Bev Krueger, Creator of Eclectic Homeschool Online
Eager to begin assisting their children down the path of life many young parents schedule play dates, attend Mom and baby swim classes, and busily start planning all the necessary activities to give their baby a head start in life. At this early date they haven't yet realized they are trying to speed their way to the moment when that beloved child leaves their door for a life on their own. Yes, that's a moment all parents want their children to achieve fully prepared for the vagaries of life, but the closer you get to that moment the more time you wish you had. By the time your child is sixteen, you find them running willy nilly towards that goal themselves just when you're ready to relax and take it a little slower.
With children ages five through sixteen, I've been through the new parent "over achieve for my child" period and now face the "my baby is going to be leaving soon" period. It's mingled heart ache and joy. The way I deal with my younger children is also greatly affected by this new life stage. I've started slowing down with them already. Rather than push them on to new achievements ahead of the pack, I'm giving them more time to be the age they are. Rachel needs plenty of time to play house, sing to her dollies, color, dress up, and create play dough buffets. She'll give up all these activities soon enough, but the timing will be her own, not because I have pushed her into more "educational" activities.
The concept "educational" activity is in itself restricting. Somewhere along the way we have lost the understanding that the activities commonly known as "school" are only one form of educational activity. Learning to read, write, and do arithmetic have been elevated to such a high plane that the other forms of learning are pushed to the side as unworthy of much dedicated time. In the past preschoolers were not expected to learn to read; and yet today I receive many requests for help in choosing a reading program for three or four-year-olds. I'm assured that the child is more than ready to take this next step in his educational program. That may well be, but my response is "so what?" Assuredly you can start a reading program that requires only 10 minutes a day, and that really isn't a great chunk of time to whittle out of the child's daily schedule. But most people that insist on starting their preschooler reading are also working on math, doing science experiments, and finding all kinds of ways to jumpstart academics. All this "educational" activity pushes aside the things that a child should be doing, playing, exploring and discovering life on their own.
Most parents would be horrified to realize that they may be unintentionally quashing their child's creative abilities by constantly employing them in directed activities. They teach them to color in the lines rather than give them art supplies to use as they decide. Rather than letting them discover ants on their own, they take them outside for a complete lecture on ants. By the age of two, they schedule regular dates for their children to play with those their own age ignoring the fact that two-year-olds don't yet play socially. They tie up all their time in planned activities and events never allowing children the freedom to discover on their own. Creativity needs room to experiment. If children have no room to do their own thing, they will gradually stop thinking in creative ways and look only for the "correct" or "proper" way to do something. They will turn to their authority, the parent, to tell them what they should do. Later in life they will turn to other authorities.
Admittedly the over-achieving parent I've described is not the norm. But most of us would recognize those traits in ourselves to one degree or another. If you're naturally given to a relaxed mode of life, don't pat yourself on the back too hard. Everyone has flaws - it's just the organizers in life that fall prey to this need to organize their children's lives to the nth degree.
So what should an over-achieving parent do besides sitting on their hands and screeching occasionally? Organize their children's things. No, I don't mean sort out their closets. I mean actively plan what things you will place in your child's environment. Surround your child with the tools for creative play: blocks, puzzles, dress up clothes, dolls, cars, trucks, toy dishes, stoves, sinks, and brooms. Be discerning in the toys you select. Are they toys that stimulate imaginative play? Avoid electronic toys. Have bins of art supplies, science supplies, and craft supplies that children can access and use as they desire. If you have room, provide a stack of planks, bricks and boxes for outdoor construction projects. Let your children raid the linen closet to create their own tents with the dining room table. Help them string a clothesline to hang curtains for stage productions. Provide plenty of music tapes and an easy to use tape recorder. Children will use these tools to build on daily experiences and those special occasions when they make a visit to the zoo, museum, or children's show. The day after their big sister's car wash you may find them outside pretending to run their own car wash for all the tricycles in the neighborhood. A visit to the zoo might spark the creation of their own jungle room using their stuffed animals.
Allow children plenty of time to do their own thing. Turn them loose in the back yard to dig, poke and pry keeping an eye on them from a distance. I promise when some momentous discovery is made they will come charging back to you to share it. As much fun as it is spending time doing things with your children, it is equally fun to watch them busy at their own tasks. Surreptitiously observing your children will give you priceless memories of inquisitive faces determining that water runs down hill if you dump your pail out on a sloping yard. That hands on experience and many others will later confirm the concept of gravity when they are older.
