Early Homeschooling: Infancy to Toddlerhood

A young mom recently wrote in with a question:
Q: I noticed that you homeschool, and wondered what you did with your children before they were old enough to begin traditional a traditional curriculum. I am a new mom to a sweet, beautiful 5.5 month old girl, and am wondering what I can be doing now to prepare her for home-school. I have checked out a few books on baby games and infant development from our local library, but wondered if you had any suggestions or resources that you used.

Here is my answer to her (and to anyone else who's interested):
A: Congratulations on your daughter. What a sweet gift.

As far as what to do with infants... read together, crawl together, interact! No TV, except for rare, careful occasions, if you must. Snuggle, talk, giggle, tickle. Talk to her in an adult voice unless you're just playing a game. Don't babytalk; use normal words. As she gets older (closer towards 2), you can play drama/expression games...
"make a sad face, now an excited face, now let's pretend to be surprised, now happy, etc." And, "let's talk like cowboys, like giants, like little babies, like ladies, in a whisper, in loud voices", etc. Tell lots of Bible stories and act them out as she gets older. Teach simple Bible verses ("children, obey your parents", "When I am afraid, I will trust in You.", "trust in the Lord with all your heart", "the Lord is our Shepherd"), and talk about what they mean and how they apply in day-to-day life (at night when we're scared, when we don't want to obey, when we need to be cared for, etc.).

As they get older, teach them to make circles and lines. Put out small toys for them to draw like a still life artist would do. Talk about numbers, sing the ABC song, count lots and lots, name colors as you see them "The green trees, that red truck, your yellow shirt, my purple socks," etc. Do puzzles together and talk about how and why certain pieces fit together and others don't. Let her sit up next to you and "read" for 30 minutes or more. Let her see that books are important in YOUR life. Let her sit up next to you as you read the Bible (she can "read" hers too... simply Bible story books, etc.), so that she sees YOUR dependence on the Word.

Teach things like height, weight, and volume in terms of real-world objects (height: trees, buildings, cars, people, babies, flowers; weight: penny, book, cat, full laundry basket, daddy, car; volume: medicine dropper, cup, trash can, tanker truck, swimming pool, etc.). Around 3 or 4, she'll be interested in writing her name. So teach her how. Teach her the sounds that the letters make (rather than only calling it an "p", make the sound it makes-- "puh" so she hears the sound too... this will help later with reading. Side note-- emphasize the consonant sound-- and minimize any vowel sound you use... like above, instead of PUUUUUH, keep it short: Puh.).

Let her stack bowls/cups on the floor of the kitchen while you throw dinner together. Let her join you in cooking as she is able... counting "cups"... showing what "half" means, etc. When putting on shoes, talk about pairs, and how a pair means two, "see? one, two shoes. That makes one pair." You can use hands and feet to introduce the concept of counting in fives. Talk about money and debt in terms of the grocery store bill, or as you fill up your gas tank. Use the real world to teach her as much as possible.

These sorts of things are the best ways to "homeschool" from the very beginning. I highly recommend a book called "Home Grown Kids" that talks about this very thing in much greater detail... it's written by Raymond & Dorothy Moore, some of the early proponents (in this generation) for homeschooling.

Many blessings-- what a neat time you are in-- enjoy every day and make sweet memories with your daughter!


Anonymous said...

Jessica, this is such a fantastic post! So practical and very inspiring. I'm going to print it out and file it away as I definitely want to use the ideas you've given (all of them!).

When I think about the excitement that lays ahead (God-willing) in the not-to-distant future of educating my son, I can't wait! I pray that financially I'll be able to continue being a Stay at Home mum. What a priviledge! Why would a mother choose to be anywhere else??

Your friend,
Sarah Fiodorova

Rachel said...

Good, practical post. It's amazing how much falls into place if you keep the television off and be intentional about reading the Bible. In the absence of anything more sparkly or electronic, my kids were devouring books, drawing, and playing creatively from the beginning. Looking back, I'm encouraged how much they developed without any consistent effort on my part (other than prayer, rigorous character training, lots of snuggling, and books!)

Luke said...

Great ideas!


Krista said...

You can read anything and everything aloud to her: signs, stuff in grocery stores.

Point out the first letter of her name constantly. (She'll begin to pick it out sooner or later.)

Sing and chant rhyming, rhythmic things. And nonsense syllables are ok, too.

Littles have a really, really short attention span, so if you are reading a book to her and she struggles to get out of your arms, let her. Don't turn reading into a battle-of-wills issue...make it fun, like a treat to get that much attention from her mother.


truefemininity said...

