Welcome to Kindergarten, MOM!
Confession time: Kindergarten terrified me. To the point that I put off planning for my daughter’s kindergarten year until the very last minute (which is big because you know how much I LOVE planning)
I thought that I was terrified of homeschooling the Kindergarten year because as a past educator, I am more experienced with and “qualified for” teaching older children. I thought that I was terrified of homeschooling the Kindergarten year because it was something new and I know that it’s a year FULL of new learning milestones. I thought that I was terrified of home-schooling the kindergarten year because my oldest child had such a positive experience in his public school and there was no way that I could replicate that for my daughter.
Prior to starting my daughter’s kindergarten year, I spent so much time reasoning why it was understandable for me to be scared of kindergarten and I was honestly so scared, I was paralyzed. The looming “first weeks” to come were so nerve racking and it wasn’t until we had survived (and thrived) through our first month of kindergarten that I realized it was actually the best year of school ever and it is a JOY and a HUGE blessing to have my daughter at home with me as she flourished in this year.
Speaking of flourishing, let's talk a little bit about those Kindergarten “milestones” and the state standards, the timing and pacing of curriculum.
When it comes to preschool and kindergarten:
Like for real, don’t even think about them again.
You know me, you know I love a good list, guide, and benchmarks. But for your sanity and your child’s opportunities, now is not the time to use a standard approach to teaching your child. This is your child’s first year of “formal” education. (obviously I use that term, formal, loosely.)
Your child has the rest of their lives to meet the demands of expectations, deadlines, and moving at an unnatural speed of life that our culture has built. Let them LEARN and experience education at their own pace for this short season. Let them fall in love with learning this year by following their lead and interests and learning alongside them.
A big milestone for kindergarten is reading and writing. You can learn more about the resources that I used to teach my littles to read on this post. But please know that just because YOU have decided to “start kindergarten” this year, doesn’t mean that your child is developmentally ready to learn to read or write on day one. The more that you and your child engage in educational conversations, the more in touch you’ll be with your child’s readiness to learn.
Your desire to push and challenge your child beyond their comfort zone is not evil. That was put in you to help you disciple them into being the best that God has called them to be. But if that desire to push them and challenge them in the early years of your learning adventure together, it will push them away from learning. If that desire in you to challenge them is fueled by the expectations of others or by comparing them to other “kids their age,” you will push them away from you.
I actually didn't even start working on addition and subtraction until after Christmas, and she wasn’t reading fluently until spring. I was worried, compared to my go-getter son who attended public school kindergarten, she was behind but I had to trust that my little kindergartener would excel when she was ready, and she did.
One tangible thing that I would encourage you to do is ONLY plan one week or a few weeks in advance. I learned how important this is the hard way. I only plan our family school 5 weeks at a time and even then my younger “student’s” blocks are blank from week to week. This makes it easier for me to go at their pace and FORCES me do what’s best for them instead of what I’ve already planned for them.
As you plan out your school days for the kindergarten year, I would encourage you to add new activities/rhythms into your existing routine one at a time and as you sense that they are ready for something new, add something else. It’s okay for YOU to have a plan and an intentional strategy for presenting new opportunities and it’s okay to set goals and a “big picture timeline” but it’s not okay for you to put deadlines on the skills that will only add pressure to you and unnecessary pressure on your child. High pressure situations = disasters in the early years of homeschooling.
A Day in the Life
I am hesitating like CRAZY to start typing in this section. I know you are wanting an outline, or a routine, list, or schedule. I know you want that, because I wanted that! So badly, I just wanted someone to hand craft a schedule for my children and I that we could just follow everyday and we would be happy little bees, learning, and loving life.
But just like I knew the truth deep down, I think you already know that doesn’t exist.
Before you jumped (or fell, or were pushed, whatever) into this role of “homeschooler”, you were a mom for at least a few years. You know that no day is like the other and while we all crave structure (even kids!), life just happens and sometimes those schedules are more cumbersome than they are helpful.The same goes for homeschooling. Over the past few years, I have become less in love with “schedules” and fallen deeply in love with “routines.” Even as the workload has increased for my now third-grader, I have a list of things to do and we have a daily rhythm (all written in pencil or dry-erase marker) instead of schedules.
So as you begin to shape your “school day structure” I would encourage you to leave off the “time” column and start with the routines that are already in place. For example, write these things down as your time blocks: Wake up, Breakfast, Lunch, Nap, Dinner, Bedtime
(Hold the phone, why did I just type dinner and bedtime?
