How do pre-schoolers learn without formal school?

Children playing in street, New York

Moms have been sharing What our typical school day looks like at Simple Homeschool.

What does a young child (pre-schooler)  need to learn?

  • Moms of very young pre-schoolers pack in full homeschool mornings with their young kids.
  • Many buy full curriculums.
  • Many have workbooks, educational games and toys and computer programs.
  • Most have tightly scheduled days.
  • Most children work at desks and tables doing schoolFormally.

This is fine … but when children are so young, is it all necessary?

I read Janice Campbell’s recent post Homeschoolers: What’s the Least You Need to Teach? and she shares some valuable insights:

Your primary job as a homeschool parent is first to disciple and civilize your child, then to start them on the road to cultural literacy (the culture of Western civilization, not current pop culture). In addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic, they’ll need four fundamental skills:

    • How to find and organize reliable information
    • How to think and communicate clearly (literary analysis is a wonderful way to teach this)
    • How to discern worldview
    • How to make thoughtful, reasoned decisions”

All educationists believe that young children learn by doing.

What should young children learn?

And more importantly, how should they learn?

What if everyday we focused on allowing our children something to grow  in …




  • I believe that young children should be part of your life,
Two Children Playing Outside
  • take part in what you are busy with,
  • help in your activities,
  • let them do the real thing in a smaller, manageable way.
  • And all the while, mom talks about what they are doing or making,
  • answer the hundreds of questions,
  • show them patiently and slowly,
  • step-by-step,
  • encourage and affirm the child’s efforts …
  • Spend some time reading aloud, singing, praying and sharing God’s Word..
  • Talk about what you’ve read. (oral narrations)
  • Draw a picture or make a play dough model of the story.
  • Do a craft on the story.
  • Sing action songs.
  • Go outside to play and explore.  Share in their excitement of discovery.
  • Teach your children life skills by sharing your life.

I don’t think pre-schoolers should sit for hours doing a formal school day.

  1. They should spend a short time each day to practice numeracy, learn fine motor skills to prepare them for handwriting, make puzzles, and play educational games.
  2. Then they should play.
  3. They should exercise gross muscles and learn to balance, to climb, throw, catch, hop, skip, ride scooters …
  4. They should learn and have fun!

Enjoy these free days with your young children and don’t give in to the pressure to do it formally!


15 thoughts on “How do pre-schoolers learn without formal school?

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  7. Thank you so much for this. I linked over from Simple Homeschool & this perfectly captures why my daughters are home with me & why I want to homeschool. Thank you!


  8. I totally agree with you! I teach my current preschooler for about 15 minutes a day – and that’s only because he ASKS to “do school” in order to imitate his older brother and sister. We use a little Rod and Staff workbook series that builds fine motor skills. Other than that we just read, play and do chores.

    I know there are many out there who can’t believe this is enough, but I’ve found that the less I do at younger ages, the more they learn!

    He knows all of his shapes, colors, numbers, letters, etc. without me having drilled any of this with him. He is creative and confident, and learns every day just by living life in our family.

    And I don’t feel pressure to squeeze in another program just because he’s reached a certain age. I am very relaxed for kindergarten as well, yet all my children have learned to read just fine, and are more than capable of moving into formal book work when their older. I actually think they enjoy it more because they aren’t burnt out from doing too much during the younger years.


  9. I totally agree. Preschoolers do not need “curriculum”–life itself is their curriculum! We always had a routine for our day that included many traditional “preschool” elements (Bible story, music, story, finger plays, art, games/manipulatives) but we saved the “formal” work until later. Research has actually proven that children who are offered a play-based preschool/Kindergarten versus those who use an “academic” program do better in school in the long run, have great vocabularies and are creative thinkers (Dr. Beechick talks about this in the 3 R’s.)
    We based our preschool activities on what I call the 4R’s: Relationship (with God and family), routine, readiness, and reading aloud. Visit my blog to find out more.
    Susan Lemons
    Homeschooling mom of 4
    Author, Homepreschool and Beyond


  10. Love this post – especially the part about keeping the kids physically active. Preschoolers are all about fun and creativity and imagination. Everyone has to figure out what works for them, looks like you have done just that. Nice work!


  11. I love this post Nadine and agree whole heartedly with the idea that preschoolers do not need a curriculum…Instead they should have a lot of love and something to love themselves, nurturing, time outdoors for nature exploration and just plain fun , opportunities to dance, sing, hear stories, tell some of their own, create art, and be close to family while making first friends in a relaxed home atmosphere… I’ve been enjoying the day in the life posts as well!

    Enjoy this day!


  12. I wholeheartedly agree. I think people get so caught up in what “everyone” else is doing, or just the way “we” were taught (I didn’t go to pre-school, but I was in public school K-12), that they don’t look to see why big groups are taught that way, or what a young child really needs to learn, or how one who learns life lessons at a young age will be ready to blossom later, not “left behind” at all. What is funny, is that some of people chose to homeschool because they don’t like the system of public schooling, but then they try to recreate that same set up at home. What is really funny is that public schools (especially elementary) continually try to make school more homelike. I actually know of a public school teacher who was on the news saying she thought of herself as, or tried to be like a, mother to her kindergarten class. Schooling and education are really interesting things to think about.


    • @Shona, finding the “right fit” is the secret to happy and successful homeschooling. We also used the out-the-box curriculum for several years and I slowly discovered the joy of taking my time and using the curriculum schedule as our guide and not our task master.

      @ Misty, great thoughts! It is finding the balance that is the key.:)


  13. This is lovely to read, Nadene, and I agree with your thoughts.
    Just 4 years ago, we were looking at this, and trying that, and realised that ‘informal’ was not only how we worked as a family, but it was also going to be so much better for the girls.
    I did struggle to find enough good literature in our library at home or in our town, so we bought a pre-school curriculum… and ended up reading the books when and how we wanted and discarding the curriculum guide. We still love most of those books and will use some for my later-to-read girl as readers.

    Thank you for encouraging us younger mamma’s to concentrate on the important things!


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