Keeping Kindergarten & Early Years Simple (Homeschooling with Littles & Real Life – Part 2)

IMG_0333One lesson I have learned over the brief years of my homeschooling experience is…don’t start too early. I was that over zealous excited mama of a smart little 4 year old. I was super pumped with the idea of homeschooling my own little flock, that I was confident beginning early would only help my children become smarter, more developed, and more prepared for life.

What could it hurt to start teaching her to read? She might be that brilliant one who picks it up early and will be reading The Hobbit at age 7 or 8. I loved browsing the curriculum catalogs and breathless at all the amazing curriculums available for my preschooler. SO many wonderful options…So I began investing in many different glamorous curriculums.

Most of these struggles really birthed out of my own pure vanity. I wanted to have the smart child that memorized amazingly lengthy poetry and recited it confidently before an audience. I wanted the child that learned to read at 4 years old. Aww…what a nice pat on the back I would get. It was all about me.

Fast forward several years, and you see a strained relationship between mother and daughter because I pushed too hard and too early. Reading lessons became a daily battle. Her love for learning was quickly eliminated. All in the name of getting a head start. This head start quickly became a huge step back. I had to learn the hard way to let go and give my child opportunity to just learn and explore. To play and observe the world around her. When I let go of our vigorous academic load and just give her more time, I found much more peace and joy flowing in our home.

If was only after this time, that I stumbled upon the wisdom and educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason. She strongly recommended that you do not start any formal academics till 6 years of age, and I have definitely seen the wisdom of this advice with my second child. She recommended these early years be a time devoted to developing good habits, character and obedience training, and filling their minds with wonderful good books and living ideas. In this way, the rest of the homeschool journey will be more smooth and peaceful as their little hearts are in submission to the authority in their lives. I am so thankful I have been able to allow my second child and subsequent children enjoy the journey without the pressure.

In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air” (Charlotte Mason’s Home Education, Vol. 1, p. 43).

Isn’t that a freeing idea? Can we let our children spend their early years in the fresh air?

Simply Charlotte Mason has a great series about A Parent’s Chief Duty – Early Years that I’d encourage you to read.

What does the early years look like now in our home? 

Preschool and kindergarten and well into 1st grade are simply a time of reading fun picture books, lots of playing, and a few fun basic workbooks when they feel inspired to join in with the older siblings.

I found my littles love to do what big kids are doing, so having some simple workbooks on hand were really convenient for feeding this interest. We have used the Rod & Staff preschool ABC workbook series a couple times now and really recommend it. (They call them “preschool”, but the content is very much kindergarten materials. We skip the Bible stories ones because we use other Bible resources. We use the A-F set only, as they usually are ready to move on to something else after F. The G-L set are good for 1st grade, if you want to continue.) It is cheap and effective.

Most of what the average kindergarten curriculum include is just picked up through osmosis, so it really can be a waste of money to invest in a full preschool/kindergarten curriculum. The $20 workbook set from Rod & Staff just strengthens the knowledge they picked up through observation of the world around them.

My daughter, Eden (who just turned 5 years old) and I, will be reading through the books pictured above as our Kindergarten reading list this year. I love spending 5-15 minutes first thing each morning filling her little love tank (as my mother used to say). My toddler often snuggles up with us two. Our list includes some fabulous picture books that we’ve enjoyed a few times through now, and are in hardback editions, so they have good longevity. I love the collections style format, because they are so many stories in just one lovely hardback book. You don’t have to deal with flimsy individual titles cluttering up your shelves. Most of them are also very reasonably priced, especially if you compare to purchasing the titles included in each collection individually. This list could easily carry us well into first grade…we’ll see how far we make it. I am so excited to read these books once again with Eden.

After our reading time, she may or may not work on a page or two in her Rod & Staff workbooks while big siblings do their independent subjects. I never push it. That’s it. Reading aloud to your littles is the best early years curriculum.

