Preschool Counts

“When did you start homeschooling?”

“Well, my daughter’s only three, so I’m not sure it really counts yet.”

I’ve heard this conversation many times since I began the homeschooling journey a few years ago.

In fact, I even attended my first homeschooling conference when my boys were both two-years-old–somehow I felt like it wasn’t completely legitimate for me to be there. But I couldn’t wait to learn and I felt I had the perfect opportunity–a couple of years before my kids reached school age to devote to reading and research.

Looking back, I believe those years of research made all the difference to my confidence as a home educator.

So what exactly is your preschooler learning at home, whether or not you’re formally schooling?

Consider these three foundational areas.

1. Relationships

Many educational philosophies agree that secure family relationships provide the support system for further education and academic advancement.

The Thomas Jefferson Education method refers to this period as “Core Phase,” which occurs from birth until around age eight. The curriculum for core phase is nothing more than learning right and wrong, true and false, work and play–all within the security of the family unit.

It’s been proven that children with multiple family risk factors struggle more when trying to develop reading and math skills than children from a secure family background.

So the years we spend investing in our little ones matter.

2. The Natural World

Photo by Tiffany Washko

So much world is out there to explore that very little “schooling” needs to happen during the preschool years. Letting the outdoors be the bulk of a preschooler’s curriculum gives him the necessary hours to enjoy his natural curiosity.

In his bestselling book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv states that time spent outdoors leads to lower rates of attention deficit disorder in children, and higher levels of creative, healthy development.

Many educational methodologies, including Waldorf and Charlotte Mason, also place a high priority on the natural world–especially in early childhood.

This week presents a perfect time to renew your focus on nature–as both TV Turnoff Week and Earth Day approach. Tune into Simple Organic for ideas to celebrate the outdoors with the little people you love.

3. Academic Foundations

Photo by kaylhew

We can’t underestimate the wealth of natural learning our preschoolers acquire all day long. It may seem basic to us, but it sets them much further ahead of the game than children who don’t have those basics covered.

A multitude of scientific research confirms this fact. In The Read-Aloud Handbook, author Jim Trelease states that there’s a high correlation between the amount of printed reading material in a child’s home and the child’s scores in reading and math.

And consider these statistics–the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study found that of kindergarten-aged children who were read to at least three times a week:

76% had mastered the letter-sound relationship at the beginning of words, compared to 64% of children who were read to fewer than 3 times a week,
57% had mastered the letter-sound relationship at the end of words, compared to 43% who were read to fewer than 3 times a week,
15% had sight-word recognition skills, compared to 8% who were read to fewer than 3 times a week, and
5% could understand words in context, compared to 2% who were read to fewer than 3 times a week.
It also found that children who were read to at least three times a week by a family member were almost twice as likely to score in the top 25% in reading than children who were read to less than 3 times a week.

So here’s what I’m trying to say to you parents who feel as though you’re not quite legitimate homeschoolers yet–

Preschool counts.

And the next time someone asks when you started homeschooling, maybe you’ll choose to answer as I do.

“At birth.”

What’s the most amazing thing your preschooler has learned recently?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. Thank you for the encouragement and confirmation, Jamie. I homeschooled my 4yo preschooler (and his 2yo brother who didn’t want to be left out!) this winter and hope I have laid a solid foundation for the school years ahead.

    We’re outdoors every day, and read a lot too, so I’m happy to see those activities included in your post.
    .-= Aimee’s last blog: Weekend Reading: Spice Edition =-.

  2. Precisely. Actually, the interesting thing that keeps coming up when I inform people that our five-year-old will be doing kindergarten at home this fall, is the number of people who say, “Oh, so you’re just going to keep doing what you’re doing.” It never occurred to me that I was already homeschooling. But really, what we will be doing next year as we start “formal” schooling, is such a natural extension of our family environment. Learning and exploring together is just what we do.

