Mamas… So help me homeschooling a 6yo has got to be the worst thing ever. There aren’t any cool classes available because all of the ones they could do last year were targeted to kids who were MAYBE taking the kindergarten year at home (and they were the upper end of the “age range” for the class. They’re not yet 7–when some classes open up for the “obviously being homeschooled”/age of compulsory education (in most states). Kids also go through a cognitive developmental milestone at 7 that changes their understanding of the world (and how they take in information).
But 6… Six just sucked. So what to do for kids who are 6 (and under)? Here are the MANY IMPORTANT THINGS you need to teach kids 7 and under (and over, too, if you need to make up for lost time). And no, it’s not “Don’t do anything! Just play!” I assure you–there are things kids need to learn…
OMG MAMAS!!! There really is a LOT for us to focus on for our smalls. There really is a lot for them to learn. I’m about to lay out enough learning to keep you busy for YEEEEAAAARRRRSSSSS….
It’s just not the stuff we have actually stepped back and realized we were missing in the United States. And it is just as much work as all of that curricula you are looking for. I promise: you will feel like you are contributing meaningfully to the education, growth and development of tomorrow’s leaders (and really good HUMANS).
I need you to understand the goals here: we want independent, critically-thinking, compassionate, intelligent, and articulate leaders. Regardless of their job. Under the age of 7 is where we build that foundation and by and large, the United States education system ignores this foundation where other countries do not. Other countries are working in developmentally appropriate ways to teach some extremely critical success skills. Yes, yes… play is important at this age; but there are things our kids really need to LEARN as well and as homeschoolers–we have the freedom and ability to do that in ways that serve our family; but we need to actually pay attention and teach our kids. If you missed this window, you need to go back and address it. Some of these will be easier than others; but they are all important.
CRITICAL FOUNDATION SKILLS FOR SMALL (AND LARGE) CHILDREN:
SOCIAL & RELATIONAL SKILLS: how do your kids interact with other humans? That whole “s” word? Guess what: our kids totally have opportunities for socialization training that goes so far above and beyond the schooled kids that it’s criminal. They have the opportunity to interact with ADULTS and learn how to be an ADULT–which is what we are training them to be, right? Yes, they get to play on the playground and “be kids” of course. But how they handle relationships and interactions needs modeling, supervision and instruction/discussion/redirection. As homeschoolers, we have the benefit of being nearby and seeing a lot of what goes on with our kids. We also have the ability to walk them through processing it all and instilling our own values into molding their behavior when dealing with others. Some ideas on handling this:
- Library story times can help them learn how to behave appropriately in a group setting and take direction from another adult
- When you see problems on the playground (or where-ever) don’t hesitate to lovingly take your child aside and ask them their perspective on what’s happening while it is fresh in their mind. Ask them how they feel about it and HOW THE OTHER PERSON/PEOPLE might feel about it and how your child might be able to handle it. This is problem-solving with humans, mamas. Critical stuff.
- Do they know how to ask a store employee or librarian for something they want using proper words and the level of politeness you feel is appropriate? Have they seen you do this?
- Where do you stand on apologies? This is a pretty controversial topic–the idea of the forced “I’m sorry” (and here is my take on one aspect of apologies)
- Check to see how much “ego” is modeled for your child(ren). Are there adults in their lives modeling humility? Do they publicly acknowledge when they are wrong or have been hurtful (even if it wasn’t intentional)? Do they own their mistakes and try to make amends. More importantly, do they try to make changes to prevent it from happening again?
- How do your children seek attention and/or receive attention? What behaviors are we cultivating in them with their current lifestyle? Does that need to change to better serve how we are educating our children emotionally?
I think you can see that this is a set of skills that requires a lot of work on the parents part. As homeschoolers, we have far more time to orchestrate and oversee these situations for our children–but we need to be mindful to do it.
CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS: File this under “things we seem to be desperately lacking”. But what are they? I had to really look at how this is defined overall and there seems to be some consensus on the core critical thinking skills. Rasmussen College gives a great deal more detail and explanation, and University of Michigan has a different and more brief (but equally good) list as well. It means you look at things objectively and can see it from multiple perspectives. You use research and evidence to process information, evaluate someone else’s information and resolve disagreements. You can make connections. Most importantly–you re-evaluate your position in light of new information. That last one comes back to social/relational skills and a child’s ability to publicly acknowledge that they may not have been right. How do you teach this? You can accomplish a ton of this by way of asking a lot of questions.
- Ask lots of open-ended questions, which are questions that cannot be answered with “yes” or “no”. For example: “Did you have fun at school today?” can be answered with “yes” or “no”. Instead, reword it into “What was the most fun thing you did/experienced at school today?”
- Ask them to observe something and make connections using evidence. “Where do you think these feathers came from? Do you see something nearby that would help tell us what happened? What kind of animal would that come from? How could their feathers come off? (could be grooming in addition to fighting) How do you know that?” Challenge them to support their statements with some kind of evidence.
- Ask about a story you’re reading. What do they think will happen next? Why do they think that? How do they think this character feels? What makes them think that?
Worthy of note that you really shouldn’t make every life experience a series of these questions. You could totally do that and you will promptly make your child feel like life is nothing but a series of tests and quizzes…. ugh… But make it a point to do it intermittently.
BEING HAPPY: This sounds so stupid but seriously: can your child be happy? Have you ever met (or had) children that simply could not be happy? That saw the glass half empty? On one hand, I want to honor my children for who they are as individuals. On the other hand, this is one I need to be sure they can manage. If the core of who they are is a negative human being, then I need to start young and be consistent in helping them find ways to self-soothe and fulfill themselves.
GRATITUDE: This is a hard one to come by these days as we live in a pretty ungrateful world and are surrounded with a culture that seems to be driven by “more is better”. Cultivating gratitude in our children is no easy task, and truly the key is to start young–before they are completely consumed by the world around them. If you can find volunteer opportunities for them in your community, do that. But also be sure to expose them to the realities of life in other countries for children their age.
SELF-CARE SKILLS: Truly, these matter. My BigGuy is currently 13yo and I am going backward to play catch-up here for some of these things. No joke. Can they comb their hair? Can they brush their teeth? Can they feed themselves? Do they understand table manners (some people have A, B and C level manners for different places but we just have a baseline set of manners and we don’t take our kids to places that require more than they can do). Can they dress themselves? Are they bathroom independent? Can they wash their hands? Can they bathe themselves? (I seriously envy the friend whose children were all showering independently by age 7… I totally missed that boat) Can they put themselves to bed? Can they wash a cut and get a bandaid? All things they need to learn to do. Montessori books are amazing for these kinds of things. One of my favorites is “Teach Me To Do It Myself” by Maja Pitamic. I owned at least 6 of these books and this one was the absolute best in terms of details and the variety of skills covered in the book. And please–do not forget that “self-care” includes how they make themselves feel better and comfort themselves. We adults notoriously stink at this. Many times we seek out someone else to make us feel better. Teach your kids how to make themselves feel better when they are sad or upset.
HOME/”ENVIRONMENT” CARE SKILLS: Another set of critical skills–and ones you will actually love because a lot of it is CLEANING UP. Again, these are really well-covered in the Montessori world (see the book I reference in the blurb above this). When I caught onto this set of skills, it was a game-changer. Mostly because it encouraged SO. MUCH. INDEPENDENCE. in my then-4yo BigGuy. A lot of these skills (and many of the self-care skills) encourage a great deal of fine and gross motor dexterity. But seriously–can they sweep the floor and really get it clean? Can they set the table? Can they clear the table? Do laundry? (yes… yes they totally can. If you can’t figure out how to allow them to do the entire process, at least teach them how to gather and sort the laundry!) Can they make their bed? Are they putting things in their proper place before they leave a room? Can they sort and put away the silverware? Dishes? Can they wash the dog’s water bowl and refill it? The list is pretty long and they all take practice and teaching.
