Learning with Littles

In sharing our current household and learning routines I've received questions about what life was like with little children. So I've decided to take this trip down memory lane with you. 

handprint painting with my littles

In particular, a reader wanted to know about interest-led learning at this stage so that's where I'll start.

Our Pre-School "Curriculum"

Interest-led learning when our children were little was very family and home based. Looking back, I focused predominantly on three main "subjects" all the way up till age 7 (this isn't a magic age, just happened to be when we started a teensy bit more formal stuff with our kids)*:

  • reading aloud to them
  • nature study and the outdoors
  • craft, coloring and working with our hands

three year old Laurent peeling sweet potatoes

Those three things formed the core of their pre-homeschool curriculum. I never did flash cards, workbooks or any "schoolish" activities with them. That was boring for me and I had other stuff to do.

I wanted to enjoy my days with them so I did the things that I enjoyed as much as possible. Which is the same philosophy I still have. I taught them lots about nature and home making in our everyday comings and goings and we learned about the world-at-large through reading. 

farm visits and field trips

What did it look like? It looked like a stay-at-home mom, working in the kitchen and taking care of our home, reading almost every day to her kids, going for walks around town and doing lots of crafty activities.

helping mom make valentines cookies

Simple and straightforward. Definitely home and nature based. This really was the time to stop and smell the roses, look at bugs, draw, color, bake with mommy and play at the park.

Making Time for Children's Interests

One particular question I have been asked is how I balanced interest-led learning during this stage with the need to manage my home and make time for myself. 

this one never did like crayons
(she also was my only child to write on the walls)

There is no way then or now that I can follow up on every interest my children have. I can't follow up on every interest I have! Then, just as now we choose the most important things, that are within our realm of doing and balance those with the realities of life; the constraints of time and finances.

reading on the couch

I'll be honest, I didn't have a lot of personal time with littles. I didn't blog though we did have a little website to keep in touch with family. To recharge, I scheduled a rest time each day (I trained my kids to all nap at the same time) during which I often napped, read a book or did something else quiet to feed my spirit. This break in the middle of the day saved my sanity.

Those early childhood days were physically and emotionally intense for me. These current years are more mentally demanding as I strive to meet my children's growing intellectual needs.

With young kiddos to care for and a home to manage my strategy for balancing my children's interests, ie: "mommy let's do...", with those of my own was to limit our commitments outside the home.

folding laundry
4 year old Celine folding her laundry

You are the mom and set the pace and feel for your home, your sanctuary. A young child is not capable of understanding the full ramifications of saying "yes" to every interest and whim. Sometimes, maybe often, you will need to say "no" (but "let's go for a nature walk together instead") and trust that your child will learn to understand. If you are joyful about your choices your kids will be enthusiastic also.

drawing on the whiteboard

We give our children a lot of learning latitude to follow their interests and desires but it's within the boundaries that Damien and I set. For example: in our current life season we are not able to do traditional after-school activities (dance, art class) as we have in the past. We have explained the reasons for this to our children and we are all in agreement about the importance of that decision but ultimately it's Damien and I who need to hold the line on that. Our children are not capable of bearing either the responsibility or consequences of making that decision. 

In truth though, little ones mostly want to be with mommy anyway and over-scheduling the days, even if it is to do educational stuff, can lead to behavior issues and burn out for everyone. 

eating popcorn

Practical Tips:

  • Balance meeting the children's needs with the house needs by juggling the two back and forth during the day. When my kiddos were little I would do something with/for them and then attend to my own thing for a short time. As they get older the length of time you'll have for your needs (cooking, creative or otherwise) will increase but when they are little it's rather a see-saw somedays! I address this idea of meeting everyone's needs in this post on making a family schedule.
  • Involve children as much as possible in the work of running a household so they spend time with you that way. Also, as they grow their efforts will actually help and you'll all have more time for creative and other pursuits. 
  • The judicious use of TV & DVDs can be helpful. We have been TV-less (we watch videos on our computer monitor) for years but I do remember letting the kids watch some morning PBS when they were toddlers and pre-schoolers. I can't speak for the programming on this station nor do I wholeheartedly recommend this approach but it is a strategy I did use. 

