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Research says to delay academics

Research says to delay academics!

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Research says to delay academics

CC image courtesy of Leslie Show on Flickr.
Recently articles about this Stanford research keep popping up in my news feed. It says we’re sending our kids to school too early. And that it is possibly why we have such a huge amount of attention deficit disorder later.

And they talk about how this isn’t the case in other countries, where kids aren’t sent to school until later.

Denmark is one example. And they make mention at the end that kids in Denmark have access to “reasonably good pre-kindergarten” (Denmark’s universal preschool)…and that this is “woefully lacking” in the U.S. This was interesting to me as preK in the U.S.,  more often than not, tends to include academics. So I looked up what Danish preschool is like.

Guess what? Danish preschool is play-based. Not what we see in the vast majority of U.S. preschools.

From that article:

Scandinavian preschools are heavy on the play and self-directed learning…

So Danish kids are nearly all in preschool from an early age…but it’s play based, developmentally appropriate…and they don’t start school until a whole year after our kids in the U.S. do…and they have significantly less issues …possibly because of it.

At the end of the article:

One interesting hypothesis is posed: did attending school later allow kids more time to develop through unstructured play? Developmental psychology research emphasizes the importance of imaginative play in aiding children’s emotional and intellectual self-regulation. “Children who delay their school starting age may have an extended (and appropriately timed) exposure to such playful environments,” the study noted.

(Emphasis mine.)

If it’s true that the extra time for unstructured play is what is causing the huge difference in numbers of attention deficit…it appears that Denmark, and countries with similar practices, really GET child development. The U.S….not so much.


So the research again and again says that it’s a mistake to push academics early…And yet our nation keeps pushing kids into academics earlier and earlier. What we adults learned as children is being taught in younger and younger grades these days! We’ve all noticed it.

And so some of us homeschool.

And then what do we read ALL. OVER. Homeschool groups. On social media. EVERY. FLIPPING. DAY??
(No joke. Just about every day!)

“What’s the best curriculum for a 3 year old?”

(Or insert some other inappropriately young age for academic work.)

Or some other similar question about getting started on academic work with a toddler or preschooler.

Formal academics are NOT age appropriate yet.

Let me say this again.

Teaching young children…2, 3, 4, and yes even 5 year olds…
Formal, structured academics are

This drives me absolutely BONKERS, how common this question comes up and how many many MANY responses come in with resources to curricula and printables to use with littles. Mountains of it. Because there’s a huge market for it. Because parents don’t get how inappropriate it is.

Don’t believe me?

I have a Bachelor’s in child development, and this stuff was DRILLED. Into. My head. Throughout. My education. But don’t take my word for it. Do your own research on early childhood development.

img484459333ddaba8eEspecially check out the foremost authority on early childhood education…the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). They rock. They were our gurus when I was in college, getting my degree.

Their website is stuffed with info, so a bit overwhelming…I recommend clicking on the “For Families” link at the top, which will take you to the section geared towards families with young children. Lots to explore there…I especially recommend the section called “Topics,” lots of great articles there.

But make sure to check out the “What to look for in a program” link. Also the “Signs of quality” link. They talk about what a quality preschool program looks like. This can give you ideas for what you can create in your home.













Notice there is NO MENTION of lots of academic work. No worksheets or workbooks, no seat work, no structured academic curriculum. NONE.

Because guess what? No matter how cute and fun the worksheets are, and no matter how enthusiastic the child may be about them…Worksheets are just not appropriate for early childhood. Read that article if you don’t believe me. It’s an eye opener.

The curriculum NAEYC advocates for early childhood is PLAY BASED. Hands on, enriching, life learning, because THAT is what is developmentally appropriate for this age group. And their website is chock full of ideas for how to appropriately fill your child’s life with age appropriate, quality learning, so DIG IN!! Check out the teacher sections for activity ideas too!

Here is an excellent article by NAEYC that you really should read. It’s all about how academic rigor in early childhood looks very different than later on. Developmentally appropriate practice explained for preK teachers so they can use it to explain to others…but great read for you as well!

My point is this…


Unless it’s something play based, it’s not going to be developmentally appropriate anyway!! So save your money!!

What IS appropriate?

