Should You Send Your Child to Preschool? Why A Former Preschool Teacher Says "No"
Preschool Is No Longer Seen as Separate and Special
Our vision of an ideal preschool – children painting at easels, playing dress up, riding tricycles, and digging for dinosaur fossils in a sandbox – is slowly fading away. The government, convinced it knows how to do early education best, has seized control – causing experienced teachers to step away in disgust. The precious preschool experience – once sacrosanct – is becoming nothing more than the starting point in the long educational procession that includes too much standardized testing, rote learning, and technology and too little play, exploration, creativity, and hands-on learning. The humanity in early childhood education is disappearing as the bureaucracy grows. Unfortunately, in today's educational climate, it's far too easy to list 5 reasons for NOT sending your youngster to preschool.
Experts in Early Childhood Education Get Silenced While Politicians Get Louder
1. Decades of Research in Early Childhood Education Fall to the Wayside as the Government Demands Rigorous Instruction.
In addition to being the mother of actor, Matt Damon, Nancy Carlsson-Paige is a professor of eduction, author, and public speaker who characterizes our current situation as a “dark time” for learning. Like so many of her esteemed colleagues, Professor Carlsson-Paige feels compelled to speak out against standardized testing, rote learning, and so-called academic rigor (practices once reserved for older students) as they're now being thrust upon our youngest learners. While recently accepting an award, Professor Carlsson-Paige spoke about the sad state of affairs in early childhood education:
“I have loved my life's work...So never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen the situation we find ourselves in today. Where education policies that do not reflect what we know about how young children learn could be mandated and followed. We have decades of research in child development and neuroscience that tell us that young children learn actively – they have to move, use their senses, get their hands on things, interact with other kids and teachers, create, invent. But in this twisted time, young children starting public Pre-K at the age of four are expected to learn through 'rigorous instruction.'”
Nancy Carlsson-Paige's Latest Book:
I Highly Recommend This Book for Parents Who Are Thinking About Preschool
If you want to know what we're doing wrong in early childhood education today, this is the book to read. Nancy Carlsson-Paige is an outstanding advocate for young kids and is knowledgeable about how they learn best: imaginative play, exploration, hands-on materials, and a child-centered environment. I highly recommend parents read this book before deciding on preschool or homeschooling.
2. Scholars in Early Childhood Education Have Formed a Coalition to Protest the Federal Government's Policies.
Nancy Carlsson-Paige is not alone in criticizing the federal government's policies. Recognizing this crisis in early education, experts in the field have formed a coalition called Defending the Early Years. Their goal is to advocate for practices proven beneficial to young children – experiences that promote creativity, thinking, and problem solving.
Sadly, the federal government largely ignores these experts and lets bureaucrats – most of whom have never taught anything to anyone – set educational policy. Bureaucrats – with their extremely limited knowledge and experience – reduce early childhood education to one simple question: How can we get these munchkins to learn more and more at earlier and earlier ages? The Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, renown for studying the cognitive stages of childhood, saw this obsession with speeding up learning as uniqely American. Unlike other countries that honor children's developmental stages, America stands alone in wanting to dismiss them.
What the U.S. Does in Early Childhood Education Today Goes Against the Research
3. Escalated Learning Is Harmful to Children.
America's preoccupation with speeding up learning has resulted in an escalated curriculum, meaning activities once reserved for older students are now used with younger ones – reading groups, structured lessons, standardized testing and, of course, the newly adopted Common Core. The overall development of a youngster – emotional, social, and physical -- gets overlooked in favor of an absurdly long checklist of discrete skills – count to 10, identify numbers, duplicate a pattern, recognize letters, and so on and so on. The art of teaching becomes a thing of the past, swallowed up by an endless series of assessments and documentations. In the process, the scope of teaching and learning becomes ridiculously narrow. The most gifted teachers become bored and frustrated, leave the profession, and get replaced by those who don't know any better or simply don't care.
There is no research that supports an escalated curriculum. In fact, children who learn to read at age 5 don't do any better in the long run than those who learn at 6 or 7. Yet, it has been documented that those children taught to read at an early age are less likely to read for pleasure as they get older than their peers who learned to read later.
