In Defense of Home Preschool (and other effort-full endeavors)

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We started preschool at home out of necessity. I needed to structure our days and just couldn’t figure out a good routine. Each day was filled with trying to calm a fussy baby and play with a toddler who just wanted to play all day long.

I know that toddlers don’t need to have elaborate activities planned for them. I know that they don’t have to practice letter recognition and that the best way to encourage a child to become a reader is simply to read. I know that kids learn best through free, unstructured play and time outside. (And we still do plenty of reading and playing and outside time!)

But I also love our preschool time and find that it benefits both of us.

First, preschool really connects with Liam. Our preschool activities show him that I care, particularly in the aftermath of a newborn. Liam gets so excited when I have an activity to go with the book we’re reading. He asks what preschool stuff we are going to do each day and loves cutting and tracing.

Now let’s be real: he doesn’t love any of these things for too long. But when I bring out my yellow polka dot bag filled with preschool stuff, he is delighted. He asks me what school stuff we’re going to do each day, and even if it’s not super exciting, it seems to mean a lot to him that I prepare for our days.

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Second, home preschool adds a little bit of structure to our days. Since becoming a mom three years ago, I’ve struggled to find a good rhythm for our days. It’s so hard, though, and I felt guilty about it for far too long. For the first year of our boys' lives, it seems that things turn upside down every couple of weeks between sleep schedules (or lack thereof) and teething and new skills.

Preschool is something we can do most days. Liam knows that when I put Walt down for his morning nap, we’ll do a little bit of preschool stuff. When Walt wakes up, we often do yoga together (which lasts five to seven minutes for Liam). We’ve started having tea after quiet time due to our studies of South Africa, and it’s another grounding element in our days. 

Third, home preschool gives us (especially me) a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes cutting and laminating activities is so soothing. It’s a different kind of work from writing or cleaning or mothering. And home preschool has definitely meant that some of our cleaning has suffered, but for now, that's a worthy sacrifice. We love being able to show Jonathan what we've done during the day. 

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Last, home preschool helps me be intentional and gives me a framework for helping Liam learn. One of my favorite aspects of home preschool is having a theme. In educational theory, one of the signs of higher intelligence is being able to make connections. When we have a theme we’re working on (for example, our recent study of Good Night, Gorilla has included both zoos/zoo animal and the continent of Africa), it helps me choose books, point out things during our day that relate, and help Liam connect daily life to what we read about in books. I’m often surprised by the connections he is able to make as we work on a theme for two weeks. This theme also guides me in choosing videos or outings.

But there’s lots of criticism of home preschool, mainly that it’s not necessary (which is true!).

In parenting, there’s often a huge resistance to anything that requires a lot of extra effort. So we make fun of people who make their own baby food or plan elaborate activities for their kids. We make up defenses about how babies can just eat food off their mom’s plates or kids need unstructured play for healthy development.

The thing is, the defenses are true. But there’s also nothing wrong with throwing the elaborate birthday party or decorating the perfect nursery.

Rachel Jankovic uses biscuits to explain the guilt cycle we moms often go through. The mom starts with a desire to make biscuits but doesn’t feel like it right now. She continues,

“I’m such a bad mom who doesn’t make biscuits. I am not as good as all the moms who are everywhere in this stupid world making biscuits. People who talk about making biscuits are self-righteous. I hate biscuits. They make me feel guilty. Jesus loves me! Biscuits or not! Jesus doesn’t care that I didn’t make biscuits. Home free! Biscuit-free!” (from Fit to Burst)

And it’s funny because it resonates so much. I often try to make excuses for not doing things I wish I could do. I think we all go into motherhood with a picture of ourselves as moms. And then when we don’t live up to the picture (often because the picture was unrealistic!), we end up making excuses to help us deal with our defeat.

When I don’t feel like I should do something, I am fine with other people doing it. But when I feel like I should do something but am not/cannot/don’t really want to, then I judge other people and make excuses for why their work is pointless. So the first thing I ask is, “Is this something I truly should do?” If the answer is yes (for example, learning to send birthday cards to family members on time or maintaining a decent standard of cleanliness), then I work on strategies for doing it.

But home preschool is not something everyone should do. Absolutely not! So my second question is, “Is it something I want to do?” And yes, I realized that I wanted to do preschool at home with Liam. I love our days at home, and he does, too. Mornings at home have always been one of my favorite things (probably the homeschooler in me, or maybe it’s why I loved being homeschooled so much).

Are Pinterest parties or fancy breakfasts something I should do? Again, no. And in this case, I don’t want to do them. So I don’t. But if you do, that’s awesome, and I would love to see pictures of your hard work (I mean that! I’m so fascinated by well-planned parties!).

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All this to say, if you want to do home preschool (or anything else you've been wanting to try!)—if this means you are going to have to put in more work to prepare or cut down on some housework or even have take-out a little more often—then go for it! It has been so good for us, and we’ll continue it as long as it continues to benefit all of us.

So even when doing something extra for our kids is not necessary--even though it won't harm them that we don't do it--our efforts will not be wasted. Adding beauty and thoughtfulness to our lives and the lives of our kids is always worthwhile. 

Note: We've been following the Simply Learning curriculum, which you can find for free here. We love it! And I share our books and some of our activities on Instagram here. You can also read about how we started home preschool.

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