Learning in the Early Years Series

Learning vs. School

Our world has become more and more focused on school. If you have a toddler, chances are that people are already asking when she will start school. Even the homeschool community has begun to embrace curriculum for toddlers. In fact, I get questions all the time about what type of homeschool curriculum I recommend for a two year old.

Here is my sort answer: I don’t! I don’t recommend curriculum for two year olds or even three year olds. That may make it seem like I don’t really care about educating my littles. The truth is I care very much about education all of my children, all of the time. We have just forgotten the difference between learning and school. So, if you have a young child and are agonizing over when and how to start school, keep reading.

What is Learning?

Here’s the scoop, learning doesn’t have to happen in school. As a homeschooler, I am sure you know that. However, it bears repeating. Children are learning from before they are born. It doesn’t take a curriculum for them to learn. Just navigating the world and being part of a family is a huge learning experience for little ones.

You can easily provide learning opportunities for young children without having to adhere to a curriculum plan or follow detailed lesson plans. And please, do not worry about assessing your child. Sure, you can ask questions or have him demonstrate what he learned. However, he is too young for testing and “making the grade.” 

Keep learning fun. Let you child explore. Provide the platform for her to experiment and grow. Learning is a process, not a set of worksheets. It comes in many shapes and sizes, from stories and books to coloring and building buildings. Everything a young child does is learning.

A VIDEO YOU MAY ENJOY: SCHOOLING VS. EDUCATING

When Should Children Begin School?

I admit, I was tempted to answer this question as never. School is a system. Even though we “home school” that doesn’t mean school at home. Our homeschools should support our family values, celebrate our child’s gifts, and lend support to her struggles. Our family should be our school and education should be the culture of our home.

Holding children “back” (I really don’t like that term) benefits them in many ways. They have a chance to mature, to be confident in their abilities, and most importantly to just have fun being a kid. So, my real answer is once you have to. Most states do not require any schooling before six or even seven years old. There are countries, like Norway, where school is delayed as late as eight or nine years old. Does that mean these children are learning nothing for all that time. Certainly not, in fact, children who start school later, quickly surpass their peers who start early.

What Should I Be Doing with My Child?

You may be wondering what your preschooler or toddler should be doing then. And how about your six year old? If you aren’t doing school, what are you doing? Children still need educational opportunities, experiences where they learn. One of the best things you can do for your child is provide open ended toys and games. Make them use their imagination, and some engineering skills. You also should be reading books, many, many books. If you can’t read books often, provide quality audiobooks. Listening is an art. It is also the first step in learning. Children will remember what they hear. The literature will feed their brains. 

Here’s a list of some activities and toys that inspire learning:

  • Blocks
  • Baby dolls
  • Action figures
  • Swings and slides
  • Play dough
  • Crayons and paper
  • Toy cars and trains
  • Audiobooks
  • Nursery Rhymes
  • Puzzles
  • Balance bike or scooter
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Dress up clothes
  • Child sized tools
  • Play kitchen
  • Picture books

CHIME IN: How has your child been learning?


Jennifer Elia, homeschool consultant, blogger, and Amazon best selling author, is Founder of Sound Foundations Homeschool which is dedicated to giving homeschool moms the tools they need to thrive in their home education career. Jennifer is leading the Sound Foundations Homeschool movement, equipping moms to provide an education that celebrates her child’s unique and special gifts without burning out. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and four children whom she has been educating at home for the past 10 years. When Jennifer isn’t busy researching the best curriculum solutions, she enjoys gardening, crafting, and writing. You can find Jennifer on Facebook and Pinterest.

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