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Homeschooling a 3 Year-Old, Part 2

Updated: Oct 6, 2022

August 1, 2022

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Last week, I discussed some simple ideas to homeschool a 3 year old. I shared the importance of reading and then teaching children the sounds that the letters make (not just the names of the letters). Personally, I do not think a homeschool parent needs to stress about an organized curriculum for a 3 year old, but instead a parent should spend much time reading, playing, and talking with a child to prepare him for school.


Three year-olds need lots of opportunities to explore a variety of textures and objects all within a friendly, non-critical environment. They need lots of opportunities to develop their small motor skills (working with their hands) and large motor skills (using the entire body or a larger portion of the body). This stage of life is very hands on, and they need to physically touch and handle objects to learn.


This week I will be sharing some simple ideas to prepare your child for handwriting and some ideas to strengthen large motor skills.


Preparing for Handwriting


Intense handwriting lessons are not advisable. Three year old’s hand muscles are generally not ready for writing, and the bones and muscles in their hands are still forming and developing. I will say some children readily pick up a pencil and start writing. My oldest was this way. I did not teach her how to hold a pencil, but at the age of 2 she was already grasping a pencil properly and scribbling away.


All this said, I personally would avoid worksheets for very young children. I cringe when I see parents fling a worksheet at a young child and then expect the child to do it independently. Children’s minds and hands are not usually ready for worksheets at the tender age of 3. They need more hands-on, direct forms of learning.


Simple “Pre-Handwriting” Ideas


Offer strength-building opportunities with materials such as play-dough, kinetic sand, oatmeal, or beans. My children love pouring, measuring, and scooping oatmeal and beans, and all these movements help develop their hand-eye coordination and strengthen their hand muscles.


Yes, playing with play-dough or some other material makes a mess. I find beans under my fridge months later. Oatmeal leaves a powder coating on the floor that annoys my feet. But offering my children exciting learning opportunities is more important to me than a perfect house.


Playdough is probably the very best material for strengthening little hands. I know many moms hate the stuff, and I hear you. It’s a mess! I’m finding that being a mom means setting aside some of my own personal desires and doing what is best for my children.


It also takes discipline on the part of a parent to teach children neatness when playing with playdough. I place a cheap tablecloth from Walmart on our table before letting our kids play with play-dough. I also state my expectations that the play-dough needs to stay on the table as much as possible. I have even placed a cookie sheet on the table and instructed the child to keep the dough on the sheet. Clearly state your expectations for your child and follow through on your expectations.


Simple Writing Ideas


If you want to start working on writing with your child, I would focus on teaching your child the proper strokes for writing each letter. By strokes I mean the movements used to create the letters. I would not recommend working on writing with a pencil at this stage, but instead consider some of the ideas below.


  • Simply show your child how to form the letter by writing the letter on a piece of paper or a small board of some kind (dry erase, chalkboard, etc.). I would write the letter very large so that your child can see it clearly.

  • After showing your child how to form the letter on a board or piece of paper, have your child join you in forming the letter in the air. Just take your pointer finger and “write” the letter in the air.

  • Fill a small Pyrex dish or cookie sheet with salt and write the letters in the salt with the index finger.

  • Spray some shaving cream onto a cookie sheet, spread it around to evenly to coat the surface, and write the letter on the sheet.


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  • If your child is ready to start grasping a writing utensil and start writing, one simple idea is to start with dry erase markers. I wrote out all the letters on half sheets of paper (capital and lower case) and then slipped the letter we were working on into a plastic sleeve from the Dollar Store. Generally we focused on one letter a week, and I had my child practice writing the letter each day.

  • You can also simply offer open-ended “writing opportunities.” Place pencils, makers, or crayons in front of your child, and let him just explore and have fun. I would kindly advise against forcing your child to use a certain hand (i.e. right of left). Let your child decide which hand is more comfortable for him. My mom was very careful not to place a crayon in my left hand and would actually place crayons in both my hands. I ended up being a “leftie” just like she is, and my children seem to be following in their mama’s and grandma’s footsteps.


Remember that scribbles are very important! Never downplay a child’s “scribbles”. These are the precursors to writing. Praise your child when he makes any attempt at writing or drawing.


Again, I would keep writing very low-key and low-stress. I would not expect perfection from a 3 year old. This is just his or her opportunity to explore writing, and I would recommend being very encouraging and positive.


Spend Time Outside


Outside play is pivotal to the physical and mental development of young children. Most often we associate outside play with much-needed physical movement, and undoubtedly children need plenty of opportunities to expend energy and develop muscles.


Yet spending time outside actually does more for your child than just physical exercise. Spending time outside encourages creativity and problem solving thus exercising their brains while exercising their bodies. For example, at a park children have to figure out how to navigate a playground. A child may discover a new use for his dump truck in the backyard. A little girl may figure out how to make a chain out of clover flowers. The possibilities for expanding the mind outside are endless.


Playing outside not only develops physical endurance but also the ability to endure some discomfort. So many American children want to be comfortable constantly, and many parents pander to their desires. Yes, be careful in extreme heat or cold, but gently push your kids outside as much as possible. Give your child a water bottle and then monitor his condition in extreme temps.

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Playing outside encourages exploration of nature. Children can watch bugs as they crawl up a tree. They can watch birds soar in the sky and wonder how they stay up in the air. They can watch plants grow in a garden, and if you have vegetable plants, they can participate in the joy of harvesting produce.

child-hands-fresh-green-beans-garden-picked

Some simple ideas to do with your children in the yard

  • bubbles

  • sidewalk chalk

  • hoola hoops

  • swinging together on the swingset.

  • playing in sand. Yes, sand is a mess, but so much creativity is unleashed in the sandbox especially with a few sand toys and leftover Easter eggs

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  • shovels, even little hand gardening shovels (these give kids the best leverage).

  • mud. Any person with average intelligence knows that dirt+water=mud. A few weeks ago, my kids mixed gallons of water in a spot in our yard where the grass never grows. The result was a complete and utter mess of mud, but my kids had a blast for over two hours. This is certainly not an “everyday” activity, and daddy kindly helped clean up the epic mess. My kids scooped, poured, molded, and did anything imaginable with the mud.

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The best thing you can do with a 3 year old is to spend time with him. If I could pick only two activities to do with my three year old, I would hands down pick lots of time outside and lots of time reading. Please do not beat yourself up about doing every cutesy Pinterest idea with your 3 year old. If you can establish a solid working relationship with your child and give him a love for reading, you are well on the path to success!


Ultimately, young children need their mamas more than anything. Your children need YOU! You are the best one to teach and train your young children, and God has equipped you to do so. Someday my children will not want to be with me as desperately, and I know I will long for this sweet time together again.


-Ashley


See Homeschooling a 3 Year-Old, Part 1 for a list of Resources


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