Friday, September 6, 2013

Shifting gears: on Preschool and homeschool

Hello friends!  Happy Friday!

I can't thank you enough for your kind feedback on our kitchen re-do.  We truly had a great time doing it at every phase, and it was both really fun and absolutely nerve-wracking to put those photos up for the world to see.  Thank you for your questions.  I promise to respond to them this weekend, but I wanted to give folks a little bit of time to write in if you have any more.  Feel free to send 'em to me at and I'll answer to the best of my ability.  I do believe we'll have Casey himself in to offer his wisdom after that transformation.  Stay tuned!

So... in the mean time.  Homeschool.  Boy, did you ever have some things to say about that.  

Most of you were all, homeschooling?  What, you mean like what hippies do?  Aren't you concerned that you'll turn your child into some sort of socially deficient derelict?  

And, to answer you, I would say simply: um.... no.  

Actually, I have rather grandiose visions of my child becoming the all-time record-breaking winner on Jeopardy circa 2035.  When Alex Trebec-bot asks, "is there anybody special out there you'd like to thank?" my children will reply without hesitation, shout out to my mom, from whom I learned everything I know! I LOVE YOU MOM! {You could sub the Grammy's or Academy Awards here, I'm not overly picky.}

In all seriousness, the reasons behind our decision to homeschool deserves its own post.  The short answer is: no, I'm not worried about socializing our daughter.  Partly because, well, she's not a dog.  Also because I'm not convinced that there's a lot worth emulating in so many of our public schools right now. (No, that's not an attack on you and your child's school.  That's coming from years of working in and around public schools much later on in a child's education.  For the love, I'm not threatening to kill baby seals or something, just giving my opinion based on my own experience.)  Please rest assured, she has lots and lots of activities to do that involve other children.  We're homeschooling, not locking her in one of those doomsday bunkers.

If she requires therapy as an adult it will be from something else - as yet undetermined - I do that screws up her childhood.

So here's the skinny:

How/where do you get your lesson plans?
This is one of those things I could have done on my own.  Could have, but didn't want to.  I know myself, and I know my fam.  If I had done it by myself, it would have superb the first two weeks and rushed/half done the rest of the time when life gets in the way.  By February we'd be repeating the same four activities and all pulling our hair out.  So I got help.  I started by looking at Montessori curriculum, and folks, it's $600.  Yep.  So that was out.  Then, through the glory of the internet, I came across a year-long curriculum called God's Little Explorers, written by a fellow homeschooling mom for her preschooler.  The best part?  It was free.  FREE!  I got to look at every lesson, every week, every theme and activity before purchasing a for-print version which cost me only $14 (plus the cost of printing it out, about $20 for everything including worksheets for the year.)  

You guys, I'm not all about doing things simply because they're free, but this is awesome.  We are supplementing a little with activities of my own design and the workbooks we already have, but that's only because I'm OCD and couldn't stay out of curriculum entirely.  This is a great program, and for that price (FREE!) you should check it out, too.  

How do you find the time?
The truth is, kids are learning all the time.  At the ripe old age of three, Leah doesn't need 8 hours of focused instruction.  Right now I'm shooting for about an hour and a half of consecutive activity time.  {For the record, "activity time" absolutely can include playing with play dough if it's connected to something we're learning.}  Honestly, that's about all their attention spans can handle.  Some days (like today) we'll go well over that and I'll have to shut things down at two hours.  Some days we may only make it one hour.  Here's the great thing about teaching preschoolers: it's all good!  As long as she is engaged in the activity, she is learning.  

How do you know you're on the right track?  
I don't.  It's lucky that she's still little, because I trust my own knowledge and understanding about what kids need in order to be "school ready."  Will I still be so confident at third grade?  I have no idea.  A good place to start is by doing what teachers do, which is looking at state standards.  There probably aren't any in your state for preschool (there may be; more and more states are adopting preschool standards that align with expectations later on), but you could certainly look at the local kindergarten standards, entrance expectations, etc.  I also looooove this research from the Albert Shanker Institute in DC.  It's a heavy read (in nerd speak, it's a meta-analysis, which means that it's research about a bunch of other research that has been done on what contributes to a "high quality" pre-K experience), but pretty user friendly and definitely worthwhile if you have preschoolers at home, particularly if you're homeschooling.  

Is preschool really that important?
YES!!!  YES, yes, yes.  I can't say it enough.  Yes.  This we know without a doubt.  The quality of instruction kids receive at the preschool level has a lasting effect on building children's cognitive abilities throughout their childhoods.  Yes, preschool is of vital importance. Why?  Because learning builds on itself.  Imagine school as a multiplier.  Let's say that kindergarten will increase your child's overall "learning" by a factor of 2.  So, if your child enters kindergarten prepared and armed with a wide array of background knowledge and vocabulary on which to build - we'll call that a 5 - by the end of the year, your child will function as a 10.  If, on the other hand, your child enters kindergarten without that prep - a 1 - at the end of the year, that same child will only be at a 2.  It will always be this way, even with intervention.  Let's say 1st grade is a multiplier of 3, meaning the first child will end 1st grade at a 30 while the second will only be a 6.  This is how I wound up teaching an 8th grade classroom where my highest reader was reading almost 12th grade material and my lowest was stuck at 2nd grade.  YES, that happened.  Is preschool really that important?  YES.  

Preschool fun fact?  It is estimated that children from typical middle-class families experience 1,000 hours of book-reading before entering first grade, while children from low-income families may only experience 25 hours.  

25 hours versus 1,000 hours.  That, my friends, is why we have such disparity in our educational system.  THAT is how children get left behind.  Because once that happens, there is very little a teacher - any teacher - can do to make up the gap.  

I say none of this to scare you.  Especially since it's Friday and, to quote Marty McFly, that was heavy.  I don't especially care if you're lucky enough to take your child to private preschool, faith-based preschool, in-home preschool, public or homeschool; so long as your child is engaged in some kind of academic prep, they are forever going to have a leg up.  Period.

So kudos, Mama!  Pat yourself on the back (and savor it because, let's face it... there will always be opportunities to fail another day).  

For today, if your kid is in preschool - any preschool - you get an A!

And, with any luck, a shout out from your kid on Jeopardy in like 20 years.  {Disclosure: Alex Trebec-bot probably not included, based on how the whole Dick Clark-bot debacle panned out.  But fingers crossed.}

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