That’s after the school day!?
Wait a minute, there is no limiting “school hours” now, we are home-schooling.
Oh gosh, does that mean we do school ALL DAY?!
No, that means every little pocket of time is up for grabs!
Is everyone okay? I know that was scary, I know that 3pm is the time ingrained in our brains as the end of learning for the day, so that may have shocked you.
I just want to encourage you to breathe and let go of some of these limits that you are putting on your homeschooling experience and maybe don’t even realize.)
Your child might learn best during the morning hours and your “structured learning” is over before lunch and that is great. But what if he/she likes to snuggle and wake up slow with some light reading. I wonder if dinner time would be a better fit for the bulk of the lesson or maybe learning new letters at bedtime. What if your “kindergartener” does her book work while you nurse the baby or sitting at the counter while you make dinner?
Remember, you’re just adding some “educational” activities to the already existing routines of your day. When I had a kindergartener, I also had a second grader, 3 year old, and 1 year old. My favorite hack is to take advantage of meal times! The kids are mostly quiet and the most dangerous one is safely strapped in. I also capitalized on the nap times for the younger kids. During meal times, we went through flashcards, counted things, read books, and while “everyone was present and involved” the kindergartener was soaking it up. During nap times, I assigned independent work for my oldest, and my kindergarten and I snuggled up on the couch or sat outside with the animals to learn new concepts and have one-on-one time.
First Days & Weeks
Your child is likely (and hopefully) excited about starting this new thing that you call “KINDERGARTEN” regardless of what the rest of your life looks like, do your best to make those first few days and weeks really special. I’m not talking about anything crazy and unrealistic, just a few special things that won’t take much time or money but will leave a huge impact. I’m serious about simple and cheap! Don’t go overboard with this and then stress yourself out, leaving NO energy left for engaging with your child.
Cheap & Easy “Special touches”
Muffins for breakfast.
A new “reading buddy” stuffed animal
A homemade banner of the child’s name hung above the learning space
Using cookie cutters for cheese snacks or sandwiches for lunch
Buy party paper plates for the meals (extra bonus for mom: easy meal clean up)
new kids devotional for reading at breakfast/lunch
Window cling stickers
New water bottle to keep us hydrated through all of the new learning
Plan a trip to the library
Picnic at the park
Face-time with grandparents to show off new skills
New bag or binder only for “School stuff” (bonus points if it is blank and the child can decorate it on the “first day of school”)
New cubes or counting bears just for learning
A new time slot for “just us” time. “Just us time” is a time slot during the day that you and the child spend time together doing an activity that the child picked for 10-15 minutes.
Remember: SIMPLICITY is the name of the game!
A word about “Numbers”
Some kids are worried about “math” and scared before they even start. So we stopped calling these learning activities, “math” and referred to them as “number play.”
Math at this age is so simple and much more about exploring than it is about learning operations and practicing “math”. I used “Touch Math” curriculum with my oldest when I did homeschool Pre-k a few years ago and I planned to use it through kindergarten. I still really like it for the early years so I would encourage you to look at it if you want a structured math curriculum for your child. At times, I felt like it was just glorified coloring pages and there are so many free resources available online, so I had to make the financial decision to be more laid back with the math resources. I did find a downloadable kindergarten workbook to pull from and use as our “list” of skills and concepts BUT be warned: It is a BEAST of a document. An awesome resource for the price BUT its also extremely fast paced and holiday themed. When we “finished” kindergarten in June, my student was doing a santa-themed worksheet for the concept she was working on. She didn’t know any difference, it made her laugh that we were doing “Christmas in July” but there was definitely a constant temptation for me to feel “behind” if I wasn’t at peace with following her lead and going at her pace. (You can find this resource as well as a whole slew of others at this page)
As I wrap up…
II want to do a little word study on the word I used earlier, “flourish.” (Nerd alert, I know! Just bear with me, there is goodness here”
Flourish: v, to grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment
Read it again. Now think about it for a minute.
More than grasping new concepts, or gaining new skills, and having success with letters and numbers, wouldn’t we just love to watch our kids FLOURISH?
As we try new things, develop new rhythms, explore God’s creation, encourage new learning, and embark on this adventure of learning alongside our children, let’s keep this definition in the forefront of our minds.
We set the environment for our child’s learning, if they aren’t growing or developing in a healthy way, maybe it’s due to an unfavorable environment. Good news, We can change it!