How To Homeschool: What Do Very Young Children Need?

Welcome back to How To Homeschool—a series addressing all aspects of secular homeschooling. You can view all the posts in the series so far here.

If you have been following along with these posts, you may have noticed I have only addressed from Kindergarten on, nothing for pre-K or preschool or toddlers. There is a reason for that.

At those ages, say before five or six, play is the most important part of their lives, and all they need to thrive. 

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle.

Oh, reading to them is great, of course, and if they start to read on their own, that’s great, too. Mine all did by around age five with no real “instruction” of any kind. Art is fun, too, and most kids enjoy creative pursuits {i.e., coloring and getting paint and glitter everywhere}. Outside time is always encouraged, and if you are fortunate enough to have parks and zoos and museums nearby to explore, even better.

But play is how children learn. Play is their job. Play is all they need. Really.

{For additional perspective, you may want to check out Help! My 5-year-old won’t “do” school! over at Simple Homeschool.}

Are You Sure About This?

At least once a week on one of the homeschool-related pages or groups I follow, someone wants detailed information about curriculum choices for their two-year-old. Or expresses concern that they are not “doing enough” with their three-year-old, or that they need a plan for their four-year-old to follow, or that they are afraid their kindergarten student is behind. 

No. Just, no. 

Very young children do not need structured learning. 

I know that statement makes at least a few of you reading this uncomfortable. Edgy. Even mad. You might have big plans and put lots of careful thought into how you will do toddler time and preschool at home. You might feel that I am judging you personally. I am not. 

Still, it doesn’t make it less true.

It might help you to have a plan, a schedule of activities, a routine in place. But realize it is all about your own need to have control over events at this stage. Routines are extremely useful in parenting, especially when your children are littles. I personally love routines. I am all over making plans and having a weekly schedule. But, your kids don’t need this.

No one will ever say I wish I did more structured schooling with my toddler. Literally, no one. 

I have BTDT with three young students of my own, and I obviously have so many feels about this. Suffice it to say that your preschooler or kindergartener—or heck even your first or second grader—will be 100% fine, a-okay if they are not into “doing” school with you. The best laid plans and most awesome curriculum will not matter to them.

{This post by A Magical Childhood from nine years ago is without a doubt the best post I have ever read about early childhood education.} 

So What Exactly Do You Do? 

From my experience, anything before age five should be strictly for fun with no educational strings attached. Kindergarten through about second grade is sort of a grace period where you can try out different things and see how it fits your student, and maybe focus on some basics {math and reading}, but not get too jazzed up about “school work” just yet. Third grade is where we kick it up a notch and have more specific expectations. 

Agent A is at this point now. Oh, he’s done lots of written work in the past few years {due to his weird love of workbooks} and he’s been sitting in on his older siblings’ coursework, but he is turning a corner now. He pays more attention, seems more involved, is more of an active participant.

On a related note—and I realize this irks some people—you are not “homeschooling” your two-year-old. Home education is an option you choose once your children are of typical “school age” and would reasonably be expected to be at some type of public or private educational institution on weekdays during the school calendar. Unless complete strangers regularly ask your kid “oh, no school today?” when you are out and about on a weekday, you are not homeschooling—you are a parent, full stop. 

Please just let your kids enjoy having you in their lives and spending time with them. Any structure at this age is for your benefit. Have a routine—even a very specific and detailed routine if you must—but do not feel that you need to be “doing” any kind of formal schooling with them. I promise you, you do not, and you absolutely will not regret it in hindsight.

Next up we will consider some ways to make teaching multiple grade levels together easier.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I completely agree that structure is huge! I absolutely do this and helps my boys know what is next. I absolutely love your page. Thank you!

    1. Valerie

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Ashley! My kids are older now and still thrive on structure. Some things never change!

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