Homeschooling toddlers and preschoolers

Published by Lori Pickert on October 27, 2008 at 03:01 PM

Some years ago my studio teacher showed me an online forum of art teachers where one person was expressing her annoyance at having to teach Kindergarten students, which she felt was “a waste of my time”. Other teachers chimed in with sympathy and understanding.

Now that doesn’t represent all art teachers, of course; my friend was indignant and said she wished these men and women could visit her studio and see the work produced by three- and four-year-olds. They were expressive, creative, and meaningful — actually, much more so than the typical cookie-cutter art produced by older children at many schools.

Yesterday I mused about the blog posts I’ve read recently about “distracting” little children when their older siblings are busy learning. Many adults, both at home and in school, seem to think that investing time helping the youngest learners is time better spent elsewhere.

Another post for another day, but I get tired of hearing “children’s work is play” used as an excuse to put small children in the corner with a box of blocks. Children’s work is play, but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful or less worthy of attention and support. They learn through play; they express what they know through play. That isn’t to say that it isn’t also their work.

Why should small children be wooed away from older children who are hard at work?

The child who is digging in the dirt with a stick at the edge of the group will swiftly (as we mothers know) turn into a child who has the ability to participate fully. You can take advantage of exposing her to the type of work you hope she will do, or you can try to distract her away from it to make more room for the older children.

In doing so, you do a disservice to both groups. The younger children are losing the chance to learn in the easiest, most pleasant way — at the feet of their loved ones. The older ones are losing their chance to display their mastery to an adoring audience. In a mixed group of children, both groups benefit.

If you are teaching a traditional curriculum, dedicating a portion of your schedule to project-based learning will allow your children to not only acquire basic skills but learn to apply them, acquiring valuable habits of mind along the way. Letting your youngest children marinate in this atmosphere of engaged, excited learning is the best way to effortlessly raise relentless learners.

If you are unschooling, introducing preschool-age children to project work means that by age five or six you will have what I call a project-oriented child — an avid learner who reaches confidently for resources (including adults) to learn about what excites his interest.


Comment by nancy on October 27, 2008 at 06:00 PM

I have this child, the 5 year old that is project-oriented, but I am struggling with a 4 year-old that is not interested and a 22 month old who is very interested and busy and in the middle of things. I dream of us all working together and around eachother, but in reality it's hard right now. I'm really struggling with it!
I'm really interested in your thoughts on the little ones.

Comment by Sally on October 27, 2008 at 06:02 PM

Here, here!!!! I agree -- these Littles are of equal importance!

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 27, 2008 at 06:26 PM

nancy, we should probably take this to the forum -- *because you know how wordy we get* ;^) -- but .. when you say your 4-year-old is not interested .. do you mean not interested in the same thing as your 5yo? or not interested in anything at all?

re: your 22mo, i hear you! it would be great if we could live in layers so that the 5yo could have legos and glitter that never reached the 22mo layer... or maybe alternate dimensions...

you have your hands full, for sure. i don't mean to downplay how hard it is, only highlight that young children can also get hooked on projects. my sons are three years apart and i well remember when the older was 4 and the younger was 1 and right in the center of the action. :^)

sally, yay! let's do the wave again. ;^)

Comment by Sara on October 27, 2008 at 07:19 PM

I sense that this is true for my kids, but I am not sure how to work with them to encourage this type of learning. Your blog is really making me think, and I look forward to reading more. Thank you!

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 27, 2008 at 07:23 PM

sara, thank you! i look forward to talking more about it, in the blog and in the forum. i don't believe there is some ideal, perfect way to homeschool, unschool, or educate children. but i do believe that working thoughtfully and reflecting on our practices makes a huge difference. thank you again!

Comment by se7en on October 27, 2008 at 08:54 PM

I am loving this topic... we all school on our own stuff alongside each other everyday, I love it - I know where everyone is and there is always someone to help anybody who gets stuck - needs a crayon, needs help sticking whatever. I am always surprised when people ask what I do with my toddlers during school... they are doing "school" with us - of course! I certainly don't want them out of the way and out of sight... and yes it can get distracting but that is something we all have to learn to work with.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 27, 2008 at 09:31 PM

me, too, se7en .. love talking about the littlest members. somehow taking them into consideration seems to set the right tone for all of us.

Comment by Dawn on October 27, 2008 at 11:17 PM

This is my first visit to your blog. Thanks for leaving a comment on mine so I could find you.
My kids are 2 and 5 years. They love, love art. We have the art supplies out with in reach at all times. They have their own little space at each end of the table and love to hold things up to show the other. This also makes it easy for me to keep their supplies seperate if my older daughter is working with things that are not appropriate for her little brother. We have two containers full of all the things they use most often so they can each have some at "their" end. They are great at asking for different colors, etc. that the other has. It is just such a wonderful part of our life. I can't imagine my house without the amazing art of both of my children. My 2 yr old points out his art around the house. "I draw that", I paint that." He is so proud to see his work up along side grandma's paintings and mom's photos. Include the little ones? No question about it! Without a doubt worth any extra effort!

Comment by cate on October 27, 2008 at 11:41 PM

amen, sis! not to mention that i learn a thousand things from my three and one year old and their cohorts every single day.

Comment by jeannine on October 28, 2008 at 12:39 AM

I also wrangle with the levels of play and learning in a 5 year old world and a 2 year old world... so very different. I encourage my older daughter to talk things out in front of, and teach her little sister things. I also remind her that we all have something to learn and to teach. I love to see them working together. Rare but amazing moments!

Comment by molly on October 28, 2008 at 01:10 AM

oh this is good. (is that how i start every comment on here)...and have I got some photos for you of this point exactly. I'm posting them now...(which will take me forever with my creeping DSL connection.) I'll let you know when they're up...

