Blast from the Past: Preschool is Not Necessary

Recently, I was approached by a journalism student working on a project who wanted my opinion on preschool. Here is part of her email along with my responses to her questions:

I’m working on this article and I want to focus on why enrollment in preschools
has consistenly gone up, especially for children that are 3 and 4 years old. I
also am looking at whether preschool is a necessary step for children and why
or why not. Below I’ve listed a few questions for you. Please feel free to
elaborate on anything as much as you feel necessary and if you can send your
answers back to me as soon as possible, that would be great (my article is due
at the end of the week)!

1. In the article by Diane Laney Fitzpatrick, you were included because of
your blogging about the necessity of preschool. Tell me more about this – what
influences your opinions about preschool?

Actually, I blogged that preschool is not necessary and can be harmful. I think the primary influence on my thinking about preschool is that my generation did not have preschool and we’ve done just fine, and none of my own children went to preschool (or to school at all), and they are doing very well. Ex. My son graduated from college last year magna cum laude.

2. Do you believe that preschool is more beneficial for children than staying
at home with mom? What sort of things can a child gain from each? Do some
outweigh others?

Heavens, no. I think being home with a parent or someone else who loves you very much (i.e. grandparent) is far superior to preschool. Also, I believe children of all ages need freedom to learn, and the classroom is not a place of freedom. I see no advantages to preschool except for the child who is living in neglect, and the advantages to him/her, besides being common sense, are well-documented.

3. What do you think is one of the biggest concerns for mothers that sways
them one way or the other?

I don’t think it’s just mothers; dads care, too. I think most parents believe the hype that preschool is necessary so the child doesn’t fall behind his peers. Most studies refute this, btw, and in actuality you often see the child who was in preschool burn out in school by about the third grade.

4. Even though preschool may not be necessary, is it actually beneficial? Can
children benefit just as much when they stay at home with their mothers?

Again, I see no benefits of preschool for most children. Interested parents, plus sibs, neighbors and extended family for socialization did just fine for generations and will continue to do so.

5. What sort of background to have with children? How does this background
impact they way you think about this issue? Any specific occurences that
influence your opinions?

I’ve homeschooled my four (inc. one with dev. disabilities) from birth. They are now 15, 17, 23 and 25, so I’ve seen the results. Also, the kids I’ve known who went to preschool tended to become very peer dependent, and not as self-motivated as other kids. Take our next-door neighbors. The boys who lived on one side of us did not go to preschool. Great kids…one is now a music teacher, the other an optometrist. The girl on the other side was in daycare from six weeks on, preschool for two years before school. Flunked out of high school. And this from a more affluent family.

6. Is there anything else you feel is important for me to know about this
issue that I have not asked about?

You’re probably out of time, but it would be interesting to examine the vested interests of those who promote preschool so hard in the face of so many studies suggesting it’s not working. My guess is they have a certain mindset they want to inculcate, and that kind of thing works best when started very early on.

Thanks again and can’t wait to hear from you!

Her deadline was fast-approaching, so I don’t know if she had time to read an editorial I shared with her about preschool from the Wall Street Journal, but I hope she did because it’s well worth reading.

(Originally published 10/20/08, and I haven’t changed my mind!)

Preschool Pressure or Preschool Peace?

I always say my kids were homeschooled from birth, because they never went to school and they were learning from the day they were born. Yet I didn’t “school” them during the years from birth to age 5; we certainly did a lot—played inside and outside, made crafts, painted, colored, I read to them—but I never considered that homeschooling.

That’s why I was bewildered when I first noticed the trend of moms joining homeschool support groups even though their children were under five years old. I wondered, what’s their hurry?

Talking with some of these moms has given me some insight into why they consider themselves homeschoolers even though their kids are so young. I’ve learned that today’s young parents are under so much pressure to not only send their kids to preschool at age 3, but to start preparing them (“readiness”) even earlier than 3 that they feel they must call themselves homeschoolers so people won’t think their little ones aren’t being educated. In this competitive society of ours, heaven forbid we should let a young child of 2 or 3 (or even 4 or 5!) just simply learn through play and experiences.

