What Preschool Children *Actually* Need

What Preschool Children *Actually* Need

“In this time of extraordinary pressure—educational and social—perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time” -Charlotte Mason, Home Education

“What should I do with my preschool-age kids to make sure they’re ready for school?”

“Which preschool/kindergarten curriculum should I use?”

“My first grader keeps getting in trouble at school. He’s so wiggly and disruptive. What should I do?”

The Early Years, the stage from birth to six years old, is a special time of immense growth — both physically, mentally, and emotionally. And because of this they require a totally different educational approach than school-age children.

What do young kids actually need from adults and how can we best provide a “quiet growing time?” I’ll answer those questions and more in this episode.


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The Early Years Guide

Preschool + Kindergarten at Home | YouTube


Charlotte Mason called the stage from birth to six years old the “early years.” What makes this stage so challenging and special?

  • The time and energy they require!
  • Too cute 🙂 
  • Giving them adequate attention while school older siblings
  • The emotional intensity
    “Children are born persons, and have possibilities for good and evil. We see his wonderful sweetness and reasonableness, but we are surprised when he gives way to temper, to deceit, to vindictiveness, to domineering ways. (KItching, Children Up To School Age)
  • The curiosity and messy exploration

Let’s take a look at children from 0-6 years old

Infants are born with very little muscle control, poor eyesight, but a universal ear for language. They can distinguish differences in phonemes better than adults, and if they are exposed to a language before 10 months old they will grow up to speak without an accent. Children learn how to understand a language easily in two years, and speak fluently after 3-4 years. They not only learn to comprehend the language, but they must learn how to produce sound coordinating their vocal chords, tongue, and lips. 

Their brain is born with trillions of neural connections, many more than they actually need. Their brain prunes the connections that are not used. Sensory input is especially important at this stage as it strengthens many synapses, creates a lot of connections. This is probably why babies are so driven to touch, taste, and smell everything, as well as respond to every sound they hear.

Infants learn how to control their body by trial and error – they hit a mobile toy and try to replicate. They practice over and over again. They do the same thing for grasping, throwing, and bringing food to their mouth. It is truly amazing how much they accomplish on their own!

During the toddler (and again in the teenage years) the limbic system goes through some major developments and refinements. This comes with a lot of emotional ups and downs. 

They are learning eternal and earthly laws. It may not seem like they want boundaries, but they do! They are constantly testing and pushing boundaries to see where those boundaries are. They are learning WHO they are and what they can do, and what they should do. (I AM, I CAN, I OUGHT, I WILL).

What does society say that children need during this stage?

Socialization with peers

Reading by age 5 or 6

Sit still and wait turns

Curated activities – things to keep them busy

Professional educators

What did Charlotte Mason say about this stage?

“In this time of extraordinary pressure—educational and social—perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air. And this, not for the gain in bodily health alone—body and soul, heart and minds, are nourished with food convenient for them when the children are let alone, let to live without friction and without stimulus amongst happy influences which incline them to be good.”[9]

“We constantly receive letters from mothers who would like their children aged between four and five to join the Parents’ Union School, and we need to remember that children deprived of a quiet growing time suffer later when ‘lessons’ should begin, showing signs of a lack of vitality or a want of concentration… He should still enjoy the nursery freedom; he should still have ‘occupations’ but not lessons.” (Kitching, Children Up To School Age)

What Does Research Show About this Stage?

All of the data and conclusions I’ll share with you today is from the book School Can Wait by Raymond C Moore. Dr.Moore is a Developmental Psychologist. His resume is enormous and includes public school teacher, principal, superintendent, college dean and president as well as a Officer for the U.S. Office of Education, and advisor to the White House. It’s truly amazing his experience education and government. Interestingly, because of his experiences and training in developmental psychology  he is a huge advocate of home education. He and his wife educated their own children at home.

As a psychologist and college dean he is well-equipped to read research and understand what makes a study quality or not. He began looking at all the studies he could find on early childhood development and education to understand what prepares children for the demands of academics. Between him and his associates of the Moore Foundation conducted a broad investigation of over 7,000 sources in early childhood education research. They only took the studies that qualified as quality research, which ended up being about 1,000 that were analyzed and included in the book. The authors looked at trends instead of individual studies. In other words they were looking for truth, not fishing for studies that supported their particular belief. I love what he says in the preface: In analyzing literature for facts and trends and pointing out relationships between them a scholar is of course obligated to maintain a regard for truth. To examine information honestly, he must be alert for clues from any source that may lead to further knowledge… It is obviously unscholarly, unethical, and unwise to wave aside a possible truth because it does not agree with presently accepted knowledge or conventional practice.”

