During her years as a teacher and mother, Ms. Meyers discovered that not all praise was equal and some kinds were even deleterious to kids.
Dads Need to Challenge an Education System That Isn't Working for Boys
- 80 percent of youngsters who get prescribed Ritalin in the United States are male
- 80 percent of high school drop-outs in the United States 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 male
When examining these alarming statistics, we see that boys are clearly at a disadvantage in our current education system and it all starts in preschool. While girls have made huge strides in the academic arena, boys have fallen behind in significant ways. Their needs, interests, and proclivities have been ignored or trivialized, 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 trend. I always offer the same simple but emphatic three-word answer: “Let Dad decide!”
Dads Need to Speak Up as Their Sons Enter The Female-Ruled World of Early Childhood Education
Although fathers today are more hands-on, they still remain on the sidelines when picking a preschool for their sons. They acquiesce to their wife, foolishly thinking that she knows best because she read a magazine article on the subject or compared notes with her girlfriends. A dad's voice goes silent just when his son is about to enter this female-ruled world of early childhood education. At this crucial time, a little boy needs his dad to speak up and advocate for him.
Many Preschools Today Are Not Boy-Friendly
Today, we have an over-abundance of academic preschools that are highly structured, adult-centered, and not at all friendly toward little boys. A father's lack of input in the selection process can doom his son to an initial experience at school that's developmentally inappropriate. At this tender age, normal, active 4 and 5-year-old boys too often get labelled by teachers as disruptive, hyperactive, aggressive, and immature. Tragically, they can get turned off to formal education from the get-go.
Dads Are Needed to Broaden the Scope of Preschool Education
However, if fathers get involved in the selection process and recall how they learned best when they were small, they can ensure a positive experience for their boys. They can choose a preschool that empowers their sons: heightening their curiosity, stimulating their imagination, and turning them into active learners.
They can make sure they're not just bored little bodies, sitting on a rug criss-cross applesauce as their teacher tries to convince them that memorizing the days of the week in both English and Spanish is relevant to their lives. Dads can guarantee that their sons get a broad education that prepares them for life and not a narrow one that merely sets them up for academic success in kindergarten.
5 Things Fathers Should Want From Their Son's Preschool
1. A teacher who understands how little boys learn best
2. A play-based curriculum, not an academic one
3. Lots of open space
4. Plenty of outdoor time
5. Ample opportunities for kids to choose their own activities
1. A Teacher Who Understands How Little Boys Learn Best
If dads were to visit preschools during the selection process, they'd see one teacher after another poised on a throne-like chair with the children gathered on the floor around her. While initially impressed by this, watching as she deftly moves through her circle time routine (calendar, weather, and letter of the week), most dads aren't fooled for long. They look at the bored faces on the children, especially the boys, and know that this can sour them on school, has no long-term benefits, and doesn't result in smarter kids. What these dads know in their guts is backed up by decades of research in early childhood education.
Unlike many mothers who are amazed by teachers who establish highly structured adult-centered classrooms, most dads aren't. Instead, they get bowled over by educators who create child-centered environments where hands-on learning takes place. They're impressed by teachers who constantly facilitate play and exploration: dragging the hose across the yard so kids can build castles in the sandbox, grabbing the marbles so youngsters can roll them through their maze of blocks, bringing out the magnifying lenses so a group can get a better look at the ant hill they've discovered. Dads admire teachers who create experiences so kids can discover things on their own, and thus, become empowered lifelong learners.
2. A Play-Based Curriculum, Not an Academic One
Today, dads are desperately needed as the voice of reason to champion play-based preschools for their sons. Too many moms have given in to peer pressure, becoming hyper-focused on getting their kids academically ready for kindergarten. They've heard from other moms about the rigorous demands that are now placed on kindergartners to read, write, and do math. Not wanting their child to fall behind the other kids, they opt for academic preschools while knowing in their heart of hearts it's not right.
By parenting out of fear, mothers thrust a developmentally inappropriate experience upon their little children. That's why dads are needed to speak out loudly for the benefits of play. They need to make certain that their sons are active learners and not sitting still while a teacher drones on at circle time. Dads have common sense in the matter, knowing that their boys will be able to sit still and listen when they're older and don't need to "practice" doing so as many preschool teachers contend.
Studies show time and time again that preschoolers learn best through play, social interaction, and hands-on exploration. The latest research goes 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.
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."
Every Dad of a Preschool-Aged Son Should Watch This Powerful Video About the Value of Play
3. Lots of Open Space
While moms can get dazzled by how a classroom looks (the brightly colored bulletin boards, the pint-sized furniture, the alphabet rug, the dinosaur curtains), Dads don't put much stock in these frills. They have their eyes fixed on what their sons really need to have fun, learn, and explore their environment: lots of open space, both inside and out!
In a small environment packed with furniture, the teacher is forced to tell children 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.
Dads appreciate that 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 creative 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. They know that the great outdoors can be their son's most powerful teacher.
While many moms (and even some educators) see outside time as expendable, dads know it's the most essential part of the day. It's the time kids develop confidence as they test the limits of what their little bodies can do. It's their time to use their imaginations to create new games with no adult interference. A teacher who tries to intervene during outside time by leading activities such as duck-duck-goose and relay races is truly missing the point!
While some preschools provide a mere 15 minutes of outside time (which is not nearly enough), the more enlightened boy-friendly ones offer it as an option throughout the day. At “forest schools,” which are hugely popular in some countries and are gaining fans here, 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. Ample Opportunities for Kids to Choose Their Own Activities
My middle-aged husband still laments how he was forced to do craft projects in preschool and how it made him hate art for years. 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 make a crocodile out of an egg carton or an owl from a pinecone. He felt defeated when 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, not surprisingly, 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. Studies show that young kids need large blocks of time to delve into their passions without adult interruption.
David Elkind, the highly regarded author on child development, believes that choosing their own activities is far more valuable to kids 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 selecting what intrigues them rather than partaking of adult-scripted activities such as circle time, workbooks, and craft projects.
© 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.
McKenna Meyers (author) on June 25, 2018:
Yes, you're right Kylyssa and thanks for your thoughtful comments. Girls are also active learners at preschool and learn best by doing. Boys, however, are getting unduly penalized in their early years for not being able to do things girls do easily such as sitting still and listening. I visit dozens of preschools each year and never see girls "acting up" at circle time but see boys doing it all the time (and getting punished for it). It doesn't mean the girls are benefiting from the circle time activities (or enjoying them) but, at least, they can endure while some boys can't. Then the boys get labeled as "immature" and "hyperactive" at 3, 4, and 5 (which is absolutely insane) and happened to my own little boy.
Boys are retained in the early years of schooling twice the rate of girls and are 3 times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. This is not caused by poor academic performance on their part but by "bad" and "naughty" behavior that the teachers see as disrespectful and disruptive. In a study called "Teaching Boys: A Global Study of Effective Practices," the authors call for education to become more boy-friendly with lessons that involve movement, games, interaction, and competition.
Kylyssa Shay from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on June 25, 2018:
Why shouldn't the parents make such important decisions together? Also, why do you think girls aren't active learners? Unless you force them to play quietly with dolls or something all the time and actively discourage play and exploration, girls are just as active as boys. Why not stop suppressing the girls' natural need for active learning and make the education suitable for all active learners instead of only choosing a good school for your sons, instead?
Play, exploration, and hands-on learning also mold girls. You should know instinctively that most children, regardless of sex, are active learners.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 22, 2018:
It's a fascinating perspective, McKenna, and in my opinion, as a former teacher, you are right on! Thank you for sharing an important aspect of education.