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My eldest daughter just turned 3 recently, along with several of her friends. As everyone is signing up and preparing for preschool, we get a lot of questions about whether she’s going to attend preschool, or which school she’ll be going to. Since I myself was homeschooled, people who have known me a while are not surprised when I reply that “we’re going to homeschool!”
We do get some questions when I mention homeschool, which I love to answer, and one of the big ones right now is what does homeschool look like at 3?
What do you DO all day?
Every day, there are many learning opportunities for kids. You don’t have to sit down and plan out an elaborate daily schedule where you entertain your preschooler every waking minute. In fact, I would encourage you to do just the opposite. While children thrive on routine, if you try to get most young children to do something at a specific time you will both end up frustrated. Have you ever been running late for an appointment and told your 3 year old it’s time to get in the car? Exactly.
Instead of spending hours planning and stressing, try including your child in your day-to-day activities.
I know what you’re thinking. “Small children and sharp objects and hot stoves. You’ve lost your mind.” Hear me out. There are lots of things kids can help with in the kitchen that are perfectly safe. One of my favorite things about homeschooling is that you can figure out what works for your family.
Set your supplies on the kitchen table, push a chair up to the counter, or get a kitchen helper tower. Let your child carry dishes or ingredients to the work space. If your family eats cereal for breakfast, let your child pour the cereal and/or milk in their bowl. You can give them the full containers, or pre-measured amounts. If you love to cook a hearty breakfast, let them help you scoop and measure and stir. This is a perfect time to talk about colors, count how many scoops of an ingredient you’ve added, or practice reading words in a recipe. And now you’ve not only started out your morning with the most important meal of the day, but you’ve also practiced math or phonics or fine motor skills!
You can do the same with your other meals as well. Young children love to carry, stir, count, assemble, and watch you. They are spending time with one of their favorite people, and building life skills. As you both get more comfortable working together in the kitchen, opportunities will open up for you both to learn new things. Maybe you teach your child new kitchen skills, such as stirring a pot of food on the stove or cutting up veggies. Maybe you try out a new recipe together and talk about how it looks and smells and tastes.
Related: Cooking With Young Children
I know there’s some debate about whether children should be made to do chores. But the house has to be cleaned one way or another and right now they think it’s fun. Use that to your advantage. It takes a little longer to get things done at first, but in a few years when your kids are putting away their own clothes and vacuuming the living room and washing the dishes, you’ll be thanking me. The theory is that by starting early you’ll also have to argue with them less about doing chores later on. I’ll let you know in a few years how that goes but I’m not making any promises.
Either way, education is about preparing your kids for the rest of their life, and one of the things we should be teaching our kids is responsibility. Give your child a few daily chores, such as taking their plate to the sink after a meal or picking up toys before bed. As they become more consistent and capable, you can add new chores. When you both do just a few things every day, it helps you have more time in the long run to spend on other activities. And again, you’re spending time with your child!
This is the area where your child is really learning the most. To us as adults, it looks like they’re running and yelling and that’s about it. But, to a young child, they are Batman and they’re saving the world. Children have a need to move; to run, jump, climb, crawl, and observe. I have fond memories of hours spent outside catching tiny lizards, and digging in the dirt, and spraying my siblings with water, and watching birds and squirrels, and playing games.
Play can be structured, but it doesn’t have to be. I like to allow my daughter some free play every day, with no TV running or any distractions. I take the time while she is playing to recharge or work on things I need to do. We mostly do indoor play depending on the weather, but when we get the opportunity I love to go to the park and then stand back and watch. Many times she chooses to go down the slide or spend a half hour on the swing.
If you do want some structure, there’s also lots of options. Coloring in a coloring book or drawing on a blank sheet of paper encourages you to talk about colors with your child while working on fine motor skills and fostering creativity. Scissors and glue are also great, and there’s lots of different worksheets available. We also love things like puzzles, board games, pretend play, and Playdough.
So what does homeschool look like at 3?
It looks like life! It’s spending time with my daughter, seeing what she is interested in, reading books, running, swinging, exploring, and talking. Conversation and a desire to learn are key. The great thing about homeschool is that you are never too old to learn. If your child has a question you can’t answer, you can look it up together. If you want to try a new recipe or learn a new skill, go for it! Read books together about favorite animals, turn in YouTube and exercise together, whatever you want to do.
There is no set curriculum and you as the parent decide the expectations. If you want to learn the same things as a public preschool teaches in a year, go for it. If you want to allow the child to choose what they want to learn, do that. Don’t feel discouraged if you aren’t “doing enough”. I assure you, your child is learning something new every single day.