Laurent coloring

Want to read what a day was like for me five and a half years ago? Celine was 5, Laurent was almost 4 and Brienne was just 2. This might give you a little insight into what life was like with littles.

* Please note: I don't consider these slightly-academic minded subjects to be the learning and life goals of early childhood. I wrote about them because that is what you asked for. Instead, I consider building a foundation of love, trust, character building, and behavior training (to name a few) to be the focus of these earliest childhood years. We structured our home life and the children's learning around that core.

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  • Kirsten

    Kirsten on Oct. 1, 2010, 3:48 a.m.

    Your kids were soooo cute as littles!! Oh my, little Laurent is such a doll (still is!). We are just barely hanging in there with 2...looks like you managed well with 3!


  • Shannon

    Shannon on Oct. 1, 2010, 10:20 a.m.

    This is the stage of life that we are in right now. The boys just turned 2 and 4 and I am starting to think more about a slightly structured educational time. One of my biggest struggles, as we move more towards a homesteading way of life, is balancing the sheer volume of work involved with craft times, etc. Perhaps it is that September just ended, which is possibly the busiest month next to planting time, or perhaps it is a lack of discipline on my part. But I have not done a ton of craft type things with my boys. I'm not crafty to begin with and don't want to have to go out and pay more than $20 to get started. Any suggestions? :)


    • renee

      renee on Oct. 1, 2010, 6:44 p.m.

      Yes I have some suggestions Shannon and will be posting them soon. Probably in comments here so stay tuned.


  • Maryam

    Maryam on Oct. 1, 2010, 1:28 p.m.

    thank you for this post! i've got little ones and i totally agree with what the real foundations are. it's neat to see how things grew from your early beginnings in homeschooling.


  • nicola@which name?

    nicola@which name? on Oct. 1, 2010, 4:12 p.m.

    Wonderful post, Renee. This is the stage I am in, as you know. And your words "physical and emotional" jumped out at me. Sometime recently, I realized (and the realization helped me so much!) that one of my children taps me emotionally and the other taps me physically. Recognition of this is helping me adjust how I respond to each, keeping things a bit more sane for all of us. Feeling out of touch with you. Hope all is well, Nicola


  • Kelly

    Kelly on Oct. 1, 2010, 4:50 p.m.

    Thanks Renee, for such a thoughtful and thorough response! I knew you would have ideas that I could learn from. :) I especially appreciate your thoughts on mama "setting the pace" in the home. The other day my 3-year-old desperately wanted to go to the science museum (it also happened to be our library day)...so I rushed around for an hour getting us packed and ready to go and then home for baby's nap, more rushing out the door to the library...I was frazzled. I need to learn how to say no. We can plan that for another day. She has so many wonderful ideas for art projects to do WITH MAMA and things she wants to play WITH MAMA...I want to support her creativity but I'm working on structure so it's manageable for me. She needs a calm mama more than anything else. And you are absolutely right, that she doesn't understand the consequences of decision making. Thanks. --Kelly


    • renee

      renee on Oct. 1, 2010, 6:31 p.m.

      You're welcome! I was hoping that I addressed the issues/questions you brought up. sometimes it's hard to know when communicating quickly via comments, emails etc. what the true issues are. A chat over tea would of resolved that of course. This was second best I suppose. Take care Kelly. You're doing a great job.

      This journey of parenting is a process. You'll get it figured out for this stage of life and they'll grow and change again!


  • Heather

    Heather on Oct. 1, 2010, 6:26 p.m.

    Thank you for this and all of your beautiful thoughtful posts. I have been following your blogs for quite a while, but don't usually comment even though I find your blogs enjoyable and inspiring.

    As a homeschooling mother of a 17 month old, with #2 on the way, I really appreciate that you often interject your homeschooling posts by reminding us readers that your current pace of life is not anything like it was when your children were small. It is helpful to now have a glimpse into your life-with-littles. It is encouraging to know that not giving into the (mostly internal) pressure to do 'formal learning' at an early age will not present issues later; after years with the focus on family and character building, your children all seem to be learning plenty and thriving now.

    Thanks again for all the time and thought you put into your writing - it is much appreciated.


    • renee

      renee on Oct. 1, 2010, 6:40 p.m.

      You are more than welcome Heather! I am so happy to have encouraged you with this post.