The negative effects of an escalated curriculum, however, have been documented: increased stress levels, higher incidences of aggressive behavior, acting out, and a particularly disturbing phenomenon, the expulsion of little children from preschool. An escalated curriculum asks young children to behave in ways that are unreasonable at their tender ages. When they're unable to do so -- getting frustrated, acting defiant, refusing to participant -- they're labeled troublemakers, hyperactive, and socially immature. In fact, three and four-year olds in state-financed preschools are expelled at three times the national rate for K-12 students (boys much more so than girls, blacks more so than whites). Instead of asking: What's wrong with these little kids? The proper question to pose is: What's wrong with the preschool environment? Lilian G. Katz, Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois writes:
"While early formal instruction may appear to show good test results at first, in the long term, in follow-up studies, such children have had no advantage. On the contrary, especially in the case of boys, subjection to early formal instruction increases their tendency to distance themselves from the goals of schools, and to drop out of it, either mentally or physically."
Instead of Empowering Teachers, We're Taking Away Their Initiative and Creativity
4. Instead of Learning from Finland's Success in Early Childhood Education, the U.S. Is Doing the Opposite.
Finland is known across the globe for its outstanding educational system. Other countries travel there to study and duplicate their success. Unfortunately, the United States has learned nothing from Finland when it comes to early childhood education. Instead, we stubbornly insist on doing the opposite:
- Finland is a small nation (the size of Minnesota) where teachers are revered as competent professionals who've earned respect and autonomy. They have an unusual amount of control over the curriculum (they may even choose their own textbooks) and how they run their classrooms. The United States, on the other hand, has established a massive bureaucracy called Common Core that strips power from teachers in the name of nation-wide uniformity.
- Children in Finland don't receive formal instruction until 7. Conversely, the United States now gives structured lessons and assessments to 4 and 5-year-olds.
- Teachers are esteemed in Finland but not in the US. Educators here have low status and low pay. They face ever-increasing responsibilities, the burden of excessive standardized testing, little or no support from administrators, disrespectful students, and uninvolved parents.
- Eeva Penttila, head of international relations for Helsinki's educational department, says this about Finland's early education: "The focus...is to 'learn how to learn.' Instead of formal instruction in reading and math, there are lessons on nature, animals, and the 'circle of life' and a focus on materials-based learning." The US, sadly, has taken the exact opposite approach with Common Core, focusing on teaching narrow skills rather than developing the whole child -- body, mind, and spirit.
Other Countries Celebrate Each Stage of Development, but Americans Want to Rush Them
5. Preschools Are Now Doing More Harm Than Good.
Unfortunately, the US can no longer guarantee the bare minimum in early childhood education: Do no harm! Preschools are now doing lots of things that hurt children's love of learning, squash their innate desire to explore, and stunt their budding creativity. When experienced teachers walk away and inexperienced teachers take their places, little kids are stuck -- the unwitting victims of an educational bureaucracy based on politics, not sound practices. There's no doubt children in poor socio-economic circumstances are hurt more profoundly by our country's obsession with academic rigor than those in wealthier areas. Nancy Carlsson- Paige writes:
"Sadly, the worst of the restrictive, standardized, drill-based education is happening in our poorest communities. More often the teachers in these underfunded schools have less training. They are more dependent on the standardized tests and scripted curricula and more willing to impose them. These teachers haven’t learned what they could do instead of the drills and tests, and they haven’t learned how harmful these approaches are for kids.
I wish you could see the faces of kids in the low-income communities I visited this year. They are scared, sad and alienated. I see on them an expression that says, "School is not fun, and it is not for me. I want out of here."
Sadly, it has become too easy to list 5 reasons for NOT sending your youngster to preschool. Whether a child attends public preschool or private, the long arm of the federal government has grabbed control of the curriculum and, in the process, lessened teacher autonomy. When it comes to early childhood education, we've silenced those who've spent a lifetime working with and studying young children. We've pushed common sense to the side and replaced it with fear -- fear our children won't be smart enough, fear they won't succeed at school, fear they won't get good playing jobs. We've let these fears conquer us, preventing us from doing what's best for our youngest, most vulnerable learners.