Saturday, August 6, 2011

My Thoughts on Preschool

We become enamored with men's theories such as the idea of preschool training outside the home for young children. Not only does this put added pressure on the budget, but it places young children in an environment away from mother's influence. It is mother's influence during the crucial formative years that forms a child's basic character. Home is the place where a child learns faith, feels love, and thereby learns from mother's loving example to choose righteousness. How vital are mother's influence and teaching in the home--and how apparent when neglected!
--Ezra Taft Benson

I have very strong opinions on preschool. Although there are probably a myriad of reasons to put your child in preschool, I think the general population has been duped into believing it is a necessary step for a child's education. Even if kindergarten has become the new first grade, as it has in some places, I still don't buy into this notion.

When I hear someone talking about putting their young 3-year-old in preschool, I cringe. I'm a firm believer that a child's own play is a great learning tool to help them make sense of their world and interrupting that play while they are too young to shove academics at them is wasting their precious early childhood years. It robs them of some great learning they can do on their own. A great resource on how important of a role that play has in early childhood is the book "Piggyback Rides and Slippery Slides" by Lynnae W. Allred.

Even though I don't put my own kids in preschool, I do teach them the basics at home starting at the age of 4, or the year before they will be starting school. Some basic academic teaching before starting school isn't a bad thing. The issue is how much is too much and what is necessary and what isn't?

I've had people comment to me when I bring up my opinions on this that not everyone can teach their own kids how to read or write or do math, etc. Generations of people have done it before this day and age when we can just pop our kid in the nearest preschool. And they've been successful. So why can't we be?

It's mostly about reading to them. You read to them every day. When they start showing more interest in actually reading, you teach them that words are made up of letters and individual letters have sounds. How do you teach that? You point to an easy word and point out each letter and tell them the sound each letter makes. Then you start teaching the ABC's. The most basic way to do that would be to write a letter, say the letter B, on a piece of paper. Have them trace it with their finger. Then say, "This is B. B makes this sound /b/." Then you name anything you see from where you are that starts with letter B. You do this for about a week and then you move on to another letter. That would be the most basic way. If you want to go more advanced, then you come up with activities for each letter. For B, you could go into a bounce house and bounce. You could go bowling. You could make an outline of a big letter B and get some buttons and let them glue the buttons onto the letter B. You see where this is going.

I think that any parent who knows how to read (and therefore knows letter sounds), knows how to count, knows how to distinguish between the basic colors of the rainbow and the basic shapes (triangle, square, circle, rectangle) can teach their kids the basics that will give them a leg up in kindergarten. If they don't make it a stressful "sit-down-and-learn" situation, they just go with the learning flow, it is something that is as natural as teaching your child to pray or even just play.

The key is to use the world around you to help your kids learn. Every moment is a learning moment in the life of a preschool-age child. If you use that and answer your child's questions and are reading to them every day, there is no need to pay money for preschool.

I just get so tired of listening to parents who think they don't have the ability to teach their own children the basics of academics. I don't think parents need to make sure their kids are reading before they go to school and I could see how the thought of teaching them to be reading completely would be overwhelming. But if the child has a basic knowledge of the letters and counting, they will be successful at school. Are they more successful than peers who didn't do any preschool? I doubt it. Are they less successful than their peers whose parents paid premium amounts for a highly academic preschool? I doubt that too.

I realize too that many parents put their kids in preschool to get a break from them. I agree that a break from your kids is something that is needed, but I think there are a number of ways to accomplish this without having to entrust them to someone else for learning during their most formative years.

If you want some home preschool teaching ideas, you can check out my preschool blog here. I will be adding some more basic teaching ideas like the one I discussed above and perhaps start keeping more of a record of those teaching moments that just happen upon us during the day to give ideas for that.

I realize everyone is entitled to their own opinion and may have their own valid reasons for putting their child in preschool. But don't expect sympathy if you whine to me about the cost of preschool as a factor in the high cost of raising kids. Early learning is so natural to just do at home that the cost of preschool is something you can easily forgo.

Putting together our alphabet train floor puzzle. As he does this, I have him say the letters and their sounds by looking at the picture. When he's done, we sing the alphabet song, pointing to each letter.

