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What Curriculum Should I Use For My 4 Year Old?

TheHomeSchoolMom Blog: What Curriculum Should I Use For My 4 Year Old?Recently on TheHomeSchoolMom’s Facebook page someone asked for recommendations for her soon to be 4 year old. It took me back to when I had a 4 year old and a 1 year old and had recently decided to homeschool.

I. Was. So. Excited.

What curriculum should I use? (I bought KONOS and timeline figures and a gazillion Usborne books.) How should we schedule our days? (I bought Managers of Their Homes and carefully scheduled every moment of our days and then proceeded to never once use the schedule.) I made lesson plans and felt organized and believed that my kids were going to get the best education ever. And honestly, we had great fun with some of the activities – but none of it was better than what we could have done by just living and playing.

So after all these years (my kids are now 19 and 16), what curriculum would I suggest for a 4 year old? None. The work of a 4 year old is play. Studies show that play is how children learn. Take this time to engage your child. There will be plenty of time for setting and meeting goals later, should you choose to do that (unschoolers look at goals differently), but now is the time for play.

Here is my suggested “curriculum” for a 4 year old (or 5 year old or 6 year old) that will help them develop vital skills, build your relationship with them, and give them the hooks that they need to hang later learning on:

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If authentic engagement represents your homeschool philosophy, read more about how to engage your children in these posts from our contributor Living Education by Oak Meadow covering topics like nature-based learning, creativity, handwriting, homeschooling multiple grades, authentic engagement, and more.

Living Education posts »

  • Read to your child. If she can read, let her also read to you. If your child is interested, extend your reading by cooking a dish that was mentioned in the book, or making a craft like one mentioned. If you are looking for something to guide you in choosing good books, I like the books used in Five in a Row for this age. If your child asks to learn to read, go for it — but in the absence of a physical issue or developmental problem, know that waiting on reading instruction is not harmful and can even be beneficial.
  • Play with LEGO® bricks. Or Lincoln Logs®, or Tinkertoys®. Or K’NEX®. Or simple wood blocks.
  • Go for a walk. Listen to your child and enjoy seeing the world from her perspective.
  • Go to the library. If your child can read, help him understand how the books are filed, how to use the card catalog, or have a library scavenger hunt.
  • Walk in the woods. This is the perfect age to take an Alphabet Walk and learn ABCs with rocks and trees.
  • Visit age-appropriate museums. Don’t try this when your child is hungry, tired, or otherwise primed for unhappiness. Here are some tips for improving field trips.
  • Go to the zoo. Many zoos and aquariums have annual reciprocal memberships that let you visit as many times as you like and even visit other partner zoos with your membership.
  • Go to a park or play in the backyard. Just being outside helps kids achieve a natural balance between our technological world and our natural world.
  • Play with maps. Let your child make a map of someplace familiar to her and have fun using just the map to find your way around. Let your child blindfold you and lead you through a maze of chairs and other obstacles that they have set up.
  • Play with Play-Doh®. The benefits of messy play are many, including developing fine motor skills, encouraging creativity, allowing expression of emotions in a safe way, and stimulating language development. Make your own playdough at home if you prefer.
  • Play dress up. Both boys and girls enjoy dressing up and playing or putting on their own “theatrical productions”. I remember my kids continually improving a large scale production of “The Wizard of Paws” over the years.
  • Dance, clap, skip, and move around. A lot. Kids are naturally wiggly and rhythm actually helps language skills.
  • Play games. Board games are always fun, and strategy games like Kids of Catan and Catan Junior can be enjoyed by even young children. Building games like Jenga® can be enjoyed by all ages (and apparently many species), and strategy games like Mancala develop motor skills as well as thinking skills.
  • Listen to him. Ask him “what if” questions when discussing things of interest. “What do you think would happen if this got really cold? Really hot?” “What do you think a cat would do with this?” “How deep do you think that worm goes into the ground?” Remember – you aren’t asking for a right answer, you are just getting him thinking. Instead of correcting answers, encourage further discussion: “Wow, I hadn’t thought of it that way! Why do you think so?” Inquiry-based learning stimulates thought processes that lead to learning.

Enjoy this unstructured time with your child – it will pass all too quickly.

Update: Defending the Early Years and Alliance for Childhood have issued a report “Reading in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose” showing that there is no scientific evidence that early reading makes for better readers in the long term. The video below details the findings, and you can find a summary in this PDF file.

