Yvette Hampton: A listener asked, “I’d love recommendations on a good homeschool curriculum for my preschooler, age three.” And Aby, I’m going to let you answer this, but before you answer it, I’m going to say, we just recorded an whole episode all about preschool with Leslie Richards, from the Homegrown Preschooler. In this hour-long conversation with Leslie she dives deep into homeschooling preschoolers and how to keep order in your home when you are teaching multiple ages.
Aby Rinella: I hope I don’t answer it differently than her!
Yvette Hampton: It’s okay. I know you won’t because I just interviewed her and I know where you stand on this issue, because you stand where I stand.
Aby Rinella: Wonderful. So, what I’m not going to do is give you recommendations on a good homeschool curriculum for your preschooler because your three-year-old is three! We need to throw out curriculum because your three-year-old doesn’t need curriculum. Your three-year-old needs you to read to her, as much as you possibly can. Your three-year-old needs you to talk to her, play with Play-Doh with her, play games with her, take her on adventures. Read to her. I’m going to say that over and over.
I have my Elementary Ed degree and I got an emphasis in early childhood development. My husband always says I have my masters degree in “coloring and Play-Doh.” And there is really no evidence that says that if you use a formal academic curriculum in those early years – and I’m even talking about for kindergarten – there is no evidence that your kids are going to be any more academically “successful” than kids that didn’t. But there is an unbelievable amount of evidence that shows that if you read to your child, interact with your child through verbal communication, and play games with them, they will be far ahead of their peers.
So that’s, I’m not going to go too much further into this because there’s a whole podcast on it. But I would say, would you just take your three-year-old and snuggle that three-year-old on your lap, and just do life with them and not worry about the curriculum. That is my greatest advice.
Yvette Hampton: Yep.
Aby Rinella: And my guess is that this is this mom’s first three-year-old, because we all asked that with our first kid. And then we all realized that you don’t do that!
Yvette Hampton: Right. When Kirk Cameron was with us for the Homegrown Generation Family Expo someone asked him a question about curriculum and he said “parents are the best curriculum for their children.” YOU are the curriculum! We are their curriculum. They will watch us and learn from us.
Aby Rinella: Oh good. I mean, she’s literally written a book about preschoolers and it’s through play, it’s through exploration, it’s through interacting with your kids. That’s how they learn. Do not sit your three year old down at a table and expect them to copy letters and do worksheets because they can’t.
And here’s the thing, if you do, not only can they not, you are going to rob that child of the love of learning. You’re going to kill their love of learning before they’re ever even actually school age. And I’ve seen it happen time and time again, you get a first grader who hates school and that’s because they’ve been sat down for the last three years trying to do school when they never should have. So just right now, just instill in them a love of learning. Don’t kill that with worksheets and curriculum.
Yvette Hampton: Right. And I used to be a preschool teacher. And let me just tell you, we didn’t have a set curriculum. We literally read to the kids several times a day. We had our reading hour, they played dress up, they played with toys, they played outside, they just explored, they played with Play-Doh. We did not make them sit down, pull out flashcards and say “A says Ah” “B says Buh.”
Aby Rinella: At three they’re not even able to put that stuff together.
Parents, be encouraged. You will have plenty of time for academics. While your kids are in pre-school (and even in kindergarten) let them play, read to them, and love them!
One of the most important things you can do for your kids is let them play outside – a lot! Listen to Aby and Yvette discuss the importance of outdoor play here. Were created to be in the garden, and there are SO many benefits to the great outdoors, including dirt, sun, exercise, and especially, pointing our kids to their Creator through His creation!
“I feel like we have always homeschooled since we became parents because I believe that homeschooling starts at birth. I don’t think homeschooling begins with a formal curriculum. In that sense, we have always done it.”
Brittney Howard is a homeschooling mom of 5 children who range in age from toddlers to teenagers. She has been homeschooling for 17 years and loves Jesus, reading, coffee, and good conversations. She’s operates a successful home business and has been able to bless her family financially while also successfully homeschooling her kids. She lives with her husband and kids in a tiny town near Savannah, GA. She loves empowering others to reach their potential and is passionate about leadership.
