As the start of the homeschool (and school) year approaches, I see lots of people asking 'What curriculums should I buy?" This is pretty normal but what I am surprised to see are LOTS of people asking what curriculums they should buy for their 2, 3, and 4 year olds!
I understand the excitement and the eagerness to get your very curious and smart toddler/preschooler started on the learning journey, but please WAIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The beauty of the toddler and preschool years is that it should all be about discovery. It should all be hands-on, experiential learning. They should NOT be sitting at a table. Young children learn best through their senses with the people they are most attached to. They do not learn through computer games, flashcards, apps on the iPad, educational videos, or worksheets.
Take them to a farm. Pet a cow. Go apple picking. Go to the grocery store. Let them touch things, see things, taste things. Go to the zoo or the aquarium. Go to the park or on a hike. Go to a lake, river or ocean. Walk through a city. Take a subway ride. Explore your backyard. Learning things through natural exploration and by seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting them first hand is so much more meaningful than any book, app or flashcard you could purchase.
I know how tempting it is, believe me I've been there. That competitive parenting thing is ridiculous. Ignore it. A 2 year old that knows their alphabet is as meaningful as knowing the Itsy Bitsy Spider song. It's cute, sure, but it doesn't mean they'll be early readers. Sorry, but it's the truth. What is meaningful is knowing what a cow is, where it lives, what it feels and smells like, what it sounds like. Knowing how to care for a pet or grow a plant is much more meaningful and enriched than knowing your numbers at 3. Helping to cook or bake something with a loved one has so much more value than knowing colors and shapes. And I know how scary it is to just let go and trust that they are learning. But after 17 years as an early childhood teacher and as a homeschool mom of 2, I can tell you that THEY ARE LEARNING! And they are learning in the best, most meaningful way possible. When they learn in this way, it has depth, it is multi-dimensional, it has true meaning to the child. They can build upon these experiences with future knowledge. Learning from a flashcard or app is just rote memorization.
So as hard as it is, forget the curriculum. Go out into the world with your child. Show them everything there is out there. Let them experience it first hand. Let them play. But if you must teach them colors, shapes, numbers and letters, PLEASE do so through play and in their natural environment and on their terms. If they show an interest, continue the conversation. Count cars, match colored blocks, talk about the letters on road signs or buildings....but please, PUT DOWN THE FLASHCARDS AND WALK AWAY!