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Oak Meadow: Education in Action
Mary Ann Kelley

Mary Ann Kelley lives in Virginia with her husband and two daughters, both homeschool graduates. Mary Ann, who has been homeschooling off and on for 16 years, believes in school choice as well as allowing children to direct their own learning with guidance and input from their parents. Her desire is to encourage parents and children to take personal responsibility for their own educational options and choices.

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Comments

  1. I do this with my girls after school even thought they are older. There is nothing more educational then hands on interactive games. I modify playing for different skills but kids like having fun. I like whey they are happy and they like to learn. It is a win-win situation.

  2. I have been thinking about this a lot. I have two older girls, 8 and 6 that I will be in my second year of homeschooling. I am planning to be more structured with them and am afraid it will stifle us, sigh. But what you say at the end is where I have been leaning with my 4 year old. She is a bright, cheerful little girl. And she sometimes asks for schoolwork and I print something fun out and give it to her. I think I want to keep it that way for this coming year too.

  3. My hubby “reluctantly” agreed to a trial year of homeschooling our 2 youngest who were 5 (daughter who’s persistent & strong-willed) & 3 (son with slight speech delay) both extremely bright. We spent the last school-year doing much of what’s on your list. Other than play (sometimes “purposeful” sometimes just for fun) and LOTS of art, we didn’t do much that would look like learning from the outside. My daughter was ready to read, so we worked the lessons in “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons”She flew through them, working weekends – sometimes doing 6 lessons a day (at her insistence – not at all “pushed”). We also took a lengthy As the end of the school year approached, I worried that hubby would think we weren’t doing enough. He often asked what we did today, saw no worksheets or other “evidence” of learning. My responses (which sounded a lot like we read a dozen books, did/found something cool outside & a bunch of other fun stuff) didn’t inspire confidence that he was seeing what I was seeing. After all, I’m home seeing it happen while he’s at work just hoping to hear about it. And then they started telling him things (naming off parts & equipment from the fire trucks at “Touch-a-Truck Day”…why all rocks look/are different. Finally he was seeing what I was seeing.

    We will be “officially” homeschooling this year – our letter of intent is on it’s way to the district. With the littles being 4 & 6 now, I plan to play just as much & have just as much fun going forward. My daughter will see a little more structure, but not “classroom” structure – I want to make sure that when/IF they ever do find themselves in public school, they meet or exceed the educational & social standards for their age/grade.

    I always love to see someone else who’s about letting the kids have fun & learn along the way. 🙂

    • So glad to hear how well this worked for you, Mamabear! I look forward to hearing how this coming year goes for you. We used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons as well. I’m also very fond of Five in a Row for younger children – it’s fun, bonding, and uses some great books!

  4. Kathy

    Both my kids graduated two years ago, and I did what Mary Ann suggested. All through the learning years, I would remind my kids that there is a season for everything. Once they were becoming more academically inclined, I reminded them to give it their all. The season for “dedication to learning” would pass though they would never officially finish learning. So, for the just beginners … let the kids have their season for engaging play and exploration and curiosities! That time will pass too!

    And Mom, it passes for you too!

  5. In homeschooling, they can choose to work through their curriculum as quickly or slowly as they feel comfortable doing, establishing their own pace. A child who struggle in one or more areas academically should consider homeschooling as an excellent one-to-one environment to learn the skills necessary to catch up.

    Anne

  6. Lynn

    Thank you for this!! I am in this boat right now! My daughter will be 4 in a few weeks and I have the overwhelming feeling I need to start school with her. She knows her alphabet (lower & upper) by sight, knows the sounds they make and can write them as well, can count 30+ with minimal help, knows her colors & shapes, knows how to spell and write her first & last name. After watching a math leapfrog movie she now knows that 4+2 is 6 etc. I feel like I should be doing more and was thinking of starting to focus more on her learning how to read. I just need to sit back and let her be a kid!!

    • Enjoy this time with your daughter! She is learning so much just by engaging with the world around her – it’s a wonderful period of development.

  7. Hasina

    I love this and here I was thinking that my daughter needed more structure classroom-like at home. I have done most of your suggested and not on purpose. Sometimes I just listen to her make up a story too. Their imagination and articulation is so underestmated. Thank you for this

    • I’m glad you found the article at just the right time, Hasina! Enjoy this time with your daughter. 🙂

  8. We recently started homeschooling because I’m now able to work from home. This is exactly what we’re looking for! You’re a lifesaver!

    • I’m glad you have the opportunity to be at home with your child(ren)! Enjoy this time. 🙂

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