Yvette Hampton: My sweet friend Brittney is with me today and to talk today about homeschooling with little kids. She has multiple ages and is working from home while homeschooling. Whether you are homeschooling or thinking about homeschooling, wherever you are right now, I hope that this article will be a great blessing to you.
Yvette: Our readers can’t hear your voice, but podcast listeners may recognize your voice, because in our very first Schoolhouse Rocked movie trailer that came out about a year and a half ago, at the very beginning, it’s your voice that people hear. You say, “I felt like I was messing it all up.” Now you get to hear her on the podcast and be encouraged by her. Brittney, tell us about your family. You are married to your wonderful husband, Anthony. You guys have a great family. How long have you been homeschooling and how did you get started with homeschooling?
Brittney: I have five children. They range from toddlers all the way to teenagers and we have always homeschooled. I feel like we have always homeschooled since we became parents because I believe that homeschooling starts at birth. I don’t think homeschooling begins with a formal curriculum. In that sense, we have always done it. 17 years, my oldest just turned 17 yesterday.
As far as a formal curriculum, we started right away when he was in kindergarten and I have just always valued freedom. Freedom is a word that is super important to me and I wanted that freedom with my children’s education as well. I wanted to be free to choose what they were going to be learning. I wanted the freedom to choose what influences we’re going to be in their lives because when they’re not with you all the time, you really don’t have that freedom to choose what influences are going to come into their lives.
I wanted that freedom as well and just wanted the freedom to give them an individualized education, rather than the, “you’re eight years old, you learn this”, kind of in a box model. I wanted the freedom to encourage them to pursue whatever their talents, gifts and abilities that God had given them are. I also wanted freedom to be able to protect them from just worldly things and things like that.
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Yvette: Yeah. You have multiple ages. Like you said, your youngest one is just going into preschool and your oldest is finishing out his junior year this year. One of the questions that we get asked all the time is how do you homeschool with multiple ages and what do you do with those little ones when you’re trying to focus on homeschooling the older ones? How have you learned how to balance the different ages?
“Don’t feel like you have to be the one that teaches them everything. You do want to be a primary influence, but you’re not necessarily the one who has to teach them everything and they can learn a lot on their own. My children do not feel like they’re dependent on me to get all of their schoolwork done. They just know what their responsibilities are and they go and do it.”
Brittney: Yeah, that’s a great question too. The struggle is real. Lots of things. I have lots of thoughts on this. It is definitely difficult when they are little, but I think implementing a few simple systems really help. When my littles were even smaller than they are now, I had like a toy rotation system.
I had four different bins of toys. They were labeled week one, week two, week three, week four and I would give them one box at a time for a week. That was the only time they can play with those toys from that box was that week. The other three boxes would go in the attic, out of sight, out of mind. Every week, they would feel like they were getting a new box of toys. I could have my littles playing with their new box of toys for a period of time while I was working with the older ones and that would keep them occupied and entertained. Another thing I would do was playpen time, just train those littles to play independently and not depend on someone else for their entertainment and something.
Another thing is having older ones work with the little ones while you are doing one-on-one instruction. I did a lot of that because I do have a broad range. I might have an eight year old work with a two year old while I’m working with the 10 year old, et cetera. I think another thing that’s really important is to delegate when you can because I do have five kids so there’s no way that I as one person can teach my five children everything they need to know about life, fate, health, everything they need to know.
I’ve learned to delegate well. I like to say that I’ve hired master tutors to teach my children two plus two and things like that. Things that I don’t necessarily feel like I have to be the only one who teaches them that. We do a lot of online learning, we do a lot of video lessons and things like that. That is delegating. I will teach them the things that I’m really passionate about. Then delegate everything else. I’ll delegate their Math, they’ll do BJU online or they’ve done teaching textbooks, they do Saxon online. There’s a lot of different things you can do. The options are endless at this point, but I will teach them things like Bible or just things like that that I feel like I do want to be the primary influence.
