Young children are learning all the time! Children are born with an innate sense of curiosity about the world around them, and their wonder and awe at the little things we grown ups take for granted is a beautiful sight for any parent to behold.
Linda Dobson, author of Homeschooling: The Early Years, writes, “The early years are a child’s information-gathering time, and he accomplishes this as a physical, sensory being. Lacking ability to reason in the abstract … the early years child collects data by physical means – moving, touching, tasting, seeing, hearing, and smelling. The greater the sensory involvement in an activity, the better the chance the information will stick.” As the children grow, they process the information they’d collected in their early years and make sense of it, and of the world around them.
At the same time, as our children’s language capacity expands, they are increasingly more able to absorb information and ideas through good age-appropriate books. This is also the parents’ window of opportunity to nurture a life-long love of books by exposing their children to the best of picture books and creating fond memories of reading them together as a family.
As parents, our job is to nurture innate curiosity and the spirit of exploration and discovery that is the hallmark of early childhood. We do this by surrounding our children with countless opportunities for physical and sensory learning, as well as enjoying quality picture books with them.
Young children also need an abundance of unstructured play time and, weather and circumstances permitting, time outdoors. Fred Rogers, of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, used to say, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” Play is how children develop language, muscles, motor planning, and problem solving skills. In fact, most things we attempt to teach in Preschool are things that children often naturally pick up through play.
In summary, what children need most at this age is lots of time playing outside, positive relationships with adults that see them as persons, the opportunity to be creative and create, regularly sharing good books together with a parent, and at least one good friend. This will help set them up for success in all future learning by developing their social-emotional, communication, gross motor, fine motor, life skills, and cognitive skills. Educational Psychology has proven that children need to develop skills in a specific order for the best possible outcomes and nothing supports that better than what children were designed to do: Play!
For more information on what a day with a child under 6 might look like, see an example from an Ani VeAmi homeschooler, read Charlotte Mason’s Home Education Volume 1, or join one of the courses at A Charlotte Mason Plenary.