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Preschool Level Learning Over and Over...and Over and Over...AGAIN? 

By Sherry Bushnell


  Stuck at the preschool level? You are in good company!

  We may be here for awhile, so let’s learn to enjoy it.

  Those of us in the moderately mentally delayed club may be looking at living with our adult sized “preschoolers” for the rest of our lives.  As such, maybe it would help to reevaluate  “preschool” and divide it up into a slower paced level, better suited to a lifetime of learning.

  Perhaps for some families, the idea of never moving past the “beginning” level might seem tragic.  But to be honest, after living there for many, many years thus far, it’s not so bad.

  The positives definitely out-weigh the negatives.  Our wonderfully  innocent and see-throughish  children at this level are not complicated.  They may be inattentive and impulsive, but assuredly curious, too.  They rejoice when the first snow flakes come drifting down and they are ecstatic when Daddy gets home from work!

  The kittens, puppies and baby animals (not to mention the big ones) fascinate them.

  Even if they can be hyperactive, make excess noise, and seem to have an incredible short term memory loss, they can respond to simple disciple procedures, are not offended when corrected and will take learning reinforcement of new concepts again and again and again.

  If our preschool level learners are disrespectful, dishonest, defiant and exhibit a lack of self control, we still have time to work on it!  Unlike  an adult child, who is mentally non-disabled, who is ready to leave the nest, who exhibits the above and won’t be corrected, it is not too late for our “preschoolers.”

  With this in mind, how might we divide up the preschool years into more than one long blur?  Some of you experienced ones might well have better terminology than I can come up with and I would love to hear it.

  One of the first things to do that will help is to arm ourselves with a mini library of books, manuals and curriculum guides for the pre-school kindergarten level.

  There are several great ones out there.

  Early Education At Home by M. Jean Soyke

  The Brigance Inventory***

  Learning At Home– Preschool and Kindergarten  by Ann Ward

  Anyway, you get the idea.  Always be on the scout for new books and good ideas for pre-schoolers.  You are going to become an expert pre-school teacher.

  Understanding  the preschooler mind set is the key to successful learning.

  It is so easy to be complex.  We have had professionals at our finger tips since our child was born.  Professionals tell us how to eat, tune up our cars, design and build our houses even clean our houses sometimes.

  However, children are not machines.  They are consistently simple. They don’t get more complicated like computer technology does.

  Fact. Professionals cannot meet the needs of our children like we as parents can.  This is not to say that professionals can’t give us great ideas. But as a parent, we don’t have to attend years of college to do an outstanding job with our children’s learning needs.

  Are you familiar with the term “developmentally-appropriate practice” ?  In plain English, this means that children are presented with what they need to know when they are ready for it. 

  How do we know that our children are ready  to understand beginning concepts?

  One of the most important ways we can see that our children are ready is if they are symbolizing.  For example, does your son recognize a toy car as a car and then make motor noises while driving across the floor?

  We can observe our children.  Are they trying to jam the round peg in the square hole?  Or are they choosing the correct round hole after a moment of thinking.

  Increased coordination is also a sign that the brain is ready to handle pre-school level concepts.  Running, jumping, hopping and skipping, balancing and one-handedness is usually established, are they right handed or left?

 Let’s start with the “Curious and into everything” mode.

  While a six month old is  unashamedly into everything,  our patience may be tried as we secure the cupboards, shut the doors and pick things up more often.  Have you ever looked at this stage as an incredible blessing?

  Indeed, some of us longed for the day that we would see our children getting into curious mischief.  Once they started, we were not about to squelch the momentum!

  Using this high interest mode, we want to keep supplying data for them to process in a non-threatening way and to keep up with new levels of understanding so they don’t get bored.  Got that?!


“Trial and Error” level

  We can watch our children work and work at understanding how to get into something they want to (such as the box mom brought home hiding in the closet)  I am sure we have also watched them rise to great frustration as they express their inability to figure something out.

   Is your preschooler angry a lot? A good example of this might be watching them work carefully folding a piece of paper and inserting it into the envelope, but not being able to get it in “just so.”  In their  mind’s eye they know how it should look, but how to get it there is another story.

  For those of us that  have a child who has learning delays or is mentally disabled around the preschool level, having run out of ideas on how to teach them to handle frustration appropriately,  we suggest the book the Parent’s Guide to Attention Deficit Disorders.  This book published by Hawthorne is available through them at 1-800-542-1673.

  This book gives loads of suggestions to modify behavior in the child who is preschool level of understanding and above.  Although not all suggestions would apply to all families, there are some interesting ones to consider.