I will teach them the things like that. Another thing is train them to be independent learners. If you just teach your children how to learn, they can learn anything they want to learn and I will never forget the day my oldest son, he was probably 15 years old at the time, but I was cooking dinner and he walks in the kitchen. He’s like, “Hey mom, guess what? I’m on iTunes.” I was like, “Really? How did you do that?” He taught himself to play guitar. He taught himself to write music. He taught himself anything he wanted to know about performing, music, all of that. Now he writes songs. He’s a musician, he’s an artist and I have not taught him any of that. All I taught him was how to learn.
You just start there and don’t feel like you have to be the one that teaches them everything. You do want to be a primary influence, but you’re not necessarily the one who has to teach them everything and they can learn a lot on their own. My children do not feel like they’re dependent on me to get all of their schoolwork done. They just know what their responsibilities are and they go and do it. Then the last thing would be in a group. Anything that you can do in a group such as memory work or just grouping kids together that are similar in age or level, then you can get a lot more accomplished that way too.
“I have learned to ask good questions. Whenever my children come to me with a question, I will often do what Jesus did and answer with a question. I don’t really directly answer their questions a lot of times, I will just show them where to find the answer instead of answering. Even if I know the answer, I would say, ‘Oh, that’s a great question. Why don’t you go research that and then you come tell me what the answer to that is.’”
Yvette: Let me go back to teaching them how to learn because oftentimes we say that in the homeschool world, and especially for the mom who’s brand new at homeschooling or who’s just thinking about homeschooling. The big question is always, well how? How do you do that? How do you teach your kids how to learn? How have you gone about doing that with your kids?
Brittney: That is a great question too. I have learned to ask good questions. Whenever my children come to me with a question, I will often do what Jesus did and answer with a question. I don’t really directly answer their questions a lot of times, I will just show them where to find the answer instead of answering. Even if I know the answer, I would say, “Oh, that’s a great question. Why don’t you go research that and then you come tell me what the answer to that is.”
Yvette: That is a fantastic answer. Now let me as a mom, one of the things I think about in doing that is there’s so much on the internet that could be dangerous for kids. Do you have a way that if they’re going to go use the internet to research something that you can protect them from seeing something or stumbling upon something that you don’t want them to stumble upon?
Brittney: Yeah, absolutely. We have internet filters, we use Covenant Eyes. Anything that would be questionable would be blocked, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be internet-based. Books are also a great resource.
We have tons of books like you can see. We have lots and lots of books. If my kid has a question about volcanoes, then I’m going to point them in the direction of a book that would provide the answer.
Yvette: Right. We went to a thrift store, this was several months ago and I was with my youngest daughter and they had a bunch of Encyclopedia sets and I was like, “Oh, encyclopedias.” And she said, “What are encyclopedias?” I was like, “Oh no, where has our role to them that we don’t know what encyclopedias are anymore.” It was really fun. I got to open some of them up with her and actually show her like, “This is how we did it when I was a kid. We did not have the internet. We couldn’t just pull anything up on Wikipedia or ask Siri, tell us about volcanoes. You actually had to research it through a book.
You had to go to the library, you had to find resources to bring them into your home in order to actually learn about them.” That is a fantastic way of course to do that. I think it’s healthy for kids to take that extra step of just saying, “Not everything needs to be found on the internet because half the time it’s not true anyway when you research things online.” Of course, not that everything you find in the library is true either. But, I think finding other ways to research those things are fantastic and having great curriculum in your home that also provide answers. Whether it’s science or history or reading, reading good literature, things like that. You can find so many answers through those resources as well.
Brittney: Yes. One more thing you can do is asking an expert. Just ask them, “Who do you think we could ask to find out this answer?” Then they can start brainstorming of people they know who might be an expert on that. Then just that cultivates leadership skills, social skills and all of that good stuff.
Yvette: That is fantastic. I love that answer because people are always excited and willing to help especially when it comes to kids and if you’re an expert in something, people always want to be that one that someone else comes to and says, “Hey, how do you do this?” Or, “Can you explain this to me?”
