Whether you are going to homeschool your preschool or pre-K/kinder age child, or simply want to make the most of your time at home with them, the ideas below will keep you on track with what really matters at this age in terms of their education.
These tips are the result of 50+ years of research by many prominent developmental psychologists and educationalists into the roots of superior intelligence, high learning capability and giftedness.
They are the things you can do with your 3, 4, 5 or 6-year-old that will make all the difference to their success with learning in the future, beyond the early years, and enable them to excel in life.
Learning from day-to-day life:
1) Give your child the widest range of life experiences possible. Involve them whenever appropriate and talk to them about everything. Never forget that learning happens everywhere, all day long – for all of us. There are so many teachable moments every day!
2) Take the time to talk in depth to your child and not always be rushing to the next place or activity or appointment. Explain things that you see or that happen in the simplest way possible, at their level, using vocabulary they already understand. Support them with connecting the new words and knowledge to their existing understanding of the world. Use the correct vocabulary for everything, and help them to ‘see’ links between words to help work out what new words mean. Make that extra effort to share your knowledge about the way the world works, in relation to what comes up naturally in your day-to-day lives.
3) Provide plenty of exciting opportunities that will inspire your preschool-aged child to get involved or ask to learn more about something – as well as following their lead at other times during your time together. It has been proven time and again that children (and adults) learn best and retain given knowledge much better when they initiated it themselves (or feel they did) and/or have their own reason to learn it. Any experienced homeschooling parent will confirm this!
4) For anything that your child is asking about or needs to know to understand something else you have explained, create a quick and simple visual model (such as a flow diagram) to show them what is really happening – just as a business person would do as part of a presentation of a new idea or project. This works great for things that are conceptual or hard to explain as your child can’t actually see the whole process of something for themselves. Some good preschool level examples that may come up in your homeschool learning or at other moments: How food gets from the farm to your house, what happens to food in your body after you eat it, how an idea for a toy ends up as a toy in a toy shop, and so on.
5) Encourage your child to enjoy and appreciate the simplest aspects of life – help them see and feel the joy in everyday interactions and events. Take the time to enjoy and talk about their everyday experiences. For example: the food you eat, the nature you see, the conversations you share, the connections you make with people, the resources that make our life easier and so on, will heighten their sensory awareness and their appreciation for all that life has to offer, and therefore will positively affect their level of happiness.
Preschool preparation for academics:
6) If you are homeschooling, follow your child’s lead as to when to formally start teaching them reading, writing, and math. Until then, during the pre-school years, just give them as much exposure to those as possible – talking about the letters and their sounds in your daily conversations, using numbers in relevant real-life situations, use basic mathematical vocabulary such as more, less, the same as and so on as you discuss things. Click here to see a summary of our guidance for math for your preschooler.
7) If you want to ‘teach’ your child something and they are resistant to ‘learning’ or you find it hard to get their interest or truly engage them, use some of their favourite dolls and/or teddies. Set them up to recreate scenes, role-play the concept that you want to ‘teach’ as a game, pretend teddy doesn’t understand something and so needs you to explain it, and so on. Have fun with it and make your child laugh! This is one of the winning ideas behind the Key to Learning at Home approach, and one of the many reasons it is so popular with children (and their parents of course).
8) Read aloud to your child as often as you can, at all times of the day, and keep doing this until they reach an age where they stop asking you to do this anymore – this will be way beyond the pre-school years and may even into their early teens! Talk about what you read – what has happened, how the people feel, different points of views of the characters, help them link the book to another they have read with a similar topic or theme, and so on. This is recognised as the single most effective way to increase your child’s intelligence.
9) Tell your child stories that you have read together in your own words, at bedtime or while driving, for example. Embellish the story with how the characters might be feeling, why they make the choices they do in the story and so on. Tell the same story from a different character’s perspective, to verbalise their possible feelings and thoughts during the course of the story.
10) Give your child as many opportunities to develop their fine motor skills so that when it is time to learn to write, the physical process is easier and natural for them. Finger Gym (story-based fine motor skill activities) by Galina Dolya are excellent for this. And so are the traditional toys such as those that you spin and press to manipulate – see the ideas in the image below. Increase your child’s motivation to use them by making up stories that involve their use. The Key to Learning at Home Artographics module also supports children’s fine motor skills development through exploration of pattern and art. If you homeschool, you should be able to find time to include plenty of these opportunities each day for your child at preschool age.
11) If you are homeschooling, leave worksheets and workbooks for when they are more age-appropriate and have a specific and useful purpose, and stick to hands-on, real-life learning and open-ended tasks. Don’t kill their natural curiosity about the world by expecting them to fill in a sheet or limit their learning by providing closed-task activities with a right or wrong outcome. Give them the opportunity to learn through playing and experimenting with you, with real objects and real or imaginary, open-ended situations and contexts. Keep it fun!
12) Start hands-on ‘playful learning and learningful play’ with your child as soon as possible, to focus on developing your child’s ‘learning abilities’ as a priority. This will build the foundation for the necessary neural pathways early on and ensure your child truly reaches their full potential. Experienced homeschooling parents often comment that their child’s potential was even greater than they realised after following this approach. Click here to see the easiest way to do this at home, in your homeschool or other time with your preschooler, no matter your own level of teaching experience.
13) If your child wants to watch something on a screen, watch at least part of it together, talking about what you see and hear, to help them benefit from an interactive experience instead of a passive one. As with reading, talk about the characters’ feelings, choices, personality traits and so on.
Encouraging a mindset of personal growth and continuous learning:
14) Praise your child’s effort and attitude rather than achievement and results – this should be the foundation of everything you do with your child and in your homeschool. Do this with your child to encourage their participation and co-operation in anything, to teach them to not to be afraid of failure or difficult tasks, and to be comfortable with – and proud of – who they are.
15) Give specific praise and feedback where appropriate. “Good job”, “well done” and other such comments don’t support your child in knowing what they did ‘right’ and what they can improve on. If you want your child to develop a mindset of personal growth, help them recognise where they are in the learning process for something by explaining exactly what it is that they did well.
16) Through conversations with your child, ask them specific questions that encourage them to self-evaluate and recognise the value of being persistent, working hard, accepting and learning from their mistakes, rising to a challenge and so on. Ask them about moments during their day when they found themselves doing one of those things. You could also make this a regular part of your homeschool experience – prompt them to self-evaluate in this way each day.
17) Teach your child about choices. In your day-to-day interactions with your child, teach them that everything we do is a choice – even when we feel we don’t have a choice, it’s because we have already discarded the other options. Recognising that we always have a choice is the first step to making good choices – then we can make a conscious decision based on what we expect each choice will lead to and what the consequences might be.
18) Finally, don’t compare yourself and what you are doing, or your child, with others! For sure, listen to others’ stories and ideas, and if something is a fit for you, great. But find your own path, the one that suits your child(ren) and your family and the rest of your life. Be at peace with this and you’ll be a happier and better parent.