Our son Mikko has been attending a language-immersion preschool two days a week for the past two years. A couple weeks ago, at just over four years old, we pulled him out so we could practice unschooling.
My partner, Sam, and I have a goal of not sending our children to traditional schooling as they get older and also, instead of using a specific homeschooling curriculum, letting them lead their own education through what is commonly known as “unschooling.”1 Since Mikko would traditionally start kindergarten at a public school next year, we thought we’d give ourselves this one last year to see how well we manage unschooling our family, so we know whether it will work for us as we hope.
Now, many people might say that preschool is unnecessary and little children can just learn as they go — and I do in fact believe that’s true! However, Sam and I have a tendency to be, um, what’s the word? Lazy, that’s it. So it’s good for us to have some goals in mind to scatter opportunities for learning in our children’s path. You can’t follow your child’s interests if you don’t offer anything interesting, right?
So, with our experience of what Mikko did in preschool, and our unschooling worldview, we can now see how the two mesh. Whether your kids are enrolled in preschool or not, you’ll certainly have plenty of time interacting with them in an educational capacity in these preschool years. And whether or not you intend to continue on to traditional schooling, the preschool time is perfect for following your child’s lead and being relaxed about learning. Here are our ideas to start out with for this year. Please feel free to add yours in the comments!
- Reading & Writing —
This one’s pretty easy, assuming you like to read and write yourself. We’ll continue to read books with Mikko, and he loves learning letters. Try some hands-on and fun ways to practice reading and writing:
- Copying Games: Draw a picture and leave space beside it for your little one to copy it. This builds hand-eye coordination and can be a lead-up to writing, or a drawing lesson in itself.
- Magnet Letters: These work great on the fridge, as we all know, but also try arranging them on a metal cookie sheet for laptime learning. Try forming different words, having your child search for a particular letter, or arranging letters in alphabetical order. Using physical objects can spark new connections in little minds.
- Think Off-Paper: Try writing letters in chalk on the sidewalk, or arranging your body into a letter’s shape. Learn the sign language alphabet and finger spell favorite words!
- Signature Moves: I’ve yet to meet a child who’s not fascinated with her own name! Encourage learning the letters and recognizing when you see the name spelled out. Ask family members to mail postal letters, and send crafts back, signed by the child.
- Arts —
This is another fun and easy subject for preschoolers, because they tend to get artsy and craftsy without any prodding. Have supplies handy, and set them loose! Acacia is writing a wonderful series on creating artwork with little ones; plus, you can check our Arts & Crafts archives for more fabulous ideas of varying levels of messiness.
We love to keep basics on hand, and we spice things up with supplies or kits Mikko is drawn to at the store, or fun activities he enjoyed at preschool, like making flubber.
- World Languages —
Do you speak a minority language? Even a teensy bit? Then speak it (as much as you can!) with your little one. At this age, kids tend to be forgiving of grammar mistakes and limited vocabulary, so take advantage. If you’re concerned about having them hear the language “right,” then seek out opportunities to hear it spoken by native speakers:
- library story times (you’d be surprised how many languages these can come in!)
- restaurants serving a national cuisine
- mp3s and CDs of children’s songs
- more structured language learning programs
But the point is to have fun. Learn a few songs in your target language, and make a pact (with yourself!) to sing one every day. It’s even better if the song has a participatory component, like an action song (“Head, Shoulders, Knees, & Toes”) or a song where you can ask your child to choose what color or number you’ll sing about next.
- Social Studies —
Mikko’s preschool featured a different country every month, and the vocabulary, music, and art all revolved around that culture. You could do your own version. Either you or your child can pick a geographical location you want to learn more about, then make a meal that fits the locale, learn a few phrases in a new language, or look up pictures of traditional dress. If you have relatives living elsewhere, that could be a great opportunity to talk about what makes their place different, where it is on the map, what the weather’s like there, or what time zone it’s in.
