too and worried if my kids would end up behind. Then I turn around and worry if I am doing too much with my kindergartener. He taught himself to read (I blame that on Super Why on PBS and the Leap Frog magnets on the refrigerator). He is a normal 5 year old emotionally and socially but intellectually he is a first grader and lately has suprised me by memorizing multiplication facts with his older brother. But he still writes like a five year old…Where would he have fit in in public school? At least at home I can make the adjustments for him to thrive.
    My oldest one learned that doing his best work in public school didn’t get him anywhere. His first and second grade teachers spent most of their time catching up the ones that were behind. His work got sloppier and he was so sullen. My daughter entered school as a bright little girl and all excited to go to school. She came out of there believing she is “just stupid”. Now I have to undo all of that and rebuild their confidence in themselves…something I sent them to public school with.

    • My son sounds a lot like yours. We started kindergarten when he was 3.5 years old. He’s now about halfway through 1st grade math and reading on a 2nd grade level at 5 years old. But he’s still learning how to form his lowercase letters. It’s amazing how child development works differently in each child!!

  2. As a teacher I’m kind of biased *s* However, I do agree that not all kids are ready for formal school at five, I work with kids a good deal older and not all of them are ready for formal schooling, but then they have ASNs. What they do get a lot of out is doing things – like building a tower with pasta and marshmallows, or raising brine shrimps. Surprisingly, unlike many mainstream pupils they are still motivated to learn, maybe because of some of the simplest things: they are taught not to fear mistakes but to learn from them, they are allowed to ask questions and they even get answers and we do our best to make even formal learning fun! It can be done. The different levels in varying abilities is what we refer to as a jagged profile, some kids are just better at some things than others. They are individuals and deserve to be treated as such.
    Thanks for sharing such an interesting post.

Thoughts? Please share!