Philosophy for Five Year Olds

Guest Post by Renee Harris:

This past week I spoke on the phone with two different women, in two very different situations, who eventually asked the same question: what curriculum should I choose?

The first woman was a grandmother who saw the lasting results of homeschooling in other families and wanted to encourage her daughter to homeschool her own child. The second woman pulled her child out of public school last January when she grew exhausted from the petty dealings of the administration who cried “bully intervention!” every time there was a disagreement on the playground.

While both women had seen enough of the homeschool world to know there’s value in educating the child at home, each was hung up on how to teach him.

Did I mention that in each situation, the child was only five years old? Five!

For you veteran homeschoolers, you remember the early days. Once the decision to homeschool was made, you immediately began collecting curriculum catalogs, attending workshops and fairs, and asking questions of other homeschoolers.

If I had wanted to end the conversation abruptly with each of these women, I would have directed them to some popular “box” curriculum websites, where an all-in-one package is ready to jump-start each family on its homeschool adventures. Or I would have suggested looking for playgroups and co-ops to enroll their children to make sure the socialization part of the homeschool day was met. Or ultimately I could have suggested they look into the local charter school. In the latter case, they could have educational professionals ready to create a plan for their child and even provide funding for extracurricular activities, like piano lessons or swimming.

But I couldn’t give them a short-term answer, when I knew there were negative long term consequences to those choices when they are not selected in the context of a good home education philosophy. It was one of the comments which brought the underlying issue to light: “My son can’t sit still for 15 minutes to get through his writing lesson.”

Right there, the issue being brought out in this comment is not really the problem of finding the right curriculum, but the problem of not having a strategy and plan for managing the focus of young and active little boys (little girls, too, but especially little boys). In this conversation, my husband was also part of the Skype call and we both immediately told her to stop worrying about the writing lessons… at least for now.

I won’t deny that the pressure is there to come up with the quickest fix possible. The new homeschooling mother feels like she must prove to the outside world that Junior can identify his letters and colors by age four, know his states and capitals by third grade, and soon after be able to distinguish between a direct object and an indirect object. In short, she must produce a child that looks like everyone else’s child, at the same stage in life, and on exactly the same subjects of interest.

Here’s the problem if either of these women go down the short term road:

  1. She’ll produce average children, who won’t look any more interesting than any other average children on your neighborhood block.
  2. She will either underwhelm or overwhelm the child, leaving her child feeling very frustrated in some subjects and leaving him completely bored in other subjects.
  3. Her child’s time and education will be dictated by a workbook, which can’t possibly care for the family’s or child’s natural strengths and handicaps.

So what’s the better alternative for a young child?

For the five-year-old, here is the philosophy I recommend in approaching selecting learning resources and apportioning time:

  1. Provide gentle home activities where the child learns to share: puzzles, Legos, and coloring.
  2. Provide a home schedule where the child learns to clean up after himself, as part of his learning and not as an after-thought: create 30-minute increments of “school” where the focus is not on worksheets, but rather tactile learning. The focus should be to teach how to set up and clean up (known as “mise en place” for you foodies). You’ll be thankful when he’s 10 and knows where to find his pencils and paper…. and printer ink.
  3. Provide opportunities to interact respectfully with his parents and siblings. He should know how to wait to ask for help rather than demand attention from an adult who is deep in conversation on the telephone. How do you teach this? Provide a 30 minute period of time where he is not allowed to interrupt you from your work. Set the timer so he knows when he’s free to talk to you.
  4. Provide “jobs” reserved just for him which place an importance on the child’s place in the family. Our five-year-old empties the dishwasher a couple of times a day. He “reads” comic books with his little sister or plays Dominos with her. He fills her glass with water at mealtime.

Do you notice how most of those activities are not really for sale in the standard curriculum?

Make this the primary focus of your five-year-old’s education. Sharing, showing respect, taking care of one’s property, and completing chores are best taught at age five, not twelve. Then later at age twelve, he can go all out on much more traditional learning type of activities because the mechanics of organization and respectful interaction in the family are assimilated. Reminders and growth in maturity are always necessary, but you won’t be dealing with the basics anymore.

Follow those guidelines for a jumpstart to homeschool success for your youngster. Provide him plenty of snuggle time with you, reading, chatting and playing. It’s a great philosophy for five-year-olds and you instinctively know it. After all, you brought him home so that you can be with him. What will surprise you is that this emphasis on responsibility, respect, and “big boy-ness” causes him to be able to assimilate what you’re trying to do through workbooks, tears and frustration. He will WANT to be able to learn his letters and colors when the workbook frustrations are alleviated. You are teaching him and providing him the time within to learn how to love learning and how to be able to learn within a social context.

In the next post I’ll share some of the books and resources that Jonathan and I found extremely helpful for homeschooling our children in the younger years. By creating the right environment now, you will be able to build the foundation for later constructing the talent-based homeschool.


curriculum, steal back your time

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  1. I love your approach! I wish more homeschoolers felt this way.

    When my oldest was 5 and I was a brand new homeschooler, I tried briefly to take a traditional, school-like approach and gave up after a few weeks. It was miserable for both of us. I decided instead to focus on teaching him to work. So we washed windows, did laundry, and did lots of cooking together. We also watched science documentaries and caught bugs. He just wasn’t ready at that point for reading and writing. It was a little nerve-wracking to be doing something so different from the other homeschoolers I knew, but we waited a couple years and finally everything clicked for him.

    Now he is right on track for his age, writing beautifully and has a variety of interests. He brings home piles of books from the library. I shudder to think what would have happened if I’d kept pushing him and allowed him to feel like a failure.

    1. Ah, you’ve inspired me, Sarah – we should add washing windows to our chore list 🙂 And yes, watching science documentaries and getting hands dirty catching bugs are so worth it. You can have technology AND outdoor play-in-the-dirt experiences. Thanks for the great suggestions.

  2. Looking back from the far side, I certainly wish we had done this! Having the “soft skills” you learn this way down pat (organization, good attitude, etc.) makes all future learning more effective and rewarding. There’s room for memorizing/chanting the multiplication tables here too, if you can do a tiny bit at a time, but the soft skills are WAY more important. In any case the trick is to get to the point where you do these things like listening, sharing, and organizing (or multiplying) without having to struggle over them, which frees up your mind and your will to work on whatever real task is at hand.

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