Why You Shouldn't 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. In its place, we have academic preschools that reduce the once-broad scope of early childhood education to one goal: preparing youngsters for kindergarten. Large-minded objectives such as getting kids excited about learning, helping them build friendships, and promoting their wonder about the world around them have been eclipsed by narrow skills such as reciting the alphabet, writing numbers, knowing letter sounds, and counting to 100.
If you're a parent with a myopic vision for your preschool children (getting them ready for elementary school), today's academic preschools will satisfy you just fine. However, if you have a long-range vision for your children (helping them become healthy, creative, independent-minded, and well-adjusted individuals and contributing members of society), today's academic preschools will leave you sorely disappointed.
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.— Professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige, child development expert and author of "Taking Back Childhood"
Experts in Child Development Ban Together to Defend Play-Based Preschool
Before our country loses something so precious and profound as our play-based preschools, experts in child development are doing their darnedest to sound the alarm. The best and brightest in the field are warning that academic preschools will result in youngsters who are less creative, less curious, and less capable of critical thinking. This will have dire effects for them as future employees, parents, and citizens and pose grave consequences for our democracy.
Recognizing this crisis in early childhood education, experts in the field have formed a coalition called Defending the Early Years. Their goal is to advocate for practices at preschool that have been proven beneficial to young children. These include play, exploration, hands-on learning, social interaction, sensory activities, and real-world experiences. They criticize current practices that are not developmentally appropriate and cause young children needless stress, confusion, and frustration: teacher-directed lessons, long circle times, paper-pencil tasks, assessments, rote memorization, technology, and standardized tests.
A part of their mission is to inform parents of young children and the public at large about the importance of letting kids be kids. They want people to realize there's no benefit to early academics, but there are indeed many drawbacks. Lilian G. Katz, professor emerita of early childhood education 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."
Bill Gates is wrong. American education is not 'broken.' Federal education policy is 'broken.' Testing children until they cry is a bad idea. It is educational malpractice.— Professor Dianne Ravitch, historian of education and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education
The Dangers of An Escalated Curriculum at Preschool
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. While some parents are easily impressed by their children's early acquisition of academics, they're often woefully ignorant of the harm it does. The negative effects of an escalated curriculum, however, have been researched and documented by experts in early childhood education and include 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, and 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). We shouldn't be asking: What's wrong with these little kids at preschool? The appropriate question is: What's wrong with our preschools?
If we love our children and want them to thrive, we must allow them more time and opportunity to play, not less. Yet policymakers and powerful philanthropists are continuing to push us in the opposite direction — toward more schooling, more testing, more adult direction of children, and less opportunity for free play.— Dr. Peter Gray, psychologist, research professor, and author
The United States Stubbornly Insists on Doing the Opposite of What Works in Early Childhood Education
Finland is known across the globe for its outstanding education system and other countries seek to duplicate its success. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) conducted a study in 2012 to assess the education systems in 50 countries, taking in consideration factors such as standardized test scores, literacy rates, and graduation rates. Finland ranked number one while the United States was 17th. You'd think, therefore, we'd be wise to follow Finland's lead in early childhood education but, no, we stubbornly insist on doing the very opposite.
- 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." Sadly, here in the United States we concentrate on narrow academic skills rather than developing the whole child—body, mind, and spirit—as they do in Finland.
- Children in Finland don't receive formal academic instruction until age 7. In the United States, we now give structured lessons, assessments, and standardized tests to 4 and 5-year-olds at preschool. While Finland's preschools are child-centered with play, exploration, and hands-on learning, ours are adult-centered with long circle times, workbooks, calendar activities, and formal lessons in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).
- Preschool teachers are esteemed in Finland but not in the United States where they receive low pay and hold low social status. Preschool teachers in Finland have lots of autonomy while those here have much less. Preschool teachers here are increasingly constrained by the intense pressure to prepare children academically for kindergarten.
- Joy is the foundation for teaching young children in Finland. Their teachers have broad long-term goals: to creative enthusiastic life-long learners who can think for themselves, work well with others, use their imaginations, and solve problems in creative ways. Joy has been taken out of the equation at many preschools (especially publicly funded ones) in the United States where children must score well on standardized tests and be academically ready for kindergarten.
Many Preschools in the United States Are Now Doing More Harm Than Good
Unfortunately, the United States 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. There's no doubt that children in poor socio-economic circumstances are hurt more profoundly by our country's obsession with early academic 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.'"
Childhood is not a race to see how quickly a child can read, write, and count. Childhood is a small window of time to develop at the pace which is right for each individual child.— Anonymous
In the United States today, we've tried to silence those who've spent a lifetime working with and studying young children but, luckily, their voices can still be heard. 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 worries overcome us, stopping us from doing what's best for our youngest, most vulnerable learners.
In his article The Decline of Play and Rise in Children's Mental Disorders, Dr. Peter Gray makes it crystal-clear that our kids and our society are paying a high price for early academics. He links the increasing rates of depression, anxiety, narcissism, and suicide among our children and teens to the decline in free play and exploration. With too many teacher-directed lessons and not enough opportunities for kids to be kids, our young people are experiencing a loss of control which, in turn, makes them feel down and disheartened. Preschoolers in Finland are fortunate to have adult leadership that advocates for joyful learning. Sadly, our preschoolers in the United States don't and their joy is eroding, creating long-term problems for them and for our society...but, at least, they can count to 100.
Why do you think Americans want to speed up the developmental process?
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.
Questions & Answers
- Helpful 7
- Helpful 6
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.Helpful 9
- Helpful 3
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.Helpful 5
© 2015 McKenna Meyers