≡ Menu

Learning at Home With a Preschooler and Toddler

Welcome to the September Carnival of Natural Parenting: We’re all home schoolers

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how their children learn at home as a natural part of their day. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.



For us, learning at home looks a lot like hanging out together.  With Bea a very active 4 years old and Claire a busy toddler, my girls aren’t developmentally ready for much sit-down desk work yet.  So we go to the park, spend time at the library, bake cookies, knead bread, can jam, play blocks or restaurant together, build puzzles and read stories.  And amidst all the chaos and open-ended time, learning happens.

Learning at home is a natural, organic process.  I show Bea what shapes letters make, and she points out letter shapes in pretzels and sand patterns and mud puddles.  I sound out words for her as we read and tell her what sounds letters make.  Later, I hear her sounding out her words as she is speaking them, emphasizing and elongating the phonemes.  I slice plums, preparing them for their fate as plum jam.  Beatrice counts and arranges the plum pits while standing on a chair beside me.  I ask her whether she has an odd or even number, and she pairs them all up and finds out.  Meanwhile, Claire toddles around, experimenting with gravity and momentum and nesting objects and discovering her emergent will.

An Unschooled Early Childhood Education

little girl on a bike with training wheelsI try to let Beatrice direct a lot of her learning by her enthusiasm for a project or topic.  We have learned a lot about hedgehogs during Bea’s hedgehog phase.  We’ve read books and looked at pictures of hedgehogs, drawn pictures of hedgehogs and pretended to curl up in hedgehog nests together.  Beatrice loves to dress up as a hedgehog whenever possible.  We even met up with another homeschooling family nearby to visit their real, live pet hedgehog.  I’m not sure if we will be unschoolers throughout our homelearning journey, but right now the child-led model is working well for us.

Whenever Beatrice has a question about something, I do my best to answer it for her or help her answer it for herself.  Sometimes that means encouraging her to experiment with the freezer door to find out what makes the light go off when the door closes.  We have used the globe to illustrate why we have seasons or where dad has gone on his business trip.  I try to encourage Beatrice to ask questions by taking her seriously and giving her real answers.

Lifelong Learning

We don’t stop learning once we’re adults, and there is research that shows that children model behaviours they see their parents doing, especially when it comes to things like reading.  (Scholastic, 2006) I want to encourage my children’s learning by taking on new challenges and learning new things myself.  I’m not sure how much my kids notice of my own learning adventures, but I try not to shy away from doing things I’m unfamiliar with.  I want them to see learning as something adults do too, and that not knowing how to do something doesn’t have to be an obstacle, it just means that learning how to get started is the first step.

The challenge in modeling learning myself is finding ways to actually learn and do new things with small kids at home.  I discovered as an adult that my mom was a knitter when I was a little girl.  However, I have no memories of her ever knitting anything.  I do remember watching her bake bread and sew and cook.  She probably pulled out her knitting once we were in bed, and that makes sense.  Knitting with a toddler or preschooler around is not very relaxing.  But for my kids to benefit from watching me struggle with and then master a new skill or gain knowledge, they need to see me do it.  This is something I’m working on.

Homeschooling and Learning Resources We Use

preschool girl drawing with pastels and stickers
1. The public library – This is the biggest, best, most versatile and affordable homeschooling resource anyone can use.  I love my public library, and we take out lots of books.  I mean, LOTS.  I have stacks and stacks around the house.  We read picture books, Magic Tree House books, non-fiction books, board books, and we even sometimes take out adult non-fiction to look at interesting pictures (Like a copy of Scientific American that had pictures of galaxies on the cover or a book on Earth that was full of high-definition satellite images of the earth’s surface.)

2. Art supplies – We love to do crafts, and I have a cupboard full of bits and pieces of stuff that can be chopped, pasted, ripped, crinkled and glued.  The old standbys are the favourites though, such as pencil crayons, wax crayons, markers, tempera paints and the chalkboard.  I’ve found several great ideas for crafts at No Time for Flash CardsThe Toddler’s Busy Book and The Siblings’ Busy Book.

3. The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading and Bob Books by Scholastic – Initially I started out by doing the early sit-down lessons in The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading with three-year old Beatrice.  She was willing and interested at first, but that interest soon waned and she hated learning the rhymes and sitting still.  So I stopped doing the sit-down lessons with her, and instead I read through the phonics rules to refresh my own memory.  Now I drop in phonics pointers as we are reading or talking and it’s much more fun for everyone.  The Bob Books are boxed sets of simple stories that even very beginning readers can sound out on their own.

4. Getting outdoors – We learn a lot about the natural world by simply getting outdoors and going for hikes.  I picked up a couple of field guides to help myself learn the names and characteristics of the plants in our area, and I’m proud to say I can now tell the difference between a hemlock and a pine tree.  I can identify a huckleberry, and so can Beatrice.  One of the most appealing things about homeschooling is the opportunity to learn alongside my kids, and letting ourselves be inspired by each other’s learning.

5. Playdates with friends – We meet other families for fun, learning how to share, jumping on our neighbour’s trampoline, developing friendships and learning about what is going on in our community.  Yes, that’s right: socialization.

