All over the country, families are getting ready to go back to school. For homeschooling families, back to school poses special challenges when young pre-school age children are in the house. For that reason, we are re-posting Joyce's popular series entitled Preschoolers Are People Too.
For homeschooling mothers, dealing with preschoolers while they are in the classroom can be a real challenge. There is no fail safe method for ensuring that you will have no mishaps, but by setting up some simple guidelines, you can prevent most disasters.
Since I had preschoolers for many years, I had to learn how to cope with them from the very beginning. The first thing that I did was establish perimeters for the preschoolers. I found that by setting up strict guidelines for my preschoolers, I was able to let them know exactly what was expected of them. Consequently, I was able to help them not to overstep their bounds.
The babies were easy. I either held them on my lap, or they napped. When Benjamin, my sixth child, was born, someone gave us a baby swing. One day when he was about five months old, I took the swing into the schoolroom to see whether he would enjoy sitting in it for a while. At eight-thirty I deposited him into the swing. Immediately his eyes glazed over, and he sat completely motionless as the rhythmic motion of the swing lulled him into a deep sleep. By eight-forty I was laying him in his crib where he slept soundly for the next several hours. We repeated this scenario every day for several months. The baby was sleeping, my lap was free, and life was good.
The older preschoolers presented more of a challenge. I always put the oldest preschooler in charge of the younger ones. I then told the one in charge that it was his responsibility to tell me immediately if any of the younger children did anything they were not supposed to do. I made it clear that he was not supposed to try to make the younger children behave. He was just supposed to tell me if they misbehaved.
I then told the younger children that if the one in charge did anything that he was not supposed to do, they were to tell me immediately. In that way everyone was responsible for making certain that no one was breaking the rules.
This arrangement worked well. The oldest preschooler gained the prestige of being “in charge” and took his position very seriously. The younger children liked the idea that if the one in charge stepped out of line they were to report on him. Everyone figured out pretty quickly that if they broke any rules, they were going to be caught right away. This gave them plenty of incentive to behave.
I cannot tell you how many bottles of shampoo were saved from being dumped down the toilets or how many tubes of toothpaste from being squeezed down the bathroom sink drains. I do know that because of this system most of our school days were fairly uneventful.
The second thing that I did was let the preschoolers know what they might and might not do during school hours. Every day before school began I took my preschoolers aside and reminded them of who was in charge. I then asked them, “What do you want to do while we are in school?” and I laid out the various options: l. They could watch a television program that I had approved. 2. They could watch a tape on the VCR. 3. They could play with toys in the playroom. 4. They could come into the schoolroom and color or play with clay if they worked quietly and did not talk. 5. They could bring a toy into the schoolroom if they played quietly.
Although the list of options was always the same, each day I asked the preschoolers what they wanted to do while we were in school. When I had their responses, I helped them get started on their chosen activities. I then told them that when they were ready to do something else, they were to come to the schoolroom and tell me so that I could get them started on their new activity.
This approach kept everyone focused, and we had surprisingly few mishaps. Yet, even with the most careful planning on my part, we did have some incidents that made me realize that their ideas about acceptable play did not always line up with mine.
One day as I sat teaching my children, I heard the sound of metal clanking. It was not loud, but it was constant. Realizing that this could not be a good thing, I got up to investigate. I walked into the family room to find two and a half year old Israel and three and a half year old Benjamin having a “sword fight.” Israel was armed with a large meat fork and Benjamin was brandishing a butcher knife.
I confiscated their weapons and sat them down for a talk. I told them that I was not going to spank them this time, but if they ever did it again, I was going to give both of them a spanking. I knew that simply forbidding them to “sword fight” would never work, so I went to the cabinet where I kept the school supplies, found two wooden rulers that Calvert had sent with their program, and handed each boy a ruler. “You can sword fight with these,” I said “but these are the only swords you can use. Do you understand?”
The boys nodded affirmatively and instantly resumed their sport. Although I instructed them to keep those rulers for sword fighting, from that day forward, no ruler in our house was safe. If the sword fighting urge happened to strike when a school box was nearer at hand than their designated weapons, Benjamin and Israel took rulers out of their older siblings’ school boxes. As a result, every one of the several dozen rulers in our house was badly dinged, but from that day forward, the wooden Calvert ruler was the only weapon ever used for sword fighting. By the time our preschoolers were old enough to lose interest in sword fighting, most of our rulers were little more than really long splinters, but the boys had been able to indulge their love of sword fighting without posing a danger to one another.