Do 3-Year-Olds Need School?



I’m honestly curious about this.  Why do 3-year-old children need school?

I have read a few posts lately seeking “home-school curriculum ideas” for 3-year-olds.

This baffles me.  Am I missing something?

Sweet Hippie Daughter was in public school until she was 7 and Hippie-saurus Rex is only 2 so we haven’t had a “preschooler” yet.  On the other hand, we have a toddler who wants to know everything.

“What’s that?” “Why?” “Is it hot?” “Where did it go?” “(Can I) do it?/have  it?/touch it?/eat it?”

This is what I hear. All. Day. Long.

We sing the ABCs and watch Super Why? He colors (well… scribbles) in his coloring books and makes a mess in the bubbles from the dish water.

He’s learning constantly, though I’m not making any intentional effort to teach him, exactly.

The flowers are yellow! The leaves are green! Can I smell it? Is that a bug? Is it soft?

The flowers are yellow! The leaves are green! Can I smell it? Is that a bug? Is it soft?

Why do we need a curriculum?  I’m not being rhetorical. I’d love for you to share your thoughts!

Now… we did send SHD to preschool when she was 3-years-old but it was the kind of place where kids went to hear stories and play with paint I didn’t have to clean up for 2 hours a day, 3 days a week.  She loved it. She learned to raise her hand to ask questions and wait her turn in line.  They weren’t studying for the SATs or anything.

Do you see a need for structured academics at a very young age?  What are your thoughts? I’m very curious – especially if you live outside the US. How do people in other cultures view this?

Are you, too, seeking to save the earth, promote world peace and raise productive citizens without expending too much effort?

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26 responses »

  1. We did flashcards, starfall, and practice writing letters but there was not the same sort of homeschool structure as we *try* to stick to in our current day. I’ve been seeing an over saturation of the ‘curriculum’ ideas for littles and to me it looks more like play. Yes I realize play is how kids learn at early ages so I don’t see it as anything more than just playing. I think the earlier they start the better, not pushing beyond THEIR abilities of course.

  2. I taught four year old in public school for many years. The entire curriculum was based around social skills. Do kids have to go to school to get social skills? no! But I will admit that when I hear someone say, “We homeschool” and their oldest is three or four, I wonder, what the heck does that mean? Play, love, read, laugh. That is what a three year old needs most. And if you live out in the country like we do and there are no kids his age within 15 miles, then yes, 2 days a week at preschool is awesome for him, and me!

  3. In my opinion, letting them explore and question their surroundings, is much easier for them to learn than talking at them and/or making them sit through lessons. For one thing letting them do, makes it fun for them so you’re less likely to have cranky pants on your hands, and if it’s fun they’re more likely to remember and carry that with them. (my 2.5yo just started preschool and though I did want to send him for diff reasons, i DO love that he gets to do crafts that I dint have to come up with, nor clean up after too!)

    • Yeah – I’m craft deficient. I’m happy to build a chair in the backyard but I have no patience for fingerpainting or playdoh and I don’t want to clean it up afterward. Preschool is awesome for that! 😉

  4. I was homeschooled, and am “homeschooling” my preschooler who is about to turn 4. My mom didn’t even hear about homeschooling until I was supposed to be enrolling in the horrible local school for kindergarten, so that was when she became an official homeschooler. I have had so much pressure to put my little one in preschool that I’ve felt the need to claim the title of homeschooler earlier than I felt warranted it. I am not following a strict or structured thing, and don’t feel a need to. I do try to make sure she is doing educational activities most days, and covering numbers, letters, colors, shapes, etc. on a regular basis. She is a child who thrives on learning, just like I did, so she loves the fact that most days during the baby’s nap time she gets to do preschool. Sometimes it is just coloring, but most days she is doing something truly educational. Honestly, I get most of my material at the dollar store or just thinking of educational uses for everyday items around the house. Cramming education down a 3 year old’s throat is just going to make them dread learning. Creative, fun educational activities help nurture a love for learning. My mom did that for me even before she identified herself as a homeschooling mom, and that’s a gift I’m passing on to my own babies. 🙂

    • OK, first, I LOVE hearing that you were homeschooled and loved it enough to do the same with your children! Second, it’s an interesting thought to me that, maybe, moms who are “homeschooling” their preschoolers may be just doing what they’ve always done but they feel peer pressure to call it school. I suppose that’s not so different from what I wrote about earlier this week when I said I call library books “school books” so that people think we’re actually using an official “curriculum” of some sort.

