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How to Find a Proper Preschool for Your Introverted Child

During her years as a teacher and mother, Ms. Meyers discovered that not all praise was equal and some kinds were even deleterious to kids.

Introverts Are Left Out of the Equation

As a long-time preschool teacher and a life-long introvert, I can say with great certainty that a child who dislikes preschool typically does so because it caters exclusively to extroverts. Introverts are left out of the equation when teachers plan the day's activities. Their needs go unaddressed so they're left feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and alone.

When parenting preschoolers who are introverts, it's important to pick a school that acknowledges their unique needs.

When parenting preschoolers who are introverts, it's important to pick a school that acknowledges their unique needs.

Most Preschools Today Are Not Introvert-Friendly

  • Does your child dislike going to preschool, but you don't understand why?
  • Does your youngster come home after class, drained and wanting to be alone?
  • Is the teacher concerned because your child refuses to participate in some of the day's activities?
  • Are your child's favorite pursuits at preschool solitary ones such as reading books in the library corner and painting at the easel?

If you're nodding your head "yes" to these questions, there's a good chance your child is an introvert like one-third to one-half of the human population. Sadly, most preschools today, with their over-emphasis on preparing kids for kindergarten, are anything but introvert-friendly. That's why moms and dads need to be discerning when choosing a program for their introverted children and avoid these three pitfalls:

  1. a teacher who thinks introverts need to be "fixed"
  2. a classroom that's too small
  3. a schedule with no blocks of time for unstructured, uninterrupted play

No Opportunities for Introverts to Re-Charge

Most preschools today have an academic focus with teachers under enormous pressure to prepare their students for kindergarten. The classroom is a non-stop bustle of activity with youngsters shifting from one activity to another with little or no opportunities for peace, quiet, and solitude.There are songs to be sung, games to be played, circle times to sit through, and a tight schedule to be kept.

There are countless teacher-directed lessons to be taught about the calendar, the days of the week, the weather, the alphabet, numerals, and phonics. Introverts, needing time alone to recharge their batteries, are simply out of luck. They must endure the constant noise, continual interaction, and rigid schedule that leaves no time for exploring, creating, thinking, and just being.

No Respite for Introverts

In my current job, I visit dozens of preschools each year, and my heart breaks for the introverts who must endure the typical preschool routine with no respite. If they need some peace and quiet to look at a book in a corner, walk outside to spend a moment in nature, or paint a picture at the easel in solitude, they're out of luck. There's simply no downtime in today's hectic preschool schedule.

As an introvert myself, I feel enormous relief when I exit these chaotic environments for the sanctuary of my car. I also feel deep compassion for my fellow introverts left behind who can't escape like I can.

I am not boring or shy. I am an introvert: an artist, a lover, a dreamer, a fighter, a seeker.

Introverts May Feel Powerless at Preschool

With twenty or more bodies crammed into a small space, the typical preschool environment is not conducive to the mental and emotional well-being of introverts. Instead, it makes them feel claustrophobic and uncomfortable. The saddest part of all is that these little kids don't understand why they're miserable. They can't articulate their uneasiness, and they're powerless to get their needs met.

Everyone around them seems happy and is having fun so they start to wonder: What's wrong with me? They start to feel like freaks. In reality, though, introverts like themselves make up one-third to one-half of the human population—at preschool and everywhere else on the planet. Introverted preschoolers need teachers who are aware of their large numbers. They need educators who celebrate them, not turn a blind eye to their very existence.

Parenting introverted preschoolers means celebrating who they are and not trying to change them.

Parenting introverted preschoolers means celebrating who they are and not trying to change them.

1. A Teacher Who Thinks Introverts Need to Be “Fixed”

Most preschool teachers are extroverts who love being with kids, hamming it up in front of a group, and constantly interacting with others. Because of this, many of them don't give much thought to the introverts, who make up a large portion of their class. Instead, they gear their instruction to the talkative and outgoing kids.

It's not unusual for these teachers to see introverts as “painfully shy” and in need of fixing. They often communicate their concern to moms and dads with comments such as “instead of fully participating in our activities, she's only observing” and “he's often alone in the sandbox rather than interacting with the other kids.” In truth, observing instead of participating and playing alone at times instead of always in a group are perfectly normal behaviors, quite common for introverts, and no cause for alarm.

Yes, I'm an introvert. No, I'm not shy. No, I'm not stuck up. No, I'm not antisocial. I'm just listening. I'm just observing. I can't stand small talk...but I'll talk about life for hours. I'd rather be home with a close friend or 2 than among a big crowd of acquaintances. Don't scold me in public. Don't embarrass me in public. Respect that I'm reserved. And if I open myself up to you, know that means you're very special to me.

Shy and Introverted Are Not Synonymous

As a former preschool teacher and an introvert myself, I believe Susan Cain's insightful book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, should be required reading for all early childhood educators. This is especially true since teachers get no training whatsoever in dealing with introverts. The author does a brilliant job of differentiating between being shy and being introverted and of detailing the many positive qualities of introverts.

