Why You Should Not Send Your Child to Preschool: A Teacher Explains
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.
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 education, 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.'”
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 uniquely American. Unlike other countries that honor children's developmental stages, America stands alone in wanting to dismiss them.
When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself.— Jean Piaget
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."
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.
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 play, 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 paying jobs. We've let these fears conquer us, preventing us from doing what's best for our youngest, most vulnerable learners.
Why do you think Americans want to speed up the developmental process?
Questions & Answers
How do we prepare for kindergarten if our child does not attend Pre-K?
You have the power to make learning fun and interesting for your child by tapping into her curiosities. Instead of enduring a month-long unit on dinosaurs or planets (for which she has no passion), you can focus on what intrigues her, whether it's dogs, cooking, making vehicles, or rainforests. She'll have plenty of time for a standard curriculum in the years ahead, but early childhood education needs to be individualized. All learning should stem from her interests in an organic way.
Reading books about what interests her will make all the difference in the world. Good reading involves "scaffolding," finding out what she already knows on the topic and building from there. Unlike a preschool teacher with 20 kids, you can stop during reading and ask her questions, see if she's comprehending, and relate what you read to her own life experiences. That's so powerful compared to kids sitting criss-cross applesauce and zoning out while the teacher reads!
Of course, real-world experiences are best for productive learning. Taking your child to the market introduces her to so much as she counts apples into a bag and weighs them on a scale. She can investigate the different varieties of apples, and you can make apple juice, apple pie, or caramel apples. The possibilities are endless.
Preschool learning has become so narrow because parents want their kids prepared for kindergarten. This is truly tragic because preschool should be expanding their world and preparing them for life. There's no long-term advantage to the academic rigor we're imposing on young children. There are only negatives: less creativity, less critical thinking, and more depression, anxiety, and suicide.
I hope that parents will see the folly in our country's preoccupation to prepare preschoolers for kindergarten. Research shows the early years should be about play, exploration, communication, and socialization, not workbooks, circle times, and teacher-directed lessons.
should i send my kid to preschool?
While dwindling in numbers, there are still some good options for preschools that emphasize play, hands-on learning, and socialization. You want teachers and administrators with a background in early childhood education (not k-12) who understand what's developmentally appropriate for preschoolers. Many K-12 teachers only see preschool as a means to an end (i.e., preparing a child for kindergarten).
You also want a preschool with a strong philosophy (Waldorf, Montessori, co-op) that guides instruction, discipline, nutrition, and play. A shared philosophy creates a community of like-minded parents who want a similar experience for their kids, are willing to work for it, and don't expect an education to be served up on a silver platter from teachers.
My older son attended a wonderful co-op where moms and dads took turns volunteering in the classroom 2-3 times per month. We also participated in monthly parent meetings when the teacher educated us about child development and what to expect at each stage. The motto of the school was "together we're better." All of us parents were committed to giving the kids a fun and enriching preschool experience as a team.
This sense of community is also found in many homeschooling groups where parents come together to share resources, take field trips, and meet for play dates. I'm also excited about the rise of "forest schools" in the US. They're popular in the UK and let kids spend the vast majority of time outside, enjoying the benefits of nature. This technology-free approach is about promoting healthy, well-rounded individuals for life, not just preparing them for kindergarten.
How does early education make children do poorly in school later in life?
A preschool education hurts children at school (and in life) when the scope of instruction is too narrow and the goals too limiting. A good preschool is all about expanding the child's universe through play, hands-on learning, exploration, and socializing. A good preschool teacher wants her students to get energized about learning, knowing it comes from their own curiosity and is not spoon-fed to them by an adult.
Unfortunately, play-based preschools are dwindling. Because of the academic rigor in the primary grades, parents want their kids prepared for kindergarten. This preparation includes writing in workbooks, sitting still for long teacher-directed lessons, learning letter names and sounds, and learning how to count and recognize numerals. There is no evidence that teaching these skills early has any long-term benefit. There is evidence, however, that it causes stress and turns kids off to school. We are seeing higher rates of depression and anxiety among children and the lack of play in early years is one likely culprit.
Parents and teachers need to look at the big picture of education so kids will become life-long learners, knowing how to think critically, work cooperatively, and solve problems in creative ways. These are all more important than knowing that "t" makes the "tuh" sound.
How does preschool cause a child to have a bad attitude towards education later in life?
Career experts agree that it's imperative for workers of the future see themselves as life-long learners; always acquiring new skills and new information as the world around them changes rapidly. Unlike our parents and grandparents, they won't be staying in the same job for fifty years and receiving a gold watch upon retirement. They'll move from job to job, learning to adapt and getting new training. Now, more than ever, it's important that children develop a love of learning at an early age, because they'll need to continue learning throughout their lives.
Preschool should be an empowering experience for children as they construct their learning and let curiosity be their guide. If they feel helpless at school (sitting still as the teacher talks, writing in workbooks, learning about things that have little meaning to them such as numerals and letters), they'll develop a bad attitude about learning. They'll see it as something outside themselves--something to please adults.
A preschool teacher with a background in early childhood education (not K-12 education) understands child development. She knows that preschoolers have just transitioned from parallel play to interactive play and need plenty of time to socialize with one another, practice their new-found verbal skills, and use their imaginations. She knows the preschool years are truly special, not just a time to prepare kids for kindergarten. She sees preschool as the time to prepare them for life and get them excited about all there is to learn and discover.
© 2015 McKenna Meyers