Lessons from a Four-Year-Old

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Today is our Josiah Calvin’s fourth birthday. It brings to mind another fourth birthday, our oldest son Rich’s.

As a young mom expecting our fourth child, I was eager to begin “doing real school” with Rich. Our meager attempts at three-year-old preschool, complete with a highly aggressive, academic curriculum had failed. Rich’s complete lack of interest coupled with the challenge of profitably occupying a very curious almost three-year-old and his tag-along toddling sister in my schoolroom (complete with desks and a whiteboard) was doomed to failure.

I wanted so much to prove to myself and to others that I was “disciplined” enough to homeschool. In my mind, “real” homeschooling meant strict lesson plans, curriculum, neatly filled out workbooks, and a quiet, studious atmosphere.

Daily life including laundry, sickness, guests, doctor’s appointments, and the everyday emergencies of small children destroyed my organized lesson plans. Curriculum was expensive and frequently difficult to use, even for a trained educator. My son did not have the fine motor skills to neatly fill out his pages, let alone write his letters and numbers to meet my standard. And “quiet and studious” was not something Luke, our second, would learn for about ten more years. By my own standards I was a complete homeschool failure.

To solve my dilemma, I did what most American moms would do—I threw money at the problem. I bought another preschool curriculum, and another. I bought more workbooks and a few books on teaching preschool.

Praise the Lord, in all that “stuff” I found a few gems, guides I still own and recommend. It was a while before I felt safe enough to throw away our highly structured curriculum and workbooks. (Rich’s nine younger siblings are grateful I learned that lesson early!)

So what did I do?

  1. I gave my four-year-old important (if simple) chores that I could and would enforce. This built his self-confidence, created a sense of place and purpose for him, and helped him develop the lacking fine motor skills.
  2. We went outside as much as possible, some times on”nature walks,” sometimes in the backyard or to the park to play. So much is learned outside, including the cognition development that occurs during large motor activities. We used “Fun Physical Fitness for the Home” (a CD) when we could not go outside.
  3. We read Five in a Row Volume 1 books. I did not always do the go-along activities and discussion, but we collected and read the books frequently. This was my introduction to the value of re-reading well-written picture books. It was an excellent guide to train me to choose well-written, beautifully illustrated books.
  4. I used Language and Thinking for Young Children for ideas to incorporate lifestyle learning. This may have been the single most helpful resource I found for illustrating an organic homeschooling philosophy. I did not follow the guide step by step, but rather read it to inspire my own ideas for incorporating valuable learning that did not look like “school.”
  5. We started borrowing picture books and books on CD on topics that interested the children from the library and then purchasing the ones we liked.
  6. We purchased learning games, Bingo, Concentration, and UNO, and cute math manipulatives and played with them for “school.”
  7. I let the children play with the craft supplies (with supervision) that I had been storing up for later—play dough, glitter glue, washable markers and paints. I had held on to them until we could use them “the right way” in carefully planned and executed craft projects. Allowing them access to these materials sparked creativity in them while developing their fine motor skills.

These are the same strategies that I use today. Over the years I have added a few more learning habits such as memorizing Scripture and poetry, singing and listening to music, and looking at beautiful pictures, all within the context of daily life. I purchase fewer picture books and rarely go to the library, having built up quite a library in our home.

What are your favorite books and materials to use with a four-year-old?

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