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Five Tips for Homeschooling Your Preschooler: An Interview with Vicki Bentley

December 7–11, 2015   |   Vol. 125, Week 7

Has your preschooler ever asked you, “Why is the sky blue?” or “What happened to the dinosaurs?” Join HSLDA consultant Vicki Bentley to learn how you can make the most of these teachable moments. That’s this week on Homeschool Heartbeat.

“Take [your children’s] curiosity seriously, because they do.”—Vicki Bentley

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Are you thinking about homeschooling your preschooler but you aren’t sure where to start? Follow the link to order your free copy of You Can Homeschool Your Preschooler—a great resource that can answer all your questions!

Are you wondering how to homeschool your preschooler—or even whether it’s a good idea? This week on Homeschool Heartbeat, HSLDA consultant Vicki Bentley shares tips and guidance for teaching your preschooler at home. Now here’s your host, Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Our guest this week is Vicki Bentley, HSLDA’s Toddlers to Tweens consultant. Vicki, welcome back to Homeschool Heartbeat!

Vicki Bentley: Thanks, Mike. It’s an honor to be here.

Mike: Vicki, perhaps more than ever, parents are starting to homeschool their children in preschool. Why is homeschooling preschoolers such a good idea, do you think?

Vicki: Well, Mike, we know that this period from birth to age 5 is a really critical stage in brain development. Parents have been homeschooling from birth. You’ve already taught them to walk and talk; you’re helping them learn to socialize with others of all ages; you’re helping them to think logically and creatively. And now you can give them one–on–one attention, tailoring your efforts to their learning styles, to their interests, developmental stages—and you can build in time to deal with character issues as well. And this is all in the context of everyday living. So this isn’t just preschool at home. It’s a lifestyle of learning that encompasses the whole child.

Mike: How can parents help lay the groundwork for this in these early years—building on their child’s natural curiosity and eagerness to learn?

Vicki: Well, first, take advantage of everyday opportunities: not lesson plans, but teachable moments. In the car, talk to them. Say, “We’re turning left at the end of our street, then we’re going to turn right onto the next road.” Or at a restaurant, “That chef is cooking. What do you think he might make?”

One major goal at this stage is to provide lots of hands–on and interactive experiences, to give our kids “hooks” on which to hang their future learning. We have an adult context, and we take that for granted, but everything’s new and exciting to them, and they’re learning to make connections in their world. Build in time to let them explore and pretend and try and try again, and ask those zillion questions they ask, and then find out the answers together. Take their curiosity seriously, because they do. And if you show respect for their interest in learning now—in what seem to be, to an adult, such little things—they’ll be encouraged to continue exploring and learning, and to share those adventures with you.

Mike: Vicki, what do you think about preparing preschoolers for writing in addition to reading? And do you have any thoughts on how to develop pre–writing skills?

Vicki: Well, first, start with gross motor: large movements, arm motions in the air, moving cars along a path or a train on a track, and work towards smaller movements, such as circles with a paintbrush and then a crayon. Arts and crafts are great for pre–writing. They teach children control and motor skills and hand–eye coordination. Peg boards, sewing cards, sandpaper letters, tracing shapes in the sand, or pouring rice or water—these all help develop control.

Puzzles for fine motor skills and visual discrimination help them later distinguish, say, a “b” from a “d” or a “p” from a “q.” I especially like Lauri Puzzles for this. Activities that show them working from left to right, mazes, tracing shapes. And let them write a note to grandma or the grocery list alongside you even if it just looks like squiggles. And let them dictate notes and stories to you so they associate their thoughts with the written word.

Spend maybe 15 minutes a few times a day. Their little eyes aren’t fully developed to spend a lot of close bookwork. Real–life activities, rather than workbook pages, are the best curriculum at this stage.

Mike: Vicki, how can parents homeschooling older children balance spending hands–on learning time with their preschooler without neglecting their older students?

Vicki: Well, Mike, I found it helpful to work with my younger children first, and then frequently, whether it was to spend a few minutes in an activity that we’d planned, or just to check in and maybe get a snuggle. Most preschoolers need about 15 minutes to get really involved in their imaginative play. They’ll often spend another 30 minutes or more playing, and this is their work. This is time for you then to work with an older child, while still being close enough to supervise the younger one, of course.

And some of the hands–on time can include tagging along with the learning experiences that are going on with you and your older children. Your younger ones can play with Duplos, or maybe color while listening to read–alouds, or they can play word games with you and be included in some of those other activities. My 3–year–old granddaughter learned the basic parts of speech by playing Mad Libs with her older sister.

Teach to the level of your older children, but include your little ones as part of the learning team. Put them on your lap, ask them questions. Your little guy will ride the mental bus to his own mental bus stop. And when he hops off that mental bus, you’ll know he’s hopped off. And then you’ve got those developmentally appropriate activities waiting for him again.

Mike: Vicki, how can parents help their young children to transition smoothly from preschool to a more structured environment in kindergarten?

Vicki: Well, in the early years, there are five foundational abilities we can nurture to contribute to our children’s learning abilities and their emotional security. Those are independence, order, self–control, concentration, and service. In her book Mommy, Teach Me, Barbara Curtis shares activities, tips, and techniques to help your preschooler develop these abilities.

Also, a consistent daily routine at home can help children feel more secure as they segue into a bit more structure in those primary years. So read to them a lot. Discuss what you read to help them develop language skills and critical thinking skills. Include books that will also build their knowledge base as well. Let young children explore and experiment through play to develop those gross and fine motor skills they’ll need in kindergarten. Games such as marching and hopscotch and handclap games encourage hand–eye coordination and brain development that facilitate learning.

We want to encourage curiosity, a love for learning. At this stage, our focus is on providing lots of experiences to give them lots of “hooks” on which to hang their future learning, giving them a context for more structured learning later.

Mike: Vicki, I know the insights that you’ve shared with our listeners this week will be very helpful for our parents. And thank you so much for joining us again! Until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Vicki BentleyVicki Bentley

Vicki Bentley is the mother of eight daughters, foster mom of over 50, and grandma to 20 wonderful grandbabies (so far). Vicki has homeschooled 17 children since 1988, alongside her husband Jim, and led a local support group of over 250 families for 14 years. She has served on the executive board and convention committee of the Home Educators Association of Virginia and has addressed state and national conventions, university teacher organizations, and many mothers’ groups. She is the author of My Homeschool Planner, Everyday Cooking, The Everyday Family Chore System, Home Education 101: A Mentoring Program for New Homeschoolers, High School 101: Blueprint for Success, and other homeschool and homemaking helps. She coordinates HSLDA’s Toddlers to Tweens and Group Services programs. Vicki has a heart for moms, with practical wisdom and encouraging words.

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