What To Teach Before You Begin Teaching

My guest post today is from Lea Ann Garfias and she blogs over at Whatever State I Am.

These First Lessons are the Most Important

First published in Home School Enrichment Magazine Jan/Feb, 2010.

What do I teach my child first during the early years? How do I know if he is ready for kindergarten, reading, or math? What early preschool curriculum should I be using? Bombarded by messages from the educational community, the media, and even homeschooling literature regarding “the importance of early education,” you may feel rushed to assemble the perfect curriculum, the optimal academic schedule, and stimulating activities to insure your child’s academic success. But in light of eternity, the first lessons you, the parents, teach in the home are the most important to the child’s future development, and these have nothing to do with traditional book-learning. God’s plan for your child – growing in the nurture and admonition of the Lord {Eph. 6:4} – involves a much different lesson plan.

These first lessons are so important, God references them repeatedly in His Word and instructs parents to teach them to the child daily {Deut. 6:7; Prov. 6:19-23}. A wise parent will begin early to instill these truths and habits in his child and return often to these lessons when an older child has strayed from their truths. Indeed, many a day I have set aside Math and History to reiterate these lessons to my 11-year-old. These are the truths your child must begin studying before reading, writing, and arithmetic even enter his vocabulary, for these are God’s foundations of learning.

1. Your child must first learn to submit to instruction. In our home, the very first verse a child learns is “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right {Eph. 6:1}.” A child in the second year of life, ready to test his rebellion against authority with his first “No,” his first stubborn look, and his first insistence of “Mine!” is ready to learn what God has to say about the authority over his life. As soon as my child can repeat that verse perfectly, we added the next verse – “Honor thy father and thy mother.” This teaches my toddler and preschooler what God says about his attitude toward his authority; pouting and complaining cannot be allowed. A sweetly obedient child is ready to receive instruction from his parents. His will is malleable and his heart is attentive to his God-given teachers.

2. Your child must learn to honor God and the Bible. In his first verse, he learns that he obeys Mommy and Daddy “in the Lord, for this is right.” He sees that his Heavenly Father loves him and provided him parents and order for his life. During Bible Study Time in the morning with Mommy and Evening Devotions with Daddy, he learns the value of God’s Word in the home, God’s Sovereignty over our lives, and God’s dealings with men past and present. He learns how to sit still during worship, sing during hymns, and fold hands during prayer. He begins offering his own praises and requests to His Father himself, as he learns that God is someone near at hand every moment in our home {Ps. 34:15}. His young heart is prepared to learn from His Creator {Eccles 12:1}.

3. Your child must learn God’s plan for the home. This is a challenge to both parents and siblings, but remains an important aspect of the person your young child will become. As a young toddler and preschooler, he needs to see that Daddy is clearly the head of his home {Eph.5:23} and Mommy is cheerfully submissive to her husband. The young child learns that Mommy is happy, wise, and obedient in her role as teacher and care-giver at home {Titus 2:5}. The child will rely on her confidently in the future, knowing Mommy is the loving, hard-working help-meet that Daddy trusts and cherishes {Titus 2:4,5; Proverbs 31:11,12,26,28}. The young son learns to emulate his father as a strong guardian of the home and servant-leader; the small daughter begins to learn graceful, caring femininity.

At home, the child also learns how to live with other people. Close contact with siblings every minute of every day give ample opportunity for your young one to learn love, responsibility, kindness, and manners. The young child needs to grow in sharing, helping, and giving toward others with the assistance, example, and encouragement of his brothers and parents {I Peter 3:8,9}.

4. Your child must begin acquiring basic learning skills. This is not where I bring out the flashcards and turn on the educational DVDs. Rather, this is helping the child gain the tools he will use to begin the life-long learning process, as he becomes a seeker of Biblical Wisdom.