Here are our “must-read” of the titles pictured above (from left to right):

Eloise Wilkin Stories (Little Golden Book Treasury) - This is our favorite beautiful collection of children’s stories about being Mommy’s helpers, seeing God in nature, and so many more sweet stories.

Frog & Toad Storybook Treasury by Arnold Lobel –  Who can get enough of Frog & Toad? Probably my all-time favorite children’s book. Everything by Arnold Lobel is delightful.

Harper Collins Treasury of Picture Book Classics - Some of our favorites in this collection include From Head to Toe by Eric Carle, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Crictor, and Caps for Sale

Make Way for McCloskey by Robert McCloskey – Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sals can’t be missed!

The 20th Century Children’s Book Treasury – selected by Janet Schulman – This collection includes such titles as Madeline, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Goodnight Moon, Millions of Cats, The Story of Ferdinand, and more.

The Berenstein Bears’ Big Book of Science and Nature by Stan & Jan Berenstein – This is such a fun introduction to science and nature concepts, including calendar, seasons, weather, animals, plants, and the earth itself. Love this book!

A Child’s Book of Character Building (book 1 & 2) by Ron & Rebekah Coriell – A great introduction to various character traits and how to apply them at home, school, play, and displayed in the Bible.

The Complete Adventures of Curious George by H.A. Ray – These collection has been read and re-read numerous time. Lots of laughter and fun.

Mike Mulligan and More: A Virginia Lee Burton Treasury  - Another of my favorite children’s collections!

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne – What’s not to love about Winnie-the-Pooh?

Fairy Tales and Fables by Gyo Fujikawa – one of the most beautifully illustrated collected of classic fairy tales I have ever seen. We also love his A Child’s Book of Poems and A Child’s Garden of Verses.

James Herriot’s Treasury for Children – lovely true animal stories from a veterinarian.

A Beatrix Potter Treasury- the collection I have appears to be out of print, so I linked to another similar complete collection.

Aesop’s Fables for Children illustrated by Milo Winter – definitely the best Aesop’s Fables collection with a wonderful CD as well. Just wish this edition was hardcover.

Uncle Wiggly’s Story Book by Howard Garis – This collection of wonderful stories of the “bunny rabbit gentleman” and his adventures is a great transition from picture books to chapter books. Each story has a lovely emphasis on serving others and character building. The stories are magical and so engaging for kids. We will read this towards the end of the year. My Father’s Dragon (although not pictured) is another favorite transition book.

A Little Book of Manners: Curtousy and Kindness for Young Ladies (or the boy version here)- Emily Barnes

God’s Wisdom for Little Girls or God’s Wisdom for Little Boys – Elisabeth George

A Treasury of Mother Goose illustrated by Hilda Offen – our list would not be complete without this fun collection of Mother Goose.

I also would like to add one of Shirley Hughes Alfie collections to our set this year.

When our littles turn 6 years old, and they begin to express interest in learning how to read, we begin All About Reading pre-reading curriculum, and gradually work about 15 minutes each day through this program, progressing into All About Reading Levels 1-4 over time (usually finishing by the middle of 3rd grade). Alongside phonics instructions, if they desire, we just use a basic 1st grade math book (only if they really want to start math, otherwise waiting longer is just fine too). And then they just sit in on morning time read-alouds with the older siblings. So freeing and sweet. Just another way that we eliminated until there was peace in our home, and the littles still learn so much through simple exploration and observation. Dress ups anyone?

Above all, these early years are a time to allow these littles ones to grow, explore, play, and just be a little child.

If you need more proof as the benefits of delaying formal education, please check out Raymond Moore’s studies, Better Late than Early and materials by Charlotte Mason. As to the benefits of reading aloud, you can’t miss The Read Aloud Handbook and the wonderful resources and podcast put out by The Read Aloud Revival (I don’t use the membership, but the reading lists and podcast are fabulous and free). 

To return to part 1 and the index for this series, visit here.

