Teaching Little Ones: 4 Moms

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.
Deputy Headmistress

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:

  1. 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?)
  2. 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.)
  3. 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”

  4. We learn together as a family.  We read, talk, discuss, explore together.
  5. We have lots of books about a variety of topics.  We read, read, read, read both to them and for our own pleasure.
  6. We take the time to explore nature and find out the names, uses and reasons for the things that we see and use.
  7. We engage our children in discussions.
  8. When they have questions, we help and show them how and where to find the answers.
  9. 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.
  10. We allow them to choose areas of interest and delve more deeply into those areas in their research and writing.

To help our children overcome their natural laziness:

  1. We provide ample opportunities for them to learn through hard work.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

    Mark reading to the kids

    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.”

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36 Responses to Teaching Little Ones: 4 Moms
  1. Michelle
    May 20, 2010 | 8:32 am

    Love this post!! I was about to write that we do many of the same things, but as I re-read it, I realized we do *all* the same things, for the same reasons! Very well-written! 🙂


  2. Michelle
    May 20, 2010 | 8:37 am

    Forgot to mention, the Bluedorns (10 things under age 10) had a great influence on our homeschool from the very beginning. Love their book Teaching the Trivium. I admit I haven’t read it in entirety, but I did read most of the beginning chapters and used the rest as a reference, especially in our first several years of homeschooling.


  3. Michelle
    May 20, 2010 | 10:54 am

    I love your blog but seldom comment cause I’m reading from a reader.

    HOwever after reading this I just had to leave a comment.

    This is what we do. We dont do math until reading is well established and they are READY for math. We count and tally, etc, etc, real life stuff. But no formal math. WHY???

    NO one I know IRL teaches this way. They are basically schooling at home just like the public schools and overwhelming themselves and each other. There is no need. It can be so relaxed for everyone!

    Anyway I just wanted to thank you for this great post. That’s us in a nutshell.


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    They are basically schooling at home just like the public schools and overwhelming themselves and each other. There is no need. It can be so relaxed for everyone!

    This is what I see as well and is something that I hope my blog conveys to those who want to hear it.


    Lisa Reply:

    Wow! I was home schooled the way many home schoolers do it–trying to imitate regular schools. We turned out okay, but I can’t imagine doing that if I had more than 2 kids (my mom only had 2 kids), and I definitely want more kids. I am eagerly soaking up all the information on blogs like this, and it is definitely impacting my perspective of how to actually do home school when my oldest is old enough to start.


  4. Heather Milburn
    May 20, 2010 | 11:13 am

    I LOVE this post! See for me… I USED to teach/love in this way when I had 2. Then after 3, then 4 and now 5 children I have lost all sight of this very thing… and it aches me so. I have become more angry and bitter as their training has lagged behind due to my own laziness and school has become “school” when it never was before. We are all unhappy with this (obviously) but the Lord has been redeeming me out of this nastiness that has snowballed sine #3 child and I pray we can get back to… NO supersede where we were.

    THANK YOU for such an inspiring post!!! It has really given me that extra boost and confidence in Him of our roots and how we started and how happy we were!!! :-)))


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    I think that we all deal with this pull. I know that each and every year Mark and I talk and reevaluate and feel the pull toward more ‘school at home’, but we try to look again at God’s Word and what we believe He requires of us and then make a plan that fits with that.

    The amazing thing to me is that, contrary to what we may imagine, this more relaxed approach results in amazingly well-educated, motivated and knowledge loving little people.


  5. Cascia @ Healthy Moms
    May 20, 2010 | 11:18 am

    Great tips! I sure wish I had the time and patience to do those things with my children. I believe that everyone is different and we are all blessed with our own gifts. I tried to home-school one of my children once and that experience taught me that I am not built to teach my children like a professional does. Yes we do read to them every single day and I encourage them to pursue their interests and learning is very important but I just don’t have the time, energy, patience and talent to do what you do with your children. I really admire you.


