Most likely, your child has never attended a formal school. Or perhaps your child attended kindergarten or preschool. Either way, as your child enters his or her sixth or seventh year, you are embarking on a special learning adventure together.
If you are new to homeschooling, you likely have many questions, regardless of your reasons for deciding to teach your child at home. You may be firm in your conviction to successfully educate your child, or perhaps you feel hesitant about your ability to be a “teacher.”
Relax! As a parent, you were your child’s most influential teacher during his or her most formative years: birth through age five. You taught your child the basics, or more accurately, you guided her as she found her own way. You nurtured, you encouraged, you provided what she needed to flourish and grow.
Did your child attend preschool or kindergarten? There is little question that these institutions serve primarily to expose children to formal classroom settings in preparation for school. Can preschool and kindergarten learning activities be duplicated at home? Of course they can. However, your one-on-one time together in your own home environment offers so much more opportunity for creative activities and mental growth.
So, your child has reached “grade school age.” Now what? First, continue to do what you are doing! It is not necessary, or recommended, to duplicate the structured classroom when homeschooling young children. Having reached school age, however, your child may want to go to school just like her friends, so this can be handled by establishing that you are having “school” at home. She can have lessons in the morning, lunch at noon, “recess,” reading time, and even homework if she desires it, just like her friends. Once the novelty wears off, she will probably be content with simply telling her peers she has “school at home,” then enjoying her day with you as it naturally progresses.
In many homes, for this age group there is no attempt to have “school” at all. Six-year-olds are creative, curious, and very busy. Lessons are learned by the act of living each hour of each day. From morning chores of making beds and tidying rooms, to assisting with breakfast preparation and cleanup, children learn about responsibility and teamwork right from the start.
How will you spend your day? Flexibility, of course, is the key. Your child will be delighted to be your center of attention, so make the most of it. If you have other children at home, your student-teacher ratio will still be ideal compared to the institutional classroom.
Every homeschool should be equipped with books, books, books. Read to your child daily. Make reading a priority at your house. Your child should regularly observe you and others in the household reading and enjoying books and magazines and other reading materials. Variety in what you read to your youngster is not so important. In fact, children at this age thrive on repetition and familiarization. Favorite stories are like old friends to them. Allow your child to tell the story, or ask questions about the story like, “what happened next?” or “why did she do that?” Draw her into the story, talk about feelings, and what she might have done if she were the main character. However, do not push your child to learn to read. Young children should not focus on the printed page or other close work for longer than 15 or 20 minutes or so to avoid eyestrain.
All first graders will enjoy art projects, so give them plenty of opportunities to draw, paint, cut, paste, and sculpt. Art supplies can be kept in a special caddy or box to be brought out when the time is right. There are many books and other resources for art projects and activities for young children. To nurture your child’s natural creativity, avoid coloring books, cartoon-like activity books, and the like. These are often reproduced for the classroom, but have no place in the home learning environment. Large pieces of plain white and colored paper, plenty of crayons, markers, and tempera paints, sidewalk chalk, scissors, glue sticks, lots of old magazines, and home-made play dough are all you need to get started. With a few simple supplies set out on the table, your child will probably need nothing more to get busy with a burst of creativity. If her imagination needs a boost, talk first. What is her favorite color? Find and cut out pictures of things of that color and paste them on the paper. What holiday is coming up? Draw a picture of what we do on that day. She may listen carefully, then turn down all of your ideas for a “hey, I got it!” idea of her own.
Music should be an integral part of every homeschooler’s curriculum. Expose your child to a variety of good music, including classical, worship, patriotic, popular (familiar) music, and of course, children’s favorites. Children love music, and they respond to it on their own in a variety of meaningful ways: marching, skipping, dancing, singing, tip-toeing, twirling, resting. Allow your child to enjoy music often and to express herself through a variety of music in a variety of ways. She will soon select some favorites that will be played over and over again, so be prepared! Musical instruments can be made at home from everyday items. Help your child to make a tambourine from two aluminum pie pans or foam plates and dried beans, and a drum from an empty oatmeal box. Bang two sticks together and use bells if you have them. Be creative!