About Lindsay

Lindsay Edmonds is first a lover of Jesus, wife, mother of four, homemaker, and writer. She loves inspiring women around the world toward simple, natural, and intentional living for the glory of God.

18 Responses to Keeping Kindergarten & Early Years Simple (Homeschooling with Littles & Real Life – Part 2)

  1. Jane Petersons August 22, 2016 at 5:16 pm #

    Thank you for this encouragement! All these books are my favorites from my childhood as a homeschooler, and now it’s been a joy to read them to my daughters. I love that you know the Alfie books by Shirley Hughes – we are huge fans of her! I have several other books by her as well which are beloved in our home – Dogger and her collection of poems for the outdoors is lovely. Love your blog posts – thank you for sharing!!

  2. Amanda August 21, 2016 at 8:56 pm #

    I wanted to thank you, Lindsay, for sharing your homeschool journey. You’re a couple years ahead of me, my oldest daughter is 8 1/2, ( then 6 1/2, 4, 18 months) and your explanation of pushing too hard in kindergarden is a little similar to my experience. I felt confusion as I presented lessons to be fun, but when she didn’t want to do it, it was hard to know how much to let it go or was it a discipline issue. It was hard. Not what I expected for sure. School has been a constant learning and humbling experience for me as a homeschool graduate myself, who thought I knew how to do it!

    I’ve been following your blog for years and was delighted to see your recent posts again. You’ve been an encouragement and inspiration in my homemaking and schooling. Thankyou for your time and willingness to share what’s on your heart.

  3. Rebekah Harris August 21, 2016 at 12:22 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more! With 5 kids, the little ones always pick up so much from their older school age siblings. I have always waited till each one has shown the initiation to learn and tried not to push them. All of them have always picked up what they needed to know when they were ready. Anytime I tried to push them just frustrated them. I also love Charlotte Mason’s advice. My mom didn’t start homeschooling me till I was 7! And I went on to loving school and making great grades. Love all the books you shared we have many of them:)

  4. Jessie V. August 21, 2016 at 8:46 am #

    I’m so excited that you’re blogging again ^_^ Hubbie and I are both 30, just had our 10 year anniversary, he’s a software developer in a start up, and we had five kids close together too. Difference is we live on the east coast :-) your posts have always been encouraging and challenging! Thank you :-)

    Had a resource question for you- I want to add art (historical) this year and I am looking to tie it in with our history (not using a curriculum, just working through world history books + library). Do you know of any good books that show works of art in specific frames of time?

    • Lindsay August 22, 2016 at 10:51 am #

      Wow! Our lives sound pretty similar :) . Congrats to you two! As to art, I love the art portfolios put out by Simply Charlotte Mason. They have them all marked by time periods so it is easy to match up artists for what history period you are in.

  5. Sally August 20, 2016 at 8:51 am #

    I am proud of you for saying the pushing was for you! I tried to give my son a college education in Kindergarten, because I felt I had to prove homeschooling to skeptical extended family. We did much better when I backed off! Simple works all along, too. A great deal of Bible, Literature, History were done through reading together in our family – through college! We had formal curriculum for math and high school science, and used some text books to contextualize or detail or focus. The kids did a high school co op class or two. But for the most part, we did not do “school.” Life was our classroom and we developed a lifestyle of education through commenting and questioning and “let’s find out-ing.” I am not advocating a laissez-faire attitude – we were pretty rigorous in seeking opportunities to learn. It just wasn’t based on a school classroom model. We wanted to emphasize love for learning about God’s world in a family context – and in the end they were well prepared for moving on to a college classroom.

    PS: Nice book choices!

  6. Heather August 19, 2016 at 1:26 pm #

    “Most of these struggles really birthed out of my own pure vanity.” Thank you so much for writing this! I’ve been paralyzed with indecision on what to do for our homeschool year and THIS is exactly why, although I didn’t recognize it for what it was until I read your words. My other homeschool friends with kids in K and 1st grade have really pushed academic book work and I can see how they are already beginning to resent the work but yet I feel the need to make sure my son measures up so I look like a skilled teacher. My prayer now in planning will be to do it with a humble heart. This series has given me such clarity and peace for the coming up school year. Looking forward to reading more!

