I frequently receive questions regarding curricula for preschoolers. Here is my recipe for homeschooling preschoolers:

Forget textbooks, early learning programs, and turning your child into a young egghead. Instead, remember how young children learn. You did not teach your baby to walk using a curriculum program. You used your natural abilities as a mother to encourage your baby and toddler, going just far enough from him to challenge his abilities to walk to you, while ensuring his ability to succeed, and comforting him after his many falls. There are so few precious years when we can rely solely on the child’s natural abilities as knowledge seeker–we should take advantage of those years.

A preschooler does not need to learn to read.  Studies have shown that a child who learns to read at the age of four and a child who learns to read at the age of ten have the same reading skills by the time they are eleven.    (The Moore Institute, Raymond and Dorothy Moore).

A preschooler does not need to learn to add and subtract.  A preschooler does not need to learn how to use the computer.  Too frequently, I see parents who show off their young child’s abilities in such a way that the child’s presumed precociousness appears to be nothing but an ego trip for the parent rather than a real benefit to the child.  On the other hand, if your youngster is learning to read or do arithmetic on his own, encourage him.  Just be sure not to pressure him.

Preschoolers are not tiny versions of older children. They are experiencing neurological development that cannot occur later in life. Learning to read, do math, and use the computer can wait.  Learning to run and play, share with other children, be kind, enjoy the beauty of God’s earth, experience things richly–these are the tasks of the preschooler.  A preschooler will learn everything he needs to know using what amounts to unschooling methodology (which I do not necessarily believe to be the best approach later, but that will be the subject of another post).  Be available to answer all the whys, learning why the sky really is blue if your child asks you.  Give the child the opportunity to experience nature, to learn nursery rhymes by hearing them from you, to hear good music, to snuggle next to you while you read a beautiful children’s book, to learn to set and clear the table, to learn about animals, colors, sizes, and shapes (Categorization of the world around them seems to come naturally to young children), and last but assuredly not least to learn to talk to God, which is, according to St. Teresa of Avila, what prayer is.

There’s no need to buy someone’s boxed curriculum to do this.  It’s been the normal stuff of life for as long as there have been parents and children.  Do these things not with curricula, but with the normal everyday goings on of life.  Help the child learn how to behave in a manner befitting society.  The kernels of morality begin at this age.

Above all, whether you take my advice on allowing preschoolers to learn naturally or not, just be sure to be there for them. Young children need their parents–they need hugs and kisses on scraped knees and the freedom that comes from security. No amount of “quality time” offered between work and bed time will make up for being there with them, and this is even more the true for infants.

Preschoolers are not just young academicians. What they have to learn is far more important than anything that can be gained from textbooks. We take for granted our knowledge of the world around us, but for preschoolers that knowledge is just beginning. They gain it by experience, and from parents who take the time to listen and answer all the whys in the world.