Nature study is vital for youngsters at this age. They have so many questions about the world around them. Now is the time to start finding the answers””together. Explore, observe, ask questions. Plant seeds. Harvest vegetables. Make a bird feeder, observe its visitors. Catalog and classify leaves, bugs, seashells, and rocks. Take nature walks. Books can be helpful, but rely on your own observations in the backyard and neighborhood first. Instead of studying books about nature, have your child make books about her own discoveries, and share them with others.
Shouldn’t children be taught to read in the first grade? Maybe. Does your child show an interest in learning to read? Does she pretend to read her picture books? Does she ask questions such as, “What does this say?” If so, there are playful ways to introduce the alphabet and the sounds of each of the letters.
One great advantage of homeschool is the opportunity for your child to learn to read phonetically. Phonics is the key to reading, a tool for unlocking new words that no child should be without. Make flash cards of all of the letters of the alphabet, including extras of more commonly used letters, such as the vowels, and “b,” “g,” “m,” “s,” and “t.” Use these cards to spread across the floor and spell out simple three letter words using the short vowel sounds. Progress to longer words using long vowel sounds and eventually make short sentences. Allow your child to discover for herself the words that don’t “follow the rules.” These words can be written on a “Special Words” chart.
Be sure to keep plenty of story paper on hand (writing lines across the bottom, blank for artwork on the top). Many children seem to enjoy learning to read through writing and illustrating their own stories. Correct spelling is not important at this time. Let your child work out her own spelling solutions. At this point, it is the process of sounding out the letters to form words that counts.
Keep these activities short and have fun. Remember – reading readiness is the key. If your child has no interest in learning to read, but seems busy and happy with other daily activities, by all means, don’t push it. Some children, especially boys, show no desire to read until age eight or so. Don’t worry! They’ll learn quickly and will usually be reading at grade level by the end of that school year.
Number concepts can be integrated into a child’s daily routine very easily. Try sorting and folding socks, for example. Counting socks, pairing socks, categorizing socks; how many are in each group, how many are left? Jacks, marbles, dominoes, and many card games teach number concepts, categorizing, memory work, and other skills. Math should always be playful and fun for the first grade child.
Every homeschooling family should have a wide assortment of board games available. Not only are board games great family-time activities, but also a source of excitement and fun for the school day. When your child plays games with you, she doesn’t know she is developing small muscles skills, improving her memory, classifying, following directions, learning fair play, increasing her attention span, acquiring pre-reading skills, or improving visual discrimination. She just knows she’s having fun!
Collect books written by or about other homeschooling families and how they do it. Search out books containing projects, learning games, and curriculum ideas that appeal to you. Build a “homeschooling library” that you can refer to often, always keeping in mind your standards and views of what homeschooling means for your family. For peace of mind, get your state’s guidelines for what students need to know at the end of each grade. Go to the library for this or search on-line. But don’t stress over it, especially for the younger grades.
Look at your child as a unique individual with interests and talents. What does she want to learn about? How can you integrate her interests into a learning plan that will keep her challenged, occupied, and happy? Remember that learning at this young age should always be fun!
What are your resources? Look closely at your community and take advantage of what it has to offer. Get to know other homeschooling families in your area, and meet together regularly. If you have Internet access, use it often for connecting with other homeschooling families as well as researching curriculum ideas. Don’t allow your child to sit at the computer all day. Consider carefully before purchasing software catered to the younger grades. It’s always better to get your child involved in meaningful real life activities, away from the computer and television screen.
Why have you chosen to teach your child at home? What is your homeschooling philosophy? Abide by it, and remember that your homeschool curriculum can be just as individual as you, your child, and your family. Enjoy your adventure together!