Ms. Meyers is a long-time preschool and kindergarten teacher who writes about issues in early childhood education and advocates for play.
What Dads Should Want at Preschool
1. A teacher who understands boys
2. A play-based curriculum
3. Plenty of outdoor time
4. Lots of open space
5. Kids choose their own activities
Each of these is described fully below.
Dads Need to Advocate for Their Sons
- 80 percent of youngsters who get prescribed Ritalin in the US are male
- 80 percent of high school drop-outs in the US are male
- 70 percent of all D's and F's are issued to males
- 90 percent of all school discipline referrals are given to males
- less than 40 percent of college students are now male
When presented with these alarming statistics, we see that boys are clearly at a disadvantage in our current education system and it all starts at preschool. While girls have made huge strides in the academic arena, boys have fallen behind in many significant ways. Their needs, interests, and proclivities have been trivialized and even ignored, resulting in these disturbing numbers.
As a long-time early childhood educator and the mother of two boys, I'm often asked by parents how to choose a fabulous preschool for their sons and combat this negative trend. I always offer the same simple but emphatic three-word answer: “Let Dad decide!”
Dads Need to Speak Up
Although fathers today are more hands-on, many still stand on the sidelines when it's time to choose a preschool for their sons. Instead of realizing that they're the experts, having once been little boys themselves, they acquiesce to their wife. They wrongly believe that she knows more than they do, having read a magazine article on the topic or having chatted about it with friends on Facebook. Their voices go silent just when their sons need them to speak up. As they’re about to enter the female-dominated world of early childhood education, boys want their dads to advocate for them. They need them to reach back in time and remember what it was like to be a little boy who learned best by playing, pretending, and exploring.
Some Preschools Aren't Boy-Friendly
Today, there’s an overabundance of academic preschools that aim to prepare kids for kindergarten. They’re highly structured and adult-centered with long circle times, tedious teacher-directed lessons, and too many developmentally inappropriate activities such as writing in workbooks and learning phonics. A father's lack of involvement in selecting his son’s preschool can doom him to an early experience that turns him off to learning. Sadly, he may even get labelled as disruptive, hyperactive, aggressive, or immature when he’s nothing other than a normal preschooler who needs to move, play, pretend, and interact with his friends. It’s a dad’s duty to make sure that he isn’t put in such a situation.
1. A Teacher Who Understands Boys
If dads were to become more involved in visiting potential preschools and selecting one, they would greatly increase the chances of their sons having a positive, age-appropriate experience. Unlike some moms today who focus solely on preschool as a means to prepare their children for kindergarten, dads tend to have more far-reaching goals. They want their sons to have a teacher who understands what makes little boys tick—someone who encourages their curiosities, lets them discover things for themselves, champions play, pretend, and social interaction, and aims to make them enthusiastic life-long learners.
If more fathers were to visit preschools during the selection process, they'd be instantly wary of teachers who spend far too much time forcing-feeding information to their students. While many moms are awed by teachers who deftly move through their circle time routine (calendar, weather, and letter of the week), most dads wouldn’t be impressed by this. They’d look at the children’s bored faces, especially the boys, and know that this kind of teacher-centered experience has the potential to sour them on school. Instead, they’d admire those educators who facilitate the children’s play and exploration: dragging a hose across the yard so they can build castles in the sandbox, grabbing marbles so they can roll them through their maze of blocks, and bringing out magnifying lenses so they can get a better look at an ant hill.
2. A Play-Based Curriculum
Now, more than ever, boys need their dads to be voices of reason and choose play-based preschools for them. Too many moms have surrendered to the dangerous notion that preschools should prepare kids for kindergarten: learning to sit quietly at circle time, to write their names, and to count to 100. They’ve been forewarned by other moms about the rigorous standards now placed on kids to read, write, and do math in kindergarten. Not wanting their youngsters to be behind the other kids, they opt for academic preschools.
By parenting out of fear, though, these mothers thrust their kids into situations that aren’t developmentally appropriate. Dads, though, can set them straight by speaking about the research. We have countless studies that show preschoolers learn best through play, social interaction, and hands-on exploration. In fact, the latest evidence reveals that early academics can actually have a crippling effect on young children, especially boys. It can cause them undue stress, stifle their creativity, suppress their natural curiosity, and turn them off to learning. Lilian G. Katz, professor emerita of early childhood education at the University of Illinois, says this on the matter:
"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."