That’s always a blessing to the person who’s being asked as well so very, very exciting. I want to ask you because I mentioned at the beginning of the podcast that it was your voice in the beginning of that interview that we did.
We interviewed you for Schoolhouse Rocked the movie and your interview is hands down one of our favorites and I love it because what we did with the movie was we interviewed several homeschool experts. We’ve got the Andrew Pudewa and Christopher Perrin and Sarah Mackenzie and Heidi St. John and Ken Ham, all those people and a whole lot more, but we didn’t just interview the homeschool convention speakers and writers and experts. We interviewed real families just like you and I who are in the thick of it right now who have just figured out this homeschooling thing with the help of other people. One of the things you said was you said, “I felt like I was messing it all up.” Like most homeschool moms, you felt like you are not well enough equipped in the beginning to teach your children at home. Why did you feel that way and then how have you overcome that feeling?
Brittney: Well, I just thought this could not be right. This cannot be normal for it to be this hard and also, I don’t know if I’ve shared with you a little bit of my background, but I was actually a teenage mother when I had my oldest child, I was only 17 and I had no idea how to raise a child.
I understood the statistics were stacked against us, but I was determined that I was not going to be a statistic and neither was my son. I got to work learning how do I raise children who are productive citizens who love the Lord and all of that. I’ve just started reading and learning a ton about just any parenting book from a biblical world view that I could find.
I just knew. I was humble enough to understand that I didn’t know it at all. The same thing when I decided to homeschool, I just started learning. Just any book I could find about homeschooling, I would read it. I did the same thing with building a business. I had no idea how to do any of that either. I just decided to learn.
I just, I believe when I say I teach my children how to learn, I do the same thing myself. I set that example for them that there’s anything that you want to know, you can learn it. We live in an information age. I overcame that feeling of I don’t know what I’m doing, just simply by learning and also at this point, my children are… I have two teenagers. I am beginning to see that fruit of the diligence that I put in when they were in their younger years and my younger children benefit from that because now I don’t have so much fear attached to the daily activities and wondering am I doing it right? Because when I see my smaller ones doing the same things my older ones did and now I look at my older ones and I’m like, “Okay, well, I didn’t ruin them. They’re okay. They’re actually doing really well.” Then that has just given me the confidence to not feel that way now.
Yvette: Did you have a mentor or mentors that came alongside of you? Because I know for myself, when I first got into this and into homeschooling and I felt like I have no clue what I’m doing, I really needed to have that community around me to just help me figure it out and help figure out what it would look like from my family because of course, it looks differently for every family. Did you have that in your life? Did you have those who came alongside of you and just encouraged you?
Brittney: When I first started homeschooling, no, I did not, but along the way, I met other people. It was something I had to be very intentional about. When I first started homeschooling, I had no idea that there were actually homeschool communities and somehow I heard about it maybe a year or two into it and I just showed up one day I found out where they were meeting and I was scared to death, but I pulled up and the parking lot was full of minivans.
I was like, “I must be in the right place.” Yeah, I met other homeschooling moms and that was extremely helpful as well, just learning from them, asking questions, good conversation and we … I felt like that is so important and needed as a homeschooling mom. You definitely need a community of people who can encourage you, especially the ones who have done it successfully. Yeah, definitely very encouraging.
Yvette: Brittney, you are one who… You work from home. You actually have a pretty neat family and I want to talk about two different things because you work from home and you’re able to bring in a pretty significant income and just help support your family financially, but your husband also works from home.
I would love for you to tell the story first about how your boys took a whole lot of time off of what someone would consider traditional school a few years ago and they helped your husband build the house that you live in which is a beautiful house. Tell me how that whole scenario unfolded and what impact that has had on your family.
Brittney: Well, thank you for the compliment on my house. I do love our home that my husband and my sons built for our family. Yeah, my husband is a carpenter. He actually would be considered a lot of different trades, but carpentry is something he’s really good at. He did endeavor in building our homes for us and they just took a summer to frame the whole thing.
