By Beverly S. Krueger
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 havenít
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,
thatís 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 youíre ready to relax and take it
a little slower.
With children ages five through sixteen, Iíve been through
the new parent "over achieve for my child" period and
now face the "my baby is going to be leaving soon" period.
Itís mingled heart ache and joy. The way I deal with my younger
children is also greatly affected by this new life stage. Iíve
started slowing down with them already. Rather than push them on
to new achievements ahead of the pack, Iím 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. Sheíll give up all these activities soon enough, but
the timing will be her own, not because I have pushed her into more
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. Iím 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 isnít a great chunk of time to whittle out of the
childís 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 childís 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 donít 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
Admittedly the over-achieving parent Iíve described is not
the norm. But most of us would recognize those traits in ourselves
to one degree or another. If youíre naturally given to a relaxed
mode of life, donít pat yourself on the back too hard. Everyone
has flaws, itís just the organizers in life that fall prey
to this need to organize their childrenís lives to the nth
So what should an over-achieving parent do besides sitting on their
hands and screeching occasionally? Organize their childrenís
things. No, I donít mean sort out their closets. I mean actively
plan what things you will place in your childís 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 childrenís show. The day after their
big sisterís 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.
Donít 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
anotherís example. When youíre baking include your children.
When youíre 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 todayís society. Playing house is one
of a preschool childís 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. Theyíll 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.
Donít 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 childís education, but they
shouldnít 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 itís better to let them grow
at their own pace. The key is to relax. Relax, thatís 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. Itís 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.
Note: our thanks to Lillian Jones of Best Homeschooling for updating the resource listing.
Copyright © 1998 Eclectic Homeschool Association