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Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Laundry Preschool

When my 6th child was three a relative came to visit and expressed consternation because our three year old didn't know her colors yet, and somebody else's younger grandchild did. This would have upset and worried me with my firstborn, but by my sixth child I'd learned a thing or two, so I wasn't worried about it. I told my relation that when this child was ready, she'd know her colors, and she would not be 'behind' when she did.

I had learned that little children really are sponges for knowledge, and they are gathering information and knowledge all the time. After all, it's not like we all walk around our homes in isolation, never speaking. We mention these things as part of daily life (I like the blue shirt better, those red flowers are pretty, orange starbursts are my favorites,this toast is burnt black as midnight, has anybody seen the other green/red/blue/purple/yellow/white/black/white/brown/pink/orange/chartreuse

Sure enough, about six months later, my little girl knew all her colors without any particular effort on my part- and she knew lots of other things, too, because while that other mother was expending a lot of time and focused attention getting her much younger child to learn that one thing ahead of everyone else, my child was picking up all kinds of knowledge as naturally as a bird pecks up crumbs. By the time the children were five years old, if you had to guess, you would not guess that it was _my_ child who learnt her colors last.  This wasn't about which mother loved her kids more or which kid was smarter.

This isn't about being smug.  I had been that other mother with my first.  I had just learned that I could work really, really hard and diligently and teach a one year one her colours, or I could just wait and it would happen naturally, with far less focused attention on my part, and that freed me up to do other things with my child.

We have had the same experience with counting (my children learn to count from playing hide 'n seek with their siblings), the alphabet (reading aloud alphabet books, and taking our time), and sizes- big, biggest, small, smallest, middle sized- these concepts we generally learn from the Story of the Three Bears or from choosing which piece of cake we want.

With our smallest children we had become, in other words, big fans of natural learning.

 Years ago we were preparing to adopt two children, the elder of the two was nearly six years old. I wasn't sure if we should home school the eldest or not, since she had so many special needs. Chief among them is a severe developmental disability. I visited her classroom. I looked at catalogs for special needs materials. I read books on teaching kids with developmental delays and disabilities. I noticed that over and over, the materials used were expensive representations of things found at home. For teaching matching skills there would be flash cards with photographs of socks, shoes, utensils, and clothing. I could see why this would streamline things in a classroom setting, but I wondered if I couldn't just use real socks and shoes. For teaching counting there were impossibly colored little plastic bears, and while there's nothing wrong with that,  I thought we could do the same thing with naturally colored seashells, buttons, acorns, or raisins. Since so many of the materials for the disabled were imitations of things found in a home, I wondered if maybe her new  home just might be the best place for our soon-to-be-new-daughter to be, so that's what we did.  Then I realized the same principles apply to other younglings.  They could learn all those preschool skills at home, naturally.

Laundry is a great time for working on the skills of sorting by color, size, or style and of matching up pairs of like things. Do you know how many pairs of socks a family of nine goes through in a week? We had six little girls who liked socks in colours like blue, yellow, orange, pink, purple.  They liked patterns, too, so we had stripes and polka-dots, hearts, flowers, stars, and occasionally, fruits and  diamonds, a veritable Lucky Charms of socks.  Boy, did we have multiple opportunities to do some matching!

Laundry is also a good opportunity to hone some early connections and thinking skills. As you fold or sort, you can be asking your young child questions such as "who wears this?
Do we wear this when it's hot or cold? Does this go on your hand or your
foot?  Is this a good thing to wear hiking in the woods?  Would this fit Daddy? Why not?  Would this fit the baby? Why not?  What would happen if a porcupine tried to wear this?"

When you want to teach shapes you can use the laundry again if you use cloth napkins, washclothes, and towels. Fold them into squares, rectangles and triangles.  Or look for shapes on the clothes, in their patterns and in the buttons.

 Lunches and snacks are also good places to learn shapes- slice bananas into circles, cut an apple sideways to look at the star, eat a spherical cherry tomato. You can also learn shapes from neighborhood street signs.

Lunch and laundry folding are great opportunities to learn basic fractions (fold it in half, fold it in half again, cut it into thirds, divide that sandwich in fourths) and cooperation. You can also count socks, sing "this is the way we wash the clothes...", sing "One little, two little, three little undies" to the tune of Ten Little Indians, and develop habits of order all just by doing laundry together.

When it is time to clean up a game or playthings, you can work on colours by asking a small tot to pick up all the red toys, or all the round things. You can play 'I spy' and look for round or square things on a page in a book or in the living room, or at the grocery store.  You can look for red things at the grocery store, or count the produce as you put it in a bag.

If you need to work on scissors skills, you can have a child help cut out coupons, or use the grocery fliers and cut out pictures of food for a pictorial shopping list, or a birthday list, or to make cards for relatives or people from your church.

When you want to teach your child your phone number and address, set it to music (a simple tune you already know) and sing while doing dishes, wiping the table, or dusting together.  Small tots can dust the legs of chairs or tables, or spray and wipe door knobs and light switches. They can be given a small metal creamer and told to water plants by filling that creamer with water *one* time to water each plant, or six times to fill the dog's water bowl.