  5. We will be home schooling our girl, she is 3 years old. Right now we are “Home learning” her. We do follow a shcedule however through the Easy Peasy Homeschool sight, but it’s nothing more than a structured, learn your ABCs and basics with a bunch of fun mixed in. For me it’s perfect because right now I do have to work part time and having a set schedule is good for me and it’s also good for my daughter as she is seeming to respond very well to structure.

    So to answer your question, should we “school” 3 year olds, No. Should we “learn” them, have fun and fed their minds? YES! Hopefully that made sense =)

  6. I can say that while I’m not in favor of horribly structured lessons for that age that I did go with the idea of a “curriculum” for our pre-K homeschooling. Not because it was really a “cirriculum”, per se, but because there is a sort of sequential approach to learning certain subjects (like the basic building blocks for reading and math), and I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss too much for being disorganized–I used the pre-k and kindergarten “What your ____________ needs to know” books by Ed Hirsch, “Slow and Steady, Get me Ready” and “The Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading” (though I started that more around 4).

    For example, we did the whole “letter of the week” thing, and each week (or two or three) had a “theme” for our daily story time, and for Friday movie time, we’d watch a documentary on that subject, and do some craft projects in that area during the week, and for math we’d count or sort or draw or whatever, objects that corresponded with that theme……but that was maybe about an hour and a half out of the day. Mostly though, we played and learned about the world around us.

      • We billed it as “preschool time”. She had been to a part-time, half-day program (that we loved) until we moved, so she understood the idea…part of the reason we did it was because she missed her friends and the projects and stuff, so it was sort of a compromise. We also participated in a pre-k homeschool play group.

  7. I stay in Singapore and I do let my 3yr old attend school..basically to let her learn to socialise with others rather then her brothers and also to make new friends. They do have a syallabus here where the teachers follow for English, Mandarin and Maths. They get a chance to go for excursions, bake stuff/ arts and crafts etc and do science experiments which I may not get the chance to do so much with her alone at home. For 3 yr old they are expected to be able to know all the letters of the alphabet already and count to 20. There is the usual story telling, singing of songs etc.
    At home I supplement school her and we do music and movement also. She does know how to write her alphabets and can recognise all numbers from 1-100.. now moving onto slight words since she has mastered phonics.

    • Wow! Sight words and phonics don’t come in public school here until a child is about 6 or 7! Does she ever seem stressed about not understanding the tasks or is it just a part of her world that she accepts as a regular piece of the day?

  8. I am hunting for a “curriculum” for my 3 year old. It’s not so much a “I need something incredibly academic and pushy” much as a “I’m already homeschooling first and tenth grades, lay out ideas for me so I don’t have to think up something for him to do, too!” He sees the others doing “school” and he wants to be like them. It might be different if he was three or four and the “oldest” rather than the youngest. Plus, I’d like something that hits on the academic concepts he should know, so I don’t “forget” something by focusing on something else, or that I’m being realistic in my expectations (not too fast, but also not underestimating him).

    • I have thought about the older sibling thing. As my boy gets older and sees his big sister working on things he may enjoy having his own projects. Right now he’s pretty content to just putter around and play with his toys but he’s getting more curious (and distracting to her) every day.

  9. Great question! And one we should always be talking about, in my opinion. My 3-year-old just started full-time “preschool” this fall, but more because Mommy needed it than Marshall. 🙂

    I spent my graduate study learning how people learn the piano, with a large emphasis on early childhood education, and I believe in PLAY. So, I picked the preschool that had the biggest emphasis on play. If they are doing any kind of traditional curriculum, they don’t tell me about it. Marshall’s notes from his teachers are all about what he played that day, and it sounds like a beautiful, magical place.

    PS Found you through the Meandering Mondays blog hop and will start following you on Bloglovin! 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by! I am a big believer in play, too. Not just for the teeny tiny kids but for big kids. It breaks my heart a little when I shoo my kids out the door and they just sit there because they don’t know HOW to play. That’s always when we know it’s time to unplug them for a few days so the good parts of being a kid can come back to them. I love technology but I fear it robbing my children of their imaginations.

  10. My daughter just turned three weeks ago and she is in a preschool class that meets once a week at a local elementary school. At home we spend time on letters, phonetic sounds, numbers, colors, shapes etc. We do crafts and she has Pre-K workbooks that we use for fine motor skills activities. In my opinion this is a great age to start teaching them how to learn. They are like little sponges and they have fun learning new things. There are certain things that I want my daughter to know before she starts school. Since I am a SAHM I feel that it is my responsibility to give her some structured learning time.

    • The “little sponges” thing is so very true! At this age they are learning CONSTANTLY whether we are being intentional in our teaching or not. I was reminded of that the hard way the other day when my son repeated something he never should have heard me say in the first place. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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