    • Following directions. Building on your child’s obedience skills, continue using daily opportunities to increase his ability to follow instructions. At first, this will be a simple one-step command:“Put this toy in that box.” Soon, you will move on to more challenging two or three steps: “Please take off your shoes and put them in the bin.” As your child shows increased ability to remember steps and act on them correctly, you help him grow in his ability to take instructions and learn from his parents and other godly counselors.
    • Loving books. Reading aloud to your child is a great way to spend time together and foster a love of learning. Begin with classic children’s story books like Guess How Much I Love You and The Tale of Peter Rabbit and later move on to longer picture books and chapter books. Make reading a regular part of your daily routine, a special time together. Besides reading the text, enjoy the pictures and the rhymes together. Make sure both parents spend time reading to the child. My toddler has a special Humpty Dumpty book he only gets out when Mommy is out of the house; it is a special book only for him and Daddy. Encouraging an early love of books sets the stage for life-long learning.
    • Listening at length. During family devotion time, read-aloud time with the older children, and exciting academic study with siblings, begin training the toddler or preschooler to sit and listen for increasing periods of time. At first, he may only sit still for five minutes, but gradually he should increase his attention to Mommy’s voice for longer periods. Recently, our read-aloud with The Complete Winnie the Pooh had just that affect on our toddler. He could not wait to see if Eeyore came into the story, because Mommy made a funny voice for that particular character. He listened quietly (but with occasional laughter) for over 20 minutes most days, before sleep overtook him. Another time my children easily listen quietly is in the van. During errands, I love to play classical music while they listen quietly. Except for my occasional comments regarding the composer or name of the piece, everyone must remain quiet so we can all peacefully listen and relax. Training the child to pay attention is an excellent discipline to help encourage future learning.
    • Exploring alone. Contrary to all that “early intervention hype,” one of the most stimulating things you can do for the young child is simply teach him to be alone. A child who is not dependent upon others or media for constant entertainment is a child who is creative and learning. Begin training the young one to have quiet time with his books; to play alone for periods without siblings (especially while they are doing their studies!); to explore the backyard for himself; and to solve his own lego dilemmas. Your child will begin developing his own thirst for learning, his own set of thinking skills, his own appreciation for God’s creation, and his own creativity.

5. Your child must begin developing self-control. These are lessons that seem tedious and thankless, but many of the most-hated lessons of toddlerhood are teaching valuable character skills for your child’s future. Toilet training, one of the pariahs of motherhood, is a rite of passage in our household. To complete the task, the young child has bent his will to that of his mother, yielding to countless hours of instruction involving muscle functions and mental processes he did not even know he possessed. When he is successful, he has demonstrated he will obey and master even the most difficult – up to that point – lesson his parents demand of him.

Proper table manners, including eating with utensils, dining neatly, and clearing the place considerately, are an opportunity to learn to control small motor function and character development. The child who learns to thank his mother for every meal, after eating every bite neatly, is learning to discipline his behavior appropriately.

Speaking in a moderate, kind voice throughout the day is a challenge for many toddlers. Begin training your young child to use a calm, quiet voice whenever upset or discouraged. Do not allow yelling in anger or whining in protest. Teach them early and by example the power of a pleasant words {Proverbs 16:24}. For many children, this is requires a tremendous exertion of self-control.

Sitting still is a necessary skill, even for a homeschooler. Whether in a church service or in a doctor’s office, there will be many times he is forced to sit for seemingly endless periods of time. Begin training him to sit quietly and without complaining when the need arises, recognizing this is a lesson he may not master until he has gained more maturity. Make expectations clear before sitting periods. Reward honorable behavior with a special treat. If my child has waited patiently an unusually long time, I may buy him a soda on the way home and even let him drink it in the van! Learning to control his large, squirmy muscles for a few minutes and quietly wait on others is a lesson in self-denial.

The first half-dozen years of a child’s life pass quickly by. The diligent parent (Deuteronomy 6:6) makes the most of these fleeting moments, tilling the ripe soil of submission, reverence, and teachability in the young will. As the child grows, the wise parent will continuously plant the Word of God into willing, waiting hearts (Proverbs 23:26). In time, their prayerful, faithful service will reap the beautiful Fruit of the Spirit (John 15:4). This is God’s plan for child-rearing (Proverbs 9:10; II Timothy 3:15-17). We would do well to follow His method for education.

There are so many important ways to prepare your child’s spirit and character for the many years of learning ahead. Turning his heart toward his God and his parents, teaching him to bend his will to that of his authorities, and developing his self-control are the most important steps toward academic readiness. Then you will have a child who will “hear, and will increase learning {and} attain unto wise counsels (Proverbs 1:5).

Lea Ann Garfias is a homeschool graduate who has found teaching private violin and piano lessons much more exciting with a preschooler armed with a (play) sword nearby. She and her husband, David, are enjoying teaching their four children in the Dallas area. You can email her at [email protected].

© Lea Ann Garfias and Home School Enrichment Magazine. Unauthorized use, duplication and/or distribution of these articles without express and written permission from the author and/or magazine is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lea Ann Garfias and HSE with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Lea Ann Garfias
blog: whateverstate
facebook: lagarfias
Home Education Group: Home Education on facebook
twitter: whateverstate