They learn one to one correspondence (an early math skill) by setting the table- one plate for each family member, one fork for each plate, one napkin for each fork, and so on.

All chores are _great_ opportunities for bonding. I've always found that working together on a project is a wonderful way to foster a spirit of cooperation and togetherness.
Make the chores and daily routines part of your rhythm as a family. Don't isolate the children from real life by creating institutionalized preschools at home. God put them in a family, use the life and routine of your family.

For instance, we have to eat. But we don't have to eat the same way every day. Sometimes we have picnics outside (to a small child a sandwich on a tablecloth in the grass is a grand picnic.. We've even had picnics in the living room on the floor (popcorn, cheese and fruit is a
great nutritious, easy, living room picnic). Sometimes we have had candle-light dinners,
with a fancy table setting and our macaroni and cheese or black bean sloppy
joes, or a fancier meal of chicken and artichoke crepes.

Finish up doing the dishes with some water play in the sink. Give your child a
ride on the vacuum cleaner while you vacuum. Play marching games while picking
up the toys. Talk about things you care about while doing the dishes, cutting up the vegetables for a salad, or making the beds. Weed the garden together, and talk while you're doing it.

 I am much more impressed by a small child who can match socks and fold pillowcases than by a small child who can quote his numbers by rote- the first child knows what
she's doing. It has meaning for her. She's proudly making a contribution to her family. She's building brain connections that matter. I'm not worried about counting, she'll pick it up with out trouble.
The second child has a skill that he understands little, and it's useful for
impressing others, but for all the meaning it has to him in his real life, he
might just as well memorize license plates or commercials. They'd be equally
useless to him *at that age,* and there's no reason they won't be able to pick up the rote memory streams of facts like numbers of alphabet letters later.

Years ago I tried teaching my small people some rote facts that did not have much meaning for them. I did this because I had read about it in a description of one educational approach. According to what I read, children find rote memorization so easy that this is a good time to feed them lots of lists to memorize and they can figure out what it's all about much later. We didn't have a lot of success with this method, although we did have a lot of frustration. One of the things we tried to help the girls memorize was a little song about bacteria from Lyrical Life Science. They almost learned it well enough sing along with the tape, but they could never sing without the tape, and it was always a source of frustration for them. Years later those girls took a biology course, and after their biology class they happened to hear that song again. "Ohhhh," said one of them, "that song makes a lot more sense now. It would be easier to learn now that I know what they are talking about, too." For my children, having some understanding of the ideas behind a concept is vital before they can memorize the facts and details.

So my smaller children may not have learnt the alphabet until they were six, while their neighbors half their age might be reciting the names of the Presidents and the alphabets of three languages.  I believe small children ought to be spending those preschool years helping out around the house, listening to stories, singing nursery songs, reciting Mother Goose, hearing Bible stories,  climbing trees, splashing in puddles, digging in the mud, playing hopscotch, sliding down hills, rolling, jumping, skipping, and having teaparties and making mud pies, daydreaming, and generally " wasting their time "in other seemingly frivolous play while others are inside working over flashcards and workbooks.

There is plenty of research indicating that any early apparent gains made by learning the alphabet at 2 disappear quickly.   By the time kids are 8-10 years old, one would be hardpressed to accurately guess which child learned the alphabet last.

 It doesn't always have to be an either/or situation, of course, but it often is, because parents, being busy people, sometimes focus on academics to the exclusion of other things, and for young children, pretty much everything else *but* academics is more useful and important to their development.

For those interested in learning more, I strongly recommend reading Jane Healy's _Your Child's Growing Mind,_ anything by Ruth Beechick or John Holt, and volume one of Charlotte Mason's six volume series.

And don't forget to play.

$5.00- Education for All, vol 2- the Imagination (and more) issue!- transcript of the imagination talk from the AO Camp meeting, with additional material I had to cut to save time.  
 $5.00- Education for All, a new CM journal,   Feed Your Mind!  This issue contains several articles on handicrafts, outdoor play, nature study and science. See sidebar for purchasing options if you are in the Philippines.

 $3.00 Five Little Peppers and How They Grew Copywork (grades 2/3, carefully selected with an eye toward finely crafted sentences, lovely bits of writing pleasant to picture in the mind's eye, and practice in copying some of the mechanics of grammar and punctuation typically covered in these years.

  $3.00 Aesop's Fables Copywork for Year One!  Carefully selected with an eye toward well written sentences, memorable scenes, and some practice copying sentences that model the basics of capitalization and punctuation.   Suitable for use with children who have already mastered the strokes and letters for basic penmanship.

Picture Study!  Miguel Cabrera's beautiful, diverse families, painted in 18th century Mexico this package includes 9 downloadable prints along with directions for picture study and background information on the artist and his work. $5.00

Common Kitchen:  What's for lunch?  Isn't that a common problem in homeschooling families?  What to fix, what is quick, what is frugal, what is nourishing?  How can I accomplish all those things at once?  We homeschooled 7 children, and I was a homeschooling mom for 29 years on a single income.  I collected these recipes and snack ideas from all over the world.  These are real foods I used to feed my family, my godsons, and sometimes my grandkids.  Includes some cooking tips and suggestions for sides, and for a variety of substitutions.  I think every family will find something they can use here. $5.00

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