    Hmm, I wonder if the conversation about homeschooling would be different if we started referring to the stay-at-home parents of preschool-aged children as “homeschooling.” Very interesting. 🙂
    .-= Laura’s last blog: Oh… hello. =-.

  3. I’ve been homeschooling since birth also (my kiddo’s births that is). And I’ve been hanging out with homeschoolers since my elementary aged kids were preschoolers. At first it felt odd but homeschoolers are an inclusive bunch and they included us into their activities.
    .-= renee @ FIMBY’s last blog: Yeah for you! A new car. =-.

  4. Great post! The upcoming school year will be my first full-on homeschooling year. and I keep saying “Oh, I’ll have a second grader, kindergartener, and my 2 1/2 year old will likely learn something too.” and then I wonder why I don’t just include the little guy…I’ll be teaching all three of them. I think I will include him now too and include a preschooler in the mix! Whew…it’s gonna be fun!
    .-= Annie’s last blog: Annoyances =-.

  5. Great post and very encouraging. This might sound silly but, I think the one thing that blew my mind was how much my youngest retained from reading “Little House in the Big Woods” over a year ago. He just turned three and I had read the book when he was almost two. I picked it up again this past month. He distinctively requested the story about Pa and the bear with the pig. I could not believe he remembered it. It just goes to show you that it is from birth 😉
    .-= Keilah’s last blog: Diet and Exercise =-.

  6. “No Child Left Behind” has its own meaning in homeschooling. I use to let my toddler, now a big-boy three year old, sit in the room while I taught his older siblings. After doing a little research and seeing all of the cool things (a lot of blog reading – that’s research too, right?) that other mommies were doing w/their children who were his age, I “enrolled” him in our school and got to work. He is included in school everyday and I even have a lesson plan for the work he does.

    Although my older two are doing well in school, I wish I had done more w/them like I am doing w/my baby. Children are so eager to learn and no matter the age and given the opportunity, they will eat it up.
    .-= Jennifer @ Milk & Honey Mommy’s last blog: Are We There Yet? =-.

    • I love this definition of “No Child Left Behind”, lol! We include our two year old in our school day as well, not because I’m trying to rush her along, but simply because she loves to be part of it and picks up so much along the way!

  7. I think it is important at this young age, though, to remind ourselves that much of this learning really will occur ‘naturally’ – without lessons plans or putting the focus on ‘teaching’ our little kids. Sometimes we homeschoolers are so excited about this journey of ours that we can formalize education too young (and consequently cause tears and frustration for some of our children). Some kids will beg to read and for math workbooks at four years old and others would prefer to keep being read to and spend countless hours with lego and drawing until they’re seven. Regradless of these differences I agree that reading and getting outdoors and enjoying community events, playing games/puzzles together, etc., will, in and of themselves, well prepare our youngest kids for academics.

  8. I look at it from the other angle: Life is learning; therefore we are ALL in “school” ALL the time. School as an institution (aside from college level studies) is an artificial arrangement; learning is not.
    .-= Jennifer Jo’s last blog: My one and only =-.

  9. Thanks for this ‘reminder’ that we are teaching/learning all the time. I love the book, “You Are Your Child’s First Teacher” recommended from our Waldorf School teacher back in California when my son was just 18 months old. I plan on homeschooling my son this fall when he is 3, but I guess I am homeschooling him everyday. I only wish he weren’t an only child so he had more interaction with children.

    BTW, I recognized Tiffany’s son in that picture right away! He is just so darn cute!
    .-= Pure Mothers’s last blog: Book Review: Free-Range Kids =-.

  10. Thank goodness for my mother! She was the type that weaved learning into absolutely everything. I never felt like I was being “schooled” or “taught”; I was just having fun with my mom! When I became a mom, I found myself emulating her style of parenting from the beginning. People would say “where did you get that idea?” or “how did you teach him that?” and I would say “I dunno!” It wasn’t until then that I realized that this style doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

    But to answer your question, I think the biggest thing all 5 of our children are learning at this time is compassion. We’re showing them by example & involvement: Compassion isn’t always convenient, but you dig deep, as deep as you can go to help others in need. True compassion is never condescending.
    .-= Sofia’s Ideas’s last blog: Show-Off =-.

