‘Go Home and Play With That Baby!’

Playing, exploring, and social interaction all help prepare your baby for a healthy learning environment

After spilling my insights and sarcasm about life as a homeschool family at a convention, I step away from the podium and am usually met by anxious parents of school-aged kids who are considering homeschooling or have just begun and need a little guidance. After one of my speaking sessions recently, I was met with an astonishingly different and possibly more eager crowd of parents.

The topic of the session was Quick Start Homeschooling, meant as a hit-the-ground-running crash course. Specifically, I was speaking to parents disillusioned by their child’s education during the pandemic shutdowns, and those suddenly aware of—and seeking to escape—the political and social agendas bulldozing their family values.

This time, I stepped away from the podium, took a swig of my cold coffee, and almost shock-spit it at the first couple in line to greet me:

“Hi, we loved your talk! Our son is 10 months old, and we are looking for ways to start the homeschooling process early and get him ready to learn with us. Do you have any suggestions for educational activities or programs we can start doing now?”

I glanced over at my convention assistant (i.e., my husband) and saw my shock mirrored in his goggling eyes. We silently conversated: 10 months old? We were still struggling with sleep schedules and how to work a diaper genie at that point.

“Go home and play with that baby!” I impulsively blasted.

The words flew out of my mouth with blunt but jovial force. A skill (or fault) that I inherited from my Granny, who told it like it was and then blessed your heart. Basically, be nice but tell the truth, because the truth is the nicest thing you can offer.

The next couple waiting to chat heightened my amazement even more when they chimed in:

“Oh, we don’t even have kids yet. We just got married and are doing some research to know exactly how we want to parent and educate our future children.”

Suddenly, hubs and I felt like the slackers in the room. We became homeschoolers by spite and divine intervention. These young parents (and pre-parents!) were researching, furiously taking notes, and lugging around backpacks filled with curriculum brochures and uber-healthy snacks.

Their energy intimidated me. I wasn’t speechless, of course. I could talk homeschooling for days.

I stood silent for a moment, deciding how to answer with what I knew these over-achieving parents needed to hear (less bluntly). I was also thinking about refreshing my coffee and devouring a chocolate croissant, if I’m being honest.

My homeschool expertise is the result of time in the trenches. I was not homeschooled. We pulled our twins from public school after second grade. Our youngest never attended. I have now officially homeschooled K–12th grade. I have worry lines and a coffee addiction from on-the-job training without a supervisor, defending our educational choices from skeptics, loving my kids through big achievements and backtalk, feeling isolated and smothered at the same time, and teaching math to three boys for 10-plus years. It was worth every wrinkle. My twins have just been accepted to multiple universities with scholarships.

I know how to homeschool.

These shiny, fresh, and focused parents wanted my advice on preparing for structured homeschool learning to the same success. What I had to share wasn’t the blueprint they were after.

Parents Are Naturally Equipped to Homeschool

Homeschooling is, simply, holistic parenting. Most parents, especially the kind willing to spend a summer weekend in a windowless conventional hall talking unit studies, are already prepared to teach their own children naturally. They just don’t realize it because an overly regulated society tells them they are inadequate and ill-equipped.

Schools and government are reaching earlier and earlier into preschools and nurseries with money-driven programs. Milestone checklists fool parents into thinking that, without a structured syllabus, their child won’t thrive. As a result, new homeschool parents feel they need training to take on natural parenting.

The truth is, babies are sponges for learning about the world around them. Moms and dads are inherent teachers with the most love and concern for the child’s character, safety, and spiritual and educational needs. It’s a natural dynamic that doesn’t need a syllabus, and especially not a walled-off classroom.

Playing With Baby

What parents need to do to is embrace real-life learning. Go home and play with that baby.

Play and everyday living are the most effective educational tools for early homeschooling. The natural simplicity is why it works. There are many published programs marketed to eager parents hoping to make their children exceptional. Many are simply exceptional at lining the author’s pockets. Adherence to these scripted programs leads parents away from personalized, naturally effective interaction with their children.

Here’s my advice for homeschooling the earliest years:

  • Play with that baby. Phones down. Play with toys or even the boxes they came in. Throw a ball, play peek-a-boo or hide and seek. Go for walks. Go to the park. Finger paint with pudding in the highchair. All early learning happens through play and mimicking. Give them some plastic bowls and spoons to play with while you cook. Pretend to be a dinosaur or an airplane. Play grocery store, play doctor, play bus driver. Just play.
  • Talk with that baby. Make eye contact and expect a reply, even if it’s a happily tossed soggy cracker. Point to things and say their name randomly. While out for a walk, look for all things purple, point and say purple. Narrate your day aloud with expression. “Let’s get the mail. Wave at Mr. George. Let’s go pay this bill now. Always avoid late payments, Joshy. They get you on the fees.”
  • Sing with that baby. Babies don’t care if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Rhyme builds memory. Dance while singing and acting silly. Enjoy the giggles from your audience. Clap to the beat. Let them beat a spoon on a pot. Listen to different music together, not just baby tunes.
  • Explore with that baby. Let them touch different textures, taste different foods, hear different sounds, and see different animals, sights, and weather. Let them step in the mud, sand, and grass barefoot. Talk about it all.

And, above all:

  • Read to that baby. This is the most important and only slightly structured activity that I recommend for early homeschooling. Start with indestructible books they can chew on. Move to board books and picture books. Be fun and do the voices, show emotion, point at the pictures. Read at bedtime, naptime, while they’re eating, anytime really. Make it a treat to read just one more. I started reading to mine when they were infants, and still read aloud to my seniors almost daily. I believe it to be the secret to homeschooling success as it builds language and comprehension skills and is priceless family time.

Prepping Advice for Pre-Parents

Lastly, here’s my advice for the pre-kid couples planning to homeschool someday:

Go home and get to know each other and your beliefs. Enjoy each other and the quiet. Build a secure foundation for your marriage and a loving home to share with the children you hope will bless it. Because when you add kids and homeschooling, you’ll find that there is plenty more to argue about than finances and in-laws. Brace yourselves. Trust your instincts as parents before reaching for the latest flashy methods. You are in for an adventure that God will bless beyond what you can plan for or imagine!