Is Preschool Necessary?
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 Before we would leave the house in the morning, he became very withdrawn, and when he came home, he was very argumentative, especially when Michael and I had to correct him; he would say things like, ‘you’re a stupid head.’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.”
Words of Advice
If you decide to skip preschool, you can easily provide an enriching environment at home and in your child’s life with a little bit of work, imagination, and care. Attend parent-and-child events and activities at local bookstores, museums, and arts-and-craft stores frequently. Purchase books, visit your local library, or search the Internet for age-appropriate story books, activity workbooks, and CDs. Andrews recommends parents learn as much as they can regarding early childhood education. “For parents who make the conscious decision to delay preschool, it is vitally important to become informed of the latest in research and materials,” she emphasizes.
Another way to learn more about what your child should be learning at this stage, and how to prepare her for kindergarten, is to contact a preschool educator or someone with experience in early childhood education. Ask questions to see what they recommend for children to learn and experience at each appropriate age.
If preschool sounds like the perfect opportunity to give you child an enriching experience away from home (and maybe even offer you or your partner a much-needed parenting break), you still should plan and learn as much as you can regarding your child’s education. Take the time to explore several different preschool programs in your area—from Montessori, to Head Start, to developmentally appropriate preschool (the most common type in the United States) programs—there are many to choose from.
While exploring different preschool options, keep in mind your child’s individual needs and personality. “If possible, [visit the school] during the day to see interaction between the teacher and students,” suggests James. “Request a meeting with a teacher to find out discipline procedures, consequences, conflict resolution modeling and discuss any concerns. The parent and teacher must become a team for the benefit of the child,” she adds.
Whether you choose to send your child to preschool or decide to not pursue a pre-K program, it is important to provide your child with a positive environment in which to learn and develop the necessary cognitive abilities and skills. Through family activities and outings, playing games, reading, and just sharing some one-on-one time, your child will acquire a warm, secure relationship with you and your partner, and will advance his or her social, developmental, and cognitive skills.
Although parents and caregivers around the nation have different opinions about the subject of preschool, one thing is perfectly clear: there is no right or wrong choice. What is best for your child is the only thing that matters (and that is a decision only you can make).
* Not her/his real name. Person has requested privacy.
** Requested use of first name only for privacy.
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