  11. Thank you for this article! We do learning activities around the house now and I am actively researching more specific options and opportunities for when “official’ homeschooling begins in a coupe of years. I want to discuss, swap ideas and gather ideas from “real” homeschooling moms but have been afraid to ask because I didn’t think they would think we counted yet…you have encouraged me by showing me that this is the perfect time for us to be learning together!
    .-= Heather Brooks’s last blog: I’ve got an itch… =-.

  12. Thank you, very encouraging! I have been trying to figure out what direction we want to go with homeschool for my 4 year old. We even tried preschool this past fall and that was not successful for many different reasons. I had wanted to homeschool but just thought preschool would be a good way to get him to have some fun away from mom for a short bit and give me time to prepare for homeschooling, but it was just more exhausting to get him there and back than it was to just have him home LOL. He did learn a good bit while he was there but I’m amazed at just how much he learns at home even in an unstructured setting (we read a LOT though). Just the other day he grabbed a pencil and a tiny notepad and while standing and holding the pad on his palm he wrote out his name Wyatt, perfectly. I have only a few times sat with him and traced some letters and such but nothing as formal as sitting and him practicing his name or anything, he spells it out on the keyboard and such. So I thought is was awesome to see that they pick up so much from us without needing to be sat down and “trained” so to speak. His colors, numbers, letters etc…it was just normal talking and reading that he just memorized it all, we didn’t make sessions or anything out of it….it’s just in their nature to want to soak it all in. 🙂

  13. I think kids learn so much from living along side us… rolling pastry, planting beans, posting letters… all in a days work. Life is their learning. When folks ask what I teach my littlies and when we start school. Well they start learning when they are born and I don’t formally teach anything, skills just descend on them as they imitate and create and explore. I don’t think there is a specific toy or program or curriculum that can teach life better than just living alongside us in the real world.
    .-= se7en’s last blog: The Week That Was – 2.42 =-.

  14. Courtney says:

    I so agree! Even though I am a mother to a 7 month old, I have already begun the education process through lots of reading & research (for me)/ lots of story time, tummy time, outdoor exploration (for him). Career wise, I am a speech language pathologist who has worked with kids and their families building language, speech, and literacy skills. One of my guiding priniciples in my career has always been the parent is the first and most important model/teacher in a child’s life. Now that I am a mother myself, I’m so excited that I get to practice what I preach…haha

  15. I always say “at birth” when people ask. I cannot point to a day when things became different at our house, when we suddenly straightened up and buckled down to some serious learnin’! Sometimes I feel like a smart aleck saying it, but it’s just the truest answer there is, isn’t it?
    .-= Hannah’s last blog: Just picture this in your head =-.

  16. Wow, thanks for this. I have uttered that EXACT phrase since my daughter is only 3. We do an “official school” for 30 minutes each day where we play with our preschool books, practice tracing etc. and Chloe loves it. The rest of our day is spent cleaning, baking, playing outside, reading etc. all together and she loves that too.

    The most incredible thing that my son (20 months) accomplished was being able to count to 6 at 18 months. Wow, what a little genius. We were reading a book one day (Chloe, John and I) and Chloe was counting the sheep on the page and next thing you know, John followed suit. I had him count the animals on the next page before Chloe did.

  17. Bless you for posting this! I really needed this today. With a 4 year old and a 1 year old at home I sometimes feel like I’m starting “too early,” but I think knowing what is available and exploring all of the wonderful options now is better for us rather than scrambling around when we NEED something and picking the wrong thing. Thanks again for the encouragement!

    • Hi Jaime. Yes, I think in the early years the education is more about US, and we read and research and discover what we think may work best for our kids in the future.

      And while we do that, they’ll be discovering so much–just in day-to-day living!
      .-= Jamie ~ Simple Homeschool’s last blog: Preschool Counts =-.

