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How to Find the Right Preschool for Your Introverted Child

As a longtime preschool teacher and lifelong introvert, Ms. Meyers knows that many youngsters need quiet moments and self-directed learning.

One-third to one-half of young children are introverts, but most preschools today ignore this reality.

One-third to one-half of young children are introverts, but most preschools today ignore this reality.

Ignoring the Needs of Introverts

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

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 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 preschool program and avoid these three situations:

  1. a teacher who wants to "fix" your child
  2. a classroom that's too small
  3. a program with no time for unstructured play

Getting Left Out of the Equation

As a long-time teacher and a life-long introvert, I want parents to know that the needs of their introverted children are being overlooked at preschool. While one-third to one-half of youngsters are introverts, you would never know it from visiting most preschools today with their non-stop activities and constant social interaction. There's little or no downtime, which is essential for introverts to recharge their batteries, feel comfortable and safe, and not be overwhelmed.

Most preschools today offer many teacher-directed lessons, long circle times, and lots of academic preparation for kindergarten. There’s whole group instruction and small group instruction but little time set aside for kids to discover things on their own, which is the most powerful kind of learning. While extroverts thrive on such a go-go-go schedule, introverts don't. After many decades of teaching young children, I can say with great confidence that an unhappy youngster at preschool is probably an introvert whose needs are going unseen and unmet.

Eliminating Downtime

Most preschools today have an academic focus with teachers under enormous pressure to prepare their students for kindergarten. Classrooms are a non-stop bustle of activity with youngsters shifting from one activity to another with little or no opportunity 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.

Hurting for the 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.

Feeling 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 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.

Introverted preschoolers don't need teachers who want to fix them. They need teachers who understand them.

Introverted preschoolers don't need teachers who want to fix them. They need teachers who understand them.

What to avoid for your introverted preschooler:

1. a teacher who wants to "fix" your child

2. a classroom that's too small

3. a program with no time for unstructured play

1. A Teacher Who Wants to "Fix" Your Child

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. They, therefore, need 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, they need 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

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.

A Classroom That Accommodates 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:

Introverts need blocks of time to play and explore without being interrupted.

Introverts need blocks of time to play and explore without being interrupted.

3. No Time for Unstructured 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.

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 to Be Celebrated

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

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