First of all, I'd like to say that I've been reading your blog since this summer and I've really enjoyed it. Practically every post just strikes a chord with me or is something I need to hear. Thank you!

Thank you also for these good reminders about early homeschooling. I definitely agree that it is important to let your kids see you reading. I didn't learn that my own father read His Bible every day until I was fifteen (because he is such an early riser). I feel sad that I hadn't known sooner about his diligence in reading the Word. I definitely missed out on the inspiration that could have given me to do the same when I was younger.

I also had been wondering lately if talking to infants in that "babyvoice" was helpful or harmful, but I'd never heard any moms discuss it and I hadn't gotten the change to ask anyone yet. It certainly is hard to stop yourself if you've been used to doing it (as I have). Hopefully I start now to end that bad habit before I have my own kids.


Victoria said...

That is a great list. I've read your blog for sometime now. I'm a speech therapist who stays at home now.

Thank you for mentioning minimization of the vowel sound when teaching letter sounds, always a big mistake. It's easier if you make mental note of which ones are non-vocalized (p,t, k,h, ect) compared to vocalized (b,d,g ect.)

Non-vocalized speech sounds are harder to for young kids to isolate without some direct modeling, IMO.

One question, is there a specific reason for the no-baby talking?

Most language development research acknowledges it as highly beneficial, world-wide (regardless of language) inherent mechanism mothers use. (You can google it under the term "motherese")

Of course, you shouldn't talk that way forever. Most parents instinctively and gradually decrease as language skills increase until about age 2.

Anonymous said...

Avoid all "educational" tv and videos, DVDs, computer games, etc. They are unnecessary and unhelpful. The "edutainment complex" of Baby Einstein, Brainy Baby and so on is duping thousands of parents into wasting money and sticking their kids in front of a screen.

Active learning, which Jessica describes, is the beset.

I loved the book "What's Going on In There?" by Lise Eliot (a neurologist). It's about brain development from the womb through preschool years, especially on the baby/toddler phase.

Basically, the research shows that the best things you can do with your baby are talk to your baby, play with your baby, read to your baby, sing to your baby. That is more effective than any software or curriculum or flash cards you could waste money on.

Good post, Jess.

Laurie B

S. Domino said...

I've got a 23 month old and I've been trying to dig up ideas about this myself. I'm happy to hear most of these things just sort of occur to mom's naturally. I'm interested in hearing your reason for no baby talk as well. I've read that babies identify with the higher pitch, so I'm curious to know your sources. Thanks for another great post!

Tracy said...

Victoria- you bring up an interesting point. I have always talked to my kids in a normal voice because I had heard to do that somewhere. I have noticed that my 16 month old son understands quite a bit of what I say to him like "Let's eat dinner now- everyone to the table" and he will run to his chair to be lifted up. I also spend time teaching them things like please and thank you far before he can say those things properly. Are you talking about motherese in just playing, or in all interaction? What benefits do they say it has as far as development goes?

Mama Hen said...

I have four children (one is two right now) and I can ditto all she says. Read and play. Interact. Have fun. Let her spend lots of time with you. Talk to her as you go about your business during the day. Most of all, don't stress about doing all the "right" things, just love her and teach her to love Jesus, and all the other will fall into place in it's own time.

Victoria said...


I don't think for a minute that one's lack of motherese or infant directed will greatly negatively effect a child's language development unless they have a hearing problem or severe language delay.

Your 16 months old is probably in a superb language rich environment and at 16 months, I would expect minimal, possibly no, baby talk except in play.

That said, I've always acknowledged it as a neat God given response mothers and many fathers do with infants. If you've ever grown up on a farm you may know that many livestock (cows, sheep) have special calls they ONLY begin make during birthing and then with relating to their little ones. It subsides as the babies become more sufficient and need less motherly guidance.

The amount of language learning in the first 10-12 months is so phenomenal that I think baby talk is a significant way to expound upon it. Detrimental? Probably not, as long as they are getting significant language exposure.

Interestingly, lots of 2nd language programs use baby talk features: pitch increase, vowel elongation, ect. because it trains our ears, brains, and eventually our mouths to recognize and mimic such sounds with greater ease.

Victoria said...


I'm sorry I didn't answer your last question. I don't think baby talk should be used in ALL interaction much past the point they understand "no" (4-8 months, IMO) When I say "no" it needs to be in an adult voice and they understand I mean business. And because you talk to your other children and husband in an adult voice and (hopefully) proper grammar they will be soaking all that in too.

Anonymous said...