6. Homeschooling Co-ops and Community Centre Classes – As much as I love having lots of open-ended time to think, play and discover at home, right now I also need the structure that organized activities bring to our day.  We participate in some local homeschooling co-op groups, including an all-ages choir, a homeschooling co-op and a preschool homelearners group.  I also usually register Bea for one or two classes through the Community Centre or a local arts program.  Getting out of the house brings us in contact with the world, helps our days go more smoothly, exposes us to new people and ideas, and provides more opportunities to have fun and learn at the same time.

Even if Beatrice was enrolled in preschool this year, we’d still do many of the things we have scheduled for our upcoming homeschool year.  I’d still do crafts with her at home, read library books and answer her questions.  We’d just have less time for field trips, playdates, classes and co-op meetings, and less time to just be together and enjoy open-ended time at home. There is something to learn from life in each day if we can take notice of it, and right now homeschooling lets us make the most of what life has to offer.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated September 14 with all the carnival links.)

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Seonaid September 14, 2010, 5:38 am

    This is wonderful – my older two children went to daycare from the time that they were very young, and I assumed that they were only learning things because they were being taught them.

    Flash forward to our youngest (who will remain that way). He has been at home since he was born, and I am always astonished by how much he has learned, his vocabulary, the types of questions he asks. It turns out that the kids will learn as long as we provide the opportunities and get out of the way. The library and outside figure prominently in our own lives as well.

    And our hedgehog equivalent was meerkats. Meerkat play, model meerkats, meerkat documentaries, toy meerkats. I’m no longer so keen on meerkats, but my kids are still nuts for them. :)

    • michelle September 14, 2010, 8:51 am

      I think you’ve summed up a lot of homeschooler’s philosophies pretty well – provide opportunities and get out of the way! I think there is a natural drive to learn that all kids have, and maybe they want to learn different things than we think they should learn at a particular time, but all kids want to learn. I think it’s so tragic if/when that gets squashed or overshadowed by everything that goes on at school.

  • Dionna @ Code Name: Mama September 14, 2010, 7:18 am

    What really struck me about your post, Michelle, is where you talk about continuing to learn yourself as an example for your children. Too often I feel like my husband’s and my needs for learning get pushed to the side b/c we are spending so much energy on Kieran. It helps to have reminders like this to show me that it’s not only important for our own mental health, but it’s a great model for Kieran too! Great post.

    • michelle September 14, 2010, 8:45 am

      So much learning happens through modeling. Taking some time to focus on our own learning creates the space that kids need to think/play/dream on their own too! It’s a win-win, really, but I think it will be much easier to actually do when my kids are a little older. Little kids still have pretty intense needs for attention a lot of the time.

  • Laura September 14, 2010, 9:59 am

    Love the tips! Thanks. Aren’t libraries the greatest invention ever?

  • Mandy @ Living Peacefully with Children September 14, 2010, 7:20 pm

    Such a great comment about modeling learning! My husband and I are always trying to learn new things. Our entire family unschools.

  • Lauren @ Hobo Mama September 16, 2010, 1:38 am

    I also was struck by the need to continue learning yourself. I keep trying to find ways to incorporate my own interests and pursuits into my time with Mikko — like doing pretend ballet together, or sitting at the piano to play music together. It’s not the same as when I do it alone, so I have to remember not to get frustrated! But, as you say, if he never sees it, how will he even know it’s important to me or what it entails?

    Thanks for the great ideas for resources. I’ve been thinking of enrolling us in a couple parent-child classes, for some structure and fun.

    And as a fellow hedgehog fan, I love the hedgehog getup! Awesome.

    • michelle September 16, 2010, 8:33 am

      Playing the piano is next on my list of things to learn. I took lessons for several years as a child and reached a reasonable level of proficiency, but then let it go when I reached middle school and never picked it back up again. I love the idea of starting the day with some simple songs at the piano. However, we need to figure out where we could possibly cram a piano into our place, and decide whether to get a weighted electric keyboard or a cheap, second-hand acoustic. I love love love the idea of an acoustic, but my husband is daunted by the idea of moving it, tuning it, etc.

  • Erica @ ChildOrganics September 18, 2010, 6:28 pm

    I enjoyed reading your post. I love when I am learning along with my kiddos too! Like you, we enjoy getting outside and trying to identify the trees, leaves, bugs, etc. Though it seems my daughter has a better memory, I often have to ask her to help me remember, yikes!

  • Luschka @ Diary of a First Child September 24, 2010, 1:34 pm

    This is a great post with loads of really useful pointers and good information. I have always loved studying and hope to continue doing so (although I realise that I am doing so informally by learning so much about AP and so on!) so I do suspect it will rub off on my daughter. She has also had her own library card since she was 4 months old! :D

  • oona September 21, 2011, 3:30 am

    What a wonderful blog:) Such a blessing to hear!

  • kerry September 27, 2011, 8:48 pm

    Hi! Someone in my Facebook group shared this website with us so I came to look it over. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my followers!

    • michelle September 27, 2011, 9:20 pm

      Thanks Kerry!