Staying Home With Your Children
by: Juliette McDonald
Posted: April 18, 2005
For those of you who have decided to keep your children home with you, congratulations on giving yourself the very best gift you will ever have, the presence of your children. I have never heard any parent, after their children were grown, say they were sorry for the time that they spent with their children. With my 35 years experience in childcare and preschool, the very best and honorable reason for a child to be removed from my program is because the parents want to stay home and spend more time with their little ones. For some, this seems to be extremely challenging and even a bit scary. But you don't need to be scared. There are many opportunities and support groups for stay-at-home parents these days.
Some families choose to join a parent co-op program, where you go to a school with your children part time. In these programs, the parents have a lot of responsibilities along with the power to decide what kinds of curriculum, activities and teachers they want for their children.
Some advantages to this type of program is not having the mess in your home, getting help with activities, photos, projects and field trips, getting parent guidance and education, and meeting other parents with the same age children. It can be nice not to have to do it all by yourself.
Co-op programs also seem to be a little less expensive, and you have a lot more power than with a traditional preschool.
There can also be some conflicts or disadvantages to these programs. In most parent co-op programs, each family needs to volunteer hours of their time to make the program work. The responsibilities can be overwhelming for some.
The jobs can be fun, but they are time consuming. They range from taking photos, planning field trips, driving, helping with curriculum, cleaning, gardening, building, accounting, keeping the library, purchasing, fundraising, supervising everyone's children and cooking...just to name a few.
Expect to have to attend mandatory meetings as well. If the other parents in the co-op do not share your thinking and values, this experience can be full of friction. Co-op programs allow some children and families to really thrive, but they may be too time consuming and stressful for others.
Some parents worry that they cannot provide all of the same equipment at home that is offered in a preschool or childcare program. Always remember that the material things provided in an outside program cannot compare or replace what you can offer: Your undivided time and attention with your children.
At home, you work in your own time frame, choosing the activities, materials, and projects you want to do with your children that meet their individual needs and interests. Many materials can be homemade or purchased inexpensively. If you want your children to participate with others, but do not want the commitment of a program, there are many ways to do this.
You can join a local homeschooling group that offers park days and special activities for young children. To find a local group near you visit www.localhomeschool.com. These groups may offer field trips, resources and activities for no cost or low costs.
You can usually join in when it fits your interests and schedule. A homeschooling group is a nice way to meet other parents and it's the best way to offer a mixed age group to your children, as opposed to the age-segregated environment of a preschool.
The older children interact with and learn right along with the younger children. Many local community centers, libraries, museums, and even some colleges and bookstores offer parent co-op classes for preschool age children. Look for activities in the calendar section of your local parenting magazines.
There are also private classes offered in dance, music, gymnastics, arts and crafts and more. Again, you will find these resources in parenting magazines and in the calendar section of your local newspaper.
The most important thing you can offer your children at home, is your time together. You'll have time to sit, play, read, talk, cuddle, cook, daydream, watch the clouds, find bugs in the garden, and learn and grow together. The relaxed, unscheduled time allows learning to unfold and evolve naturally. It is the best gift you can give to your children and yourself.
Activities to Do at Home
There are lots of fun, educational things you can do at home with your toddlers and preschool children, and it doesn't have to cost a bundle. Here are some suggestions.
For Ages 12 months to 2 Years
"Safety first" is the mantra for this age group as they tend to put everything in their mouths. Make sure that toys and games do not have small parts that may be a choking hazard. Invest in a safety cup (sold at children/teacher/toy stores) that measures the size of any object for safety. Then, provide a few safe things that children can stack, turn, make noise with, and crawl through. Here are some things I have made very inexpensively:
- Sorting and Stacking Toys - Collect assorted jar lids with smooth edges. Decorate them with pictures of animals, colors or shapes taped inside and out, with strong packing tape. If you want to hole punch them with a hammer and nail, you can string these like keys. They are neat for making noise, sorting and stacking.
- Sewing Cards - Laminate large index cards with numbers, photos, pictures, or shapes glued to them, and then hole punch around the edges to make sewing cards. You can find inexpensive large plastic safety needles with large eyes to string with yarn at any craft store.
- Make a Play House or Fort - Get a large computer size box and cut a crawling hole on each side. Cover it by stapling padding material inside and out. Use it for a crawling space, play house, fort or many other fun things.
- Use Everyday Things - Young children love to play with and learn from using everyday household items like empty cereal boxes and paper towel rolls, pots and pans, and wooden spoons. Encourage them to explore their environment under your watchful supervision.
For ages 2 through 4
Cooking, painting, gardening, playing, going on field trips, and even folding clothes and doing household chores with your children, allows a wonderful opportunity to introduce many subjects like art, math, writing, reading, science and history. It provides an opportunity for you and your child to learn and grow together. But more importantly, it allows that learning to unfold at a relaxed pace in a loving place that is just right for you and your children.
Here are some ideas to help you create a rich learning environment for your children:
- Art Center - Create a space in your home that the children can get to and do art and pre-writing skills any time they want. Use a small diaper wipe box (or something similar) to hold a pair of scissors, markers, crayons, tape, glue stick, stickers, stamps...things that match the child's ability. Keep your art center stocked with paper and old magazines.
- Pretend Play - Provide a box of costumes or old clothes and shoes for dress up play. Be sure to include a mirror so your children can see themselves.
- Tree Stump Toys - Watch your neighborhood for trees that are getting cut down. Your neighbor may be willing to give you the wood for free. Take the log pieces and put them outside for climbing, balancing and developing large motor skills. They can also be used for outside tables and stools to sit on or to dry art projects on.
- Water Play - Set up a large container of water with different size measuring cups. Children love to pour the water from one cup to another as they experiment with volume and size that develops math readiness skills. (Constant adult supervision required.)
- Dirt & Sand Explorations - Use a large pan, or a sandbox, or a garden bed to dig in. Digging provides a great tactile experience along with an introduction to earth science.
- Paint Place - Create a place to paint, either outside or inside. Inexpensive easels can be found at some toy stores - but check out local garage sales for bargains. Outdoors, you can hang a clip on your fence that will hold the paper and let your child paint there. You'll need non-toxic paint and a variety of painting tools: brushes, unused fly-swatters, large feathers, old baby shoes, small plastic cars, shoelaces, old kitchen gadgets...anything that would make an interesting print or design.
- Support Your Local Library - The library is a great resource to get books, movies, music and even story times and performances free of cost.
For more helpful information from our author, be sure to visit Preschool Expert: Juliette McDonald in Universal Preschool's "Ask An Expert" Section.