This week the 4 Moms continue talking about homeschooling by discussing teaching younger children. Visit the other moms for their perspectives:
Connie – Who’s a little distracted since she’s live-blogging the labor and birth of her eighth baby.
For the sake of this post, I’m using “younger children” to describe children under 8 to 10 years . For perspective our little kids are currently 8, 6, 5, 3 and 2.
It seems to me that when it comes to educating younger children there are two mistakes that we tend to make. On the one hand, we realize that God has given children the ability and desire to learn and we neglect to consider that they have a sin nature. In this error we think that if we simply provide the children with a fun, stimulating atmosphere they will learn everything that is needful for them to know.
The other error is that we realize that our children have a sin nature and we forget God’s common grace, that is, even though we are born with a sin nature we are not as bad as we possibly can be and God has indeed given children an innate desire and ability to learn about the world around them. In this error we believe that we should sit our children down for hours each day and teach and drill so that they get as many facts into their head as they possibly can.
We believe that that the best way to educate young children is a balance between the two. God has given children an amazing desire and ability to learn AND they tend to be naturally lazy when that learning gets difficult. Here is our attempt to balance these two aspects of our children’s nature.
To encourage our children’s natural love of learning:
- We provide an environment that is rich in real life learning. Rather than purchasing a math book we count how many toys they picked up, figure how many forks they need to set on the table or allow them to double or quadruple the recipe. (i.e. Would you rather work on math worksheets, drills, and songs for 6 years or build rabbit traps and learn to cook?)
- We delay formal instruction in several academic subjects (math, grammar, etc.). In our experience, when we begin formal instruction our children are already at or above grade level or they meet and surpass it in within a few months. (That means they already know or learn in a few months what it typically takes children 5 or more years of focused schooling to learn.)
- We learn together as a family. We read, talk, discuss, explore together.
- We have lots of books about a variety of topics. We read, read, read, read both to them and for our own pleasure.
- We take the time to explore nature and find out the names, uses and reasons for the things that we see and use.
- We engage our children in discussions.
- When they have questions, we help and show them how and where to find the answers.
- We offer them knowledge along with the opportunity to use that knowledge. We do not force them to memorize, learn and/or study information before they have a reason or a need for that information.
- We allow them to choose areas of interest and delve more deeply into those areas in their research and writing.
And, therefore, as infants cannot learn to speak except by learning words and phrases from those who do speak, why should not men become eloquent without being taught any art of speech, simply by reading and learning the speeches of eloquent men, and by imitating them as far as they can? And what do we find from the examples themselves to be the case in this respect? We know numbers who, without acquaintance with rhetorical rules, are more eloquent than many who have learnt these; but we know no one who is eloquent without having read and listened to the speeches and debates of eloquent men. For even the art of grammar, which teaches correctness of speech, need not be learnt by boys, if they have the advantage of growing up and living among men who speak correctly. For without knowing the names of any of the faults, they will, from being accustomed to correct speech, lay hold upon whatever is faulty in the speech of any one they listen to, and avoid it; just as city-bred men, even when illiterate, seize upon the faults of rustics. ~Augustine, “On Christian Doctrine”
To help our children overcome their natural laziness:
- We provide ample opportunities for them to learn through hard work.
- We focus on character. They all have household responsibilities and are required to diligently carry out their assigned tasks. It is much easier to train children to work hard and diligently when they are young and as they are working on physical tasks. (i.e. It is much easier to train the 8 year old to diligently clean the bathroom than it is to train him to focus on a math lesson.) Most of our character training takes place outside of the academic sphere. We’ve found that between the age of 9 to 11 our children have these habits of diligence and hard work well in hand and we have experienced only very occasional difficulty with our children not applying themselves to their academics.
- We do not require a heavy academic work load from our younger children, but we require excellence and focus on the things that they are assigned.
- Once children begin an academic pursuit, we require them to continue unless it is obvious that they simply aren’t mentally or physically ready. They don’t get to quite because it requires hard work.
- We require our younger children to take responsibility for their own work. I give assignments weekly and each child is required to complete their daily tasks without being reminded. Depending on the subject and the child, some are responsible to bring me their completed work each day, so that I may give them feedback, but I do not remind or nag.
To build relationships while teaching little ones:
- We let our kids sit on our lap, sit right beside us or we put our arm around them while we are
teaching them. When I’m working with our younger children, I always sit on the floor (yes, even when I’m 7 1/2 months pregnant) so that more of them are able to be closer to me. Our goal isn’t simply to give them information, but rather to make disciples and physical closeness is one of the best way to communicate love to a young child.
- Encourage, encourage, encourage. If you have your child’s heart, those little ones are trying hard to please you, let them know through touch and word that you are proud of their effort.
- Make time for the little ones. The very first part of each “school day” is devoted to the younger children. This takes different forms depending on the age and personalities of our youngest children. Sometimes we do gymnastics or relay races, sometimes a fun art/craft type activity, read books, sing songs, talk or work on memorization. This gives them time to love and snuggle with mom and have that more focused attention that the older ones will get later in the day.
- Include the little ones as you work with the big ones. Our little ones are with us for the majority of the school day and often during this time I will stop and ask the younger ones questions about what we’re reading, let them sit on my lap or to include them in the discussion.
- Let the little ones ‘teach’ the big ones. Whenever we are reading we have our maps and time line available and the younger kids (usually the 3, 5 or 6 year old) are responsible to show the older kids where things are on the maps. (Of course the big kids are available to help out in a pinch.)
- Don’t require “classroom” behavior when it is unnecessary, but don’t allow them to be disruptive or disrespectful.
One of my favorite articles about teaching younger children is “Ten Things to Do with Your Child Before Age Ten“. No need to read the introduction, simply scroll down to their list of 10 things.
Questions? Please let me know what you think.
Now head over and see what the other moms of many have to say about teaching younger children.
Connie @ Smockity Frocks
Deputy Headmistress @ The Common Room
KimC @ Life in a Shoe – Says it more concisely than I did, “We want to instill in them a love of learning, not just pour their little heads full of facts.”