I love it. I just love how honest, intelligent, and truly scientific Dr. Moore is. 

So what did he and his team find after analyzing so many research studies on early childhood education? 

These are the trends, or relationships they found:

Policies related to the age of school readiness are varied. In some states the mandatory age of school entrance is 5, for others it is 8. IT IS NOT BASED ON RESEARCH or DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY. After much research in the fields of developmental psychology and neuropsychology Dr. Moore and his colleagues found that the ideal age of school entrance is 8-11 years old, depending on the child. There are many factors that contribute to school readiness. 

Secure Attachment and Positive Atmosphere

Children need strong attachments to adults, ideally parents, and to be with the the majority of their day. And the home appears still to be the best place for acquiring a healthy attachment. Most children cannot tolerate separation from their mothers before the age of five, Even the best daycare cannot completely neutralize the negative social, emotional and cognitive effects of mother-child discontinuity.  One study cited was an observation of children in london after WWII. Researchers looked at PTSD of children who were evacuated to the safer countryside and children who remained in London with their parents during the bombing. What they found was that children who were separated from their parents suffered from trauma and life-long mental illnesses. However, the children who remained with their parents in war-torn London were better off. The psychoanalyst Anna Freud began studying children at the Hampstead War Nurseries in London who had been evacuated to the countryside as well as children who had stayed behind in cities and towns with their parents and witnessed bombings. After 12 months, she concluded: “London children … were on the whole much less upset by bombing than by evacuation to the country as a protection against it.”

Learning to read is complex

There are many perceptual abilities that need to develop before kids are able to read. Reading difficulties arising simply from pressure to use immature perceptual processes are often assumed to be disabilities. The maturational “handicaps” may decrease or disappear entirely when perceptual abilities improve, usually after the third grade.” p. 110

“Full reading success requires comprehension of both the purpose of reading and the meaning of hte material read. In the fifth grade, reading comprehension is associated with the interest level of hte reading material, especially for boys. Given sensory-motor maturity and the ability to conceptualize, reading skill develops rapidly when a child first acquires an interest and then discovers that reading can extend his knowledge about that interest. This is quite different from purely mechanical decoding – that is, associating printed ketters with sounds but with little or any meaning–that usually accompanies a lack of interest in reading.” p 114

Neuropsychological factors in learning

Intelligence isn’t the only factor in learning academic subjects. Children are very intelligent; in other words they have a great capacity to see connections and observe the world around them. However, academic subjects – like reading and solving math problems –  require more than intelligence. It requires that the senses are fully developed. The brain and senses, especially hearing and vision, and still creating connections and neural pathways until 8 years old. Here are a few examples: 

A child must be able to hear the different phonemes in words before they read them on a page. For example, my 5 year old was reading words incorrectly because he can’t hear the difference between a long a sound and a short e. This means that we needed to spend more time reading aloud and having conversations. This comes with time and experience, but is essential for reading success. 

When the eyes are reading lines of words from left to right the left eye is dominant until the middle line, then it switches to the right eye reading to the end of the page, then switches back again. This requires the eyes to work seamlessly together without any pause in switching. I was once talking to a grounds manager at a local park who said he struggled with reading in school and felt dumb for most of his life. He just couldn’t understand what he had just read. It didn’t make sense and he was put in special education. Years later he learned that his eyes had major difficulties switching in the middle of the page and missed a lot of words. He didn’t get therapy until adulthood and his life was altered forever by something as simple as needing more time to develop before reading. 

How do the eyes become synchronized? Running and spinning are two of the best ways to develop this perception. Research is showing that sunshine entering the eye seems to be the key to preventing myopia (far sightedness) which is considered an epidemic in kids today. 

How long does it take for these senses to develop completely? 

“The great cerebral commissures–connecting bands of nerve tissue–are not complete until after the age of seven. Lateral responses on the EEG in terms of cognitive activity do not stabilize before eight or nine years of age.” p. 143

Auditory and visual perceptions are essential for reading, and they aren’t equal in perceptual capacity until age 9… Learning difficulties may arise from emphasis on new conceptual learning before a proper sensory-perceptual base is established. The ability to transfer information across sense modalities – vision, hearing, etc – and to interpret this information is apparently not developed until eight years of age or later.” p. 144

Interestingly, the same parts of the brain used for reading and math are also the same ones used for gross motor skills. When kids have time to play in the sunshine,  run, climb, spin, jump,  and look at things far away they are developing the parts of the brain needed for future academic success. 

