Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Isn't Preschool Just School?

Letters, sounds, and numbers. Practice writing their names. Doing arts and crafts. Learning about our world. Preschool sounds a lot like school to me, so what's "pre" about it?

When American public education was in its infancy, students didn't start attending first grade until they were seven or eight years old. When schools began accomodating younger students, the label "first grade" was already taken, so the word "kindergarten" was borrowed from Germany. The first kindergartens were intended to be a transitional time for children who had spent most of their lives at home. Working parents appreciated the reduction in their day care expenses. Competition among day care centers resulted in many of them instituting a school-like curriculum and gave birth to the term "preschool". Now it is common for children as young as two years old to be enrolled in a formal academic program.

I enrolled my youngest daughter in such a program at age three. Determined to play an active part in her education, I went into action when she brought home a worksheet with a huge letter "O" printed on it. She had colored the letter, but I knew it would be helpful to extend what she was learning at school to the home front. We did "letter O" activities all week at home. We circled the letter O in newspaper headlines. We went on a scavenger hunt for objects that began with the letter O. We searched street signs and bulletin boards for the letter O. Near the end of the week, as she was forming clay into the letter O, my daughter looked up at me and said, "I wish we did stuff like this at school."

"I got the idea from school!" I answered. "Because you're learning about the letter O at school."

She looked puzzled. "We aren't learning about the letter O at school. We're learning about the CIRCLE SHAPE!"

Obviously, I had misunderstood the intent of her preschool worksheet! Parents who teach their kids at home are in a better position to effortlessly extend lessons into everyday life. Many preschoolers are most receptive during everyday activities. Look into today's preschool classrooms and you will find an attempt to recreate the home environment: a braided rug with a rocking chair for the teacher to use during "Circle Time", toy stoves and refrigerators, a place to nap, and other homey comforts. My subsequent children all "attended" preschool (and all the other grades, in fact) at home. An occasional playdate provided practice with concepts like "sharing" and "taking turns".

I love the new preschool program at Time4Learning! It isn't available anywhere else, and it's hosted by Time4Learning's mascot, Ed Mouse. My current preschooler is excited to be "doing school" like his older brothers and sisters. Since he has watched Ed Mouse introduce his siblings' lessons so many times, he feels "grown up" when he sees Ed in his own lessons.

Time4Learning's preschool is set up as forty themed units on two levels. The second level is a bit more advanced. For example, the first level provides practice with letter names. The second level offers some activities designed to get the student thinking about the sounds those letters make. Neither level requires keyboarding skills. The student needs only to be able to use a mouse.

Each theme is introduced with a story, song, or video. Three or four game activities follow, all on the same theme. Because repetition is important for preschoolers, the activities can be repeated as many times as desired, although the program checks them off the first time they are played through. There are the typical preschool themes such as "Transportation" and "At the Zoo", as well as some creative themes, like "Fruit"!

Worksheets and online games should only provide a portion of a preschooler's education. Time4Learning's preschool themes are easy to extend into everyday activities. On the Parent Forum, families are sharing their own ideas for fun extension activities. It's great to be able to pick and choose activities that I have time for, or to eliminate additional activities altogether during my busiest weeks.

Familiarity with technology isn't optional anymore, so I'm excited about using an online homeschool curriculum for my own kids. There are a lot of free preschool games online, but they are intended to be supplementary material or "just for fun". Tme4Learning offers the only online, leveled preschool program that I'm aware of. The program has the structure that some kids (and parents!) crave, while still providing the fun and flexibility sought by families who prefer "unschooling" methods.

You might be interested to read one mom's in-depth reviews on the Time4Learning preschool curriculum. Each review covers a different aspect of the program, to give you a comprehensive look at this online homeschool curriculum for preschoolers.

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