  7. Brittany August 19, 2016 at 8:02 am #

    Thank you for sharing this series! It is well timed for me and so encouraging and helpful :) . What is your routine like? I read that you aim to complete chores and independent work before 9. Then do you move on to your morning basket/circle time? I realize that different things work for different families but I’d love your input! Thank you!

    • Lindsay August 19, 2016 at 10:36 am #

      This will be discussed in another post in this series…so stayed tuned :)

  8. Sara August 18, 2016 at 8:37 am #

    So many wonderful books on your shelf. My daughter loved George Curious (she always got it backwards)! This is such a wonderful age to homeschool! Have a great year!

  9. Beka August 18, 2016 at 1:21 am #

    Hi Mrs. Lindsay,

    I’ve been a follower of your blog for many years. This is a delightful article – thanks for sharing your homeschool experiences with us! I’m a homeschool graduate myself, now majoring in the early years. My mom taught me how to read very early on (and, more importantly, how to love books!) which I feel really benefited me throughout my life.

    Technically, there’s a difference between formal and informal/naturalistic learning. Formal education with textbooks and curricula are really much more appropriate for 6 and above, as you said. But that doesn’t mean the “li’l ones” don’t do learning – they learn by observing, playing, experimenting, interacting, etc. Informal and age-appropriate learning ie. reading storybooks is great for them at that age and is really a necessary foundation for everything else later on.

    For example, some poeple say that Finnish education means “no learning to read before 6″, but that’s a major oversimplification. In Finland, the emphasis is on positive literary experiences, development of a child’s appreciation for language, etc.

    I feel that in the early years, learning can really be “simply” and a part of everyday life – visiting the mall, doing the grocery shopping, learning to do home chores, cooking together, etc. can be used as fun learning experiences for them. Arts and crafts, doing puzzles, singing together, etc. are pretty much what would they do in a preschool anyway (that can very easily be done at home)

    The important part is really that they develop in all the core areas – physical, intellectual, language, emotional, social, spiritual, etc. Knowing their milestones and observing their development really helps a parent know that they’re on the right track. This is not something to be paranoid or stressed about, just to be aware of because if they need special help in certain areas, it’s very important to get “early” intervention started as early as possible. Putting off any literary exposure until too late (ie. 8) may result in genuine problems being overlooked.

    I feel that the early years are vital and crucial, that they aren’t complicated. Not doing formal learning doesn’t mean “doing nothing” (some might be tempted to draw that conclusion unfortunately), but doing like what you did with your kids and really understanding the unique way young children grow and learn.

    God bless!

  10. Audrey August 17, 2016 at 10:54 am #

    First off, I am really enjoying this well-timed (for me) series, so thank you! Secondly, I’ve found myself in the same boat when it comes to realizing that I pushed too hard in starting my oldest daughter who will be 7 in September and is technically doing “second grade” this year. She is a quick learner, but still very much enjoys her free-play and doesn’t like being forced to do anything. I am thankful that we have been using a Charlotte Mason style curriculum that has eased us into the learning and offered plenty of moments for play in our learning, but now I am struggling with where to go with it. I also have a hard time wrapping my mostly-public-schooled brain around an individualized learning pace instead of “grade levels”. What did you do with your oldest when you realized you needed to back off and take things slower? I already started pulling back on some things last year and we finished well, but now with the start of a new year I find myself struggling again to know how much to push and how much to let go or take slower. My daughter is very strong-willed, so it’s hard to determine because she doesn’t want to do ANYTHING unless SHE decides to do it and some pushing is required with her no matter what I do. With my 3 younger kids I am definitely taking things much more gently, but any practical advice or encouragement you can give me on this would be appreciated!