      And yes, a resounding yes - focusing on home life, character building, love etc... IS the foundation for all that comes after. An appetite for learning flows naturally from those early years together.  There is no need (unless you really want to and your kids enjoy doing it) to do preschool or any formal schoolish things. My children have an incredible appetite for life and learning. I'm not saying it's because of what we did or didn't do but it certainly shows that home or out-of-home pre-school is not necessary for learning readiness if you the cultivate the right home environment.

      Enjoy being mama to your littles and rest easy in this precious time together.


  • Naomi

    Naomi on Oct. 2, 2010, 3:26 a.m.

    You're kids are so precious! And WOW! I will have to read this post a couple times more to absorb it. I know there are a lot of things I need to work on in my own home life, but it really is helpful to hear how other moms did it. I think my biggest challenge as the daughter of a work-a-holic is to remain in the moment. I can get so busy-minded that it's hard for me to stay focused on just one thing, like playing restaurant or trains with the kiddos while I'm thinking about the dishes, a blog post, what's for dinner, a client, or even the dirt on the floor. That's one of my mom-of-young-children goals is to be fully committed to THIS moment because it is so important to the well-being of our children and to our family as a whole.


  • Jenn

    Jenn on Oct. 2, 2010, 10:02 p.m.

    Laurent's big cheeks and cute grin just had me tickled!! It's fun to see how you looked and how your little ones looked back then. :0)


  • Francesca

    Francesca on Oct. 3, 2010, 5:14 a.m.

    Very nice post. The (compulsory) rest time saved my sanity too. About involving children in the housework, my youngest is at the imitating stage, and wants to do everything I do; my 11 yo is at the stage when housework is a boring chore to be avoided or postponed whenever possible; while my 13 yo is reaching the awareness stage, and will often ask how he can help or even do things himself on his own initiative.


  • Heather

    Heather on Oct. 5, 2010, 5:26 a.m.

    This is a GREAT post! I love reading the 'hows' and 'why' of homeschooling. You brought out a lot of practical tips and common-sense things that I think people tend to overlook - or 'try too hard' to get it right... this is a really wonderful post! ~h


  • Kyce

    Kyce on Oct. 6, 2010, 1:33 a.m.

    Thanks so much for this one. I am encouraged by the picture you offer of homeschooling older children, but this is so appreciated because it applies to my current reality. I especially resonate with what you say about limiting the outside world, and truly keeping life based in the home and walking distance of it. Welcome home!


  • Leslie

    Leslie on Oct. 6, 2010, 3:30 a.m.

    This post is just beautiful! Thanks for sharing. It's good to see the intensity of your time with little ones, and how you are moving beyond that now and into a new season. It kind of gives hope that we will eventually move beyond this intensity!


  • Jennifer

    Jennifer on Oct. 7, 2010, 3 a.m.

    Thanks so much for this post!!! I had to come back to read it again. I'm in this stage and it's so nice to see someone who has been there. The other thing that was really comforting for me was when you wrote about not having as much time to blog when you had littles. I try not to compare myself to other bloggers but truthfully sometimes I can't help but think I should be posting more. But then I get over it when I think about my intention for the blog, to inspire me to be a better mother.

    I completely agree with your philosophy for pre-school. I think of this stage as setting the foundation for learning for the rest of their life. I want them to always have that natural curiousity and love of learning.

    Thanks again for this post. I always enjoy all of your posts but it is especially helpful when you talk about your experiences when your children were little.


  • renee

    renee on Oct. 18, 2010, 2:19 a.m.

    More Preschool Crafting and Curriculum Ideas and Resources:

    A Preschool Education at Home

    Rae Grant's Books (I haven't read them but they come highly recommended)

    Crafty Crow

    Get Your Kids Creating


  • Andrea

    Andrea on Oct. 19, 2011, 5:10 a.m.

    I just stumbled upon this and it is so refreshing. I'm still in the beginning stages of starting our little home school and people still think I'm a little more than crazy. It's so easy to doubt my instincts when people ask me "why?" But the things you've talked about here are so familiar. This is exactly the stage I am focusing on and though I am sometimes tempted to use flash cards and drill them with the alphabet, they get so much more when I simply participate with them and show them what it means to love life. Thank You for sharing your experiences! -Andrea from www.thisrednecklife.blogspot.com


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