My boys learned a lot of life skills and hands on practical skills. There were no casualties although there was one minor injury that’s kind of grounded, I won’t go into detail on it, but they learned so much. It brought them together as dad and sons and it’s skills that they will be able to take to their family and maybe just this few short years, who knows?
Yvette: Yeah, that’s great. Talk about being a work at home mama. I was actually recently reading Proverbs 31 and you think about that Proverbs 31 wife and how she toils with her hand. She works and she helps to bring so much stability to her home, not just and caring for her home, but financially and oftentimes, moms need to do that especially if maybe a mom is working and she needs to … She wants to stop working so that she can homeschool her kids or if she’s already homeschooling in their one income family which of course is very typical for homeschool families and she needs to just bring in some extra income.
How do you go about working from home? You work in sales. How do you do that? How do you balance work and homeschool and family?
Brittney: Well, that’s a great question too. I love the Proverbs 31 woman too and a few years ago, I was just really studying that proverb and taking a close look and evaluating and I found some things that I was doing right, but one thing I felt like was missing was I wasn’t contributing financially.
The Proverbs 31 woman wore many business hats. She was a real estate investor. She made things and sold it. She was definitely industrious and I wanted to be her. I wanted to be just like her and we were a one income family and that sometimes that can be a stretch because it’s not that money is everything, but everything you want to do with your family, it costs money.
I did want to bless my family in that way. I was already homeschooling. I felt like I was doing, being a godly homemaker, but I did start looking for something that I could do that would allow me to keep what is the most important as the most important, but also contribute financially at the same time.
Balancing I would say … Again, it goes back to just implementing a few smart systems because you definitely need to manage your time well. I know in the beginning when my kids were smaller, especially there was a lot of getting up early and staying up late. There was a lot of working through nap time. There was a lot of, “Okay, you’ve got it.” While you’re doing your schoolwork independently, Mommy’s going to work on building this. Things like that. Does that answer your question?
Yvette: It does. Tell us maybe what a typical day would look like for you at home. You’re saying get up early, stay up late, but how do you do that to where you’re not? Because I work from home, I guess I could say now, we’re filming the documentary, I’m doing this podcast now.
Even for myself, I find that it’s often difficult to balance accomplishing what I need to accomplish. I’m sending emails and making phone calls and podcasting and doing all of these things during the day and then figuring out how do I bring my girls into that with me, what can I do with them?
Then not feeling like I’m ignoring them because sometimes I find myself doing that, not intentionally ignoring them, but just like, “Okay, I’ve got to get this email out. I’ve got to make this phone call. I have to get on this meeting that I have with a few other people.” Or whatever it is and feeling like I’m having to push them aside for a time.
I feel like even for myself, I’m still figuring out how to balance all of that. Like you said, independent work is excellent for the kids and they’re able to do that for … I mean, they’re doing that right now. They’re in the other room doing their schoolwork, but what would a typical day look like for you? How many hours typically do you work? Then do you bring your kids into your work with you? Do you involve them with that and how do you do it without feeling like you’re ignoring them?
Brittney: Yes, these are all great questions. Okay, the mom guilt first of all, let’s address that because that’s a very real thing and I think it’s important to understand that balance is not necessarily daily. It’s more like over a period of time.
If I were trying to achieve daily balance, I’d probably would lose my mind because when you are building a business or building something significant, there will be periods of long hours, but then there will be other periods where you have time off.
There will be a lot of times where you feel like, “Oh my gosh, I’m working way too much.” Then there will be other days where you feel like, “Oh my gosh, I should be working more, but I’m not.” I would say be present mentally and not just physically whenever you’re not working, be present.
That is a discipline that anybody can develop and it’s difficult, but that’s why it requires discipline. But just being present when you are with your children goes a long way. I think also it’s important to realize that you are teaching your children even when you’re not eyeball to eyeball with them, they’re learning from you.
They’re learning a work ethic, they’re learning what it takes to be successful. They’re learning what it takes to build something that’s going to impact a lot of people and they’re learning that through watching you. That should encourage you to keep going because you don’t have to be in the floor building blocks with your littles all day every day in order to teach them or build a relationship with them.
