Teaching our older children is already a challenge. However, what do we do when our preschooler says, “I want to do school, too, Mommy”? There are ways to give our little ones what they need at this important stage of life without sacrificing academics for our older children.
Having preschoolers is a time of life that should bring joy and excitement. Our firstborn at this age had our undivided attention, and it was fun. He learned to read at age three because we were both motivated and wanted the best for him. However, our second learned at age five and our third at age seven. What about our fourth, fifth, and sixth? Do we treat them as if they are just in our way? Will they have to be on their own because our oldest is in algebra and absorbs all our time? Every child needs to have his parents’ attention academically, and every child needs to have reading taught as if he is a firstborn. Birth order often determines the reading ability of our children, because our younger ones do not get the attention they need during the pre-reading stage of their lives.
Merely occupying our preschoolers is not a high enough goal. As we consider the preschooler, we must think in terms of three categories: educating, involving, and occupying (only when necessary).
Educating means taking the time to work directly with our preschoolers, using developmentally appropriate activities, just as we did when our oldest was three years old. Ten to fifteen minutes of one-on-one time goes a long way. Toys or games that involve shapes, colors, counting, sequences, sizes, and lacing develop concepts and motor skills to prepare for learning to read and write. Besides the educational value, dedicated time will help our preschoolers feel important and not ignored.
Involving means including our preschoolers in as many of the older children’s activities as possible. This task may require us to reevaluate our curriculum and choose one that focuses on multi-age, hands-on activities. History notebooks, read-alouds, nature walks, and field trips are easy activities to do with a preschooler in tow. When we learn the distances of the planets from the sun, our preschoolers can help pace off the steps, or at least ride on our shoulders as we all march across the park. Preschoolers want to dirty their hands, so let’s make sure we let them while we teach our older children.
There still will be times when we must occupy our little ones. Doing so with the appropriate tools can make a major educational difference and give our younger children the same pre-reading skills as our oldest child had at this age. One of the most effective ways of occupying is having each older child spend time playing with the preschooler, using educational toys, as part of their daily schedule.
It is important, however, that we also have resources that preschoolers can use on their own for extended periods of time. Sitting at the table coloring as the others do math, looking at storybooks while others are reading, and lying on the floor and playing with cars, blocks, or puzzles are easy-to-implement activities.
We must explain what we expect so that it is clear that now is not the time to interrupt us as we work with the older children. Preschoolers need to discover and create their own play. It is amazing how long they can engage in an activity that would bore us in a few seconds. If we set up our house so that everything is not off-limits, our children, born scientists, can explore with freedom. It also helps to provide everyday items, such as pots and pans, containers with lids, film containers, color strips, and other things that stimulate a variety of senses.
Finally, relax and enjoy these years. They go fast, so we need to take the time to see life from the perspective of our preschooler. He is an important, unique creation, starting life with great hopes and enthusiasm. If we provide for his learning needs, allow him to develop independent play and exploration, and help him feel part of the family’s learning adventure, we will be laying a strong foundation for his educational future.