The “why” stage.

  Another way to tell if our children are ready to understand beginning academic concepts, is a good increase in language comprehension.  Have they added more words (about 50 a month) including the infamous “why” word?

  Our children do not have to be talking yet to be at the preschool level.  Verbal language is of number one importance, but as I can well attest, communication is of more importance.  Words may come slowly for our children with special needs.  We are after mental preschool level, regardless of language.

  “Why” means, I want to connect with my world.  I  need input.  So, to reduce frustration, the all-important task for the preschooler is learning how to communicate to get answers to life’s questions.

  The best way to succeed at communication is to communicate. Amazing!  By allowing our children to participate in our conversations we help them gain reasoning skills, expression and important

listening skills.  The more we converse with our children, the more they will learn to listen.  You may feel worn out at the end of the day, but the time you take to hear stories, read books, and the time you take to listen to them, is incredibly instrumental in your child’s pre-school level of development.

  We must also remember that just because our child has an increased awareness of written language (THE ABC’S)  they probably are not ready for formal learning.

  In fact, most preschoolers do not have the ability to see, hear or discern the fine distinctions between sounds or different letters and numbers.  Vision and coordination, are not ready,  hence,  FAT crayons, large print and big pencils.


Let’s Get Organized.

  Preschoolers vary in their ability to understand concepts.

  Although they can remember events in the past and can plan for the future, the concepts of time, space and age still elude them.  They have a hard time remembering things that are not truly meaningful to their world.

  This is why if the ABC’s do not interest a child and reading is not even on the radar screen for them, they will probably not remember letters!

  Learning to pick up toys, put everything in it’s place (via our example of course.  Smile.) is so important to helping them understand everything has a place in life. 

   Our preschoolers are the ultimate Amelia Bedelia. For example, when they hear that someone “lost his head” they’ll want  to know where it was lost!


“I am big, really I am.”

  Social development is of great concern to all parents.  We desire our children to behave in public, to be able to make friends and to play well with other children without fighting or being rude.  The home is the best place to learn appropriate social behavior. Learning to play with brothers and sisters is excellent practice.

  Our preschoolers are great imitators.  Just as the father who is watching his preschooler re-play his own reaction to the football game that was just lost, or the mom who finds herself rolling her eyes when frustrated.  “Where did that come from???”

  As our children grow in social awareness, we can allow them to play unobserved and to build friendships.  Modeling correct behavior in the home is their special God-given foundation for being good at handling social problems later on.

  Now that we have broken down some of the areas a preschooler might be showing us as signs that they are going to be able to retain information, we can think about what kinds of materials fuel a great preschool “classroom”  environment.  Thankfully it is not expensive.

 Let’s start with:

  Big crayons, thick pencils with big erasers, and hefty, safe scissors.

   We like an ordinary stapler, a nice big roll of clear tape, labels, that stick to make “stickers”, construction paper, washable tempura paint, paste, glue and other mediums for making masterpieces.

  In addition add to your cupboard magazines to cut up to make scrap books,  egg cartons, noodles, dry cereal, ribbon, buttons, paper bags, strings and yarn.

  All manner of scrap fabric you can spare, cardboard pieces, sandpaper, and felt, boxes of all sizes, and yogurt containers.

  Bean or rice bags are good, finger-painting mediums such as toothpaste, shaving cream, pudding, and anything else that sounds like fun.

  What to scout around for or ask Grandma:

  Lego / Lincoln Logs, beads to string, “cooker set”, sand and water toys, appropriate videos,  DVDs and tapes, blocks, colored chalk and a chalk board,  a tike or bike with training wheels and helmet, books, books and more books… puzzles, rubber stamps and musical instruments.

  Wow! You get the picture.  This already sounds like a lot of fun to me.

  Skills to Check Off:

  Just so that you can stay on track, plan to purchase a skills checklist.  These are often included in the preschool level curriculums we just listed previously.  Start with those skills that are necessary before starting formal instruction or  an educational program that costs lots of money.  These would be things like:

  Climbs, catches a large ball, bounces ball, skips, walks heel to toe, can  walk on tippy toes, balances on each foot etc.

  Assess not only the gross motor development but the fine motor.  Look for things like, stringing beads, folding paper, tracing lines, using scissors fairly accurately and stacking smallish blocks.

  The other areas are social, body awareness, communication, and cognitive ability (right and left don’t count!)


Who sets the schedule around here anyway?

