Most educators, both those formally trained and those trained through experience will agree that no formal curriculum is necessary for pre-school aged children. Reading aloud and encouraging young children to explore their world in a safe environment is often enough. Having lots of books in the home is incredibly helpful, since as many a parent can attest, children love to have their favorite selections repeated many, many, many times. A library card is also a great way to introduce new books to children and to gauge interest in certain titles before you invest. The preschool years are a precious time for togetherness and a great time for you to observe your child and begin to decipher how he or she learns.
Purchasing a formal curriculum for use with young children, if a family has the desire and funds, is unlikely to actually damage a child’s educational development; however, the curriculum cannot become a task driven, overly organized, and mandated routine. Parents must be OK with not doing all of the tasks, playing with all of the toys, or reading all of the purchased books based on their child’s readiness, desire, and interest. Forcing a child to focus on a scheduled curriculum can derail a child’s interest in learning at a very early age. Enjoying and playing with a formalized curriculum, on the other hand, can provide for a fun bonding experience for families.
Several options for purchased curriculum are available for use with young children. Some favorites our family has gotten to play with include Timberdoodle, Sonlight, and Five in a Row. Each has their own unique benefits and not every program is going to be right for every family or every child. Many families will find these curriculum’s expensive, ours included, and none of these programs replaces the need to spend time directly interacting with your child.
- Timberdoodle’s baby/toddler curriculum is focused primarily on explorative play and active manipulation of the world around them. My toddler’s favorites include the Poke-A-Dot Old MacDonald’s Farm, On the Farm Threading Game, and the Playsilk. My baby loves the pipSquigz, Oball rattle, and the Indestructibles books. Both the toddler and the baby love the Grip n Staxx soft play blocks. I love how safe I feel with soft blocks that aren’t dangerous if thrown (not that I encourage that activity indoors!) or chewed. The curriculum does come with a suggested schedule of activities to make sure none of the curriculum components are missed, but scheduled/required learning doesn’t work as well for our young family. Timberdoodle also offers a preschool curriculum.
- Sonlight’s preschool curriculum is focused on reading stories aloud to children and letting them learn through repetitive exposure to books. One issue with Sonlight at this level is that the stories are collected into anthologies, which makes for large books that are difficult for toddlers and those holding toddlers to easily manipulate. On the upside, our daughter has loved almost every age appropriate story we have read to her from their collection. All of the stories available from this collection are viewable on Sonlight’s website under the “what’s included tab”and you could certainly chose to either check them out from the library or purchase them independently from Sonlight.
- Five in a Row’s curriculum for children ages 2 to 4 is called Before Five in a Row. The primary focus of Before Five in a Row is to encourage you to enjoy your children and not sacrifice fun times together for early formalized education. A list of suggested books is available, which can either be purchased from their web site in a group package or independently acquired by the parent. There is a least one book on the list that is out of print, but we were able to find it easily at the library. Each book has suggested activities to accompany it. Some parents have noted that they found the activities pretty intuitive and probably didn’t need the guide, but I have found some fun activities listed that I hadn’t thought of that my toddler has enjoyed.
***Sonlight and Before Five in a Row are Christian based.
Regardless of whether you chose to utilize a formalized approach in the early years, keeping learning fun remains an important goal in the toddler years. A toddler’s attention span is remarkably short, so plan on keeping any structured learning short. Be prepared to be flexible and change direction to fit your children’s needs. At this age the most important focus is enjoying and loving each other.
Please note the author is thrilled to have been able to “play” with these various curriculums with her children (ages 7 months – just under 2 years). She does not have any affiliate links or other relationships with these companies. Please also note that the curriculums from all the above listed companies become significantly more involved as the children age.
What curriculums or educational materials have you enjoyed with your toddler/preschool children? I’d love to hear your ideas, both purchased and free/home made!