When you’re eager to get started on your homeschooling journey and you see the lovely pictures other homeschool families are posting online, let alone their traditionally-schooled peers, it can be really tempting to fill your preschooler’s days with structured activities, workbooks, and flashcards.

Sometimes this impulse is born out of fear that our children will fall behind if they’re not achieving academic goals at an early age. Other times the enthusiasm simply comes from an excitement to share the world of homeschooling with our children.

I find it’s important to step back and ask myself, “Why do you want to homeschool?” and “What are the most valuable things you want to instill in your children?” When I contemplate these questions, high up on the list of my priorities is to help my children fall in love with learning, to fuel their natural curiosity and sense of wonder, to surround them with freedom to play and beautiful stories and time spent exploring in nature, to give them a desire to learn and grow that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

Our mainstream educational system often operates from the belief that learning is hard work and that play is wasted time, but as homeschoolers we can push back against this idea. We have the freedom to preserve a sense of playfulness in our children’s early years. We can lay a foundation of delight-driven learning to build on as our little ones grow and mature.

Plato says it so well: “Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind. Therefore do not use compulsion, but let early education be a sort of amusement.”

If you’d like some inspiration on how to facilitate learning through play, here are some suggestions for activities that provide your little ones the opportunity for delight-driven exploration:

  • Build with blocks, Legos or wooden train tracks.
  • Draw, paint or model with clay.
  • Make forts with blankets and pillows.
  • Cook and bake together. Try making some baked goods to share with a friend or neighbor.
  • Practice setting the table.
  • Go to the library. Check out different types of books: poetry, history, craft project, or science books.
  • Make a map of your house or neighborhood
  • Cut and paste magazine pictures into a notebook. Make different pages for different categories such as animals, foods, plants, toys, or vehicles.
  • Draw pictures or write letters for family and friends.
  • Take a nature hike. Make a list or draw a picture of the different birds, animals or plants you discover.
  • Visit a museum, aquarium or zoo. Check your library for discounted passes.
  • Be a tourist in your own hometown by visiting a historic landmark, touring a place of business or trying a new restaurant.
  • Climb trees, ride bikes, or go roller skating.
  • Visit a nature center, a mountain trail, a beach, or a state park.

Be a student of your child and see what inspires his love of learning. If your child is begging you to learn to read early, teach her. But if she’d rather let you read aloud to her, just enjoy reading beautiful books together, and don’t stress about what everyone else’s kids are doing.

If your child loves to do worksheets, let him. (Kumon makes some lovely ones for preschoolers). But if your little one views worksheets as a form of torture, don’t force it.

The early years are not the time to push and prod. Find ways that you and your child can enjoy learning together, and take advantage of this season of joy and wonder.

Enjoy this post? Read on, and sign up for our homeschool newsletter.

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Aimee grew up in rural Michigan, where she was captivated by Jesus as a teenager and married her high school sweetheart. Together they moved to New England where they homeschool their two children together. Aimee has a Master's degree in Biblical Languages from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She enjoys exploring new places, reading great stories, and enjoying the outdoors with her family.