4 Moms: Our early years of homeschooling

4moms35kidsThis week the 4 Moms are answering the question,

What did homeschooling look like when your oldest was 5?  How much time?  What subjects?

When my oldest was 5, I had a 4yo, a 2yo and a baby.  I may also have been pregnant and suffering with severe morning sickness, depending on exactly when in the course of that year we are looking.  It was not an easy season in life, but I was a  control-freak very disciplined and organized person.  I was feeling seriously challenged, but I had not yet given up on the idea that I could do it all.

I placed a lot of emphasis on having a firm and predictable daily schedule, and this actually worked reasonably well for us in that season.  I had to build in plenty of time for diaper changes and other interruptions, but the toddler learned that school time was high-chair time, I could nurse the baby with one arm, and that just left 2 “older” children to teach, so we were able to do most of what we planned to do each day.

Part of the reason were able to do this is that we were organized and I was disciplined, but another reason is that I kept my expectations reasonable.  I didn’t try to do a full 6 course curriculum with the 5yo and a separate Preschool curriculum with the 4yo while wrangling a baby and a toddler.  Instead, we used Five in a Row, and even then we didn’t follow the instructions exactly or use every single idea in the book.  We made it fit us, rather than making our day fit the book.  “School” mostly consisted of reading a fun, favorite, familiar picture book, followed by discussions about math, science, history and whatever other lessons might lie hidden within.  It is a learning technique that we later used with Sonlight, and still use when reading with and to little ones.Five in a Row (Five in a Row): Volume 1

You may be shocked to learn that not one of my children has read proficiently before the age of 6.  Most have been 7 or 8 when they really take off into books.  I know most children are capable of learning to read at earlier ages, but in our experience it comes much more easily when you wait for them to reach developmental milestones.  The concept that they struggle with at 4 or 5 or even 6 can simply “click” overnight when they are ready, and I suspect part of the reason my children enjoy reading so very much is because we waited until the learning process was relatively painless.

How do I know when they are ready?  I wait until a child expresses interest in learning to read, and we start lessons.  If you are reading interesting books aloud to your children, they will want to learn to read for themselves.  If they struggle with reading lessons, we back off and wait a while, then try again.

Our oldest was a brilliant baby.  I know every parent thinks that, but she used over 150 words by her first birthday.  In 9 three-minute sessions she learned the sounds of all the letters – at the age of 19 months!  Nonetheless, she was not ready to read until she was 6 1/2.  Once she started, she was reading Tolkien and C.S. Lewis within 6 months.

I tell you this because I don’t believe that school for a 5yo needs to consist of intensive phonics, penmanship, spelling, arithmetic, history, and science every day.  That’s not to say you shouldn’t do it this way if it suits your family and your child, but it certainly isn’t a necessary or indispensable part of a very young child’s education. We are less structured now than we used to be, but even in our more structured days homeschooling for our 5yo more closely resembled educational play than institutional-style school.

Instead, it is important to know and remember your ultimate goal(s) in education, and self-consciously work in that direction.  We know ours.  Do you know yours?

From the other Moms:

Upcoming topics for 4 Moms:

  • July 26 – What do you do when the children need to learn things you can’t teach (a foreign language, dissecting, trig, etc)?
  • August 2 – How do you handle bossy older sisters
  • August 9 – Q&A

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  1. My mom has taught elementary school for 40 years, and I know she would agree with you. I was an early 5 (late summer birthday) but passed the “ready for Kindergarten” tests, and my mom let me choose whether I wanted to do Pre-K or Kindergarten. I chose Kindergarten, and those were back in the days of reading groups. I figured out that our reading groups were divided into the kids that had learned how to read and the kids that couldn’t.” (Reading and pre-reading). Because my mom believed in not pushing kids to read before school I was in the pre-reading group (much to the shock of some relatives and friends, “what, you’re a teacher, why don’t you teach her to read before kindergarten?”) I loved learning how to read in Kindergarten, but was always fascinated by what I overheard the other group learning (what, oh what, could an “apostrophe” be?) I remember coming home and telling my mom that I wanted to be in the other reading group, so she checked the materials out from school, and went through the higher reading book with me during the summer between kindergarten and first grade. From first grade through the rest of my elementary school career, I was always in the upper-level reading group, but not because anyone pushed me to be, because I loved reading and wanted to take in as much as I could.
    I ended up receiving the highest possible ACT score in reading comprehension and later working professionally as a editor (don’t let the massive amount of typos in my comments fool you…I was never a copyeditor!)…that’s why it doesn’t really impress me when someone’s three year old can read. Great, if they wanted to learn, but early reading doesn’t necessarily mean much later on.

  2. I appreciate this, as I have a 5, 3, and 1 year old, and am pregnant. My 5 year old does a little school, but I hate to push her on if she gets tired of it right now. I felt sort of guilty that I didn’t have a Plan lined up for the fall, beyond reading a ton to the kids and working on her reading, which she already does, but only a little. It’s hard not to want to rush her in reading! I know she’ll enjoy it so much when she’s ready to take off and that if I’m patient she *will* take off at some point. It’s good to be reminded that there is no reason to stress and cram things in for young children. Playing, reading together, talking, cooking, now that is good curriculum for 3 and 5!

  3. I totally agree with the reading!! That’s the biggest reason why so many people hate reading…because the public school system pushes kids to learn to read before they’re developmentally ready. My 4 siblings and I were homeschooled-I taught myself to read at the age of 4, my younger sister didn’t really learn to read until she was 8 or 9. The other three siblings were somewhere in the middle. All 5 of us (including my younger sister who would’ve been pushed beyond her capabilities in a public school and taught to hate reading) read voraciously and very well.

    • Me, too! This is almost exactly our situation–I taught myself to read by 4, but my older sister didn’t really get into reading until she was 7 or 8, and my younger sisters were probably 6 or 7 (I honestly don’t remember). We were homeschooled, and that was just how we rolled, and we all did very well in regular school (private denominational schools) once we entered. We also didn’t focus on all the regular subjects, but pretty much limited our classes to math, reading, language, and science. History came in with reading and we got “regular” social studies once we entered school in the fifth or sixth grade.

  4. I needed this! I’m planning on starting my oldest (5 in November) on Kinder curriculum next month. She’s been reading since just before she turned 4, but just the basics since I’ve been too sick with morning sickness to keep at it with her. She’s one of those brilliant children and I’m terrified of “ruining” her because I’m too busy with her younger siblings. I’m still not sure how we’re going to manage since I have a feeling she’s going to be jealous of whatever activity I let her younger brothers do while she’s working on school. I used to be a very organized (i.e. OCD) person but since motherhood and soon-to-be 4 babies in five years, I’m become more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-pants person. Hmm, now I’m getting even more nervous about it. 😛 Although, I do have the luxury of having my husband home in the mornings so I may just have to utilize him to occupy the younger ones until we can figure out a routine.

  5. Good post! I am staring down my first year homeschooling with my 6 year old in 1st grade, a 4 year old and a almost 2 year old. I’m a bit worried, but you’ve just confirmed my method, organization is key! I have a dedicated school room, that also doubles as a playroom. The plan is to let the younger ones play while I instruct the older one, with built in breaks. We have curriculum to follow, we’re doing McGuffy’s Primer for Language, and we have a few other subjects lined up. Still haven’t found a math course and I’m down to the wire, do you have any suggestions for math?

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