According to Cain, a shy youngster fears negative judgment and suffers because of it. She, therefore, needs help overcoming this debilitating problem. An introverted child, on the other hand, is perfectly well-adjusted, doesn't need intervention, but simply requires less stimulation. Most of all, she needs an enlightened teacher with a profound appreciation for what introverts have to offer in the classroom and in the world at large: thoughtfulness, sensitivity, creativity, and empathy.

2. A Classroom That's Too Small

When visiting various preschools, I'm saddened by how small and inadequate so many of them are. I see kids literally tripping over themselves to move about the room. While this is most noticeably a problem for active kids, who need a lot of space and materials to explore, it's also a significant issue for introverts.

An ideal preschool for them is comprised of multiple rooms. It has an outdoor area where they can spend time alone and enjoy the healthy benefits of nature. It's spacious enough that they don't not feel like a sardine packed too tightly in a can. Unlike extroverts who are energized by being around other people, introverts find it tiring. An enlightened preschool teacher is aware of this and always makes sure introverts have some much-needed space.

I'm rarely bored alone; I am often bored in groups and crowds.

— Laurie Helgoe

A Small Classroom Leaves Introverts Feeling Drained and Depleted

So many conflicts in a typical preschool are caused by too many bodies in too little of a space. Hitting, pushing, grabbing, and arguing happen when kids get frustrated with one another but have nowhere else to go to cool down and relax in solitude. A tiny classroom can be hellish for introverts as they look for any little corner to have a moment alone, but there isn't one.

It leads to them feeling trapped, depressed, and frustrated. Introverts are often exhausted when preschool ends—not a good kind of tired from having so much fun but a bad tired from feeling drained and depleted. It may take them a couple of hours alone in their bedroom before they've recovered from the day's onslaught.

The Room Size and Layout Should Accommodate Introverts

When choosing a preschool for an introverted child, parents should keep in mind the room size and layout. They should check for the following:

Parenting introverted preschoolers means advocating for their time to be alone and for opportunities to investigate things deeply.

Parenting introverted preschoolers means advocating for their time to be alone and for opportunities to investigate things deeply.

3. A Schedule With No Blocks of Time for Unstructured, Uninterrupted Play

With the new emphasis on preparing children for kindergarten, many preschools have ditched the relaxed pace many of us experienced as kids and are now doing everything at breakneck speed. When I visit these academically-driven places, the teachers often have kids divided into groups at so-called “stations” where they're engaged in an activity of some kind: working with math manipulatives, practicing the alphabet in a handwriting workbook, or doing puzzles of rhyming words. Every 15 minutes or so she'll ring a bell, signaling that the kids must immediately abandon what they're doing and move to a new station.

Don't underestimate me. I know more than I say, think more than I speak, and notice more than you realize.

Introverts Need Time to Explore at Their Own Pace

While this approach may work for youngsters with short-attention spans, it's pure torture for introverts. They like to examine things closely, learn deeply, and explore at their own pace. Jean Piaget, the twentieth century Swiss psychologist known for his pioneering work in child development, said “children require long, uninterrupted periods of play and exploration.”

Sadly, we've moved far away from this, and it's a concern for many scholars in early child education. When kids are constantly rotating from one activity to another, their learning becomes superficial—dictated by the teacher's bell rather than their innate curiosity. Introverts especially need long blocks of uninterrupted time to explore and solve problems on their own schedule. They are their own best teachers.

Introverts Need a Preschool That Acknowledges and Celebrates Them

While we now bend over backwards to accommodate youngsters with ADHD, autism, Down syndrome, vision and hearing challenges, physical limitations, food allergies, and gender differences, there are no such attempts to help the introverts. When a child dislikes preschool, moms and dads often don't understand why. To them, especially if they're extroverts, it all looks warm and wonderful.

Even when parents are introverts themselves and suspect their youngsters are as well, they often believe a lively preschool will help their kids "come out of their shell." Yet, unlike being shy, introversion isn't something that can or should be changed; it's the essence of someone's being and should be honored, not knocked. Introverted youngsters need a preschool that has teachers, a routine, a curriculum, and a physical layout that acknowledges and celebrates who they are and doesn't leave them feeling drained, overwhelmed, and miserable.

What Do You Think?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 McKenna Meyers


McKenna Meyers (author) on May 29, 2018:

I bet you were a marvelous teacher, Bill. We definitely need more diversity among educators, including more introverts! When I was teaching, I always hated how the extroverts dominated the faculty meetings and the introverts like me didn't get a chance to contribute. Then I read that introverts think before they speak while extroverts think while speaking. It really goes to show that "wait time" in the classroom is so critical.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 29, 2018:

Luckily, for my students, I was an introvert. That I did understand. It is a tough go of it for introverts in school, for sure...thank you for bringing up this matter.

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