Balanced Brain

Recently I came across Brain Balancing from another homeschool mom. The idea is that two sides of the brain are responsible for different processes and they are connected by the corpus callosum. But when the corpus callosum isn’t strengthened and developed, the brain becomes lopsided and the two sides don’t communicate well with each other. Most learning disabilities are symptoms of a disconnected, or imbalanced brain. The brain is balanced from gross motor skills and being outside,  but learning can also be affected by unintegrated primitive reflexes. There are many reflexes that infants are born with that eventually get integrated as they develop. But this requires lots of time outside of baby swings and chairs. What my child development professor called “sensory deprivation devices.”  Its as simple as letting your infant and toddler play unhindered. Letting them crawl, climb, jump, and do (what many parents consider) slightly risky things. Here’s an example: there is a reflex on the feet that is integrated by running barefoot on many different surfaces. The ability to pay attention is influenced by the development of the inner ear. The inner ear is stabilized by spinning and doing somersaults. 

Delaying Formal Lessons 

Can we then be surprised that research continually points to delaying school until 7 years old? Kids need at least 6 years of a quiet growing time to integrate their reflexes and strengthen perceptions. In 2015 Stanford University did study on waiting to start kindergarten showed academic as well as social and emotional benefits.

So the ideal age to start formal lessons is around  7 years old, and for some kids you may need to wait even longer before starting formal lessons. I personally begin formal lessons between 6 and 7 years old and just see how they do. If they have a hard time and get frustrated easily then I take a step backward and focus on foundational skills again. I give it 6 months and try again. For my oldest he was clearly ready at 6 years old and thrived. My second was not ready at 6, and not really at 7, so we did gentle reading lessons and math. At 8 he 

What should parents focus on during this stage?


I’m going to briefly go over these three areas and while I do, please write down your questions and we can do a deep dive into whichever areas you all want to explore in more detail. 


“Education is the science of relations.” In the early years children are not doing formal lessons, but they are  engaged in a very  important part of their education. They are forming relations with the world, God, and people around them. A plethora of research shows that children do much better academically, emotionally, and socially by starting formal lessons after 6 years old, and for some children they may need to wait until 7 or 8 years old.  If you’re still not convinced, ill link to a few books that will change your mond School Can Wait by Raymond Moore, The Importance of Being Little by Erika Chrystal’s, and Barefoot and Balanced by Angela Hanscom.  

First, forming a relationship with parents and family members. This is a foundational part of life. Healthy attachment to parents (especially a mother)  has been proven essential for: self-esteem, self-regulation/discipline, executive function, etc. Really truly, you must find JOY and HAPPINESS in being with your children. BUT Parenting  isn’t just warmth and love. Mason said in the home there should be an atmosphere of “disciplined freedom.”  Parents need to establish authority in the home. They need to set boundaries and teach appropriate behavior. Authority and discipline does not mean punishment and Mason was very clear where she stood on punishment and rewards. Parents should practice Masterly Inactivity – which “indicates the power to act, the desire to act, and the insight and self-restraint which forbid action.” (3/28) 

Children learn healthy socio-emotional skills from their parents, not their peers. Peers can be great playmates, but will never substitute loving adults. Research shows that children learn more prosocial behavior from mixed aged peer groups than same-sage. It seems that the natural atmosphere of the child’s home really is better than the artificial environment of a preschool.

During this stage it’s important that children form a healthy relationship with themselves –their emotional, spiritual, and physical selves. We can help them by labeling emotions and helping them identify why they may be feeling that way. Its VITAL for them to have time to climb, jump, run, and even wrestle! They need to learn their own strength and what they’re capable of. 

Forming a relationship is very different from memorizing facts. At this age children should be forming real relationships with the universe around them – they gain a relationship with physical laws by dropping different items on the ground or banging them on the window. They form a relationship with the law of conservation by pouring water into different sized containers. They gain relationships with seasons by playing outside everyday. The form relationships with nature by smelling, touching, and listening to various plants and creatures. They gain a relationship with mathematics by counting . In fact according to Ron Ahroni (mathematician and teacher) prepositions (right, left, above, below), counting and getting a sense of “numberness” and feeling the weights and volumes of objects are the most important things for young children to learn before first grade.