- Science —
The best way for preschoolers to grasp science is through the scientific method: experimentation! Have fun talking about and doing: Learn about bubbles as you blow them, experiment with friction by setting different objects down a slide, or plant seeds together and learn about roots and photosynthesis as you watch them grow. One of my favorite sites for kid-friendly science experiments like these is Science@Home.
- Music —
Sing! It doesn’t matter what, and it doesn’t matter if you’re good. Break out or learn new campfire songs, kids songs, and folk songs. Kids this age love learning lyrics, doing motion songs, and bebopping along to dance tunes. Consider gathering some real instruments to practice with — simple favorites include:
- little drum
- percussion sticks
- shaker egg
- recorder or tin whistle (but beware your ears!)
- Math, Colors, & Shapes —
You don’t need to make it complicated. Count things! Name colors! Draw shapes! Do simple games, like sorting toys by color, then counting how many piles you have. Go on a search for all the squares you can find in a room. As your child’s attention and appetite grow, start talking about math concepts like addition and subtraction, consider offering an allowance or giving your child some control over money, memorize the order of colors in a rainbow, or branch out into three-dimensional shapes like cubes and cones by making them out of paper. Activity bags are perfect for talking math, colors, and shapes, and they’re easy and addictive to make!
- Social Interaction —
Worried your kid’s not being socialized outside of school? First of all, remember that you are a person, too, so your child is already socializing with you! But then, go on out and make some friends. Meet some families, through a local attachment parenting chapter, a religious group, activities your child attends, or online friends who want to meet up.
- Physical Education —
With most kids, just try to keep them from fulfilling this credit! Giving your kids time each day for gross motor activities will get the antsies out and encourage lifelong healthy habits. If it’s nice out, or you have the appropriate outdoor gear to compensate, get out and run, kick a ball, chase each other, ride a balance bike, or go wild on the playground! If the weather is not cooperating, try some indoor moves instead. Children this age might enjoy a weekly structured activity, such as swimming lessons or a T-ball team.
- Safety —
Mikko’s preschool emphasized this quite a bit, having firefighters visit and teaching emergency numbers. You, too, can visit a fire station to see firefighters in masks and without — just call ahead to arrange a time. Go over your local emergency number, practice stop-drop-and-roll, and start teaching your children their address and phone number as they become old enough to understand.
- Field Trip! —
It’s usually a lot easier to take one family out somewhere than a whole classroom of kids, so we will be going out a lot. We have memberships to our local zoo (giving great opportunities for biology, vocabulary, reading2), aquarium (same), science center (science, of course!), and children’s museum (arts, science, just plain fun). A child who loves art might get a kick out of a trip to an art museum – to keep it child friendly, stop at the gift shop first for a postcard of an exhibit that catches your child’s eye, and then have a scavenger hunt to find that piece in the museum. And field trips don’t have to cost anything. You can talk math and nutrition at the grocery store, search out tree types in the forest, or learn about animals at a shelter. Mikko’s fascinated with (don’t laugh!) water treatment plants, so we hope to make a trip to one near us, once we can gather a group large enough for a tour!3
- Following Directions:
OK, this is an odd one for me — since I don’t intend for Mikko to go on to school anytime soon, following directions in a classroom isn’t imperative. However, the preschool teachers frequently pointed out that a lot of the tasks they work on with the four-year-olds are specifically to prepare for classroom life in kindergarten, where kids will be expected to stay in their seats, listen to a teacher’s instructions, and carry those instructions out with minimal assistance. So, if you’re hoping to send your kids on to traditional schooling post-preschool, try any of the above activities, but add in a gradual element of sitting still and following through. Try fun listening games, too, like Simon Says and Mother, May I?
- Play —
Definitely let your child direct this one! They’re naturals at it.
How do your preschoolers learn best? What are your favorite non-school activities to do with them?
- It goes by other names as well, with different nuances. Sandra Dodd has one of my favorite sites about the type of unschooling I aspire to. See our Natural Learning page for more resources. ↩
- One of Mikko’s first words was “Z-O-O … That spell, ‘Animals!’” OK, we were impressed. ↩
- Anyone in the Seattle area want to find out where our poop goes? ↩