  6. April
    May 20, 2010 | 12:25 pm

    Lovely post! This is my ideal, but I so often get caught up in…are they learning enough, so and so’s children are doing so well with “these” book or what if…instead of looking to our Heavenly Father for exactly what He desires for our family.

    Thank you for the reminder. Know that God uses you and your blog to encourage and remind others where He desires them to be.

    God Bless,


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Be sure you read my response to Heather. We all feel that pull!!!


  7. Rachel@Schoenland7
    May 20, 2010 | 12:57 pm

    God is so good!!! Thank you for doing what you are doing! The Lord used your post today to confirm, yet again, that we are on the path He has planned for us.

    My husband decided two years ago that this school year would be our first to home school all the kids. Last year I only did our k5er, but during that year did my research on what we would be getting ourselves into. The three sources the Lord providentially brought accross our path were: The Well Trained Mind, Teaching the Trivium, and Robinson Curriculum dot com. He had already put in my heart the way homeschool for us, should work, then He used these works to help me put those ways into words!! I love how my Saviour leads me all the way! 🙂
    I really like The Well Trained Mind: however, Teaching the Trivium is more in tune with my convictions, therefore having a greater inpact on the methods of educating the children. Whereas the Robinson Curriculum is a bulk of the actual material we use. The Lord was clear about not doing one set packaged curriculum, but to glean from all that He had shown us.

    We have had a wonderful year together at home as a family–PTL.

    I just found your blog last week and from reading through some of it have felt very much a likemindedness, so naturally I have been curious to find out more about what influenced your convictions on the How’s of homeschooling. The Lord is blessing my heart with how He works in us all individually, uniquely and yet the same.


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Welcome Rachel. God is good and He does lead those who truly wish to follow Him.

    Thank you.


  8. Jenn
    May 20, 2010 | 1:52 pm

    Another question for you Kimberly. As you approach high school with your oldest, do you plan to continue the family-oriented way you teach (referring here to your number 3 on the list) or will she begin to work on her own? I feel a lot of pressure to have my 13yo work on “high school” on his own in the next year or so. But my heart wants to continue the “family discussion” as long as I have them all at home! Any thoughts?

    Love the Augustine quote!


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Great question Jenn. We also feel the pressure, but we keep asking ourselves, “What does God require?”

    What is our actual plan? Well, Amber is already working on some subjects on her own this year (cooking and science). Although those are still topics of conversation as she loves sharing with us what she’s learning and we love hearing about it.

    Many of our family discussions center around history, Bible and current events and the plan is to continue to do those subjects together, including additional books and reading for our younger children.


  9. Kathi
    May 20, 2010 | 2:58 pm

    We’ve delayed any kind of formal “K-ish” school until 6 yrs old. My son, who is now almost 8, soon to be “doing 2nd grade” work, hasn’t missed a beat.

    I like how you mentioned the “getting down on the floor”, I do this too, and it matters to them. I find myself “on the floor” with them often, and have had people even comment to me about it…

    Another thing I wanted to point out, is that TJ (5 1/2 yr old) will start his “formal K” work in the Fall, but he knows most of it already due to the soaking up of our Lifestyle of Learning, so we will most likely need to re-plan for him next year. (So…this method we are all using works:)

    Also, we’re feeling that High School pull with Kylie as well…I’d love to hear more on how you are going to do this…I can’t imagine sending her upstairs to get most her schoolwork finished, while the rest of us are down here…makes me sad just thinking about it.


  10. Michelle
    May 20, 2010 | 9:25 pm


    Thank you for the link to the Trivium site! Excellent information. You are just a bundle of information! I really like the book recommendation on first time obedience. Good sounding stuff!


    his.talmidat Reply:

    Um, what was that recommendation? My girls are great, but I’m feeling like I’m not quite getting first time obedience. As in how to teach it and, therefor, how to get it from them. Thanks!


