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10 Tips for Homeschooling Your Preschooler

My five-year-old Kaspar went to a Montessori preschool for a few years back in Texas. We loved everything about it. When we moved to Seattle last fall, however, we decided to try homeschooling for Kaspar's final preschool year. Now we're hooked, and gearing up to homeschool for Kinder. (We're taking it a year at a time.) To be honest, I was a little reluctant, read: totally freaked out before beginning this journey, but looking back, this has been one of the most fun years of my life. Kaspar's learned and grown a lot, and so have I. If you're thinking about homeschooling in the early years, I encourage you to give it a shot. Here are 10 ways to make it extra awesome.

1. Find Your Posse. There are countless ways to find and interact with other homeschooling families online. Search "your city + homeschooling" within Facebook and you'll find multiple groups dedicated to every homeschooling style under the sun—from classical to unschooling to Waldorf—often broken down by age range. Parents share ideas, set up events, arrange interest-specific playdates, and more. You'll be welcomed to the fold and forging ahead in no time.

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2. Start Something. I started a weekly playgroup with two other homeschooling friends. We wanted our kinder-age kiddos (and younger sibs) to have a regular group of buddies to hang with, so we meet weekly at local parks and follow a loose structure of free play time, an art activity (we've done charcoal drawings, sun prints, watercolors, yoga with a guest instructor, and more) and a nature walk. The group has over 70 members on Facebook and we usually have about fifteen kids each week. It's been a huge hit, and exactly what we envisioned. If you find yourself wishing for something that doesn't seem to be out there, chances are other parents are wishing for it, too. If you build it, they will come.

3. Create Your Rhythm – Most kids, especially little ones, don't respond well to over-scheduling; I tend to focus on just one main activity or outing each day and to alternate between active time and quieter activities, both throughout the day and over the course of the week. Maintaining a loose daily and weekly routine gives us a sense of rhythm and consistency, with plenty of room for improvisation. On Mondays we go to the library for Story Time, we usually have a playdate on Tuesdays, and meet with our above-mentioned play group on Thursdays. Fridays are a stay-at-home and unwind-from-the-week day and Wednesdays can go either way, depending on our energy levels and general vibe; we might meet up with friends at the zoo in the morning, or we might just take it slow and spend the day closer to home.

4. Embrace Your Environment (Your Home is Not a School. It's Okay.) - We don't set aside separate "school" time or space in our home. (Some families do, and that's cool, too.) Instead, our learning takes place very much in the midst of our daily living; I try to involve the kids as much as possible in preparing meals, cleaning up, and doing other kinds of housework (a la Montessori), and they often just play on their own while I make calls or get my own work done. I try to spend a few hours giving them focused attention each day, as well, although those hours aren't always back-to-back. We read a lot together, go for walks, make art projects, and so forth. At first I was a little worried about what Kaspar might be missing out on by not being in school, but rather than try to recreate the classroom experience, I'm focusing on what makes for a great home learning environment, embracing the difference instead of compensating for it.

This is what our kitchen table looks like most of the time.

5. Don't Just Sit There: Learn By Doing. Luckily, kids – by their very nature – are curious creatures who love to learn, so I try to provide select toys and materials to foster these inherent qualities. And when Kaspar gets into a specific subject—right now it's dinosaurs—I have a lot of fun exploring it with him, from finding awesome books at the library (he practiced asking at the Information desk which section he should look in) to checking out fossils at a museum. We've recently set up a monthly "Science Friday" with a few friends (we made Elephant's Toothpaste), and I've been working some basic math into the mix with coins and a piggy bank. In school, it's sometimes a mystery how the subject matter relates to the real world. Homeschooling can be a wonderful opportunity for cultivating real-world learning experiences from the start.

6. Pay Attention to What Works for Your Kid. - Then do that. On that note, while we do have some academic-type workbooks and Kaspar is steadily learning to read, add and subtract, these skills are developing more through our working them into our everyday activities (see above) than through sitting down and practicing them. The latter tends to turn into a battle of wills. I'm often surprised by how my taking a step back from a subject will in some ways free Kaspar up to explore it for himself. Recently, when my toddler Otto was taking a nap, I asked Kaspar to hang out quietly so I could respond to some emails. He interrupted me only a couple of times to ask questions like, "What letter says the 'PUH' sound again?" and then, ten or fifteen minutes later, produced what he'd been working on – a cautionary note to his little brother. "OTTO BEWARE THE DARK SIDE AND THEIR POWERS." Pretty rad.

7. Go Outside. A Lot. - We go for walks at least twice a day, in any kind of weather. We've also planted a vegetable garden, which is perfect fodder for learning about seeds and photosynthesis as well as getting outside to weed and water. Big outdoor spaces and fresh, clean air are just the thing for any pent up boy-energy or for lifting sour moods. And there's nothing like some nature for instant kiddo entertainment. If I feel myself getting burnt out, I take my kids to a small local beach and they get right to work (read: leave me completely alone) for hours.

8. Explore Your Community. We've gotten together with other homeschooling families for a pond life tour with a naturalist at a local park, an educational program at Seattle's Museum of Flight, and more. You might be surprised by what your community can provide in helping homeschoolers get their learn on. Have a favorite doughnut shop? Ask if they'll show some kids around the kitchen. Love your city's art museum? Ask if they provide classes at a special rate for homeschooling groups. Some public school systems even offer classes just for homeschooling kids—kind of like community college for littles—where kids can learn everything from third grade math to robotics to pottery basics.

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9. Be flexible. Library day not happening this week? Don't sweat it. Your kids got really absorbed in making mud pies? Let them play! One of the beautiful things about homeschooling is that you make the rules. And you can go ahead and break them. Don't stress yourself out.

10. Get Inspired. Keeping it fresh is important, for you and your kids. Homeschooling inspiration abounds on Pinterest, blogs, and so forth. (Just be sure to sign off before you start to get overwhelmed.) You can also order curricula online, buy craft or science kits at your local toy or teacher's store, or even join a homeschooling co-op. Stockpile ideas when you're feeling creative and inspired so that you'll have something to return to on those days when you're not.

Have fun homeschooling!

Are you homeschooling? Thinking about it? What would you add to this list?

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Images via Taylor Hengen Newman

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