Sometimes, just understanding that the quality … You want quantity too. You do want quantity. Nobody wants their career or their business to consume them, but quality really does go a long way. As far as a typical day is concerned, I get up very early way before my kids do. Several hours before my kids do so that I can read because reading is very high on my priority list and I can work out and take care and have my coffee in silence that way I’m nice when everybody gets up.
I take care of those things before everybody wakes up and then I’ll wake my kids up and they will get started on their chores. They will get started and we’ll have breakfast together and then everybody just gets busy on their schoolwork or whatever it is, whatever task, everybody knows what they need to complete.
We have basically, we have a system in place that way everybody knows what they’re supposed to be doing at any given time and they’re not all coming to me waiting for direction all day long. I don’t have to tell everybody what they need to … I mean, I do have to get them rolling, but once everybody’s rolling, they know what to do.
Everybody goes to do their schoolwork and I will start working. I don’t have any infants at this point. My day definitely looks a lot different now than it did when I first started. At this point, everyone is actually okay doing book work and stuff like that. We’ll all work sometimes independently, sometimes as a group, depending on what time of day and what subject.
We definitely have all of our meals together and everybody’s just pursuing usually whatever subject or interest they have going on at that moment.
Yvette: I find that with my girls. One of the things that I really try to do with them is if I’m in the middle of working and they come to me for anything, I try really hard to stop what I’m doing in that instant and look at them and give them my full attention.
Sometimes that’s hard because I’m in the middle of doing something, but I realize more and more that it speaks volumes to them because they need to know that they are actually the priority over everything else, but at the same time, I still have responsibilities to fulfill what God has called us to do.
Yeah, it’s fun and I love that we get to have our kids with us at home and we’re building a family business just like you are and getting to show them this is what it looks like to work diligently throughout the day and teaching them responsibility because that’s important for them to learn.
Brittney: Yes. Another thing I would add is delegating well. I mentioned this earlier, but I delegate most of the housework. My children are all trained as soon as they can walk, they are working like I want … I expect my children to have a work ethic and I think you can’t wait until they’re 18 to instill that in them.
As soon as they’re able to, “Hey, go help mommy by throwing this diaper in the trash.” Or like whatever they can do, I expect them to do it and we have a system for chores. We have a system for schoolwork. Systems help, but just knowing that you can’t do everything. If somebody can do something 80% as well as you can do it, then you should delegate it and you should do whatever the most important things God has called you to do it.
Yvette: Yeah, that’s right. I would love for you to give encouragement to the mom who’s listening right now who’s thinking about homeschooling because at this time of the year, there are many mamas who are thinking about what they’re going to do next year for their kids, and they’re trying to decide, “Is this homeschooling thing legit? Can I actually do this?” Can you encourage that mom who’s considering homeschooling? What would you say to her?
Brittney: I would say you should. It’s worth it. It’s not easy, but nothing that’s worth building is ever easy, but it is worth it. The resources that you have available to you now are unlimited. If you want to homeschool, you can homeschool successfully and you have every tool that you need to be successful at it and it’s worth it.
Yvette: Yes, I agree completely. Then I want you to do one more encouragement. Encourage the mom who is just tired, who is overwhelmed. She just doesn’t know she can continue on for another day. How would you encourage that mom?
Brittney: I would say cry it out – like legit cry – because research shows that tears, like stress tears, they actually do release stress hormones. Crying does make you feel better and then pray and sometimes pray and cry at the same time, but just know that Rome wasn’t built in a day and it’s the daily consistent effort that’s going to produce big results overtime.
You don’t have to do a massive amount every single day. You just have to be consistent. If you’re overwhelmed, your expectations may be too high and that is very common when people start homeschooling. I think homeschooling veterans understand that they don’t need as much as what’s in those books in order to be educated. Scaling is important and just knowing that consistency really is the key.
Yvette: Yes. I agree. Slow down a little bit. Take a breath and get back to it. I love the constant encouragement we get and that God will equip you. He’ll give you everything you need to accomplish what he’s called you to.