Let me begin by saying that this isn’t an anti-preschool post. Our church has an amazing preschool with beautiful, gentle, dedicated teachers. If I had a need for a preschool, there would be no place I’d rather put my little ones. It is a wonderful place. So I’m not against preschool.
However, I do believe that our culture has an over-emphasis on the need for structured learning at a very early age, and this can create some guilt and anxiety among moms (and I suppose, dads) whose babies just aren’t ready to be away from mom, or who aren’t interested in even the most basic of early education. But we’ve been conditioned to think that preschool is essential for our childrens’ development.
Maybe I’m just simple, but when I think about it I realize that preschools have only been around for a very short amount of time. Even most parents my age did not attend preschool. Did you? Did your parents?
Very early education is not resulting in better educated people. Just talk to most elderly people you know. They are better educated than many people of my generation, and they did not have preschool—or kindergarten, for that matter. They learned to read and write and do basic math in first grade. I imagine they learned things like shapes and colors at home. Many of them had parents who read to them, and they had a lot of time for imaginative play. And they turned out OK—in fact, many of them make up “The Greatest Generation.”
We just think about education differently these days. I hear moms saying, “Johnny is turning 2, so she will be in preschool this year,” just as parents of previous generations said, “Johnny is turning 6 so he will be in first grade this year.” It’s expected. Other parents say, “Suzy is 2 [or 3] and she should not be around her younger sibling all day, she should be with kids her own age!” Really? An excellent public school teacher told me one time that the main purpose of preschool is socialization. Yet, while I agree that socialization is very important, I don’t believe it’s that important in preschool. Again, our grandparents did not attend preschool yet are very socially well-adjusted as a whole.
Some preschools do introduce academics early and there is nothing wrong with that. If a child is ready and has an interest in learning to read at age 4, then go for it! But I think this is another area where parents can fall prey to guilt. If their child is not reading and writing in preschool, their child is now “behind.” If I can be a broken record and hark back to previous generations again, well-educated people who came before us started formal learning at age 6 or 7 and were none the worse off for it. Another one of my teacher friends, a very well-respected educator with a Master’s in education told me that regardless of when children start or when they are developmentally ready to begin formal learning, they all even out by middle school anyway. A child who reads at 4 is unlikely to have an edge over one who learns to read at 7 in the long run, unless he’s a genius.
Some kids are just not ready for school at an early age. One of mine was not interested in learning even the simplest letters and numbers when he was 4. I was so worried that he’d be behind. One of my wise preschool teacher friends told me, “Don’t stress so much. Remember, he has only been alive for 4 years!” Now he excels at math. When he was ready to learn, everything clicked into place and he got it instantly. All the early education in the world wouldn’t have forced learning.
Kids are all different, with different needs. So are their families. Many families have legitimate reasons for choosing preschool, but guilt should not be one of them.