Here is how we do preschool. You can take it or leave it, but I promise you it works!
Read books. Read out loud. Read the same book over and over again. Each time you read the book, take time to point out different things. Talk about the characters together, predict the action, and marvel over the colors and illustrations. Read books out loud together as a family, even longer novels or books that you may feel are above your child’s comprehension level. He will pick up more than you think!
Talk to your child like an adult. Ask his opinions, and listen to his answers. Ask open-ended questions, and have him expound on his answers. Let him make choices for himself whenever it is practical and meaningful to do so. Inside of your preschooler is a fully-formed human being – give him the respect he deserves!
Give her meaningful work within her abilities, and hold her accountable. She can unload the dishwasher, move the laundry, pick up her toys and set the table. Remind her that her contributions are valuable, you recognize her hard work, and acknowledge her thoroughness.
Involve her in your tasks, and in your life. Narrate. Explain. Try very hard not to blow off her questions, even though it take a lot of focus to do this. If she asks you something you’ve answered before, ask her if she remembers the answer – sometimes they actually are just testing you!
Count things. Count everything! Count cracks in the sidewalk, count the seconds while you wash her hair, give her a countdown timer while she’s picking up those toys. Give her a tape measure and let her estimate. Encourage her to take it with her for a day out, estimating and measuring – she will quickly become a very good estimator! Notice shapes and patterns, and point them out to her too.
Talk about people and their stories. When I’m out with my kids and we’re waiting for something to happen, we talk about the people around us to fill the time: Do you see that man over there? What do you think his job is? Does he look happy or sad? Does he look like he’s in a hurry? I wonder what he’s going to have for dinner tonight. Cultivate interest in people and their stories, and recognize them as individuals.
Observe the natural world! Wonder together, get stumped together, and then go home and Google together. Visit the zoo, and this time, don’t rush him along to the next exhibit – let him hang out in front of the otters for as long as he wants to, and wait. The questions are coming. Be ready when it’s time to answer.
Get his hands ready and strong. Play with play-doh. Do fine motor work like stringing beads and crocheting. Squeeze glue bottles and grip paintbrushes. Experiment. Observe. Discuss.
Follow his interests. If he wants to know about the human body, let him immerse himself in all the information he can handle. When my son was 5, all he wanted to talk about was cars of all kind. He could name them all, every make and model, some I had never heard of, just by the taillights. He was learning to identify and categorize, sharpening his visual discrimination skills, all while driving to Grandma’s. There is learning everywhere.
Be honest and credible. Don’t make up your answers – if you don’t know something, say so, and commit to learning together. Don’t set an impossible standard as the All-Knowing Parent. Demonstrate that learning is life-long, even for mommies.
Is this parenting advice? Of course it is! You are your child’s first and most important teacher, and parenting and education go hand in hand. You are encouraging observation, curiosity, and research in an environment of trust, love and respect. It is not necessary to drill addition facts or sight words – there is plenty of time for that to come.