Learning about Preschool Pressure really makes me feel old. When my first child was 3 (how can that be over 25 years ago?), children of working moms were often put in daycare, but children of stay-at-home moms were home with Mom, and maybe in a park district class for an hour twice a week. Most moms didn’t think about preschool until the year before kindergarten, and even then, many chose not to send their children to it. Since I had already planned to homeschool my daughter, we never looked into preschool. Once I started homeschooling her at age 5, we liked it so much that we never considered putting any of our next three children in preschool or any school.

But while my children were growing up in an atmosphere of homeschooling families where preschool wasn’t even discussed, the outside world was changing. As more moms rejoined the workforce, the cry went out that children needed preschool in order to succeed in school. “Educational experts” repeatedly cited the success of the government-run preschool program Head Start, rarely mentioning that the kids in that program were so disadvantaged from the get go that special attention would have helped them. An average child home with an attentive parent wasn’t disadvantaged and didn’t need preschool to become prepared. In fact, even 20 years ago, studies showed that any scholastic advantage gained by preschool wore off by third grade and was even suspected of causing early school burnout. But that aspect of preschool wasn’t advertised much.

What concerns me now is that there is an entire generation of young moms out there (you may be one of them) who has been conditioned to believe that their under-age-5 children must have some kind of formal preschool program, even one at home, in order to be properly educated. Since I know from experience that this is patently untrue, I feel bad for any mom living under Preschool Pressure. I worry that finding and implementing a home preschool program for each of her little ones will result in burnout of both the child and the mom. It would be such a shame to burn out and give up on homeschooling; the thought that an exhausted mom will give up and put her burned-out child into formal schooling at an early age is heart-breaking, because it didn’t have to happen.

I wish there was an easy way to remove Preschool Pressure from each mom’s existence, and instead replace it with Preschool Peace, which is what I had, as did the many generations of mothers before me. The best I can do, however, is offer the following recipe, in hopes that you’ll read it if you need it, and share it with anyone else who needs it. Only by finding Preschool Peace can a homeschooling mom conserve her energy for the larger task of homeschooling her children for as many years as she needs to do later on, maybe even through high school. I don’t think I could have survived homeschooling two all the way through (and homeschooling two more now) if I’d had to homeschool them in the preschool years. Just the thought makes me want to go take a nap!

Recipe for Preschool Peace

Starting as early in your parenting life as possible, mix:

  • One large dollop of the works of John Holt, especially How Children Learn, Learning All the Time, and Teach Your Own.
  • Two heaping cups of Better Late Than Early by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore.
  • A splash of “Preschool Homeschooling” by Beverly Krueger.

Allow this mixture to rest in your brain for a while, then add (as your child becomes old enough to do these things):

  • Lazy afternoons at the park
  • Regular visits to the public library
  • Trips to the zoo and children’s museum
  • Work in the garden (especially making mud pies)
  • Large empty appliance boxes and markers
  • Finger paints
  • Long sessions of you reading aloud to them

Relax and enjoy!

Special note: don’t rush through this recipe—take your time, because soon enough your little one will be a “big kid,” and both of you will be ready to take on a more complicated “recipe.”

(Excerpted from Stages of Homeschooling: Beginnings, available from Cardamom Publishers.)


Growing Up to Be a Rock Star (Rant Warning)

Does this photo from a Christmas ad bug you the way it bugs me? I just hate that our society promotes being a rock star to little children.

I mean, think about what we’re saying to our little people when we push this stuff on them:

It’s important to be the center of attention.

It’s important to be cool.

It’s important to gain the adulation of others.

(And we wonder why kids are so spoiled and demanding these days.)

As if that wasn’t bad enough, don’t parents care that they’re encouraging their children to emulate people who dress like bums and hookers, smoke pot (and worse) until their brain cells are fried, and pickle their livers because they’re drunk so much of the time?

Seriously, do these parents look at their little darlings and think, “Maybe she’ll be the next Lady Gaga!”?

So few people seem to care about developing good character in their children anymore. It’s all about fame and fortune and having a good time. How sad.

(Rant over.)