I heard of a book (actually through one of the books you are going to try and read this year--The Well Trained Mind) called Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready by June Oberlander. It has weekly activities to do with your children from infancy to 5 years old-- all from materials you can collect (usually) from around your house, all simple ways of engaging your child in the learning process *on their level*. I have used it consistently with both my girls for fresh ideas, ways to spend our days, and just as a general guide for what we should be aware of at each stage!

Hope it helps someone else as much as it has me!

Leah said...

Great advice Jess; it's also amazing what you teach naturally as a Mum (Mom!) without even thinking about it. I been pondering the 'baby talk' comment and can honestly say that at times when I look at my gorgeous, dark haired, chubby cheeked, 6 month old boy I get overwhelmed with 'ooozy' baby love and can't help but talk 'baby' to him!! I understand what you're saying though and it's an important concept; I would say just talk, talk, talk; where ever you are and whatever you're doing! I also start to sign with my children around 7 months; my daughter was signing back at 10 months - great fun communicating with ten month old cutie!

Jess said...

Yes, Leah-- you captured my sentiments perfectly.

It's not that I mean we shouldn't ooh and aah over our babies... which is probably how it sounds... what I mean is that we shouldn't dumb down our language unnecessarily. I most definitely do say things in silly voices (most often, with my teeth gritted together)-- "you are the most beautiful baby in the whole wide world!" "I just love you so much", etc... and it probably comes out less than adult-like.

But what I meant more is that we use real words with our kids-- cups are cups, pacifiers and pacifiers, feet are feet, blankets are blankets, etc. Maybe my advice is personal and not global in this instance... but I think using real, adult words has helped our kids to have wide vocabularies at young ages. Just my opinion. Others are entitled to babytalk and call things goo-goos and tootsies and lovies all they want. :)


Christine said...

I love the common-sense of this post. Great recommendations. I am saving these ideas in my delicious bookmarks! I love that you show him a picture of the map, so that he can complete the puzzle. I forget to do the little things like that. Blessings!

The Arab Musicians said...

Jess, I agree with everyone else that these are great suggestions. I think that many times, the key is to just be aware and involved enough with my kids throughout the day that I recognize the teaching opportunities that are already there. While I think that this comes more naturally to some moms than to others, the opportunities are there for all of us if we just remember to look for them.

I think another good reminder is that young children thrive on repetition. We don't have to come up with new and novel activities every single day for them to keep learning. They will often be completely content to sing the same song, play the same game, or look at the same book 42 days in a row, and will be learning lots as they do it.

Jess said...

I think I should make it very clear that I don't do all of these things with every child in some particular order. I don't do them every week or every month or every year. I've probably skipped some of these with some of the kids and may get around to it with the others at different times than I did with the first or second.

But the point is that we learn from real life. We don't need a DVD or teacher to come in and do what we moms can do best... look at our kids, assess where they're at, and teach them stuff that's right on their level. We know when they can comprehend a one- or two-step command. We know when they can sit quietly for 10 minutes or not quite yet. We know when they can stack, build, line up, or tie. God gives us our kids so that we can not only teach but watch and learn and see who they are and how God made them and how we might partner with Him to make them more fully and moldably usable for His purposes.

OK, there's another ramble, but I just wanted to make it abundantly clear that this is not some sort of regimented checklist... but rather a fluid, proactive & reactionary, big picture & small detail approach that I certainly do adjust to each child. And that I don't accomplish all of this in one week, month, or year. It's progressive and life-on-life.

Best Life said...

Hi, These are great thoughts on preparing your child for homeschooling. I like the baby talk discussion. We do use funny words for a lot of things and while I see what you are saying, let me add that my 9 children are ages 18 down to 18 months and calling it a wooby instead of a blanket really doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things. They do eventually call things the right name and sometimes it's fun to have little names for things that are unique to your family. It brings closeness, funny stories and memories around the dinner table. Just some thoughts from an older mama. Lisa~

Leah said...

Re. your comment about my comment!: Absolutely Jess, I'm with you - we call a spade a spade in our house!!

Dunbar - mom group said...

Infants have a unique ability to discriminate speech-sound (phonetic) differences, but over time they lose this skill for differentiating sounds in languages other than their native tongue. For example, 6 month old babies who were learning English were able to distinguish between similar-sounding Hindi consonants not found in English, but they lost this ability by 12 months of age. "
Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/...

Here is a video
that is similar in flavour to baby einstien but is in and indian language "hindi".

My son 10 months enjoys it a lot - I can feed him anything while he is watching this. He has learnt to say gol gol - "round and round".

(Signing off - creator of the video - KKM)

Melinda said...

Wonderful post! We did all these things and still do with our toddler and she has learned so much through just play. It's amazing.