Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and founder of Steady Mom
A note from Jamie: Enjoy this repost, which originally published on April 11, 2011!
On occasion emails pop into my inbox from mamas concerned about their children.
Are these kids on drugs? Hanging with the wrong crowd? Suffering from serious diseases?
No. Usually they are five or six-year-olds, often boys, and they don’t want to do school.
Here’s an example of what I mean (I’ve created this sample based on questions I often hear):
My son is five. He would love to spend his time doing Legos, drawing, and playing outside. Rarely does he want to sit down and practice writing his name or anything else. What do your kids do all day?
What does academic learning look like at five and six? What are “school” hours in your house? Do you ever worry that they are learning appropriately? Thank you for taking the time to share any advice.”
Dear Concerned Mother,
What you’ve described is a perfect curriculum for a five-year-old–Legos, drawing, and playing outside sound fabulous! Read-aloud to him; he can even play or draw while you read–or you can read during meals if he won’t sit still otherwise.
Play creates a strong foundation for all the academic work to come, and you want him to feel that learning is just another facet of play–that won’t happen if forced before he’s ready. My kids are just as likely to pick up a handwriting book on Sunday as they are to get out blocks or toys, because to them it is one and the same.
Your job is to create an environment that fuels learning inspiration–books, workbooks, maps, manipulatives, art supplies, and more. Then let him gravitate to what comes naturally. I recommend reading How Children Learn by John Holt and Leadership Education by Oliver and Rachel DeMille.
Head to the Sonlight catalog to find booklists for titles to read at this age. I suggest you look at their P4/5 list for a five-year-old and invest in the books that would most interest him (or get them from the library). It is perfectly fine if he doesn’t want to write his name yet–make sure he sees you writing. Set the example you want him to follow.
We don’t have official school hours; our goal is to naturally blend learning with life. We do have times when we read together–once a day the kids choose books and in the afternoon I read from a chapter book. (We’re currently in the midst of The Wizard of Oz.)
In the mornings the kids have what we call sections–during this time they play and may work on a project (like handwriting, writing a story, etc). We bake together, play outside, and follow up on their interests and questions. We also integrate activities from the Oak Meadow Kindergarten program into our day.
It’s much easier to teach a child who wants to learn. As parents we look for the gifts God has planted, and help them grow at the proper time. This is the beauty of crafting an individualized education for each child.
I don’t worry (except during the occasional freak out moments–which happen to us all from time to time) if they are learning “appropriately.” We don’t typically worry about when our kids learn to walk or talk, right? It’s natural. Learning is too, though most of us have grown up thinking otherwise. And many traditionally schooled children burn out so quickly that it’s the last thing they want to do.
But when that desire hasn’t been stifled kids want to learn, and they do it in their own timing. You’re there as the mentor, inspiration, and model when they’re ready.
In comparison, traditional schooling decides that every child is ready based on age and then seeks to make them learn, labeling them “behind” if they can’t keep up. There’s no need to structure a homeschool that way. Young children thrive in an atmosphere of freedom and connection, instead of force.
You’ll find out what fits best as you baby step your way. Just like with mothering, listen to your intuition!
With love and respect,
So many of you are much further ahead than myself on the homeschooling journey! What advice would you give to moms of five and six-year-olds?