My daughter will soon be 3 1/2 years old, and has been talking about going to school for about a year. This is in part because most of her church friends are in school (daycare), in part because school is mentioned in stories and tv programs, and probably majorly in part due to the fact that we live across the street from a public elementary school. Every day of the school year for as long as she can remember she has watched school buses coming and going, heard children playing on the playground, and watched children arrive and leaving carrying backpacks and lunchboxes. To her, school is something very exciting!
She has been begging to do schoolwork, especially since she figured out that a young friend (and girl she adores) is doing schoolwork at home. So, even though I hadn't planned to start schooling her for a few more years, I've decided it will be a nice way to put some routine in our days and keep her from begging so much. :)
I take a more relaxed approach to schoolwork, especially at this age. I don't see a need to make a young child sit still in a seat for extended periods of time or to frustrate them with schoolwork when in my mind, they're really still too young to be in school. I believe that children should be permitted to enjoy their childhood--afterall, they only get it once. Children are not adults, and should not be forced to behave as adults. Not many adults handle sitting still very well for extended periods of time, so why on earth should I expect as much from a child with an attention span of maybe 10 minutes?
So what have we done for schoolwork? Simple things that really aren't too much different from what we would do on a normal, everyday basis, but now we call it schoolwork. Both kids work on the same or similar things to keep the peace. They both enjoy doing whatever the other one is doing, and to give one child a different project than the other causes both to become distracted.
I recently printed some play-doh mats, and my 3 year old and 18 month old love them! Really, what kid doesn't enjoy play-doh? And while play-doh is great for stretching a child's imagination and creativity, why not make it an educational tool as well?
My 3 year old loved the challenge of making the "squiggly lines" for the 2 and 3, and preferred to make pancakes rather than balls to stick on the dots.
My 18 month old enjoyed putting play-doh on the dots, and of course took a few taste test of the play-doh.
Another fun thing we've done is finger painting. We were blessed to be able to get a roll of paper for free, and the girls had gotten smocks as Christmas gifts. Last week I purchased paints with the back to school sales going on (because my attempt at making finger paint failed--but I'll try again some time).Unfortunately, I didn't notice that the finger paints were not primary colors, so I haven't been able to teach what colors come from mixing primaries. But we've still played with mixing the colors to see what we come up with, and my daughter finds this exciting. Our plan is for my husband to build an easel for the girls as a Christmas gift, and then we will be able to be a little more comfortable (and perhaps less messy) while painting.
While the girls do these and other activities, I read them their Bible lesson and we review their Bible verses. We also will sing our songs we are learning that week. We learn one hymn and one fun song each week, along with one new Bible verse. It was frustrating myself and my girls to try to make them sit still while doing lessons that required sitting still, so through Money Saving Mom I learned that it's actually more beneficial to give them an activity to do while reading to them. My oldest is still listening, can still answer questions about the story or re-tell the story, even though she had something keeping her hands busy while I read to her. In this case, having a distraction was actually more benficial. When I'm trying to make her sit still she finds distractions that keep her from hearing the story, plus the story is constantly interrupted with, "Sit still." If they have busy work, I really don't have to say anything to them, so the story is read uninterrupted.
Today we enjoyed some amazingly beautiful weather for this time of year, and spent nearly two hours outside! We haven't spent that much time outside since April or May, I don't think! While they played on the playground we sang hymns and some other songs and said our Bible verses. Then I restricted them to the front porch area, and we read our Bible story.
While on the playground we experimented with different textures in the sand. We started with our shoe prints, then used sticks and other objects we found around the sand area to see how they imprinted the sand. My daughter loved making tracks by rolling the pine cone along the sand.
Indoors today we practiced counting from 1-20 for about a half-hour while playing hide-and-seek. We stopped several times to sit down and count 1-20 without hiding to help my daughter remember that there were numbers between 17 and 20. :) Then while I did my exercises, the girls played with legos. They first separated the squares from the rectangles. Then they had to make a tower with a pattern of red-yellow-red-yellow. Then the made a row with a pattern of blue-green-blue-green.
It is my philosophy that children learn most of what they will retain from simple, everyday living. We don't typically sit down and practice numbers or number recognition--or colors, or shapes. From the day I started reading to my children (which was a very early age), I have pointed things out in their story books. We count all of the objects on the page. We point out the different colors on the page. When playing with blocks, we name the shapes as we move them around on the floor or stack with them. When playing with legos, we say the colors as we handle the legos, not just build with them. Every moment and every encounter with a child is a learning experience. They can enjoy their childhood and still learn the basic, educational materials they would be learning in a classroom at a school.