When does homeschooling start? Many, even some experienced homeschoolers will answer 4 or 5 years old, when the child would otherwise start public school. I disagree. It starts when the family decides to homeschool and for many that may be at birth. We are all our children's first teachers. Why should homeschoolers who are so focused on teaching their children discount these early years? Just because the child can't read or write and is not receiving formal lessons does not mean the child is not learning or that parents aren't teaching.
So let's not pretend our littlest learners haven’t started yet. Let us rejoice in their learning as much as we rejoice in the boy who finally masters fractions or the girl explorer who must identify every type of flora and fauna. And let us chose to encourage that learning deliberately.
So what are we already doing to help these fledglings prepare to take flight? First and foremost we are talking to them and reading to them. As well, any time they are watching us perform tasks or just move around they are learning from us.
Is there more? Yes. I want to share a great book I recently discovered. It offers weekly activities that help foster development and learning without being "school-like". As a first time parent, it gives me new games to play with my little one. If one week's game is not interesting we don't play it as often. If it is too simple, we may modify to make it more challenging. If it is fun and challenging, we keep playing it for weeks on end.
Another recommendation I have to share from our experience is sign language.
I hear of so many parents searching out foreign nannies and taking their toddlers to an immersion program where the toddlers learn a language the parents can't speak, everything from Spanish and French to Chinese and Finnish. Why do they say they are doing this? "It helps the brain development for the child to be bilingual." Unfortunately for them, studies have shown that a child is only truly bilingual if both languages are spoken fluently in the home. And as well if you are going to teach a second language, it would help if it were one that facilitates your child actually communicating.
Sign language has those advantages and one more. If you take the time to learn to sign yourself, you can teach the child signs not just at the same time as verbal language, but actually faster. The child learns to manipulate his or her limbs and hands before they learn all the complex tasks necessary to form words. So you can communicate with your child earlier and easier. Sometimes just a little communication can make all the difference between crying for (what seems like) forever, and a contented child.