I remember vainly sifting through the vendor hall at the Great Homeschool Convention searching for something – almost anything – my very social, very dependent-on-me 4 year old daughter could do independently so I could work with the other children uninterrupted.

I was desperate!

Children are not a problem to solve feature

Now, with hindsight, I think my intention and attitude were wrong. Within a few weeks, she was reading and went from preschooler to school-aged. It happened in the blink of an eye. She was my youngest, my last toddler, my last preschooler and I was in such a hurry to move her along I didn’t celebrate her where she was.

Admittedly, she was not the first child I pushed, pulled, and prodded forward. We started to homeschool preschool when my oldest was three. We started with the phonics book that made her cry when she saw it. We went through three phonics books before we found one she “liked” – rather, before she was actually ready for phonics.

We did some math, we did the place value thing with the counting and bundling straws, we did so many schooly things because I thought academics were the right thing for my preschooler. My newly minted 2 year old was along for the ride – not the phonics, but the rest; the baby took a nap.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that toddlers and preschoolers are people and must be valued for their very toddler-hood and preschool-ness. It is a short and can be a joyful part of life.

My best advice is to respect them and to respect where they are; to bring them with you as you are doing your day to some extent, but mostly to slow your day down to their needs.

It’s hard in the trenches – it’s hard when you have all toddlers, it’s hard when you have a big group of children at different ages, it’s hard when you have one preschooler left. Our expectations often make things hard – if we expect little ones to act and think like older children, we aren’t respecting their personhood.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means when Charlotte Mason says “Children are born persons.”

Children have all of the emotional and mental faculties of personhood. They are not extensions of their parents but separate and whole. However, they are not mature – they are feeding on ideas and growing and learning. So what is it that the child before you needs during this stage as they grow in maturity?

They need your love. They need your time. They need work to do. They need stories, the out-of-doors, and mostly they need lots and lots of play.

In a lot of ways, these little ones have to be the priority. They disrupt our lives and our agendas. They’re adorable. They’re inconvenient. They’re messy. We have to put their needs above our wants, plans, or sometimes even our needs.

This is not “spoiling” children. This is treating them as persons who need to grow in maturity. Academics are really important, older children have needs for our time and attention and teaching, too. However, your eight year old will not fail at life if they don’t get a full-bore history curriculum.

There are lots of practical things you can do.

Arrange your schedule around theirs.  Utilize naptime school and sibling entertainers. Do some lessons while they’re eating – which means you may need to eat before or after they do. Play a lot.

Really, enjoy your little people. I wish I had understood how to do that. There are lots of practical things you can do, but the most important is to take the time to wonder “What does this child need from me at this time?” In my experience, those needs change rapidly – even if it seems like they’ll last forever.

Toddlers mature into very capable children quickly; my suggestion is to enjoy helping them learn and seeing their understanding grow. Their Aha!s are my favorite thing.

Don’t look at the children as problems to solve but as persons to love.

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Dawn Garrett
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Dawn Garrett

Dawn Garrett lives in Ohio with her husband Jason and their three always-homeschooled children, ages 13, 12, and 11. In her homeschool, she and her children learn about God and His cosmos by studying the seven liberal arts in order to know Him better, imitate Him and His ways, and share about Him with others. They use the AmblesideOnline curriculum. Her home blog – about books school and life – has been at ladydusk for 15 years.

She is the author of the free ebook: I Am, I Can, I Ought, I Will: Charlotte Mason’s Motto Explained for Upper Elementary Students.
Dawn Garrett
Find me at
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