  11. heather
    May 22, 2010 | 12:50 am

    New commenter here. I just wanted to say hello and I love your blog. I really enjoyed the “10 Things to do…” article. Thank you!


  12. Laura
    May 22, 2010 | 1:03 pm

    Thank you so much for this blog post. I went, in about two years, from planning on sending my oldest to preschool (of course! lol ;)) when it was time, to now planning on homeschooling all my children (whatever the Lord gives). This last year was my first year homeschooling my oldest son (3). It was very relaxed ( we liked Hubbard’s Cupboard)… but it could have been even more so. I’ve done so much research this past year and have been very drawn to CM. I’ve “heard” of Ambleside, but I didn’t realize what an amazing resource it was… I didn’t even know it was a website! lol. Thank you so much. How you homeschool is exactly how I want to homeschool. I’ll admit though, it’s so easy that it’s intimidating! Does that even make sense?? lol!


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    It makes complete sense Laura. The message from nearly everyone around us, Christian and non, is that education is complex, we should leave it to the professionals, parents aren’t really equipped to ‘educate’.

    I have some more interesting articles and ideas on educational methods that I hope to share in the future, studies that have been done comparing children who are drilled and drilled on the three R’s and those who are allowed to ‘play’. The results are surprising, or maybe not. 😉


  13. […] Raising Olives has a great post, especially if you homeschool, Teaching Little Ones: 4 Moms. […]

  14. Vidal Aponte
    May 27, 2010 | 9:15 pm

    Wow, you seem to have a great family!! I love this post, because it reminds me of what I do for a living. I have a program where you can teach your baby math at a very young age, and I agree with everything you said in this post. We have to make it a point to teach our kids. I agree with homeschooling and we need to be consistent with this teaching, because this is the only way they will learn. Experts are now saying that you can teach them as of when they are 1 month old. Children have a thirst for knowledge, we just have to supply this knowledge to them. Great Post!!


  15. his.talmidat
    May 30, 2010 | 1:24 am

    You mentioned that you give the kids weekly assignments that they are expected to do without reminders. Could you expand on that? What kind of things do you assign, say, a 2 or 4 year old? (since that’s what I have 🙂

    I so appreciate this series, thank you!


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    In this post I’m speaking about weekly ‘school’ assignments that they work on independently. We do not give 2 and 4 year olds ‘school’ work.

    Once our children begin handwriting and copy work, we require them to complete those assignments independently.

    Hope that helps.


  16. […] my post about teaching young children I mention that we teach our younger children to take responsibility for their own work by requiring […]

  17. […] mentioned before that if you are a student in our homeschool then you may begin formal instruction in several subjects later than your peers.  This doesn’t mean that our children aren’t learning these subjects, we just prefer […]

  18. Jennifer Fraser
    January 8, 2011 | 12:23 am

    I think this is right on the mark! And so reassuring because my oldest is 8 yrs old so I am still waiting to see if some of my decisions during the early years pay-off long term. After reading this I feel more confident that I am on the right road. Thanks!


  19. Lorna
    August 24, 2011 | 9:58 pm

    Thanks for posting that. I have been praying that God would send me some encouragement, and this was just what I needed to read. 🙂 I have been feeling so guilty for not doing more this year, especially as I have not done a lot of “formal” stuff with my children now for the last 4 years due to difficult family circumstances. My children are 13, 11, 9, 6, 4, 2 and 7months and I can see that despite the “deficiency” I thought I had caused in their learning it has not hindered their learning and they are all doing well really. It is also refreshing to read your approach which is so similar to my own (on a good day :)) and I love your explanation of balance between just fun and loads of drill work.. (I read that part to my 11yr old son who laments his small amount of paper work on occasion!)
    It was so encouraging to read, thank you so much for recharging my motivational batteries!