    • Lindsay August 18, 2016 at 9:36 am #

      Some of the things that helped us back off a bit were: limiting math and reading lessons to 15 min each day rather than trying to cram a whole lesson into every single day. This allowed her to stay fresh without getting overwhelmed. I even allowed her to use a small timer so she could work on her own but stop once the 15 min timer went off. Just 5 min for copywork/handwriting. Every little bit added up over time. I decided to wait on formal grammar and spelling till 4th grade, so we are just starting those this year. My son, Titus, is 7 yrs old and in 2nd grade this year, and he is doing math, handwriting/copying poems/verses, and reading lessons this year, with those same time limits mentioned above. That is the basic subjects he will be doing besides our morning read aloud times (where we read history/science/bible/memory work), which we’ve done all along. Hope that helps!

      • Audrey August 19, 2016 at 11:55 am #

        Yes, thank you! =) I really think setting a timer would help a LOT because that is my biggest struggle – knowing how much is too much (and I do tend to try cramming in the whole lesson even if it goes down-hill). I am also getting my hands on a copy of Teaching from Rest in hopes that it will help me to relax a bit and remind me to rely on God and His strength and peace more and more.

  11. LuAnn August 17, 2016 at 6:44 am #

    This is excellent! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. I look forward to implementing your marvelous ideas. This is very timely as we begin our school year. I will take another look at my approach.

    Thanks again!

  12. Maria August 16, 2016 at 7:46 pm #

    This post is so convicting. My son was reading at 4, and I don’t regret that. He loves reading and reads a lot on his own. But he’s 6 1/2 now, and I want him to Do All the Subjects Properly. We’ve had a rough year with a tired first trimester, adding (and then losing) a baby and a toddler to our home for six months through foster care, and the birth of our baby. We’ve not made much progress in school, and he’s pretty resistant to doing some of the subjects like math.

    Now we’re trying to ease gently back into school. After reading this, I’m going to discuss our plans for this next school year with my husband, and see if we need to eliminate a few things and find a way to contain school to a few hours a day, instead of trying to get a certain (possibly unrealistic) amount done every day.

    Also after reading this post, I know that I need to spend more time reading to the children instead of trying to do formal school, especially with my daughter who is almost three. Yes, I think she could be reading at age four as well, and maybe earlier. But I’m convicted that I need to do school gently and slowly, not pushing her.

    As a piano teacher, I learned that it works better to start kids in piano at ages 7-9, not earlier. They learn much faster at that age and they have basic math and reading down (necessary for reading music.) It takes much, much, much less work for the teacher and the parent when the child is that age. When they are 3-6, the teacher and the parent work terribly hard to get the child to make any progress. Although it feels like a head start to begin a child in piano at 3-6, students who started at 7-9 catch up to the same level in a short amount of time, with far less work on the part of the parent and teacher, and much less pain and frustration for the student. I don’t know why I thought regular school would be any different.

    • Lindsay August 17, 2016 at 5:37 am #

      Marie, I’ve had that same experience as a piano teacher as well. I definitely would encourage you to try to keep schooling to the morning hours and aim to be done by lunch at the latest. 2-3 hrs is a good goal, and shorter for youngers. Charlotte Mason suggested that as well, so that afternoons could be entirely for free play, or handiwork/art style play. It has been a fabulous model for our family, and no one gets burned out. She encouraged a goal of no more than 5-15 min per subject for most of the elementary years, so as not to over stress the brain and keep focused attention. Once they start getting tired, or distracted, that’s the signal to close the books for another day. You won’t regret spending more Time with real books over workbooks. :) Praying the Lord gives you the wisdom you need, as He so faithfully does.

  13. Erin August 16, 2016 at 10:10 am #

    I’m really enjoying this series! Like you, I was super eager with my oldest, and I got her started on workbooks when she was (gulp!) 2 1/2! Needless to say, those workbooks were barely touched as I realized more and more that she didn’t need anything formal in the early years. I’ve since discovered Sonlight, and I have loved the emphasis on simply reading good books. (I recognize quite a few books on your reading list from what we’ve read over the early years!)