  • First and foremost: Play with them
  • Take them on walks
  • Talk with them constantly, about everything you see and do!
  • Read, read, read…then read some more! If you do nothing but play and read good books, you’ve done an EXCELLENT JOB at preschool!
  • Do chores around the house together
  • Run errands together
  • Have lots of play dates with friends
  • Go to the park
  • Play in water
  • Play with animals
  • Walk in the woods…get out into nature regularly if you can!
  • Dig in the backyard
  • Get dirty!
  • Go on lots of field trips: farms, zoo, kids museums, aquariums, behind the scenes tours, outdoor concerts
  • Go swimming
  • Travel
  • Sing lots of songs
  • Do lots of open-ended (very important they are open-ended at this age!) art projects
  • Cook together
  • Have picnics
  • Take drives
  • Go to the library regularly
  • Watch tv together (sparingly…but let’s not demonize tv…it’s a great tool and it’s here to stay! Moderation is the key here.)
  • Play on the computer together (same as tv…used sparingly with little ones, it can be a great tool!)
  • Play with letter and number magnets on the fridge
  • Play card and board games
  • Look at clouds
  • Watch the sunrise and set
  • Look at the stars and moon
  • Go bird watching
  • Draw with sidewalk chalk outside
  • Climb trees together
  • Ride bikes together
  • Draw together every day
  • Paint together
  • Build things with loose parts (pipes, blocks, rocks, wood, sticks, cardboard, etc)
  • Make forts!
  • Play in a stream
  • Make and play playdough
  • Play in a sensory tub (check Pinterest for lots of sensory activity ideas for preK)
  • Glue things together
  • Break something apart (old toasters or other appliance…thrift stores are great for this!)

And THEN, maybe learn how to write the letters of their name. And after that is accomplished…then work on building their name in the correct order with those letters. But do it as a game…Maybe start with the fridge magnets. Sidewalk chalk outside…you writing their name on their drawings and paintings. Keep it casual. No direct instruction, just FUN! No correction if they try and do it wrong. Leave it be.

Your goal for the early years should be to fill their life with ENRICHING EXPERIENCES for them to draw upon later…which will later lead to them having a frame of reference as they dive into academics when it IS developmentally appropriate!

No, I don’t mean, lecture them every step of the way…just let them experience it and soak it all up with them! Ask appropriate questions here and there…NAEYC has great info on that sort of thing. They have a book called Powerful Interactions: How to Connect with Children to Extend Their Learning you may want to check out.

They also have an article, “Tips for Talking with Children“, which starts on pg 8 of that PDF.

And another great thing I learned, which Bev Bos is a huge advocate of (early childhood guru and NAEYC member, based in the Sacramento area where I went to school) is to frequently carry a clipboard and ask your child to “Tell me your story.” Have them dictate their many stories they will have inside them. This promotes early literacy, and shows them how important their words are, and the value of writing them down, as you can read them back to them for years to come!

Also have them tell you the stories of their drawings. Maybe not every one…but as often as they feel inclined. Write it right on the drawing, with their permission.  Always ask permission…it shows respect for their work. And ask where is ok to write it. They may prefer it on a separate sheet of paper. That’s ok too. Follow their lead.

Speaking of Bev Bos…you have to watch this video of her. She has some truly excellent things to say about young kids:

Some great quotes from the video:

Interviewer: When we talk about child development, what are the basics?

Bev: People talk about reading, and writing and arithmetic being the basics. [shaking head] Those are very complex processes…and they have to be based on the basics. You have to have the basics first! Then you can do what people call the basics. The number one basic for everybody on this planet is wonder. Children are born with it….Then, the second basic is discovery. Everybody needs to discover it on their own. That’s an environmental issue. We need to establish environments where kids can do the discovering on their own…The experiences have to be real and they have to be authentic.
(emphasis Bev’s)


If it isn’t natural, relevant to the child and physical…we forget ’bout 99% of what we just learned.


Interviewer:  When you look around your school, what are the most important things you look for?

Bev:  [No hesitation whatsoever] It’s experience. Experiences to attach words to. And your own experiences to attach words to. You know, experience is not the best teacher, its the only teacher!

Talking about things we need in an early childhood learning environment:

Kids need to make their own dolls, they need to make their own things. They need loose parts. Pipes….rocks and stones. Water. Things to manipulate. Blocks. All math concepts are worked out in blocks.


The other thing that I think is so infinitely important about young children…what we have to understand about them is that when they’re young, learning is like this [arms wide] they have to use too much! It has to be way out there. Too much paint before they can narrow it down and paint a picture they have to have too much paint. Too much shaving cream. Too much of everything. Things have to run over.


