Hi there! Today we are going to talk about the most important thing when teaching your toddlers or young children. I want to start with a little story about myself as a student.
I was the type of student who did well with workbooks and knowing exactly what was required of me. Tell me what I needed to do and I would do it. And things hadn’t changed by college. I didn’t waste time, I didn’t do things spontaneously, because I always had a plan. That is until one day. One day, for some inexplicable reason, I felt like I really needed to get outside and go play Frisbee.
I don’t even know why I had a Frisbee. I didn’t go outside and play Frisbee, this was not part of my normal routine or normal activities in any way. I was a runner, I had a routine running schedule.
But this day, I went and I stood in the courtyard of the campus apartments there and I looked for some people I knew, anybody, I just needed to go play Frisbee.
First, one friend thought about it and really wanted to, but then decided she had to turn me down. Then a second friend came by in a little while and I excitedly asked them but they just couldn’t do it right then.
So I waited a little bit longer and I was scanning the crowd and one person walked by that I didn’t see a lot, hadn’t really spoken to, but I thought “I’ll just ask them, maybe they will be able to come play Frisbee with me.” This person didn’t hesitate and quietly said yes and off we went to play Frisbee. Now I’m going to save the rest of the story for after the rest of the podcast.
So back to what is the most important thing about teaching your toddlers or children. I think the most important foundational thing is spending time interacting with them. Let’s go into that a little bit and I think it will make a lot of sense to you.
First of all, it gets the day off to a good start. Every day, I found that you had to do a little bit of work to re-establish bonds and communication with your young children. You needed to let them know that they were a priority and, to borrow a medical term, you needed to triage their needs and their concerns to evaluate where they were and how things were going for them that day.
And it also set the tone for the day’s activities and gave the children a sense of security. Some of this just boils down to how you approach the activities of care that you have to already be engaging in, like making meals, doing chores, or supervising your children. It means that when you do those things, do those things with an eye to enjoying that time with your children and making the most of it so that everybody thinks that was a great part of the day and they look forward to it.
Now your choices of how you do that don’t need to look exactly like mine, but let me give you some ideas of how I went about that.
First of all, I prepared a breakfast for the kids that I considered to be healthy. I didn’t use boxed cereals, although I did use some basic things such as cooked oatmeal a lot. But I varied it, and we all ate together.
Either during breakfast, or right afterward we had some reading time together which for us meant reading the Bible and singing some songs. This often included some free drawing activities because I liked for them to draw on some paper the things that they were hearing about. I still have some of those pictures and get a kick out of looking at them.
Next, we had a chore time which was already organized. Everybody knew what they had to do and who they had to do with it and we almost always put on music and there was singing and dancing while we did chores. I cover this in more detail in my post about how to get your children to do chores cheerfully.
Many chores introduce a practical and useful side of learning and help children to investigate and ask questions about their environment. There can be good, fun conversations about why we need to clean, or about how to sew, or about how to cook. I mean, like, what happens to those eggs so that they change into a big glob and then get stuck to the bottom of the pan?
It’s not always easy to do chores with young children. It really takes a dedication of mindset to the idea of teaching them and working with them patiently and allowing them to do a certain level of work when they are able.
And I had one important rule, and that was, if any of my young children showed a desire to work with me on a certain chore, I took advantage of that 95, 99% of the time. And if I couldn’t, when I told them no, it was not like I was impatient with them and I made it clear to them that I was going to find a way for them to engage in this thing that they were interested in. And then of course it is important that you follow up with that soon.
Next on my list of suggestions for just interacting with your young children is reading things to them. It can be fiction, it can be areas of interest, it can be things that you are interested in and you can present them in a way that leads them on discovery or leads them into a project or activity that you were thinking of doing. This is one reason why I think it is really important to build a home library so that you can have these kinds of things on hand.
And then, of course, these is just doing activities with them, like gardening, or even making cement with them. My husband liked to do things with cement and rocks as a hobby and he began involving the kids at a very young age at whatever level they could do things and just allowing them to be around while he was doing things.
Of course, shopping, grocery shopping in particular, is usually a regular part of any household and it can be very helpful and fun to give them a small monthly stipend – very small for the young children – that helps them to engage with money and the activities and gives them something to think about on a more personal level for what is going on.
And, of course, there is always animals and all of the things that are involved with taking care of them.
I heard someone that I respect, but who doesn’t agree with homeschooling recently say that they “believed” in pre-school, with the implication being that parents who keep their own children at home somehow don’t teach them anything, which is of course ridiculous.
Just because we don’t send the children away from home or give them very programmed workbooks that are often detached from engaging in real life doesn’t mean they are not learning and we are not teaching them things. To put a more positive spin on it, I think there’s reason to believe that young children and toddlers learn better at home with their parents.
But maybe you’re still wondering about a formal introduction to educational skills. I want to strongly suggest that this doesn’t need to be stressful. Keep it short and simple and make it fun. Don’t put your children in a developmental or institutional box.
The more you spend time just interacting without making sure something is done a certain way or by a certain time, the more you will gain insight into what they are ready for, or capable of. For the sake of discussion, let’s refer back to the so-called “distinction” between unschooling and maybe more structured or classical schooling.
I think you need to think more in terms of interacting with your child and getting to know them and providing what they need rather than in terms of a method. For instance, unschooling doesn’t need to be without direction or goals and a more structured or classical schooling doesn’t need to be without flexibility.
Don’t get caught up in the terms, instead spend time with and enjoy your child and you will learn better how to teach them. Sometimes this just means providing supplies (and maybe having certain times when they’re out if they need a particular level of supervision) and sometimes it means doing things together.
So maybe you’re wondering what the story I started with has to do with all of this? Well, I ended up marrying that acquaintance that I asked to impulsively, spontaneously play Frisbee that day. It was the second most important decision of my life, the first being to acknowledge God, and it resulted from spontaneity.
It resulted from just deciding to take a few minutes and enjoy some activity that was not programmed. We are going to celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary this next August and we have 7 children. The joke around our house has always been that we tell our kids “be careful who you play Frisbee with.”
I think the takeaway is not that you give up all programmed learning or that you have to not have routines, but it’s that you don’t always know where the results are going to come from, so don’t get too hung up on trying to make things happen.
And on a side-note, you can probably teach your kids more about physics with a Frisbee than from having them read a textbook with a bunch of big words and concepts that they haven’t experienced.
Often, parents who are newer to homeschooling, either because their children are young or because they are taking their kids out of an institutional school will feel a lot of pressure about meeting certain milestones. I hope listening to this will set you free from the unnecessary restraints and burdens of those things, whether they come from inside you because of expectations that you’ve internalized or because of people pestering you.
A lot of times they just want to validate their own choices and in order to do that they need to make it seem like someone else’s choices just can’t measure up. So go ahead and enjoy your children without feeling like you’re spending all your time trying to check off boxes of goals achieved. And then, after that, you will see them blossom even more in their own creative play.
That’s all on this topic for today. If you are enjoying this podcast and feeling encouraged by it, please consider giving it a rating on iTunes or whatever venue you are using to listen to it. Thanks for listening, see you next time.