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Gentle Kindergarten

Gentle Kindergarten seems like a thing of the past, not something to approach in this fast paced world of 2021, but that is the concept I have had to learn this year. Over the summer I shared how I thought our kindergarten year would go with my fourth daughter. I was so idealistic then with a lesson plan all laid out.

Actually as I review the post I see I haven’t changed my materials very much, but simply stepped back on my approach. My 5 year old wasn’t ready for many of the concepts quite yet, but mostly wasn’t ready for the time commitment. So we took some time and continued to apply those activities and methods but at an insanely slow progress.

Let me preface this with my 5 year old is super quick and witty, and if I gave her workbooks like Abeka or Masterbooks she would be able to do them even last summer. She would have sped through them and probably be reading better than she is now. She was and is capable, but that wasn’t my method of measuring anymore.

I saw something as I read and studied more myself, as I grew, had more kids, etc. I wanted time to slow down. So why force her to sit at the table and do those things that she doesn’t have to do!? Our state doesn’t require school till age 6, and literally doesn’t require kindergarten. No one was forcing my hand, I no longer believe in workbooks/textbooks for main teaching, and frankly she didn’t want to do them. She had interests and energy. She wanted to explore and play. So …. I let her.

We read books. She sat with us and played while I read to her sister and I read some to her on her own. She even wanted to take turns narrating from time to time.

We wrote some letters. She learned to write her name and started copying letters everywhere to make her own notes, to make birthday cards, sign Christmas cards, etc. I helped her when she asked, but other than her name didn’t force handwriting.

We counted some stuff. We used Wild Math Curriculum to spring board some counting activities, played games like Uno and Rat-a-Tat-Cat, and counted our snacks. Oh the snacks we counted!

We played outside and hiked. We noticed the season changes, picked flowers, collected leaves and rocks, and fed and watched the birds outside our window.

So we did kindergarten things but didn’t actually have any lessons anymore. I chucked them!

Now at Christmas I started to review and come up with a game plan. I say game plan, not lesson plan because its pretty loose.

Do not let the endless succession of small things crowd great ideals out of sight and out of mind.”

(Charlotte Mason, “The Story of Charlotte Mason,” page 160.)

I realized I had gotten caught up in the minutiae of the lesson plan as autumn unfolded and had lost sight of the big picture, the great ideas! I had to find a way to keep the focus of the small things and the to do list and the comparison trap.

So what did I change? Not much. Same materials as I listed before (except for letters we added this book in), but way less structure.

  • Kindergarten Skills: Rod and Staff A-K Kindergarten books, sensory boxes, and art supplies
  • Literature: Ambleside Online Year 0 Book List, Read Aloud Revival Monthly Picture Book Lists, Beatrix Potter Treasury, Winnie the Pooh Treasury
  • Phonics: letter games, songs, and books
  • Letters: Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
  • Numbers: Games, Songs, & Wild Math Curriculum K
  • Science: nature time and Exploring Nature with Children

I actually ended up taking time to look at our end goal for this year. I wanted her to be focused on God, counting some, and reading some. Thats really the gist of it.

Then I took a look at Charlotte Masons list of attainments before age 6, got really overwhelmed, and then supremely calm. Look and see if you can guess why?

“A Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six”, a reprint of a curriculum outline from a CM school in the 1890’s.

1. To recite, beautifully, 6 easy poems and hymns
2. to recite, perfectly and beautifully, a parable and a psalm
3. to add and subtract numbers up to 10, with dominoes or counters
4. to read–what and how much, will depend on what we are told of the child
5. to copy in print-hand from a book
6. to know the points of the compass with relation to their own home, where the sun rises and sets, and the way the wind blows
7. to describe the boundaries of their own home
8. to describe any lake, river, pond, island etc. within easy reach
9. to tell quite accurately (however shortly) 3 stories from Bible history, 3 from early English, and 3 from early Roman history (my note here, we may want to substitute early American for early English!)
10. to be able to describe 3 walks and 3 views
11. to mount in a scrap book a dozen common wildflowers, with leaves (one every week); to name these, describe them in their own words, and say where they found them.
12. to do the same with leaves and flowers of 6 forest trees
13. to know 6 birds by song, colour and shape
14. to send in certain Kindergarten or other handiwork, as directed
15. to tell three stories about their own “pets”–rabbit, dog or cat.
16. to name 20 common objects in French, and say a dozen little sentences
17. to sing one hymn, one French song, and one English song
18. to keep a caterpillar and tell the life-story of a butterfly from his own observations.

Thats a lot! Cue overwhelm! Then I dug in and realized she could do half of these already. 1, 3,5,6,7,8, part of 9, 10, 14, 15, 17, 18 specifically and those she picked up without me even really focusing on them! So I looked at the ones I could improve upon and found the fell in three categories: reading, nature identification, and foreign language.

That seems much less stressful! So this spring thats our focus without a lesson plan.

  1. Spend time each day reading together. Some things I am using include Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons a few times a week, reading BOB books and other early readers, Melissa and Doug spelling puzzles, and Banagrams Jr. We are also working on some bedtime rhymes/poems to help her memorize for bedtimes. She needs help calming her little wiggly body sometimes and I thought these would be helpful to focus on at bedtime.
  2. Be outside daily and productively. We already aim for daily outside time with an ultimate goal of 1000 hours this year, but taking time each day to point out some little nugget of natural information will help her reach that attainment. We also hope to do more specimen collection and nature journaling to make these identifications easier.
  3. Speak more Spanish. She actually is pretty decent about certain Spanish words, but I speak it quite randomly to the children so her knowledge is really hit or miss. But she does know, as they all do, “Donde mis llaves?” Why? because I’m forever asking where are my keys! I’m also getting some Spanish books from library each time to help us enjoy identifying specific items, actions, etc.

I started to just read to her every day and we began to progress. There are few more things like counting on the hundreds chart a few times a week, and reading a parable together but they too are pretty loose. After seeing what she can already do, I grew in confidence realizing I can focus big picture I’m focusing- not the individual items- and still see progress.

I want her to know God. To know Jesus loves her first and foremost; reading, writing, and math will come over time, but are not something I need to stress about. She’s progressing, she’s growing, she’s learning without much effort of my own. She has that drive of all children to learn and so she asks. As she asks we grow some more together, in a gentle progress towards our goals. Exposing her to truth, beauty and goodness will allow her to come to know more than any set of detailed lesson plans or workbooks.

Exploring Ice

I have learned that education doesn’t have to be rigorous to be effective, and a gentle approach is possible.

It is now a blessing and not a source of stress for me and her, and I know she will be ready for Year 1 when she turns 6. How am I so confident? Because I’ve seen it happen before.

You have also. They eventually potty train, learn to use a tissue, tie their shoes, and make their beds. It takes time, but it happens. Consistent gentle progress is still effective and so much more joy-filled.

So if you are finding yourself like me overwhelmed in the little things, take some time and look at the big picture!

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