We have always believed that early childhood is the period of life when children should explore and experience their world in ways that make the most sense to them, that is through lots of play and hands-on experiences. The first six years of childhood are meant to be playful and carefree rather than filled with hours of sitting at desk doing academics. In fact, the playful years are crucial in preparing the children for the journey of academic learning which comes later. These short but essential moments, once gone are no longer retrievable. After all, it is called the preschool years for a reason.
As much as I wanted to spend my children’s preschool years playing in parks, watching birds and smelling flowers, we know that we are living in the part of the world where schooling normally starts at three. So it was understandable when the grandparents asked more questions and more often around the topic.
To accommodate their concerns, last year we started our formal academic learning with our eldest daughter at home, then turning five years old. We kept the “school-time” short so we had plenty of time for play and other non-academic activities daily.
In this post, I am compiling the lessons that we have done for the past year for future use with the younger siblings. The materials are derived largely from my memory of what were taught to me during my own Kindy years. If you are teaching your preschooler(s) and find the materials useful, please feel free to take anything that could be of any use for you.
First Things First
Before the school year began, Husband and I sat down and planned an overview of the year’s lessons. We reminded ourselves again what the definition of education is and what kind of education philosophy we believe in. For us, education is the pursuit of wisdom and virtue, to the glory of God. The approach we take is the classical model of education. Once we got that settled, we moved on to the practical e.g. lesson sets and their objectives.
For K1, we focused on four academic subjects:
- Memory training
Here is my scribble of the year’s lesson overview (written in Indonesian). The aim was that at the end of the year, the child would be able to:
- Recognize and write the 26 alphabet capital letters,
- Recognize and write (count) from 1 to 100,
- Read simple words (in Indonesian),
- Counting objects.
Following Singapore’s January to November school calendar, our school-time began at 9 and ended at 10 in the morning, every Monday to Thursday (we have community day with our Classical Conversations’ homeschooling community every Friday).
1. Memory Training
The classical model of education puts a lot of emphasis on the training of memory. I used to question why my teachers would make us memorize things every day, regardless of our understanding them. It wasn’t just the school teachers, my Mandarin tuition teacher, Sunday School teachers, tuition teachers would all drill their students with rote memorization. In fact, memorization made up a huge part of my education from preschool all the way to high school. So, how important is memory training actually? The successful founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, among many others, has proposed that we do away with teaching children what machines can do better. In the age of the mighty Google, are we to do away with memorization? We believe no.
“That is because a developed memory is a wondrous and terrible storehouse of things seen and heard and done. It can do what no mere search engine on the internet can do. It can call up apparently unrelated things at once, molding them into a whole impression, or a new thought. The poet T. S. Eliot understood this creative, associative, dynamic function of a strong memory. The developed imagination remembers a strain from Bach, and smells spinach cooking in the kitchen, and these impressions are not separate but part of a unified whole, and are the essence of creative play. Without the library of the memory…the imagination simply does not have much to think about, or to play with.” – Anthony Esolen, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, p. 9.
So we started every lesson with prayer, memorized a hymn of the week and a Bible memory verse of the week.
We started with number 1 (one), working our way progressively one number a day. We stopped periodically to review and reinforce the numerals previously learned (1-10, 1-20, 1-30, 1-50, 1-70, 1-100).
Once the child was fluent with numbers, we began doing math by counting objects in small quantities, and then moving on slowly to larger quantities following the progress of the child’s numeracy.
In our initial lesson plan for the year, we only expected our daughter to master counting objects. But since she progressed rather quickly we moved on to the next math’s lesson. One of the things we love best about homeschooling is we can tailor-make the learning to suit a specific child’s progress. It is, however, important to note that it is necessary for the child to over-master a lesson before moving on to the subsequent lessons. So we took our time and refrained from rushing even when she seemed ready.
After object counting is mastered well, we introduced the concept of “more than, less than, equals to.” And when this has been over-practiced, we moved to simple additions, working with number bonds within 5, and then moving slowly to 10, 15 and 20. We did the same with subtraction, but only after she mastered the corresponding addition well. This addition and subtraction exercises were done every school-day until the end of the school year (and even to K2 the following year). The goal is for the child to over-practice the basic arithmetic so much that it becomes intuitive.
Apart from arithmetic, basic clock-reading was also taught this year.
We chose to start our literacy lesson in Indonesian language. It is a phonetic language and therefore possesses simpler and more consistent phonetic rules. There are only 27 distinct sounds (phonemes) to its 26 alphabet letters (graphemes). Once these correspondings are memorized, they can be paired up to sound out words using very consistent and logical rules. We figured that it would be far more beneficial as the same rules can be applied to learning Mandarin’s hanyu pinyin, Japanese and Korean romaji, Latin and other phonetic languages. We also presumed that with ample exposure to spoken English (through conversations and being read-to daily) the child would be able to decode English with the phonetic rules learned in Indonesian language. Happily, this has been the case, our eldest daughter was able to read in all the languages mentioned above by end of the year.
We started with capital letter A, moving progressively to Z one letter a day. We stopped periodically and did dictation to review and reinforce the letters previously learned (A-J, A-T and A-Z).
Once the child was fluent with A-Z, we moved on to basic phonics, starting with two letter combinations:
BA-BE-BI-BO-BU to ZA-ZE-ZI-ZO-ZU and
AB-EB-IB-OB-UB to AZ-EZ-IZ-OZ-UZ,
then three letter combinations:
We read simple (and interesting) words with short syllables for reading exercise, working our way to more complicated words with longer syllables.
The end goal for the year’s literacy was the ability to read words in capital letters. But since we achieved this earlier, we continued with introduction to lowercase letters in cursive. Why cursive? Because that was what I was taught, I never learned print letters from my teachers, they were picked up from textbooks (which I thought was just another style of writing because of the lack of ‘tails’). Now that I am teaching my own child, I did some research to find out why cursive, and let me just persuade you to do the same because there are just so many benefits to this way of writing which has been neglected by our modern education.
As was the case with capital letters, we stopped periodically and did dictation to review and reinforce the letters learned previously. This “a-z in cursive” exercise was done until the end of the school year and is still continued into the current year of K2.
That’s it, Kindy 1 with Mommy! Looking back, both Mommy and Big Nona have learned so much in one year, an hour for four days a week! Academics aside, we have also learned about each other’s character, temperament, about discipline and a lot more. It has especially been a tough training ground for me to practice patience, gentleness and kindness. Education, after all, is not just about transmitting knowledge and skills but also about how to bring those involved to higher wisdom and nobler virtue. We thank God for His sustaining grace throughout the past year and pray for His favor and blessings for the new year’s journey of learning.