5 Reasons Why a Dad Should Choose His Son's Preschool
As an early childhood educator, parents often ask me how to go about choosing a preschool for their youngster. If they have a son, I always give the same three-word answer: “Let Dad decide!”
Boys Would Have a More Enriching Experience if Dads Picked Their Preschool
Although fathers today do more hands-on parenting than ever before, moms still dominate when it comes to picking preschools. Dads cower silently on the sidelines, believing their wives know best. Their lack of participation and input doom their sons to a highly disappointing and developmentally inappropriate first experience at school.
If fathers were to get involved, remembering how they learned best when they were 4 and 5, they would ensure a more enriching and stimulating experience for their boys. They'd help their sons discover that learning is fun, empowering, exciting, and fueled by their own curiosity and imagination, not spoon-fed to them by teachers. They'd guarantee that their sons get a broad education that would prepare them for the challenges of life, not a narrow one that merely sets them up for success in kindergarten.
Preschools Today Are Too "Girly-Girl" for Boys
As it stands now, too many moms are choosing academic preschools for their sons that turn them off to learning at a young age. They must sit still for long circle times, endure tedious teacher-directed lessons, suffer through rote-learning tasks, and listen to meaningless information that's not developmentally appropriate. The calendar, the letter of the week, phonics, handwriting, counting to 100, and whatever theme the preschool has ordained for the month (transportation, space, authors, the environment, mammals) is thrust upon them whether they're interested or not.
This “girly-girl” approach makes boys feel that learning is a passive pursuit— something they must do to please their teacher and parents, especially mom. It feels stiff, unnatural, and repressive. Their brains and bodies are primed to be actively engaged at this age and to learn by doing: playing, exploring, communicating, cooperating, solving problems, taking risks, being loud, and acting rambunctious. But, at today's girly-girl academic preschools, these behaviors are considered rowdy and are frowned upon while submissive ones get praised. Sitting quietly, keeping your hands to yourself, listening to stories, and following the rules get rewarded while independence, non-conformity, and curiosity are discouraged.
An Education System That Punishes Boys
Given today's shocking statistics, boys are clearly at a disadvantage in our educational system and it all begins in preschool. Girls have made huge strides in the academic arena while boys have fallen behind. Their needs, interests, and proclivities have been ignored or trivialized. If they are to succeed at school, they must behave like girls, learn like girls, and have the self-discipline of girls. If they don't, they might suffer some harsh consequences:
- 80 percent of those who are prescribed Ritalin in the US are boys
- 80 percent of drop-outs in the US are boys
- 70 percent of all D's and F's are issued to boys
- 90 percent of all school discipline referrals are given to boys
- less than 40 percent of college students are male
Normal Behavior in Boys Is Now Considered Disruptive
When I taught special education at an inner-city elementary school, I'd walk by the kindergarten each day at lunch on my way to the faculty room. Without fail, the same 5-year-old boy would be sitting on the floor in the hallway outside his classroom. I'd wonder what horrible thing this cherubic-looking child did to get him banished again and again. I'd wonder how his parents would feel if they knew he was spending a big chunk of the school day in time-out alone in the hall.
When I began working with him and his first-year teacher, I quickly realized his horrific offense: he had the audacity to be a 5-year-old boy stuck in a girly-girl classroom! While his teacher was well-meaning, she was also inexperienced and overwhelmed. She was under enormous pressure to get her students ready for first grade. This charming little guy couldn't sit still at the tables while working in his handwriting book. He poked his buddies when his teacher reviewed the patterns on the calendar. He hated being cooped up inside doing phonics worksheets instead of being outside climbing, running, and playing basketball. In other words, he was a perfectly normal 5-year-old boy being asked to do activities that were developmentally inappropriate in order to satisfy our obsession with academic rigor in the early years. I knew without a doubt he would never graduate high school and never even consider college unless big things changed during his academic journey.
A Call to Action for Fathers of Preschool-Aged Sons
So this is a call to action for fathers of preschool-aged boys. Make it your mission to get involved in choosing your sons' preschool, picking a place where you would have been happy and engaged when you were 4 and 5. Moms, take a step back and let go of the worries you have about kids not being prepared for kindergarten. They will eventually learn to write, read, and do math, but there's no advantage to doing it prematurely when there's a whole wide world of things for them to explore and discover now. With that in mind, here are 5 essential things dads should look for when searching for their sons' preschool:
1. A Teacher Who Understands and Likes Boys
A teacher—sitting on a throne-like chair in front of a calendar, weather chart, and “letter of the week” poster—is girly-girl and wants to prepare her class academically for kindergarten. She's typically over-enthralled with paper-pencil tasks (workbooks, worksheets, and journals). To her, they represent “real learning.”
