I'm in year two of homeschooling preschool with a 4 year old and 3 year old. It's somewhat embarrassing to call myself a "homeschooler." After months of obsessive reading, the philosophy that I've finally hit upon involves long periods of doing nothing. I don't mean, I stock the home with interesting Montessori things and then let the child direct his own learning. I mean, I really do next to nothing. I live my regular life and occasionally throw in explanations using smaller words targeted for preschool ears.
I'm an artist. A good portion of my day involves messing around, thinking, reading, relaxing, cleaning, nursing, cooking new strange recipes, dancing with scarves to "Life is a Highway" with Hannah, figuring out how pistons run on steam trains with Lex, looking for missing Spiderman sneakers, napping and doing nothing. "Dilly-dallying" is what my mother called it. Me and the kids sort of hang around, shoot the breeze, and mess around with whatever strikes our fancy.
Although I have a reputation in my Mother's Rosary Group for being a "doer," since I frequently drag my kids to Smithsonian Museums, it's hard to explain that museum going is simply "dilly-dallying" in a different place. We hang out at the dino exhibit, then we eat some gummy dinosaurs at the cafeteria and make up crazy games about plant-eaters vs. meat-eaters. We're the only preschool set that regularly staked out the DaDa exhibit at the National Gallery, then we dip our toes in the nearby fountain. We like to watch Barney because he sings songs about "if all of the rain drops were lemon drops and gum drops." For the rest of the day we make up weirder and weirder candy concoctions until we become rivals to Willie Wonka.
So with the exception of some daily focus on learning the Catholic faith, "dilly-dallying" is pretty much how we fulfill the rest of our time. UNLESS, I have a skill set that I'm really focused on them learning. Learning how to share- was a big one that occupied almost all of last year. Man, I didn't just say "share", I brought out all of my conflict negotiation skills honed by years of being an attorney.
This year's vague focus is "learning how to count" and "learning how to read." Math-U-See and crazy car addition games makes the math part both fun and easy. I was totally stumped on reading part, however.
There's a strong current of dyslexia in my family. I was pretty worried that Hannah was headed down that path. (We had a surreal breakfast conversation when Hannah mentioned that Aunt Emily's fish was named after "the pig's friend." I had no idea what that meant until my two year old son finally said "her name is Scarlett, not Charlotte." I figured out that Hannah was talking about Charlotte's web, but Hannah couldn't ever figure out the sound difference between "sc" and "ch.")
Since then I've been searching the Internet, trying to come up with innovative phonic games. Guess what broke the ice? This totally bizarre PBS cartoon called "Super Why" The plot is so dumb, that Maria and I fold laundry whenever it comes on. Yet Hannah and Lex are transfixed. After two weeks of faithfully dropping everything to tune in at 2 PM, both kids start begging to learn their letters. I started the ten thousandth time with "A" makes the "ah" sound. Then Jon had a better idea, "Let's teach them handwriting?" "Handwriting?"
Now every night after dinner, my husband pulls out the chalk board. The kids pick up their magic eraser slates. Then for two letters a day the kids go over old fashion handwriting drills. The kind that we all did in 3rd grade. Both kids love it! My super kinetic learning daughter can make these perfect letters right off the bat.
We are only officially on the letter "D", but Hannah had a decoding breakthrough in the car today. "S T O P." Those are the letters on that sign, Mom. I explained that it spelled Stop. She was so excited. Now she helps me drive by noticing the letters in street names, the numbers in our big neighborhood highways, even the crossed out P in the no parking sign.
I can't tell you how exciting it was to drive around town with a four year old today who finally figured out that knowing her letters will make life easier, especially for exciting adult only tasks like driving a car.
Handwriting drills, dilly-dallying in the car with Mom, and PBS cartoons. This combination for literacy development is unlikely to receive a No Child Left Behind Grant. I'm still proud. I'm not trying to foster literacy in a nation, only one Benjamin child at a time.