By Barbara Postma

When our first child turned 3, people started asking if we were going to enroll her in Junior Kindergarten. I replied that, no, we intended to home educate our daughter once she reached official school age. (You do know, don’t you, that, depending on where you live in Canada you are not legally required to enroll your child into school until he/she reaches the age of 5 to 7?) You see, I didn’t really consider “three” to be school-aged. In my mind, “three” is the age of playing, listening to good books, and maybe still napping!

When I suggested that we planned on homeschooling this little child, people asked me, as I held my three year old, “But what will you do about ALGEBRA and CHEMISTRY and PHYSICS?!?!?”

Funny: I thought we’d start with learning to obey mom and dad, to recognize letters and numbers, to draw with shapes and colours, and maybe to memorize our home phone number for good measure.

Maybe you are feeling great pressure from well-meaning onlookers to educate your child in a rigorous and impressive way. Before you start making plans to purchase “Latin for Babies” and “Pre-College Admittance Tests for Toddlers”, let’s just take a big, deep breath.

I’m not suggesting that we set out to teach mediocrity. I’m really not. I have 7 children, and I do take their education very seriously. My eldest just completed her Grade twelve year at home, and she did “real school subjects”. And she did very well. However, when she was 3 and 4, we approached school much differently than we do now that she has reached 17!

My philosophy of early education is this: we need to instill moral training before academic training, and we need to instill a curiosity about life with a love of learning.

It is more important to me that these first years plant such a love of knowledge into these little hearts and minds that the next 12 years of hard-core schooling are a delight and not drudgery, regardless of subject matter.

What would I suggest for these early years? Oh, I’m so glad you asked! There are several resources that I go to for my children in these formative years.  

If you want to purchase an actual curriculum, without breaking the budget, then I would highly recommend Come Sit by Me by Cindy Regeling. This literature-based unit study program uses all Canadian authors! The extensive (and stunning!) reading list is accompanied by activities, crafts, field trip suggestions, and more, which cover every subject. The books on the reading list are all available at the library which keeps costs down as well. There are more projects than you can tackle in one year, so we always repeat the entire book the next year to pick up the activities my child was too young for the first time around. We love this program!

Now, it could be that you are looking for free. I like free things, too! Especially when the free thing comes at high quality!  Here are a few resources that you should explore. These sets of free printables cover everything from letters and numbers to zoology and geography! My youngest (who turned 5 a few months ago) has loved doing ‘play school’ with these tools. We print them out on cardstock and sometimes laminate them for durability.

1+1+1=1. Brilliant. This website has so many resources in so many fun styles and units. You may find you don’t need to look anywhere else.

Montessori For Everyone has a lovely (and large!) set of free downloads. Regardless of your thoughts on the Montessori philosophy of education, these flashcards, worksheets, and manipulatives are wonderful tools for your school room.

Activity BagsAs you know, there are times when you have time to be really hands-on with your child. Sometimes, however, you need your young student to be self-directed so that you can free yourself up to do other things. For those times, I have stashes of zipper-closed plastic bags full of fun activities for my little guy to play with. Again, there is a lot of learning to be done in these bags, but in such a hands-on, fun way that he won’t feel bogged down by “school”. I will give my son a bag, explain the task that the bag contains (usually something like threading beads on a string to match a pattern, or doing simple tangrams, or writing on a mini chalkboard), and let him at it! This encourages independent learning (and self-entertaining!) while feeding a curiosity about how things work.

All the experts agree that these early years are critical for your child’s education. However, it is not critical that you make these years very serious and very academic and very formal. It is critical that you take time to work on character, and relationship, and a love of learning. Enjoy these years: they are busy but short! Use them well! (And HAVE FUN!)