“How do I homeschool my 3 year old?” (or any child under age 7)

Recently, we've been getting a lot of enquiries about how to homeschool a preschool child. It makes me wonder if there's been a rise in social pressures that make parents think that their own natural parenting is somehow inadequate, that they have to 'get down to business' as soon as possible, and that what that looks like is formal academic education even if they're opting out of school attendance.

The truth is, preschoolers are already learning abundantly, including in proto-academic ways, as long as they're not being grossly neglected. In other words, as long as they're receiving reasonably attentive parenting or care, children, by their very nature, can't help but learn just from living and growing. Switching from natural learning to academic instruction is not necessarily a good idea at this age. Especially when they're as young as age 3 or 4, the best way for kids to learn is through playing, including play that's self-initiated. It appears that formal instruction can be detrimental to the way a child's brain develops, with any short-term gains being offset by long-term negative effects.

So when parents ask, "How do I homeschool my 3 year old?" here's what I tell them:

Have you ever read any books to your child, or sung the alphabet song, or counted out loud for them? If so, you've already been homeschooling in age-appropriate ways all this time. If not, it's time to be more engaged, responsive, and facilitative in your parenting - but that doesn't necessarily mean following a curriculum.

Curricula are designed on the basis of statistical averages of cognitive development. But your child is not a statistical data point, they're a whole, multidimensional human being. And the range of what's "normal" (let alone what's inclusive) is very broad. Think of how differently children develop in terms of what age they are when they learn to walk. Some walk at 9 months, others not until they're a year and a half. As a parent, you encourage your child's attempts to take their first steps, but you don't push it, or follow a lesson plan to make it happen. You just keep on parenting in your loving, encouraging way, and eventually - on their own timetable - each non-disabled child gets the hang of it and starts walking.

So instead of following a curriculum, standardized for a non-existent, statistically-defined "average" child of that age, homeschooling in age-appropriate ways means treating your child like the unique individual that they are. It means being attentive to what your own unique child is interested in and eager to know and do, and interacting with them responsively in a way that answers their questions, feeds and builds on their curiosity, helps them discover fun and interesting things about the world, and helps them develop the skills they're trying out.

That doesn't mean devoting all your time to interacting with your child. Just as important as connection and interaction, solitary play and exploration have a big role to play in a child's healthy, natural development.

If you need more guidance than just your own parenting instincts, here are a few preschool resources for you to peruse - some of them are more formal than I would recommend, but I've included them in case that's the way you choose to go in spite of the cautionary information given.

Blossom & Root Early Years
https://blossomandroot.com/curriculum/

No Time For Flash Cards
https://www.notimeforflashcards.com/

Busy Toddler
https://busytoddler.com/

Chirp magazine
https://shop.owlkids.com/products/chirp-magazine

Ambleside Online
http://amblesideonline.org/00.shtml

Letter of the Week
http://www.letteroftheweek.com/

Confessions of a Homeschooler
http://www.confessionsofahomeschooler.com/blog/tag/teeny-tiny-tot-school

Joyful Learning (Christian)
http://www.hubbardscupboard.org/joyful-learning

CHALK Preschool Online
https://chalkpreschoolonline.com/

PreKinders
https://www.prekinders.com/

Before Five in a Row
https://fiveinarow.com/before-five-in-a-row/

If you're curious about the Ontario curriculum guidelines as well, you can find them here:
http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/curricul/curricul.html (includes the Kindergarten curriculum)
http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/childcare/pedagogy.html

It's natural and understandable that, as a parent, you don't want to hold your child back, you want to give them every advantage, you want to go above and beyond. But the best way to do that is just to be there in your child's life, as their loving, supportive parent, interacting responsively without being overly directive or controlling; enjoying their company when you're doing things together, but without being overstimulating; showing them your affection freely without suffocating them with your attention.

If you're looking into homeschooling at this early stage of your child's life, that usually means that you're already a dedicated parent who is lovingly engaged with their child. Trust in that, in nature, and in your child's innate instinct, urge, and ability to learn. You don't have to push the river for it to flow.


© Marian Buchanan, 2019

Marian joined the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents a couple of decades ago, around the time PPM131 was being negotiated. Her unschooled son is all grown up now, but she remains involved in the homeschooling community through her volunteer work with the OFTP as well as running several homeschool-related websites, including the Canadian Home Based Learning Resource Page, University Admissions in Canada, and the Homeschool Media Network. She also offers a few downloadable activities for children through her Kids and Caboodles site.


Topics: What Homeschooling Is Like, What to Teach