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    It’s very difficult to not feel guilty no matter how much you do in today’s society where education has become an idol. Nearly every time I speak with anyone at church I come home feeling as if I’m not doing enough academically.

    It’s encouraging to go back to Scripture and see what God requires and try to hold onto His standard rather than the world’s standard.


  20. Twila
    August 25, 2011 | 2:19 am

    Hello! I’m sooo inspired by your blog!! But also very overwhelmed. I have four children: 8,6,4 and 1. Even though I’ve been homeschooling from the beginning I feel more and more confused as to what the right thing to do is. HOWEVER I’ve also been meeting more and more people that school the way you do and it intrigues me greatly. (My brother in law even gave our family “teaching the trivium” as a gift in hopes we would be inspired. And it has -especially after reading your blog!.) BUT I still feel lost. My biggest and main concern is L.A. (I’m finally realizing how silly it is to be teaching grammer but what about reading, writting and spelling…?) I’ve been doing Christian Light Education (just for LA and reading) and we are all overwhelmed and BORED. Can you help me?
    Thanks for your consideration,


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Hi Twila,

    Remember there is no ‘right thing’ when it comes to curriculum and often lost is normal. We just got through a year of homeschooling where I felt lost. 🙂

    I am currently writing several posts about language arts. My posts are about using McGuffey’s Readers, but you can use any good piece of literature that is on your students reading level.

    The theory is that you teach the children how to use proper grammar as they need it (i.e. when they are writing a sentence with a quote in it, you teach them the rules about quotation marks and attributions) and then when they are able to write proficiently with proper grammar, we take some time (a relatively short amount of time compared to the 9-10 years of formal grammar instruction that most children have) and cover formal grammar topics.

    For our informal grammar instruction we use regular copywork, dictation and writing. To begin with the child copies a short passage each day. When the child is able to consistently copy whatever you give them, you move to dictation (where you read him the passage and he writes it from hearing). The child should be focused on proper spelling, grammar and punctuation and the parent should give him direction and instruction as needed. When the child is able to consistently and accurately write passages from dictation they move to creative writing. Each day the child writes a paper and the parent gives instruction as needed. It is around this time that we do a year of formal grammar instruction.

    I am planning on publishing more posts on this topic. Stick around and feel free to ask questions. It’s such a big topic and we do so many different things that having questions will help me clarify.



    Twila Reply:

    THANK YOU!! This is GREAT and I look forward to your more detailed posts on this! (funny though, I’m sure you’re just repeating what I already have read…but putting a real live family into the mix, everything starts to make sence!:)) Another quick question, you said “… When the child is able to consistently copy whatever you give them, you move to dictation ….The child should be focused on proper spelling,…”

    Do you do a spelling program then? Or is it of the belief that proper spelling will come naturaly?
    Thanks again..such a GREAT help!


    Twila Reply:

    (“Natural spelling” apparently doesn’t work too good for me! HAHA)


    Twila Reply:

    OH! OOPS also wanted to ask if you still used SonLight Education? It seems you are switching things up? Do you still recommend this program…and for what subjects?


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    We do not use a separate spelling program, I simply introduce spelling rules as they become necessary for what they are writing. I do think that spelling will come naturally for many children, but several of mine have benefited a great deal from learning the spelling rules. Again, I don’t do this as a different subject, just part of their copywork, dictation and writing.

    We are not currently using Sonlight, but we used it happily for 7 years and don’t regret that. We used their history/literature program.


  21. Laurie
    January 24, 2013 | 6:23 pm

    This sounds great but I don’t get it. I want to have a home school like this but I can’t grasp how to do it like you described. I was taught in a public school and it failed me. I don’t know much about many of the core subjects and I feel intimidated to teach without a curriculum. My oldest is in kindergarten and she hates it! I hate it! Every day is a struggle. We are doing Abeka and it seems to be a good curriculum. There has to be a better way! I love your philosophy but I am not creative and can’t think of things to do and teach. I just don’t get what to do.


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