By Corrie Pelc
The homeschooling movement has been growing in leaps and bounds. According to the National Home Education Network, there is an estimated 1.5 million to 2 million homeschoolers across the U.S., representing 3 to 4 percent of the school-aged population. And for some parents, homeschooling is now starting even before a child is of elementary school age through home-preschooling.
“I think it’s just a natural extension of taking care of your own children,” explains Diane Flynn Keith, editor of the online homeschooling journal Homefires.com, author of Carschooling: Over 350 Entertaining Games & Activities to Turn Travel Time into Learning Time and veteran homeschooling parent of 13 years.
“Little kids are just born with a raging desire to learn, so they ask you lots of questions and they try to model whatever you’re doing,” Keith says. “So if you just understand that all of those things are teachable moments and cover more than you could ever possibly cover in a preschool situation, then it doesn’t make sense to me why people would send their kids to preschool.”
For San Jose resident Traci Tokhi – who home-preschooled her eldest child who is now a kindergartener and is currently home-preschooling two other children – it was that ability to be the one to continue to teach her children that made her decide to homeschool.
“As parents we are our child’s first teacher in the sense that they really need us to be involved in that aspect of their lives. I really wanted to keep that kind of feel in my home of this is a learning environment and learning isn’t just something we do when I send you to this place and there’s a teacher there that’s going to teach you,” she says. “I wanted to keep learning as a organic, fluid process that began in utero and continues for a lifetime.”
And for Cathy Bonwick of Los Altos, the decision to home-preschool her oldest son, who is now eight, came from wanting to allow him to do what he wanted to do when it came to learning after spending some time in a homeschool preschool co-op. “In our preschool co-op I didn’t see him really interested in some of the preschool activities, like circle time and organized-type activities,” she says. “He more wanted to free play and that kind of thing, so I didn’t think that sending him to a formal preschool was something that would really be a good use of his time.”
Becoming the Teacher
So how do parents who want to teach their preschoolers at home find out what they should be learning at that age? Linda Dobson, author of Homeschooling the Early Years and The Ultimate book of Homeschooling Ideas – who also homeschooled her three children who are now grown – says there are plenty of curricula and Web sites that parents can visit to get an idea of what their child should be learning at the preschool level.
“I know World Book Encyclopedia has a site that offers a fairly broad overview, or perhaps they would want to take a look at Montessori or Waldorf Web sites, anything that might offer what your 2- or 3-year-old should be knowing at this time,” she says. However, Dobson adds, it’s important for parents to keep the learning fun. “The most successful homeschoolers that I have ever met and spoken with are those that keep learning fun and light and full of games and hands-on activities,” she notes.
For Robin Schneider of Sunnyvale, while home-preschooling her four children their days would include educational opportunities as well as plenty of play because of their short attention spans. “I try to work academics into just everyday play and fun kinds of things, so if we’re playing with Legos we can count the Legos or sort them by color,” she says. “And then just a lot of things around the house you can do are fun and a little bit educational, too. So they have playtime, but they also have little bits and pieces of educational things interspersed throughout the day.”
And some parents may find they don’t need a set curriculum, such as in the case of Elsa and Robert Carvalho of San Jose who are home-preschooling their 5- and 2 1/2-year-old daughters. “ We didn’t really feel a need to look at any written curriculum,” Elsa says. “We’ve been with them all along since they were babies and it seems pretty clear that the important things are being together just to help them feel confident in themselves and let their personalities develop.”
But what about parents who might be thinking about how they can possibly teach their children better than a trained professional? “I think many people are hesitant to homeschool because they think ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I can’t provide for my child what they need,’” Tokhi says. “I think that’s a pretty big myth that we’ve been kind of trained into as parents to think that we can’t teach our own children.”
But according to Keith, parents are the ultimate experts on what’s appropriate when it comes to education for their children and after that, teaching a preschooler is instinctive and natural. “It’s simple to take a little kid for a walk and talk about the kinds of things you see outside and it’s easy to take a little kid to the grocery store and explain to them about all the different kinds of foods that they see,” she says. “Learning opportunities are prevalent everywhere and you just have to be aware of what’s around you. Watch your child to see if they’re curious and then explain things to them. It’s really simple – it’s not rocket science.”