A boy-friendly preschool teacher, on the other hand, rarely sits. Instead of acting like the source of all knowledge, she's constantly in motion as she facilitates play and exploration: dragging the hose across the yard so kids can build castles in the sandbox, grabbing the marble jar so kids can roll them through their maze of blocks, bringing out the magnifying lenses so kids can get a better look at the ant hill they've discovered. A boy-friendly preschool teacher doesn't need to make her presence known by sitting on a throne and dispensing knowledge. Her presence is always felt by her warm, supportive spirit.
2. A Play-Based Preschool, Not an Academic One
Brushing aside common sense and decades of educational research, many mothers choose academic preschools for their sons because they want them well-prepared when they start elementary school. They're cognizant of the rigorous demands now placed on kindergartners to read, write, and do math so they're petrified that their child will be behind. Fathers, however, see the folly in all this and know instinctively that boys learn best by doing.
Studies show time and time again that preschoolers learn best through play, social interaction, and hands-on exploration. However, recent studies go even further by illuminating the harmful effects that early academics can have on young children, causing them undue stress, stifling their creativity, suppressing their natural curiosity, and turning them off to learning. Jane Healy, a noted educational psychologist, says: “Early childhood programs that implement a directed academic curriculum often replace essential hands-on learning activities with skill-based performance and rote-learning tasks. In doing so, they risk the developmental growth necessary for children's future academic success.” Teaching too much, too soon makes kids appear smarter and easily impresses parents, especially moms. However, there are no long-term benefits to early academic learning and now we know there are many potential negative ones.
3. Lots of Open Space, Not Lots of Decorations
Too often moms get overly impressed by the cute decorations in a preschool classroom: the bulletin boards, the posters, the curtains, the calendar, and the weather chart. Dads, though, have a better eye for what boys really need to explore, grow, and have fun: lots of space! Without it, the possibilities for learning are greatly reduced.
In a small environment, the teacher is forced to tell her students to avoid all the activities that are so crucial for their development: running, jumping, skipping, climbing, crawling, balancing, and building. Because it gets too loud in a tiny space, she must constantly remind them to “use their indoor voices” at a time when they should be encouraged to talk, debate, ask questions, sing, and pretend.
Children are kinesthetic learners, meaning they discover the world through moving their bodies. A classroom needs a lot of open space (not just small “learning centers”) so kids can do the activities they choose: pretending to ice-skate at an imaginary rink, building an entire city with blocks, lining up dominoes from one wall to the other, and acting like firefighters rushing to put out a blaze. A preschool with multiple classrooms and an outdoor area is best so kids have lots of options for creativity and movement.
4. Plenty of Outdoor Time
After being minimized for far too long, outdoor time at preschool is finally getting its due. Most dads, though, know its benefits without perusing the research. They remember how much they gained from being outside as kids: splashing in puddles, running through the woods, playing hide-and-go-seek, collecting leaves, and digging for worms. While some preschools provide a mere 15 minutes of outside time (which is not nearly enough), the more enlightened ones offer it as an option throughout the day. At “forest schools,” which are gaining popularity in many communities, kids spend the entire school day in nature, playing and exploring.
The benefits of outdoor play include the following:
it combats childhood obesity
it enhances fine and gross motor skills
it improves strength, balance, and overall coordination
it promotes self-confidence as youngsters build new physical skills
it promotes social skills: communication, cooperation, and team work
it reduces stress
it increases attention spans
5. Opportunity to Choose Their Own Activities and Make Their Own Decisions
My middle-aged husband still laments how he was forced to do art projects in preschool and how he hated them. In his memories, he'd be fully engaged in an activity with his buddies—making tunnels in the sandbox, building blocks on the rug, or pretending to be chefs in the play kitchen—when his teacher would call him over to do a finger painting or make a potato print. His felt defeated because he couldn't make his own choices and do what truly lit his fire.
Men such as my husband know instinctively the value in letting kids set their own agenda at preschool, and the research backs them up. When children get to choose their activities, guided by their own interest and curiosity, motivation increases, learning gets deeper, and independence grows. Young kids need large blocks of time to delve into their pursuits without adult interruption. David Elkind, the highly regarded author on child development, believes that choosing their own activities is far more important than learning academic skills. He writes, “the characteristics of learning readiness are developed rather than taught and only through numerous concrete interactions with the world can a young child prepare to benefit from formal instruction later.” In other words, it's far more important that preschoolers pursue their passions by choosing their own activities rather than sitting passively at circle time, writing the alphabet in workbooks, or learning to count to 100.
As a former preschool and kindergarten teacher, I can't say enough wonderful things about this book. We need Nancy Carlsson-Paige as a voice of reason, advocating for our youngest learners. Too many experts in early childhood education have gotten silenced in our country's push for academic rigor. Nancy does a fantastic job of explaining why kids need more imaginative play and down-time and fewer teacher-directed lessons. I highly recommend this book for parents looking for the right preschool.
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© 2018 McKenna Meyers