  18. So glad you posted this! Often, I’ve felt like “we’re getting started TOO early.” But I love this “practice” time to learn how I can/cannot teach my children- compulsory age here isn’t until 7, so I figure I’ve got some time for trial and error!

    We’ve never felt any other way than to homeschool. So, when people ask or I tell that we are homeschooling *right now* sometimes I feel a little bit like I’m pretending. After all, how can you REALLY homeschool a 1- and 3-yr-old?

    The other day though, while studying the letter C with my two, I (totally not expecting her to even care) asked my 1-yr-old what letter this was: “Sssss…” she announced at the sight of the letter C. I was astounded.

    So while I try not to get too gung-ho about what we plan, curriculum, or formality, I do see that they are constantly learning. And its my responsibility to provide them with things *to learn.* I love the notion from Thomas Jefferson- that is our primary goal right now. Friends and family are dumbfounded that our kids do not go to daycare or preschool, or even get babysat very often (about 3 times/year- we CHERISH those date nights!). But I know that the most and best that I can do with them is be with them. And I love it.

  19. So true! I think it begins even before birth as I did a lot of great research even before I became pregnant & we started reading a story in 2 languages to our daughter every day in the womb! A baby actually starts learning language at just 3 months inutero!

    Books and reading to a baby and a child and having wonderful books around, loving them makes a huge difference and reading together & cuddling is still one of our favorite things to do together ( my daughter is a tween now!).

    Every child starts out home-schooled. Only later do parents decide whether their children will continue their education at home, or enter a public, private or parochial school. What happens in the home environment in those early years has a profound effect on a child’s development because of the nature of brain development, and the nature of learning.

    The first 5 years comprise the most rapid period of brain growth outside the womb. It grows 90% of it’s adult size by 5! So loving, reading, exploring, singing, conversing, playing with your child…. learning about the world and the joy of learning is the best possible gift that you can give to your child.

    That foundation is everything & you do not need to do formal learning to learn a LOT.
    .-= soultravelers3’s last blog: Around The World Family Travel Soultravelers3 =-.

  20. Thanks so much for this post, it really was something I needed to hear. Often I downplay the “homeschool preschool” that we do because my husband and I are not in agreement about what to do once “real” school begins. I would love to homeschool, and that’s where my heart is, but obviously without him being supportive of it I can’t. He is ok with us doing preschool-like activities at home, but if I ever used the word homeschool… well, I just don’t want to scare him away from the idea! If anyone has been in a situation like this I’d love to hear how you brought your husband (and other family members) around to supporting you. Thanks again for a wonderful post!

  21. So true!!!! When my first two were young I had a “schedule”- crafts, snacktime, walk outside, free play- and it was so enjoyable for all of us. I also read to them constantly. Now that my two little guys have reached that age, I’ve kind of left them to their own devices. Woops. This article is convicting- and I’m off to set their new “schedule”. Thanks!!!
    Nicole, do you have any homeschooling friends that you can introduce your family to? Also, any article about the merits of homeschooling may start to change some hearts. I would not back down from something I cared about so much– be open and honest even if people may question your sanity at first. -Faith

  22. Loved this post! It’s nice to be validated as a homeschooler, even though my daughter is in day care 3 days a week. I do believe in being intentional about providing new learning experiences and information for my 3yo – planning activities helps me keep my own sanity, amongst other things… And this time is critical in her learning path, since she’s absorbing so much right now!
    .-= Mozi Esmes Mommy’s last blog: Review/Giveaway: Green, American Style =-.

  23. Thanks for the encouragement as I home preschool three little girls.
    Robin’s latest post: Clipping for College Week Two

  24. Thanks for the reminder! There are times that I think I need to be doing more with my newly turned 5 year old, but then I question why would change, he is learning perfectly fine by living life right along side us! I look forward to as our son grows, to continue his learning by being active in life which I feel brings about so many learning opportunities!
    Great post!

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