One of the (many) benefits of having children spread across several years is the gift of perspective. With our first three, I felt like I had just figured something out only to find that we were now into a whole new season! There is gift in that too (of course- because only God knows the way He most wants to shape our family size), but I must say- I tremendously enjoy this second batch of babies.
For one, they are are scrumptious.
For two, I get a do-over, with that gift of perspective as a guide. :)
Our oldest three are 15, 13, and 11. Our second three are all 5 and under. One of the questions I get at least once a week is this: what would you do differently in those first years of school?
Now that I have a bit of perspective on homeschooling kindergarten and first grade and how those early years shape later learning, what would those look like if I did them again? Which curriculum would I recommend?
I wouldn’t say that I live with regret, necessarily. But I do think there are a few things that made the biggest and best impact on my children in those early years of homeschooling, and I wish I had lived in those areas more fully and realized that they were the best use of my time and energy.
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I would read aloud as much as my children could stand it. We did this, in fact, but when my oldest three were in their kinder/first grade years, I felt compelled to extend the stories with activities, unit studies, and crafts that were lined up with the stories’ themes. If I could, I would tell myself to worry less (meaning: none at all) about literature-based unit studies or projects, and just enjoy good books together instead.
I would get my hands on an excellent booklist and I would read from that collection. The story is enough, I would tell myself.
(I particularly love these picture book treasuries.)
I spent a lot of time and energy on not doing formal math in the early years the first time around. I acquired books telling me how to make math games (and I made them) and worked off of lists that promised a good solid base of elementary math without having to use a program. Somehow I fell into the mindset that my children would only love math if I managed not to force it in the typical way until much much later.
I think with my next set, I’ll likely start with an actual program when they are six-ish- something enjoyable and reputable, like Math-U-See, for example. I’d do a little bit most every day- 10 or 15 minutes, max. It would be low-pressure and gentle, but I’d still work through a systematic program from the get-go. Slow and steady, as they say.
Learning How to Read
This is where I most wish I could whisper (vigorously!) to myself a half a dozen years ago. If I could, I would tell myself to use All About Reading right from the start. We ended up using a wide array of materials to teach the skill of how to read- some more frustrating than others- and with varied results. I was married to a vague idea that teaching children to read should be easy. Because of that, we ended up doing it the hard and inconsistent way.
Instead, I’d tell myself to start with All About Reading, to smile a lot, take off all the pressure, and just do a little bit every single day, consistently over the days and weeks and months and years. I’m quite certain my kids would have become confident readers more easily this way, and I would have sidestepped a lot of self-imposed mama angst in the process.
5 minutes a day. Maybe 10. Every single day, once they were ready to really begin. I’d probably use Handwriting Without Tears (and in fact, we did use that), because I think their program is well laid out, enjoyable, and easy for mama to implement.
Focus on Building Habits
In preschool, kindergarten, and even first grade, I would take all that energy I placed into “doing school,” and I would use it to focus on helping my child develop good habits. I would teach her how to pay attention, how to sweep well, how to rinse out the sink after she brushes her teeth, and how to look in someone’s eye and say, “thank you for having me over to play today.”
I think I spent too much time making sure that the art project we were doing lined up with that day’s picture book selection, and that time could have been spent so much more profitably on being consistent with discipline and habit forming. There’s no cute cotton ball art to hang on the fridge when you’re teaching a child to leave a bathroom better than they found it, but the payoff is far more worthwhile.
I would tell myself that filling up the heart of my child with the true, the good, and the beautiful was all that mattered. Not whether the math game had m&ms to match the upcoming holiday or whether I knew a song about penguins to go with our penguin picture book and our penguin craft.
We’d play outside, every day, if possible. We’d garden, go for walks, run errands, chat with the postman, watch slugs slither across the deck and leave trails behind. We’d play lots and lots of games. We’d follow a natural daily rhythm that wasn’t tied to the clock.
I would read more fairy tales, spend more time working alongside my child on chores around the house and yard, and create fewer lesson plans. I’d be more consistent. I’d focus on the quality of the books and songs and activities we were engaging in, would memorize poetry and other such treasures.
I would worry less about “doing kindergarten” or even “doing first grade” and focus more on parenting consistently and living as full and rhythmic of a life as I could manage. I would have art supplies available and realize that for a kindergartener, helping mom cleaning up the craft is just as pleasurable (and useful) as doing the craft in the first place.
We would sing. Dance. Go to bed early. I would foster wonder, curiosity, and the habits of being helpful in the context of family life. I would smile a lot. Laugh a lot. Be goofy, and kind, and try to remember that a peaceful, smiling mother goes an awful long way to building up fortitude and happy childhood memories.
And then we’d read aloud a little bit more, just for good measure.
Of course, we did many of these things, but I would do them with more confidence, with more rest, with more relish. If I could tell myself one thing all those years ago, I would say this:
You are right where you are supposed to be. Delight in that. Live in the beautiful. Exalt Him on an ordinary day, in your very ordinary way. And you will never, ever regret it.