I use Mondays for cleaning out my mailbox. This week, I’m fielding a question about what kind of kindergarten recommendations I would give parents of young children.
Question: Do you have any specific recommendations for kindergarten?
I am wondering if you have specific recommendations for Kindergarten. I am currently homeschooling my daughter in Pre-K, and I just don’t know where to go with her next year!
I would love to do Story of the World, but do you think Kindergarten is too young to start? I am wondering the same thing about the Apologia Young Explorer’s series. I would love to do them but don’t want to introduce them too early if she really isn’t ready.
Answer: Make sure you lay a good foundation
I asked that same question of a trusted homeschooling mentor nearly twenty-five years ago, when my oldest children were approaching kindergarten age. She gave excellent advice — which I followed with great results — so I’ll begin by sharing with you the suggestions she shared with me (after which, I’ll address your specific curriculum questions):
Don’t get in too big a hurry to do desk work with your little one. She likely has years of “formal education” ahead of her. You needn’t rush to get started.
There are better, more effective ways for her to learn during this season of her life than crouched over a workbook with pencil in hand.
My best kindergarten recommendations
- Take walks
Go on a nature hike, take a stroll around the block, or try an outdoor scavenger hunt. Set a leisurely pace — it’s not a race. Stop and smell the roses. Point out bugs or birds or flowers you see along the way, and teach her the names of the ones you know. Let her pick up rocks or pinecones or pieces of bark to take back home and display on a shelf in the family room.
- Play games
Teach your little ones to play checkers, chess, or other board games like Memory and Sorry. Work a puzzle together. Shuffle a deck of cards for a round of Old Maid or Spoons or Go Fish. Our family has been on a Bananagram jag lately. My older ones play by the rules — it’s a great game for practicing spelling skills — but my preschoolers just like to sort and stack the letter tiles, or use them to spell simple words they know (and not necessarily connected like a crossword puzzle).
- Read books
Board books. Picture books. Chapter books. Reference books. Reading to your child is one of the best investments you can make in her education. Read what she loves. Share what you love. Give your child books as gifts for birthdays and Christmas. Build a home library of favorite books to read over and over and over again. Or get a library card and bring home a stack of new books every week. Or better yet, do both!
- Cook together
Let your little one help with meal preparation. Teach her to make simple dishes, like soup. She can peel carrots, add spices, pour in the water, and help stir — all with your supervision, of course. When baking, let her measure the ingredients, and show her how two half-cups (or three thirds or four fourths) make a whole. Experiment in the kitchen together and rate the results.
- Sing songs
Make music a part of your daily life. Don’t just listen (although listening is recommended, too), but get involved with your own voice, and teach your child to do the same. Sing to your little ones and with your little ones. Sing praise songs and lovely old hymns, counting songs and spelling songs, songs that teach important concepts and songs that are pure nonsense, songs that you’ve loved for many years and songs you make up on the spot.
- Memorize verses
Don’t underestimate your little one’s ability to learn things by heart. Capitalize on it. Teach her Scripture, poems, nursery rhymes, and historical speeches. I often combine this activity with the one above, and set whatever memory work we are doing to music. My own children have learned the times tables, the states and capitals, the planets of the solar system, the Preamble to the Constitution, and countless Bible verses (or even entire chapters) this way.
- Go places
Take your little one on lots of “field trips.” Go to the park, the zoo, the science museum, the art museum, the children’s museum, and the planetarium. Take tours of any factory or business within driving distance that will give you one.
When my oldest four were all six and under, their dad worked two days a week in Fort Worth, Texas, in the heart of the cultural district. The job was about an hour from our home, and he worked 11 hour shifts, so the children and I would often ride with him (otherwise, we’d hardly get to see him at all on those days), and spend the hours he was at work exploring all the area parks and museums. We learned SO MUCH doing that — without ever cracking open a schoolbook!
- Do crafts
Give a little guidance to get her started, if necessary, then stand back and let her create. Or, better yet, sit across the table and work on your own creation while she labors at hers. You can spend a lot of money on art supplies, but at this age, that really isn’t necessary. A little glue, some construction paper, and a few colored markers will go a long way in encouraging your child’s creativity. You can also save tin cans, egg cartons, cereal boxes, and milk jugs, and challenge her to make something wonderful out of those objects. She may just surprise you.
- Keep active
Your little one doesn’t need to sit in a desk for hours on end. Go outside and toss a frisbee, play tag, jog around the block, or go for a bike ride. Do whatever you can to keep your body and hers moving on a regular basis. (If you want a lot fun ideas for staying active as a family, check out my book, Get Up & Go.)
- Stay curious
Most children are naturally curious. Do your best to share, encourage, and cultivate that curiosity. Look for answers to your child’s burning questions together. Answer the questions you can, and show her where to find the answers you don’t know. Talk about other curious people. Let them inspire you. Familiarize your child with history’s great thinkers, inventors, and explorers, and note some of the modern day conveniences we have because of their curiosity and persistence.
My purpose for sharing this list with you is not to discourage “book learning,” but to balance it. Education can and should be far broader than workbooks and drills. Don’t buy into the notion that learning is something that happens only when the “school books” are out and open. That’s the whole beauty of home education — parents are not confined to a classroom, but can take advantage of all these other means of imparting knowledge, communicating truth, and fostering a lifetime love of learning in their little ones. (Of course, parents whose children are in private or public school also have the privilege of doing the things this list suggests — their families just have fewer hours together to squeeze such experiences into.)
Although I have never used either to teach a kindergartener by herself, my little ones have definitely listened in while I’ve read all those books to older siblings (and have learned a lot by doing so). Both series have lots of great suggestions for hands-on experiments and activities that your Kindergartner will remember for years to come.
So if you are itching to get started because your child has been eating up everything “bookish” you’ve done this year or is eager to begin “real school” (a common attitude among little girls), then by all means, go for it and cover the material at whatever pace you and your child are comfortable with.
But if you are just thinking about adding history and science because you feel obligated to do so, and it will mean making your already fidgety child sit still even longer (a common problem among little boys), then I’d advise you to stick with the above list of activities for Kindergarten and save the textbooks for later — maybe when a younger sibling is old enough to cover the same material.