One of the most important relationships children should form is with nature. The amount of relationships they can form is limitless! Sounds, smells, textures, and colors. It is open-ended, so it provides more opportunities for creativity. It sparks questions and wonder that commercial toys just can’t ignite. 

Scientists are finding that childhood nearsightedness is increasing because children do not get enough sunshine. Children’s bones are strengthened by minor stress – jumping, climbing, running, etc. Development of the inner ear is important for attention. This happens from spinning, rolling, somersaults, etc. 

The best way to form relationships?? PLAY!


“There should be no so-called ‘lessons’ in the playroom. ‘Occupations’ is the right word, and for these no time-table should be set and there should be a sense of much freedom both in the manner and matter of ‘What shall we do next?’ Again, just as the best-loved toys are the simplest in construction because they give full scope to a child’s imagination, so all material used should be of the simplest kind.” (Kitching, Children Up To School Age)

Real, unstructured play should make up the majority of waking hours at this age. Playing outside is ideal because with is a feast for the senses. There is so much to observe! The clouds, the weather, the seasonal changes, plants, animals, etc. 

When kids play they work through emotions, social rules, and they build their attention and imagination! The think about it: when a child is deep in play it’s wiring the brain to pay attention for extended periods of time. When they play they are using their imagination to create stories. The is is the foundation for future writing skills. 

When they play with blocks they are absorbing the physical attributes of shapes and how they fit together (foundation for geometry). They also learn how certain sizes and shapes balance, and how to build towers that don’t fall down (physics). 

What should they play with? 

“The children must have toys, but not too many. They must have games, for the most part invented by themselves with their own toys, or without. They must have things to do with the simplest materials, easily found in any home. They must have plenty of good stories, songs, nursery rhymes, pictures of all kinds.” (Kitching, Children Up To School Age)

Open-Ended Toys are ideal. I made a video showing all the toys I feel are essential and how to set up a play space that encourages imaginative play. 


“…it is in the home that children may most easily be taught to face the discipline of life.” Kitching, Children up to School Age and Beyond)

Parents must observe their children and determine which traits they inherited and which habits they need to obtain and gain character.


“The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days.” … “If she be appalled by the thought of overmuch labour, let her limit the number of good habits she will lay herself out to form. The child who starts in life with, say, twenty good habits, begins with a certain capital which he will lay out to endless profit as the years go on.” (Charlotte Mason)

Which habits? Attention, obedience, Cleanliness, kindness, Application, Imagining, Truthfulness.

Atmosphere, Discipline, and Life also play into habit formation. The atmosphere is the relationship between you and your child, as well as the example you set. It’s much easier to develop a habit when it’s just part of the home atmosphere. Discipline is actively and intentionally practicing these habits. Role playing and practicing the habit in a safe environment is a good way to jumpstart habits. Life encompasses the living ideas we expose our children to. I’ll talk more about that in the next section.

Living Ideas I.e Stories

Thirty Million Words

Children need to experience the world with their five senses and hear lots of words to describe what they’re experiencing. 

The written word is just symbols for words, which are a symbol for real things. So your children will catch on to reading (and love it!)  so much better if they have a foundation in  language and experiences. 

You are constantly sowing ideas in your home; through books, movies/tv shows, and stories you tell. Many of these seeds will take root and grown in your child’s heart and mind. Take a serious look at the ideas you allow in your home: does it contain eternal truth? Does it celebrate the good, virtuous, and beautiful? What does it inspire? 

Ask yourself: am I ok with my children using the phrases from this book? Do I want  them absorbing the beliefs and ideas? Why or why not?

 If not, then I don’t allow it in the home. 

The formative years are when children form their foundational  ideas and beliefs about themselves and the world around them. They will encounter less desirable books, movies, and media later in life. But our job is to make sure the lens in which they view the world is based on what is good, true and beautiful. And this starts with the ideas we feed their growing minds. 

How? By Reading books, and telling stories. Children’s minds grasp onto stories and remember them forever. They learn truth better from stories than lectures. This is because they have a strong moral imagination that senses truth and internalize it. Stories from your own life, or family members’ lives, are especially impactful. Some of my kids favorite books at this age are picture book biographies, folktales, and Thornton Burgess books about nature. This stage is marked by a voracious appetite for stories.

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