So, as you can see…there’s no place for worksheets and force-fed learning. It’s all about hands-on, REAL LIFE experiences for this age group, or they aren’t getting anything out of it. For real.

For early childhood, play IS their curriculum.

It’s how they learn. 

So stop stressing about whether they know their colors, their shapes, their letters, their numbers, and on and on and on…they’ll get there. This stuff isn’t rocket science. And unless they have some actual developmental delays, I guarantee they’ll learn most if not all of this as they play anyway.  So STOP. STRESSING!

Just enjoy the play stage!

Because soon enough you’re going to be up to your eyeballs in reading and math curriculum and you’re going to truly miss the days of just building forts and making mud pies! TRUST ME!!

And comfort yourself in knowing that what you are doing IS DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE!!!

It really is! I’m not pulling your leg! Read all the articles I’ve linked above! And if you need more proof, here’s some more:

No More Worksheets

How to Let Go of Letter of the Week in 5 Easy Steps (This requires you to enter your email for the pdf download…but the article is worth it! Excellent read!)

Do Worksheets Belong in Preschool? And here’s the brochure they link to in the article…their link is broken, so I found it on the net elsewhere.

Play-Based vs Academic Preschools

And here’s a fantastic article by a homeschool mom about what preschoolers should know, just to make you feel better and know that you ARE doing enough!:
What Should a 4 Year Old Know?


Relax, you’ve got this. Just enjoy your baby. And remember they really are just a baby still.

Trust the experts and the research, set up an enriching environment and daily routine, and JUST PLAY!

I’m not kidding…PUT. The curriculum. DOWN. Right now. Put it down.
Stop Googling preschool curriculum….close that web browser….and go outside and play in the dirt with your kid.

Do it. NOW.

Don’t make me use my stern voice.

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Curriculum doesn't work for every homeschooler,

Curriculum doesn’t work for every homeschooler

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Curriculum doesn't work for every homeschooler, HomeschoolRealm.comAre you like me and you’ve tried a multitude of different homeschool curricula only to have them fail to work for you?

If you are having a difficult time finding something that works for homeschooling your children, you may relate to this….

I have a new plan for the new year. Yes, another one.

We’ve still not had a super successful plan and I’m determined to change that. I’m not giving up! I WILL find a way that works for all of us, if it kills me!

Near the end of last year I finally had to face that curriculum doesn’t appear to work for us. Even excellent curriculum like Pandia Press and Elemental Science create.

I still highly recommend these curricula, for those that do well with curriculum…but my kids just didn’t get into them and I’m done trying and failing at packaged curriculum. (Except math. Math Mammoth, for some reason, seems to work for us.)

I can’t really say exactly why curriculum hasn’t worked for us, but I suspect it’s because my kids, like me, like to be able to follow their own interests each day. And that changes almost daily.

So maybe, picking a curriculum that lays out every day’s or week’s lessons for an entire school year just feels too much like a cage to my kids and I.

And as we fall behind on where we “should” be on the curriculum throughout the year,  as we always do, I feel more and more like a failure.

I’m done feeling like that. There’s nothing WRONG with me. I just do things DIFFERENTLY than the people those curricula are designed for.

I do WISH that I could follow a curriculum. I think every homeschool curriculum that exists is designed for the types of people that can follow a schedule and stick with a plan. It would make homeschooling much easier, I think. But that’s not me.

stick-abilityI’ve talked about this before…I’m more of a “hare”. I deal better with short bursts of enthusiasm, following my passions and interests in shorter sprints, than with a tortoise’s steady, methodical, marathon pace that curriculum requires. (Read Julie Gilbert’s fantastic, life-changing book Stickability to learn more about tortoises vs hares.)



Cowgirls-Guide-to-Riding-Wild-DonkeysFrom another fantastic read:  I’m also a wild donkey rider.

I tend to have wild donkeys (passionate interests) that take me for short, wild rides throughout the year. I never seem to get the slow and steady, more dependable and methodical donkey.


Now, I figure it IS possible that there’s a curriculum out there that would work for my kids and I, but I’m not wanting to waste any more time trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I will still see if I can pull ideas from the curriculum that I have, but I am hoping that going it freestyle  might be the way to go for us.

I know there’s plenty of ideas for activities and books and videos out there to do this. I’ve found tons!

I am pinning like crazy and getting really excited by what I’m finding!  Filling up my Pinterest boards with all the cool activities I’d like to share with my kiddos.