Don't let what I have said cause you to react too far in the other direction and avoid doing things with and for your child. Many things that children learn are learned by observing and following another's example. When you're baking include your children. When you're folding laundry let them help. Suggest that your daughter get out her ironing board and iron while you iron, too. Give your son a patch of ground to grow his own flowers from seed, showing him how to cover each seed with just the right amount of soil and then gently sprinkle them with water. The daily flow of life in a household is another of the "educational" arenas that is forgotten in todays society. Playing house is one of a preschool child's delights. It gives them the opportunity to practice all the tasks they have seen their parents and older siblings do each day. Although they may not accomplish a task as perfectly as you desire, their unabashed enthusiasm for housework will never be greater than at this age. Letting them help you will teach them far more than you imagine. They'll be improving their large motor skills, learn to discern subtle differences (this window is clean, this window has streaks), and learn to order tasks properly. All these things will help them later when they do finally learn to read.
Don't rush your child through their childhood because you think you are giving them a head start on achieving great things. Academics have their place in a child's education, but they shouldn't be allowed to force out the other important learning that a child needs to do. As parents we want so much for our children that sometimes we push them when it's better to let them grow at their own pace. The key is to relax. Relax, that's a word that you will hear throughout your homeschooling career. Even after many years of homeschooling and parenting I still find myself needing to be reminded to relax occasionally. It's hard to imagine now at the outset of your journey just how much you will miss the times when your children came trouping out in oversized shoes and clothes to invite you to a tea party in their room. Revel in this time. The future holds equally wonderful treasures, but they will be different treasures.Great Stuff for Kids:
Green Mountain Blocks Hardwood blocks that come in various shapes. Sold in sets for toddlers on up. Sets start at $32.50. A super set is available with 128 blocks and 12 geometric shapes for $198.00. Green Mountain Blocks, PO Box 146, Danville, VT 05828. Phone: 802-748-6724.
Brock Magiscope Technically not a preschool item, but due to cost something you should consider saving for. This is the most durable and usable microscope available for children. This scope is constructed of solid aluminum alloy and tempered brass, with no exposed threads, knobs, gears, or screws. Focusing is simple brass on brass friction, requiring no grease or maintenance. The entire microscope has one moving part. It requires no lamps, cords or batteries. It's not something you'll hand your two year old, but a four year old could spend a lot of time using it after proper instruction. Brock Optical Inc., 1-800-780-9111.
Scooter boards Rainbow Resource Center sells a 12' square durable plastic scooter board with non-marring wheels. It can be used indoors and out. Our children and many of the neighbor's children have spent hours playing with these boards. Just $15.00 in blue or yellow. Rainbow Resources - call 888-841-3456 for a catalog.
Lauri Crepe Puzzles Lauri makes a huge variety of puzzles from very simple puzzles with just a few pieces to large puzzles with nearly 100 pieces. We own six or seven different puzzles including a very simple flower puzzle to an intricate castle puzzle. These puzzles can be found at most school supply stores. Timberdoodle carries several of the perception puzzles, a noah's ark puzzle, the fit-a-state puzzle and two different alphabet puzzles. Smaller puzzles are just $6.50 with larger puzzles costing more. Timberdoodle - call 360-426-0672 for a catalog.
World's Best Bug Jar This sturdy plastic jar has a lid with air holes and 2x magnifying glass. Flip down the top lens for 4x magnification. Get this bug jar for just $4.50 from Tobin's Lab - Tobin's Lab - call 540-937-7173 for a catalog.
Giant Floor Puzzles Frank Schaffer makes some really great floor puzzles from five foot long panorama puzzles to rectangular puzzles with Biblical themes. Farm Country General Store sells ten different puzzles. Call 800-551-FARM for a catalog.
Art supplies: Crayons, colored pencils, colored chalk, sidewalk chalk, construction paper, drawing paper, tempera paint, paint brushes of varied sizes, charcoal pencils, glue, pipe cleaners, craft sticks, tissue paper.
Science Supplies: Dishpan, plastic beakers, graduated cylinders, magnifying glass, compass, magnets, tweezer, paper clips, pennies, paper cups, paper plates, cotton balls, scale, balance, children's microscope, meter stick, yard stick, ruler, modeling clay, straws, toothpicks, balloons, string, rubber bands, sand paper, and a funnel. Items for this box and the art box can often overlap. Use your judgement on which items you add for different age preschoolers. Make sure they have access to non-messy ways of playing with sand and water. Tobin's Lab offers science supplies at good prices - Tobin's Lab - call 540-937-7173 for a catalog.
Dress up Box: Old shirts, dresses, skirts, pants, belts, hats, gloves, jewelry, ties, scarves and purses. You can obtain many of these items from sorting through your own closets. For special items like gold high heels make the rounds of garage sales one weekend. What you might consider unbelievably tacky to wear now might be the highlight of a dress up box. Old formals and suit jackets can be had very cheaply at garage sales.
Copyright © 1998 Eclectic Homeschool Association - reprinted here with permission of the author.
Bev Krueger is the creator and editor of Eclectic Homeschool Online. She is also one of the authors of the new homeschooling book, See, I Told Me So!: Homeschool Veterans Declare "You Can Stop Worrying!"
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