KITCHEN SKILLS: No joke, BigGuy was cooking breakfast eggs (with direct supervision, but with no help) at the age of 4 on a gas stove. He also had child-sized oven mitts and removed a hot cookie sheet from the oven at the same age. Again–direct supervision but no help. That takes training. The kitchen is such an amazing place for kids to learn so, so, so many things!!! They become familiar with numbers and math without DOING math consciously through cooking and measuring. They build confidence in handling things they KNOW are important. They gain fine motor skills and thinking skills. They learn about nutrition and how to take care of their body with good food–and they are encouraged to eat a greater diversity of food when they are planning and preparing meals with (and for!) you. They can wash (and cut) fruit and vegetables. They learn about how we handle and clean up after raw meat (if your family eats meat). They learn about food storage and preservation. These are skills MANY, MANY, MANY kids go off to college without! Foundation skills for life.
CREATIVITY: Oh man… this is so critically necessary. Giving children the supplies and space to get messy and experiment with creativity. It doesn’t require expensive things. My kids have had a blast “painting” on a hot day with a bucket of water and a 5¢ foam paintbrush on the sidewalk or a deck. They made music on a piece of wax paper folded over a comb. They have built incredible rooms out of cardboard (tyvm to one of our beloved babysitters!) Sometimes my kids and I will lay in the grass and pick out animals or shapes in the clouds or in wood paneling on the wall of a restaurant. Sometimes we play a game where each person adds the next word to a story. I coach a middle school science team and some of our most successful kids are the ones who are very creative! Build and exercise this skill in our kids!!
LITERATURE & LANGUAGE SKILLS: If you do nothing else, please read to your kids. But equally important–help them learn to use the right words at the right times. Don’t be afraid to teach them “mature” words or “big” words–just define them and contextualize them for your kids. Teach them to understand and to articulate. Expose them to language and literature. Read them stories from other cultures and talk about the way they write and speak differently. Help them explore words and make them better communicators–both on the listening side and the speaking/writing side.
SKILLS THAT SUPPORT FUTURE SKILLS: My son did a TON of playing with Legos. He also had incredibly poor fine motor skills. Legos helped. Start thinking in those terms: what can I do today that my child will enjoy and is developmentally appropriate but will help them in the future?
OTHER SKILLS: I could go on. There is so very much to learn at this age that sets the foundation for their growth as small PEOPLE. Some things you might want to consider exploring and developing in your children that don’t need formal curricula include:
- Safety skills: what is their emergency information? Visit the police and fire departments and get a tour of what they do. How do they call 9-1-1 and why?
- Civics: what is an election? Why do we have laws? What are the concepts of fairness and equality? What are rights? What is the Constitution?
- Construction skills: using a hammer, screwdriver and building or fixing things. Check your local Home Depot or Lowe’s for Saturday morning clinics for kids!
- Crafts: can they crochet? Sew? Do ceramics?
- Technology Skills: do they know how to be safe with technology? How do they recharge a device? How do they open and close applications? Which devices, applications and websites do they use for which purposes?
- Money Skills: my own started handling allowances by age 5 (you can read more about how we handle allowances here) but even younger than that, children can learn concepts around money, credit, rent, etc. They can also do some money identification and may even be interested in how money looks different around the world!
There are so many more skills our kids need to learn to have a solid foundation. Skills they don’t have time to learn when they’re in school. TAKE THIS TIME!!! TAKE THIS GIFT!!! Build DIFFERENT adults who will have a greater opportunity to be successful and happy. Make the biggest kind of impact on your child’s life: prepare them for life on so many levels.
You will be stunned at the difference these skills make on the long-term outcomes for your children. Stunned.
And it’s work to craft fun and interesting ways to build these skills with your kids. So get out your planners and get to the library. Do your reading and figure out what will be done and when. Don’t forget that they will need to experience things many times to perfect these foundation skills. Go gently with it. But there you have your curricula that won’t have you asking how to get your 4yo to sit at the table to complete a lesson because these lessons are more important and age-appropriate.
Much love to you, mamas…