I am using my Pinterest boards as my “red list”, my someday, my brainstorms…Learned this from Julie at Homeschooling-Ideas. LOVE HER! She has a red list/amber list/green list system that is changing my life!! You can read all about it in her free ebook, Planned Spontaneity.

I have been thinking for awhile on how I want to pull all my ideas together for my kids. Of course I want them hit the main subjects:

          • Math
          • Social Studies
          • Language Arts
          • Science
          • The Arts

…But it just didn’t feel right to study each subject separately.  In real life, subjects aren’t segregated. Everything is intermingled in real life. I tend to be more concerned with real world learning…since I’m preparing my kids to live in the real world, I’d rather be teaching them in a way that makes more sense in the real world.

I have believed for awhile that all subjects (though less with math) fold nicely into history topics. I’ve talked about this before…science folds nicely into history by studying the science and scientists of the time period we’re exploring…as does art and music. And once I thought about it, I realized that language arts really is a part of every subject, if I have them reading and writing about what they are studying. So, with that in mind I knew I wanted to build something where it’s all integrated and revolves around the main history topic we are studying at the time.

So then I asked myself: “What exactly do you want them DOING regularly?”

And I realized that
the actual academic subjects were secondary in my mind to the experiences I wanted them to have.

My old child development training, ever present in the back of my mind: It’s the PROCESS, not the product.

So I made a list….In regard to their learning, I want them to regularly:

  • Read something
  • Write something
  • Watch something
  • Listen to something
  • Play something
  • Create something

After thinking on it for awhile, I realized that this would enable them to experience everything with all their senses and hit all learning styles. Of course, it’s possible that learning styles are a myth, as this article discusses.

But that article also says that we should “pluralize” our teaching, by teaching different ways to ALL kids. So I figure my idea works well with this in mind! 🙂  Apparently all children should have all these experiences: tactile, auditory, visual, etc…because ALL kids, regardless of their primary learning style (if they do exist), benefit from the diversity of experiences.  Good thing because I never could fully pin down my kids’ learning styles.

So here’s my big epiphany:

I realized that this list–  Read something (books, articles…), Write something (journaling, blogging, essay writing, poetry, creative writing….), Watch something (documentaries, educational programs, short educational YouTube videos…), Listen to something (music from the time period we’re studying, podcasts on an educational topic, audiobooks and stories, reading out loud…), Play something (educational board games, dice games, card games, online games…), Create something (art projects, science experiments, stop motion animation, photography…)  could be my framework, instead of structuring everything around the subjects of history, science, language arts, etc etc.

I can still keep the traditional subjects in mind when designing activities, and I should, but that stuff really only matters to me, the adult. The kids could care less what academic subjects they are experiencing, they only care about what they have to DO.

I have come to realize that what I’m looking at creating is a more child-centered approach.

Side note: I don’t feel like what I’m talking about is unschooling. I feel like unschooling is a somewhat different thing, involving trusting that your kids will get what they need, education-wise, without your interference. I don’t agree with this philosophy entirely, and still stay quite involved in my kids learning, as I don’t feel they have the ability to know enough to get a balanced education without some experienced help from an adult. They don’t know what they don’t know. 

I guess you could call this–
Experience based learning vs. Subject based learning
Meaning, I am basing their education around their actual experiences, instead of basing it on hitting specific subjects. The subjects are secondary.

So, with all this in mind….this is going to be an interesting year! I have a lot of great ideas and plans for this coming school year, using these stations as my framework. I will write another post specifically on how this is going to work, when I finish sorting it all out.

Homeschool Stations, www.HomeschoolRealm.comBut the gist of it is this:

The kids will work their way through stations throughout the week, with some stations required every day and some only on specific days. I will provide options at each station, so they will still be following their own interests, and have choices. The actual material covered for each station will come from the historical theme we are studying that month. And these themes are being chosen by the kiddos.

I asked my kids recently what time period they’d like to start with in the new school year, showing them the options in our Usborne Encyclopedia of World History, and they both immediately said “Prehistoric”. So we are starting with the broad theme of Prehistoric Times. And each week we’ll go through the prehistoric section of our Usborne Encycopedia and pick what specific details we’ll be learning about.

With this in mind, I’ll fill each station with activities and materials that fit within the specific subject we are on. At least as much as possible. Similar to a unit study, but with the activities being the prime framework instead of the school subject.

I’m excited to get started!! More details and pics to come!!

POST NOTE: Check out my complete article on “experience-based learning” that I wrote later, once I had more time to hash it out and try it out.