Comment by molly on October 28, 2008 at 01:38 AM
Comment by Karen on October 28, 2008 at 01:51 AM

Very well said -- I think fostering creativity early on is important; they develop so quickly and pick up on things so fast! (Thanks for visiting my blog!)

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2008 at 02:35 AM

dawn, i love watching my boys work at opposite ends of the table, too, showing each other their work. :^) they can be very argumentative in general (lol) but when they are drawing and making art they tend to be extremely polite and complimentary!

cate, absolutely. :^)

jeannine, i love the way you phrased that - each girl (and each age) having their own world. so true. and then they come together and make another, shared world. :^)

molly, the pictures of elizabeth getting into the act are so great. :^)

karen, thank you for visiting me! and i agree - the earlier, the better. :^)

Comment by Hanna on October 28, 2008 at 03:16 AM

Hi there
Thanks for your comment on my blog, how did you find me? I'm glad you did as I plan to homeschool my little ones and your website looks very interesting, I'm sure I will be visiting here often.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2008 at 03:44 AM

hanna, thank you! and i hope i see you in the comments or the forum. :^) i was blog hopping and followed you from a comment you left on .. ooh, can't remember which blog now, lol. one of my favorite evening pastimes - at least, when the boys are upstairs watching a movie together. ;^)

Comment by Melissa Markham on October 28, 2008 at 11:25 AM

I mostly agree with this post, but I was suprised to see you dislike the term 'child's work is their play.' I have always thought of that statement not to mean that you put your child in a corner with some blocks, but to remind parents that they don't have to fill up their child's every moment with activity (sports, classes, extra learning), because kids learn a lot just while playing.

Comment by Meryl on October 28, 2008 at 02:06 PM

And the little ones are so much fun!

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2008 at 02:25 PM

Melissa, I agree with you completely!

What I said: “I get tired of hearing “children’s work is play” used as an excuse to put small children in the corner with a box of blocks. Children’s work is play, but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful or less worthy of attention and support. They learn through play; they express what they know through play. That isn’t to say that it isn’t also their work.”

I don’t have any quibble with the phrase, just the way some people seem to apply it — as an excuse for distracting small children with playthings and giving attention to the intellectual pursuits of older children. Rather, I see play as the way that small children learn and articulate their questions and what they know — so, rich play experiences that are really meaningful to the child are my goal.

Hope I did a better job expressing myself this time. :^)

Comment by simply on October 28, 2008 at 05:39 PM

Wow...what a great thought provoking post! I too have older and younger children and I am homeschooling them...being a former pre-school teacher and director I didn't even think that the young ones would be a bother...but I guess I can see how that can happen if something is not found for them to do prior to starting the older children's school work. I do believe that a young child's mind is very important!

Thanks again for your thought provoking post :o)

~simply stork~

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2008 at 06:11 PM

thank you! i've met so many homeschooling/unschooling parents who are or were teachers. it's interesting, isn't it? :^)

Comment by Estea on October 29, 2008 at 08:12 PM

yes yes she said yes.

neither my siblings (nor i) were homeschooled but as the 6th of 7 kids i remember never being left out of any group activity. this may have been more a result of my mom demanding they babysit me and their subsequent benign neglect :) but still - that there was no sequestering *play corner* for us small fry was a very good thing (also! i'm old! in the 70's my parents didn't go in for store-bought toys or television). traipsing off to school was the beginning of the end of the multi-age fun (in part because my much older siblings left the nest, in part because of, well, the way *school* works).

my 4 participates at his leisure, but usually insists, LOUDLY, that he be included in everything. he is, in his mind, just as BIG as the 7 and 9 year-old. (we were a little stunned when he bypassed those big fat easy-to-handle duplo blocks for tiny lego pieces at 2.5 - because big brother was using those, of course!)

the project we're focused on right now sees him drawing animals right along with us, he has his own strathmore drawing pad for participating in my husband's art lessons, and he is cutting and pasting (and tasting glue) right along with us as we make him an ABC book of magazine pics. his cutting style is so radically creative. we love it. mostly.

my kids sometimes push his pesky hands away but most of the time sweetly praise his attempts. this in direct contrast to the fighting over who has more milk at dinner...

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 29, 2008 at 08:40 PM

e, you know i love it when you quote gertrude.

siblings are probably our first and best opportunity to learn about dealing with people who might not have our same abilities but still have something to offer. it's good to learn how to bend and accommodate another.

my boys are not immune to sibling squabbling, but they are kind to one another when they are working. it's something i really enjoy.

Comment by jw on July 21, 2013 at 03:51 AM

i'm so happy to read this post. i have a 22-month-old and am trying to figure out ways to engage him more. i've always been interested in homeschooling but am only just starting to research it now, yet all the stuff i keep digging up is mostly for older children, and whenever i search for toddler homeschooling i come upon exactly the posts you're talking about that are about distracting the little ones. i would love to hear more about meaningful play at this age and how to begin planting the seeds for a love of learning when their attention spans are still so, so short.

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 21, 2013 at 10:58 AM

now is the perfect time to set the stage for his learning life and your family culture. all of your choices can lead you in the direction you want to go. please think about joining the (free) forum — we can talk more with you & give you more specific ideas. :)

Comment by Adina on July 21, 2013 at 12:34 PM

This is hard for me. I agree and try to keep my younger included, but the age gap is making that muuuuuch harder than I ever imagined. The 7.5 year old loves including her nearly 1 year old sister, up until sister tries to eat the paper or drools on something. I know it will get easier as she gets older, but right now things have to be a certain way to keep the baby from eating the googly eyes. ;)

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 21, 2013 at 12:48 PM

babies have a difficult time with project work. :)

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