A Social Affair
And while education obviously is an important part of home-preschooling, socialization is just as essential. But how can parents make sure their preschooler is getting the same amount of socialization they would in an actual preschool setting? “By being involved in the same community and social opportunities that are available to everyone in the community,” Dobson answers. “There’s swim classes, cub scouts, girl scouts, ballet classes, kung fu classes – there’s just such a variety of things for kids to do out there.”
Dobson also advises parents to network with other homeschoolers in their area. “Homeschooling groups are absolutely phenomenal and famous for putting together social opportunities for their members,” she adds. “If someone doesn’t necessarily have knowledge of one, I recommend folks put a notice up on their library bulletin board or anywhere they would think homeschoolers would tend to gather just stating that they’re looking for this kind of support.”
Bonwick makes sure her children get to meet others by attending a homeschool park day support group. “Most of their friends are part of that homeschool support group and that’s really neat for them to have that community every week and friends that they see,” she states. “And it’s also an opportunity for the parents to network and talk and get whatever support or information they might need that week.”
"Additionally," Keith says, "homeschoolers also have the opportunity to be social with lots of different types of people throughout their day when stepping outside the home. “Because homeschoolers are interacting with people in their daily environment and in the real world, they are exposed to a wide variety of age ranges and ethnicities and people of socioeconomic backgrounds, not just associating with 12 other 3-year-olds who are all pretty much from the same neighborhood and on the same track, so to speak,” she says.
The Big Decision
So while this may sound doable for many parents, is homepreschooling really for you and your child? Schneider says one of the hardest parts is the energy involved. “Children are draining and so you basically have to find a way to recharge yourself, which can be hard if your children are always around,” she says. “You have to find some way of separating yourself from your children other than sending them to preschool. I go to the playgroup for my homeschool group and the children tend not to stay around me then, so I’m sort of away from them even though I can see them.”
Another limitation some parents may face is the need to work, says Tokhi, who also works while homeschooling her children. “I took my career and just brought it home as much as I could,” she explains. “I think it’s a realistic concern for people, but there’s lots of ways to get creative and try to make it possible by using resources and seeing what you can do. I think even if people are working they can still homeschool in every sense and I know a lot of people who do.”
And Bonwick mentions that for some personalities, homeschooling may not be the best decision. “Some personality matches between child and parent are more conducive to spending a lot of time together than others – it is something that the time together will be a positive thing or will some time apart be more positive for you,” she adds. “I think that each family needs to choose what works best for them and if they feel pressured into making a choice that isn’t really right for their family, then nobody’s going to be happy.”
However, if a parent does decide to give homepreschooling a whirl, Dobson advises parents to just do it. “Give it a try. Jump in with two feet. Certainly nothing is written in stone at the point of a preschooler.” And don’t get caught up in thinking there’s only one right way to homeschool, Dobson cautions. “Homeschooling is the most flexible educational approach on earth, so make certain to take full advantage of that flexibility so that homeschooling can fit the family and the child as opposed to making the child and family fit a certain picture of homeschooling.”
But most importantly, Schneider says, have fun. “Relax, you can do this, you do not need to be a really hard-charging pushy parent in order to do it,” she says. “You’re capable of teaching your children and have fun in terms of finding fun ways to teach the academic things. And then just enjoy your child and enjoy life together and they will learn so much.”
Carschooling: Over 350 Entertaining Games & Activities to Turn Travel Time into Learning Time - For Kids Ages 4 to 17, by Diane Flynn Keith, Prima Lifestyles, 2002.
Home Learning Year by Year: How to Design a Homeschool Curriculum from Preschool Through High School, by Rebecca Rupp and Ayesha Pande, Crown Publishing, 2000.
The Homeschooling Handbook: From Preschool to High School, a Parent's Guide, by Mary Griffith, Prima Publishing, 1999.
Homeschooling the Early Years – Your Complete Guide to Successfully Homeschooling the 3- to 8-Year-Old Child, by Linda Dobson and Jamie Miller, Crown Publishing, 1999.
The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas: 500 Fun and Creative Learning Activities for Kids Ages 3-12, by Linda Dobson, Crown Publishing, 2002.