Every dad of a preschool-aged son should watch this TED Talk by Dr. Peter Gray about the enormous value of play in keeping kids healthy: physically, mentally, and emotionally.
3. Plenty of Outdoor Time
After being minimized for far too long, outdoor time at preschool is finally getting the kudos it deserves. Most dads, though, knew of its numerous benefits without needing to peruse 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. They already appreciated that the great outdoors can be their son's most influential teacher.
While many moms (and, sadly, even some educators) see outside time as expendable, most dads know it's the most essential part of a preschooler’s day. It's the time that kids develop confidence as they test the limits of what their bodies can do. Dr. Peter Gray examines why it’s critical for healthy social, emotional, and psychological development in Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life. He argues that outdoor time at preschool is especially important because it’s “free play,” meaning that kids choose their own activities, make up their own rules for games, and interact with no adult interference.
While some preschools provide a mere 15 minutes of outside time in their daily schedule, more enlightened ones offer it as an option throughout the day. At “forest schools,” which are hugely popular in other countries and are gaining fans here, kids spend the entire school day in nature, playing and exploring.
Outdoor play benefits preschoolers in the following ways:
- combats childhood obesity
- enhances fine and gross motor skills
- improves strength, balance, and overall coordination
- promotes self-confidence as youngsters build new physical skills
- Improves social skills: communication, cooperation, and teamwork
- reduces stress
- increases attention span
4. Lots of Open Space
Some moms are won over by how a preschool classroom looks, becoming enthralled by its brightly colored bulletin boards, pint-sized furniture, alphabet rug, and dinosaur curtains. However, most dads don't put much stock in these sorts of frills. They have their eyes fixed on what they know is essential for their sons to be happy, have fun, and explore: lots of open space, both inside and out.
In a small environment packed with furniture, preschoolers can’t partake in the activities that are so crucial to their gross motor development: running, jumping, skipping, climbing, crawling, balancing, and building. In a tiny, noisy space, a teacher must constantly remind her young students to use their "indoor voices” at a time in their development when they should be encouraged to talk, debate, ask questions, sing, and pretend. This is how they develop literacy, increase their vocabulary, and improve their speaking and listening skills.
From their own childhoods, Dads know that little boys are kinesthetic learners. In other words, they discover new things by moving their bodies. As such, they know that their sons need lots of open space so they can do the activities that they want. These may include pretending to ice-skate at an imaginary rink, building a city with blocks, lining up dominoes from one wall to the other, and acting like firefighters who are rushing to put out a blaze. A preschool with multiple classrooms and an outdoor area is ideal so kids have lots of options and never get bored.
Most dads recognize the enormous value of block play and realize that it requires a big open space.
5. Kids Choose Their Own Activities
Brandon, a middle-aged father of two sons, still grumbles about a teacher who forced him to do craft projects at preschool and how he’s hated art ever since. He bitterly recalls how he’d be fully engrossed 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 this teacher would drag him away to make a crocodile out of an egg carton or an owl from a pinecone. Even today, some 40 years later, he remembers how it made him feel frustrated and defeated when he wasn’t allowed to pursue his own endeavors without interruption.
Dads such as Brandon recognize the value in letting kids set their own agenda at preschool and numerous studies support them. When children choose their own activities, their motivation increases, their learning gets deeper, and their independence grows. Research shows that kids benefit immensely from having large blocks of time to delve into their passions without adults disturbing them.
David Elkind, the highly regarded author on child development, argues that letting preschoolers follow their own interests is far more valuable than teaching them academics. 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.” As such, it's far more important that preschoolers follow their curiosities instead of enduring teacher-led activities such as circle time, workbooks, and craft projects.
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
McKenna Meyers (author) on August 29, 2018:
Thanks so much for reading, commenting, and pinning, RTalloni. Our goals for preschool have become so short-sighted—preparing kids for kindergarten—and we've lost the all-important child-centered experience. Parents need to get informed and become more outspoken about the issue. Right now they're parenting out of fear, worried that their child will be behind when starting elementary school if not given academic instruction at preschool. In affluent areas, they do redshirting of kids (especially boys) so they start kindergarten at 6 and will do better. It's a sad time for early childhood education in the United States, but I'm sure it will turn around because the research doesn't support what we're doing.
RTalloni on August 29, 2018:
Bravo a thousand times over! Preschools are too often designed and managed for the grownups involved. This should be required reading for parents before they take a newborn home. Pinning to my Home Education board.