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Learning Through Play: Is Your Child Ready For More?

I started homeschooling my daughter when she was 4, and I can remember hopping into a home school group and asking, “What curriculum do you suggest for a 4 year old?”  I’m a researcher, so before I ever asked the question, I’d completed my own leg work.  I simply wanted some reassurance – maybe a confirmation about what I was thinking and planning.

I was bombarded with an exhausting list of suggestions, amidst many well-meaning moms who told me I really shouldn’t worry about that yet.  They advised me to just focus on learning through play.  Still, I WAS worried about it.  The question kept me up at night and monopolized my Internet search history.

The truth is, while I did and still do agree that play is a necessary factor in effective education, I wasn’t sure if just learning through play was enough for MY daughter – even though she was only 4.  Based on my research and observations, assessment her current skill levels, and listening to what she was asking to learn, I was reluctant to put her in the “she’s only 4 years old box” that everyone else seemed so desperate to place her inside.  Wasn’t the beauty of homeschooling the fact that you can customize and have more specialized control over your child’s learning process and environment?

I decided that while I appreciated the advice of those other moms, I had to make the ultimate choice.  Guessing wasn’t going to work for me though, so I knew I needed to devise a way to know when she was ready to progress in her learning process.  I identified three guideposts that helped us make a confident transition to curriculum-based learning.

Pay Attention to…Attention Span

How long are you able to keep your child’s attention?  By age 3 or 4 you should be able to hold their attention for at least 5-7 minutes for one concept (i.e., alphabet, numbers, shapes, etc.).  That’s enough time for a fun song or activity. Then incorporate short breaks (as needed) in between each span of focused learning time.

Watch Them Play

Another interesting way to assess your child’s readiness for more structured learning is to observe them while they play.  Do you find that what they are learning so far creeps into playtime?  Is your daughter teaching her dolls the alphabet?  Has your son been telling his younger sibling about shapes and colors?  Is your child voluntarily sharing what they have learned, without being asked? These are all possible signs that more structured learning may be in order, because your child is demonstrating retention, comprehension, and articulation.

Are They Asking For More

Is your child curious to learn the next step in a concept or skill set, even before you begin teaching it?  This guidepost is one that I lean on most often, because my daughter does an excellent job of expressing her wants and interests.  Taking note of what your child wants to learn gives you the freedom to teach based on interest and capability, rather than grade level.  Listening to your child also helps with creating a solid home school routine that works for your family.

All in all, you must make the final decision about when and how you will introduce structured learning.  Getting advice is great, but always begin and end with what feels right to you.  You are the one who knows your child best!

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