Four years ago, I set out to become a preschool teacher to my first little heart. She was only 2 and 1/2 years old at the time but she wanted to "do school." And she really was ready, or so I thought. She loved for me to read books to her and would sit and listen for as long as I would read. She could say the alphabet flawlessly and count to twenty with near accuracy. She could identify colors, shapes, and almost all letters of the alphabet. I had to agree, she was ready to "do school."
The problem was, I didn't know how to "do school" with her. Just two years prior to this, I was a full time pharmacist. My days consisted of filling prescriptions, counseling patients about medications, screening for drug interactions. I didn't know anything about being a preschool teacher.
So I went to the dollar store. I bought a few letters and numbers workbooks, a brand new box of crayons, and a fat pencil. I showed her the new, colorful school books. She was so excited! Well, that is until we opened them to the first activity and I told her to trace a line. She took the fat pencil into her little right hand with eagerness, and attempted to stay on the line. She tried so hard! (With the knowledge I have now, I know that there is probably no two year old that can trace a line with precision.) Despite her best effort, she did not stay on the line. The tears came. Big, sobbing tears of failure because she couldn't stay on the line. And the tears were followed by a phrase that I will never forget coming out of her little mouth, "I not want to do school!"
A few days went by. She no longer asked to "do school." She even said, "I not like school!" a few times when I tried to talk to her about it. I was devastated. My husband and I had recently decided that our daughter would be homeschooled. How was I supposed to homeschool her if she didn't like school and if I couldn't successfully teach her?
I had to find a way for my daughter to want to "do school" again. So I made the decision to get rid of those workbooks that had caused tears, and to never bring them up to her again. Maybe she just wasn't ready to do school, I reasoned. But with all that she knew, I couldn't understand why those books had been so stressful to her! They looked so colorful and fun!
What I didn't realize at the time, friends, is that we had already been doing school. Yes, preschool had already begun for my daughter, and I was already a preschool teacher to her. Our lovely times of reading together, playing with her blocks and toys, all the things she had been learning through play was school for her. And that was enough, actually more than enough, at her age. That beautiful, adventurous, eager age of two.
So why didn't I know this at the time? It's because this type of school wasn't the school that I knew. I attended public school my whole life. So did my husband. The idea of school to us (as well as in the Sesame Street books we had been reading to her) was sitting at a desk or table, with a pile of worksheets or a workbook and coloring pictures and writing letters. The idea of school through play would have seemed ridiculous to me at that time!
Friends, don't ever underestimate the power of playtime for teaching a preschooler. It is truly how they learn! Play with your little children. Read to them. And teach them as you play. No worksheets (or tears) are required.
I am remembering this as my second little heart is now preschool age, and it is so precious to do school with him in this way. (Surprisingly, he does ask for worksheets at the age of 3 because his sister eagerly does them now at the age of 6. He really enjoys them, too. He is not stressed out by not being able to stay on the line perfectly as she was at preschool age. He completes them with joy!)
I will leave you with this quote that I love and have found it to personally hold so much truth:
"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." -Fred Rogers