  As homeschoolers, we have a great advantage.  School doesn’t begin at 9:00am and end at 2:00pm.  We teach all day.  Preschoolers are very much in favor of this, since life is one big happy experiment.

  “Mommy, are you making pancakes?  Can I make tiny ones for my plate?

  “Johnny, you can pour your own syrup, but you must use the measuring spoon and be reasonable”

   “Oh great, it’s time to sort clothes.  Sally, you put all of the white clothes in this basket.  Daddy’s jeans and these pants go in this blue basket.”

  Scheduling time for learning can come later.  Although some parents do function better with a “learning time” of say 1 hour.  I don’t know about your children, but the attention span of my preschoolers allows them to stick with it for not much more than 15 minutes...and less if someone else comes along with a more interesting activity.

  Simplicity is the name of this great adventure.  You see, they are learning about life.  Household skills are reconstructed in the best preschool classrooms in the country. 


Are We Having Fun Yet?

  I think that the most important thing for me to remember is that we are striving to teach and HAVE FUN.

  We need to have the attitude that although we know that we are purposely setting them up for learning new skills and understanding,

shhhh.. this is our secret.  To our preschoolers, they are simply “big helpers”.

  Responsibility is so important to them.  They are so much wanting to be big and make their mark on their world. 

  In our home, although we have not completely attained this by a long shot, anger has no place in teaching.  If we as mothers feel our frustration level rising, it is better to teach our children to have a quiet time or to sit still reading a book to give us 5 minutes of peace.

  Keeping our cool when the weather is awful outside is important for the tone of the family not to mention keeping learning alive.  No one likes a crabby pre-school teacher. 

     I do have a funny story to end with:

  Recently, one of our preschool level learners was totally into having a pet of his own.  He wanted one so badly.

  Our home is heated with wood during the winter.  We patiently endure the different creatures that firewood, stored outside, brings into the house.

  Unfortunately, his older sister spotted a large maggot that had fallen onto the hearth, out of a crack in the log.  Pointing out this interesting creature, she proceeded to tell him that a beautiful flying something or another would soon appear if he took good care of it.  Wow!

  Unfortunately, while mommy was napping and feeding baby ShaHannah upstairs and

Daddy was in the office outside, he hunted and hunted for just the right environment to keep his “pet.”

  Deciding that the big bin of rolled oats best resembled a beautiful pile of dirt, he dropped his maggot on the waiting soft mound.  Sure enough he thought he saw that maggot wiggle comfortably to the bottom of the bin.

  Unfortunately, mommy went through the roof when he explained in careful terms just how he made his new pet feel at home.

  Fortunately Daddy was home.  Daddy carefully sifted the entire bin of oats with a hand strainer to find his little pet, who was not coming into ready view.

  (Fortunately for Daddy the bin was almost empty to begin with.)  As Daddy extra carefully sifted the last bowl and no nesting maggot appeared, our pre-schooler kind of remembered that perhaps he didn’t really see his pet land in the oatmeal.  Perhaps it landed to the side of the container.

  Off to the pantry run a troupe of howling sisters, mourning their churning stomachs, hoping, just hoping that he was right.

  A sister, a little less squeamish than the rest, volunteered to check the bucket of raw potatoes sitting close to the bin of oatmeal.

  Out came each potato, carefully inspected for this giant specimen of the pre-fly family.

  As the bottom of the bucket came into  view, the bottom layer of straw was dumped into a another bucket.  As the last bit of straw was then carefully lifted out, with happy triumph, our preschooler shot his hand into the bowl and retrieved his erring maggot.

  A mason jar was immediately employed along with much advice on how to screw the lid on tightly and, “Oh, yes, poke a few holes in the lid... and feed it some damp lettuce.” 

  It survived a record 3 more days…. (It could have lived much more..) until it somehow disappeared off the kitchen counter, jar and all...Daddy????

  So, you see, preschool level learning is all about adventure.  Ask any parent.  Is your child mentally disabled and “stuck” at this level?  Rejoice.  We think this is one of the most precious times of life.

  Our attitude towards presenting simple ideas and teaching the beginning skills makes our child either want to stop learning or to move forward.

  Here are some stay-alive  ideas for us parents:

 1.  Let’s teach our children to give us the space we need to recoup.

 2.  Take time to make new game plans if our present ideas and actions are not working.

 3.  Character development over activity.  This means that if our children are experiencing anger over not      being first, learning to resolve conflict and taking turns comes first.

 4.  Being able to “help” is more important to our child than learning the ABC’s.



***The Brigance Inventory




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