Thursday, February 9, 2012

Unschooling for Preschoolers, Part 1

A friend with very young children wrote to Tim and me, asking if we followed a program, curriculum, or method for preschool.  As a high-achieving woman who's taking time out of her engineering career to be home with her kids, she's wrestling with the fear that she won't be "doing enough" to provide an academic environment.  Tim wrote her a reply that I am reprinting in part here because I really like it:

"As for pre-school, you already know I believe that a good home, with parents in tune with the kids, is the best pre-school.  My obsession: letting kids develop their naturally long attention spans.  Over and over and over when I'm out in public and observe parents interacting with children, I see the parents stifle or crush or end the attention/interest of young children.  Adults in our consumer culture are the ones with the attention-span problem, not children.  I believe in nurturing kids' interests and attention as much as possible.  Two hours with a couple dumb blocks or a toy hammer or a little truck?  Why not?  Of course, it's not easy.  So I've tried to be the quiet voice my daughters (I was a stay-at-home dad with them until they went to [Catholic elementary school]) and N. had to listen to--talking about things, verbalizing what's going on, reading things--most anything--aloud, using numbers in a calm way to build a sense of quantitative reasoning, and explaining as best I could whatever questions come up.  I guess I try to model "thinking, learning humans" so that being curious or analytical or philosophical seems natural.  I tried to use a variety of music every day; lunch, for sure, is a steady concert time, with lots of American traditional music but most anything else coming up so that musical literacy isn't just left to the marketplace (blues, folk songs, classical stuff especially for solo instruments to learn various sounds, jazz, big band, "world music" whatever).  And if we have a banana, which we do every day, we talk about where they come from and their color and you get the point.

Outside, we worked on just being attentive [and] always trying to be engaged with our surroundings.

So, as to "not doing enough," I wouldn't worry.  Personally I have a better feel for the everyday quotidian rather than the "big event" stuff like museums and events.   Just being curious and communicative and open to their experiences and moods while at the same time being a kind of model of how to act and think--that to me does a big part of the job.
My method is pretty much seat-of-my-pants, as they used to say.  I hope some of this might be helpful.  You've got all the ingredients--both parents educated, interesting people, great kids, no huge tensions ....  If you're having fun and trying to be there in the moment with them--avoiding praising and all that junk and instead just describing and being calm--you can't help but nurture in positive unforeseen beneficial ways.

Have fun!"

It's a measure of how entrenched school (or a particular kind of reading-writing-arithmetic concept of school) has become in our culture that upper middle-class, highly educated parents worry about whether they can provide enough enrichment at home for a three-year-old.  I don't know the data, but it seems anecdotally that a very large majority of children under age 5 with a parent not working outside the home nonetheless attends preschool.  The "early-academics" model is so pervasive that it feels radical not to send your child to preschool.  I'm not suggesting there is something wrong with sending your child to preschool or that there aren't benefits beyond academics to preschool.  I was simply struck with how uncommon it seems today in my demographic to opt out of preschool. 

Because it feels so radical to eschew preschool for one's child, the stakes seem very high.  Hence our friend is fretting over what method to use, what program to follow.  I remember this feeling!  And I remember how liberating it was to befriend a veteran homeschooler whose calmness helped me see that the decision not to send my child to preschool was actually not a big deal.  At no time is this case easier to make than when one's child is under five.  Don't worry!  It's going to be fine!  And as Tim wrote to our friend, "Have fun!"

Bonus reading: Attention Span; Diverging Paths


Megan D. Neal said...

What a great response! I completely agree. And sometimes you have to smile calmly as your friends/relatives voice their reactions to your choice not to send your child off to preschool.

Alice@Supratentorial said...

Great post! I think the year my oldest was 3 was in some ways the scariest year for me in terms of homeschooling. Looking back that seems silly but in my area EVERYONE sends their kids to preschool (and often very academic preschools) at 3 or earlier. Not sending him was very much a statement that we were choosing something different. Exciting to be sure but also a little scary. It was helpful to have veteran homeschoolers who both were reassuring and helped me to put it in perspective. He was 3! It was all going to be ok.

Adrienne Pilon ("A") said...

Nice response by T. I sent my kids to preschool, not always full time (until I got a job) but those years were the easiest for "school" because the kids were interested in everything. A trip to the library was a big deal; walking to the park could be an odyssey, filled with things to do and see. A rainy day meant baking and blocks and reading aloud. I miss those days!

Mom and Kiddo said...

Love this post. I actually opted not to send New Kid back to preschool this January. But he is definitely in the minority since I don't know anyone else who doesn't have their 3 year old in preschool (on the other hand there is truly a benefit to SAHMs to have their child in school a few hours a week!).

Holly said...

Wonderful response by Tim. I agree with every word. And I can't tell you how many times I've made the same observation of the limited attention span of the parent in public. So many times I've been out with Lucia at places like the zoo or the museum, and we've stood in one place engrossed in examining some exhibit or other, waves of families crashing around us, and the parents rushing their children hastily through, barely allowing them time to process what they're seeing. It's always the parents who are ready to move on, never the kids.

april said...

So, "the friend with the question" here reporting in on our plan. As " Fanny" noted, I am a planner and methodical. I feel like I need an instruction manual on these sorts of things, which I realize is unrealistic.

Here is where we are at. Did not register for school. I picked up some quasi-fake-FIAR book at a garage sale for 25 cents. I have been reserving those books with their recommended companion books and just working through them in an unstructured rotation. This book also cites companion poetry in the Random House Anthology (thanks, Fanny), Where the Sidewalk Ends, and some other poem book I haven't picked up yet. She is LOVING the poetry.

I have a little Montessori activity book to help me address some screen time issues at our house along with a Package of worksheets that seem to be helping her " feel" like she is doing school.

I noticed she was a little frustrated when her neighborhood peers talked about school. For the first 2.5 yrs of her life, she was in childcare with a homeschool family of older girls who were likely very mainstream in their approach. So, for her, school is having her folder with daily seat work ready in the morning for her to tackle. I am realizing this isn't gaining us much other than her getting comfortable without attending a classroom setting as well as helping me enforce(ie, have less battles) with respect to screen time.

So, thanks for all your comments and blogs that I have pondered to get us to this point for now.

Fanny Harville said...

Hi April,
It's great to hear an update from you! Your comment underscores what I think we all figure out as we homeschool: our "method" is an assortment of the various things that work for us as individual parents and children. The range of possibilities seems overwhelming at first, but when you stay focused on what works for your family, it is less daunting and more fun.