Most of my recent homeschooling posts have been a bit Amirah-centric, and in the last week or so four people have asked me what Eli was up to, and one asked me in general about my approach to preschool education. So, here are my thoughts.
Before the age of 4, all kids really need to do is play, cuddle, hear stories, sing songs, play at mommy's feet while she davens, help out around the house, get some help reigning in their yetzer harah, and talk about Hashem and the world around them. And get loved up all the time by their mama and papa. That's it. Well, maybe a little food. :) Kids this age are learning constantly, and mostly through osmosis. Give them a rich environment and their brains will be adding plenty of wrinkles without any formal efforts.
My "curriculum" for ages 4 and 5 isn't all that different. Maybe more reading, and we get the alphabet and alefbet down pat. We talk about sounds a lot (Hebrew and English). In fact, Eli spelled his first word today ("cat"). He knows the sounds of the letters. Oral spelling is great practice for getting ready to read. And so is talking about what letters/sounds words begin and end with. They can write letters if they want to, but for some children like Amirah, small motor skills can be a big challenge and waiting until age 5 or 6 is so much better for them. If your child is crying or upset with learning time, then he's just not developmentally ready for it or you're overwhelming him with too much information. Follow his cues, and learning will be an exceedingly pleasant experience.
When Eli seems ready, I'll start reading lessons, but when is entirely up to him. Amirah wasn't really into it until she was about 5-1/2 or 5-3/4, and writing didn't really start to take off with enthusiasm until the last couple of months (right after her 6th birthday). I really strongly believe that whether a kid starts reading at 3 or at 6, with the same rich home environment they'll be at the same level either way by the time they're 8. There's no reason to push, as tempting as it is if you are an enthusiastic parent who gets a thrill watching your child learning new things.
So, with all that, here is Eli's routine:
In the morning after some free play time, all the kids come together for davening and torah stories. The davening lately has been terrific. Even Avi sits in his own chair, opens his siddur, asks for the right page, and sings with all his might. Having all four of them davening along with me is really, really a lovely way to start the day. After that I read parsha stories for about 15 minutes, then other torah or gedolim stories (gedolim are great Torah scholars) for 15 minutes. During this time they can all color and draw. They each have their own box of pens and there's always a stack of paper in a tub on the table. After that we sing our two new Hebrew songs for the week, and review ones we've already learned. Then Eli and Raizel go play while I work with Amirah on kodesh (religious) studies.
After about an hour, I send Amirah to go play and I work with Eli one-on-one for about thirty minutes. We're using the wonderful Sha'ah shel Menuchah kindergarten book for alef bet. (The one odd thing about this series is the Kindergarten book does not lead directly into the 1st grade book, where you suddenly go from learning the alef bet to being expected to read whole sentences. We switch to the Migdalor program after kindergarten.)
Then we spend a few minutes working on letters. I get $2 books from the teacher supply store. We've gone through maybe two or three different alphabet books, and I'd say now he knows his alphabet plus the sounds of just about all of the letters pretty well. He also enjoys forming letters, but I leave that entirely up to him. The one thing I don't like about most alphabet books out there is that they put so much emphasize on writing. It's a rare book that just focuses on the letters and their sounds ("phonemic awareness"). I may start him on reading lessons here pretty soon to see if he takes to it already. He's showing many signs that he might.
Eli also really enjoys doing math. Again, I mostly just get the $2 preschool workbooks from the teacher store, and we also do a lot of real life math (i.e. counting mangoes at the grocery store, baking, etc.), and playing with a bunch of math manipulatives I have in a box. Next month, we'll start the Saxon Kindergarten math book. It's pretty perfect for 4-year-olds if they enjoy math. After that, we start the Singapore Kindergarten math series which is more challenging than Saxon. I do view math as entirely optional at this point.
After we have a snack, Amirah comes back for her chol (secular) block of learning time, then we eat lunch. After lunch we do history, science, or art, depending on the day. These are usually everybody activities, except for the mapwork we do for history. History is a lot of story reading. We're studying ancient history this year, and are currently on the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, approaching the time of the Exodus. All four kids will always be studying the same period of history. That simplifies at least one subject a bit! The science experiments we do are a lot of fun for everyone, and Amirah keeps track of our work on her science notebook. The art projects we do can also be adapted to any age.
So that's pretty much it! People often (really often!) ask how I manage with all four while doing learning time, and I always say that for us it's just a matter of habits. They know what to expect in our daily routine. Eli knows that he has a nice amount of play time, then davening and story time, then play time, then learning time, then snack, then play time, then lunch, then everybody learning or other summer adventures. He just knows what to expect. Avi is the only one who occasionally gets out of sorts, but I can usually just scoop him up into my lap and give him a crayon and a piece of paper and he's happy again. Amirah is also able to do some of her work independently too and I'm getting little glimpses of how when Eli needs to step up his learning time in a couple of years, it will all fit together.
Raizel is pretty much just going along for the ride. She loves davening and singing. She may be one of those kids who learns to read by osmosis at age 3! She's constantly asking what different words say and what letter this or that is, and trailing her finger along the words as she davens. She can find some words in the siddur, like Hashem's name, "baruch", "shir", etc. She's my little powerhouse, and the queen of berachos (blessings, as in she's the first to remember to say them when eating or seeing something, etc.).
So that's the gist of what we do with Eli. It's a very nice rhythm we've gotten into here, and I can't say enough what an absolute, total pleasure it is to be learning at home. Our lives are not full of crazy rushing out the door and all over the place. Our lives are simple and satisfying, and I have an ever-present deep sense of gratitude to Hashem for what we are doing for our children, and for Hashem bringing me exactly the husband I needed before I even knew what I needed. Gratitude doesn't even scratch the surface of what I feel. Good night, and shavua tov!