Facts of Life: Taking the Good and the Bad
For some parents, socialization is the deciding factor in the preschool debate. Parents can easily fill in the role of early childhood educator with activities at home and outings to a variety of learning locales. But sometimes it can be difficult to find a good group of peers for a child to interact with. Parents with children who have either no siblings to interact with at home and/or children in their neighborhood to play with may feel a need to find little ones for their child to interact with before enrolling them in kindergarten.
Laura Vitale*, a stay-at-home mom from Minnesota, with a four-year-old son Bradley*, felt those same guilty pangs last year. Looking back, Vitale shakes her head in dismay when she recalls her son's brief preschool experience. Realizing that although certain children possess the unique ability to easily separate from and spend time away from their parents, there were "just as many children like Bradley, who would burst into tears at the thought of being away from me or his daddy for a minute."
Most of Vitale's friends with children in Bradley's age group were either already enrolled or soon would be attending preschool, and, "I thought that enrolling him into a local preschool would help give Bradley a chance to be with and interact with other children his own age," says Vitale.
However, after two weeks of attendance, Vitale and her husband Michael* noticed considerable changes in their son's demeanor. "Bradley has always had a very gentle, even disposition, but soon after he started preschool, his emotions and behavior became a roller coaster ride. Before we would leave the house in the morning, he became very withdrawn, and when he came home, he was very argumentative, especially when Michael and I had to correct him; he would say things like, 'you're a stupid head.' When I asked him where he heard that, he would mention this boy's name who went to the same school as well." The Vitales quickly made the decision to take Bradley out of the program and are now exploring alternative-educational options for their son.
James offers a compromise for parents who have had less-than-positive experiences with preschool like the Vitales. "Children will undoubtedly be exposed to behavioral patterns that are the opposite of their dispositions. Parents should choose the preschool carefully and make inquiries as to the education of the teacher and accreditation of the program," suggests James.
As with any social environment, whether a preschool program or the neighborhood playground, children are exposed to both negative and positive behavior when grouped with their peers. Learning to share, being encouraged by other children to participate in play, even hearing another kids say "please," "thank you," or "excuse me," are all positive behaviors your child will experience each day in a preschool program.
Such is the case with the Scott family, whose two-year-old daughter participates in a toddler-session preschool program one day a week. "Emm loves one of the older girls in our group and tends to follow her around. This little girl is extremely bright and polite, says 'excuse me' on the playground, and often offers toys to other little kids at the play center," says Heather Scott, of Oakland, California. "We've noticed that Emm will copy this behavior at home when playing with her toys, 'pretending' to share. And this past week, she even invited a new boy in the group to 'play dinosaurs' with her."
Scott adds that this opportunity to participate in a pre-K, albeit toddler-based, program has had immense positive effects on her daughter and her family. "It is really important to us as parents to provide this semi-organized, social play for our daughter—and for her, this interaction provides a social stimulus that we just can't offer her at home."