Also come join our very active Facebook group: Homeschooling with Experience-Based Learning!

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Back to relaxed homeschooling

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I wrote this post back in May, but never hit “publish”, for some reason….so, better late than never, right? 🙂  I’m predating it so it is posted in May on my site, but for those of you reading this because I just posted the link on FB in August, you now know why I posted this in August. 🙂

Homeschooling isn’t suppose to be ALL fun and games, and I think it’s unfortunate that so many bloggers do make it seem that way. But it also shouldn’t be a drag, or so stressful that it’s difficult to enjoy.

Our homeschooling had been more of a drag in recent months. I was trying hard to fit into a more traditional model of homeschooling…sticking to a schedule and using various curriculum. But on the one hand I suck at schedules/routines (just NOT gonna happen, no matter how much I will it!), and on the other hand, my kids were not enjoying the curriculum I chose for them.

Don’t get me wrong, the curriculum we were using is truly excellent.

History Odyssey
and Elemental Science  are both really great resources! I highly recommend them to anyone that does well with a set, year-long curriculum!

But my kids weren’t digging it. It got to the point where I was putting off even saying it was time for lessons because they’d groan and hem and haw and just become little pills. Learning is supposed to be enjoyable!! Not every second of it, but most of it should be interesting and not horrible! Otherwise, not much is going to stick!

I’m not sure what it is about the curriculum that didn’t appeal to them…I think for my daughter at least, none of the topics were ones that she chose. It was all outlined by the curriculum. Sure, I could deviate, and I did, but there’s only so much deviation you can do before the curriculum itself becomes moot.

And I was constantly feeling like I was behind! No matter how much work we got done (which was never really that much), I was always stressed because we were behind where we were supposed to be for the year, to be able to be done with that level book at the end of the school year! Talk about pressure!

So I went and met with my ed coordinator at our homeschool charter (forgot I could do that! I’ve never actually needed advice like this in the 3 years we’ve been with ERCLC!) and we talked about how the kids weren’t enjoying our curriculum. She said to ditch the curriculum if it’s not working, and try a more relaxed approach, learning in ways the kids actually enjoy! So that is: nature walks, documentaries, educational tv, reading all kinds of things, more field trips…so this is what it’s looking more like now:

And I’m feeling MUCH more relaxed!

I’m finding that without a set curriculum that feels like it should be done by the end of the year, that we can just learn what we want, when we want. Now, I’m not fully embracing unschooling, mind you.  I know it works quite well for many families, but I am not entirely comfortable to just let the kids steer the way entirely.  I am still driving this boat, but I’m really paying attention to what they are interested in, and keeping their feelings in mind at all times. So when Maeven is fully immersed in a project (which is often the case), I let her be. But later, when she’s come up for air, I request a page of math be done (Math was the only curriculum I’ve stuck with…for whatever reason, it still seems to work for us if we just try to do a page a day or so), or a video be watched, or a book be listened to…

And I’m trying to do more field trips and activities outside the house that are educational. Tyren went to music camp during Spring Break (and LOVED it!), both kids took a cooking class, Tyren took a drumming class, and we’ve been doing nature trips with friends every couple of weeks. We also continue to watch The Amazing Race religiously, and have been catching episodes of Cosmos when we find the time. And I always sprinkle in educational videos I’ve found here and there…some short, some full documentaries.

But without an agenda, I’m actually feeling pretty good about how things are going now. Funny because before I had no agenda and was just floundering. Then I tried the opposite, trying to schedule and plan more, and that floundered. Now I’m back to going with the flow, and for some reason it seems to work now. Probably because it’s really more of a hybrid of no-agenda and having a bit of a plan…merged together nicely and constantly watching for more cool and interesting things to expose the kids to.

Also…and this is HUGE! I’ve discovered a new FABULOUS website! It’s Homeschooling Ideas, and while the site is very busy and normally I’d just not take the time to explore a site that looks like this, not knowing where to start…I’ve found that there are some fantabulous resources on there! One that is changing my life is this ebook: Stickability. It’s all about people like me that find it absolutely impossible to stick to a schedule! And it’s specific to homeschooling, so I’m actually learning a lot about ways to work with my tendency for bursts of activity instead of a predictable routine.

I swear she wrote this book directly to ME! Right down to my inability to keep plants alive! I’m learning that my way isn’t wrong, it’s just different, and there ARE ways to make it work with homeschooling….without going full unschooling mode. I love it!!

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