We studied the skeletal system. We put together this poster that I got out of one of my supplemental science workbooks I bought when I was a teacher. He also put the fridge letters in alphabetical order, practicing each letter sound as he went along.
Playing with a popular math manipulative--pattern blocks. I purchased a set of math manipulatives to do with my kids at home.

We made cookies in the shapes of items that begin with the letter "C". Cat, candy cane, car.
I always teach the letters of my child's name as the first letters they learn. Something a preschool teacher with more than one student couldn't do, but it really helps solidify those letters in their brain because they can immediately relate those letters to something very familiar.


swedemom said...

Such a great post, Jenna. I think you are such a great mom and so dedicated to really teaching your kids.

I've done a lot of reading and teaching with my kids. But not all my kids have been receptive to my teaching. One child of mine screamed every single time when I sang the ABCs or tried to teach him basic counting. I finally stopped because it was becoming an issue of control for both of us. He started preschool when he was 4 and really grew in the warm, supportive environment.

I taught my eldest son to read while he was in Swedish kindergarten. It was a great experience.

Because of moving and several external circumstances, my third son did not go to preschool and I didn't work with him like I did with the others. Sadly, he has really struggled in school. I've put in more hours since he went to school working with him. If I had to do it over again, I would have enrolled him in preschool because at that time I just wasn't able to teach him like I had my other kids.

My kids also went to preschool in Sweden. My rule was that they couldn't go until they were four and they could only go for 3 days a week. I wanted to give them more experience with native speakers of Swedish. It did make a big difference to them to be able to communicate better and understand church. There was tremendous pressure from the doctors for me to put my kids in all day daycare, but I refused and they used all the arguments you talked about to try and convince me. But I still thought the best place for my kids was mostly at home with me.

Eventually,I moved my kids over to an International Preschool. That turned out to be a big blessing to our entire family. Before, I mostly had friends at church. But getting into an international community really opened our social circle. I developed some really good frienships that I treasure. I still keep in touch with many of the parents and the staff of the school. Every child that I had who attended the school developed in great ways.

So I guess I'm saying that I've been really blessed with our preschool experiences. My health hasn't always been consistent enough for me to do enough teaching and I appreciate the additional support of teachers who've helped my children.

My daughter attended preschool this year and it has been good for her to have the additional classroom behavior reinforcement from other adults. She's had to learn how to listen to other adults and follow directions which is something that she wasn't very good at before, despite the time I spent teaching her.

I also confess that my consistency is terrible and I don't follow through as well as you do.

The things you do with your kids are great, but they also require discipline and consistency. Those are talents you possess and ones which I struggle with. I appreciate how you use your natural talents to bless your family.

Royalbird said...

I have honestly struggled with these thoughts as I've considered each year to do a preschool out of my home. I do have a natural gift of teaching and finding those teaching moments and would love to share it with others. One one hand, having a monetary reward for doing it would be nice too. On the other hand, I almost feel I would be taking advantage of people who think preschool is necessary and don't realize they might be able to do it on their own without spending the money.

There are some children who benefit from preschool but most people just put their children in without really considering all the ramifications. Some kids will struggle in school despite having been to preschool, and starting school so young will actually make others struggle because they will grow to hate it before they are even done with the primary grades. This is especially true if they have certain disabilities which make learning difficult.

I guess it's something to decide on a case-by-case basis. But many of the mothers I talk to are more stressed out about what preschool to put their kids in than whether or not they should even do it. And many have said to me, "I could probably get them ready for school myself, but I just want a break from them during the week." I find that a little sad, merely because they will get their break once their child is old enough to start school and they may even be sad that those preschool years flew by and they were so eager to get them out of the house. I realized this when my oldest started school--that his happy, carefree early childhood days were over and he would no longer ever have that type of time or freedom to explore his world, even if I homeschooled him. It would still be structured and goal-oriented and his freedom would be limited, not at all like the unencumbered freedom he had as a preschooler.

But nobody listens to me when I bring these things up, so I've stopped responding altogether when the conversations turn to preschool at the various playgroups I attend. I wanted to get all these thoughts out because it's been a hot topic lately, being close to the start of a new school year.

I know you have put some of your kids in preschool, but you thoughtfully considered it. I think I would have too if we had been living overseas, that would have helped with the language barrier. Like I said, there are sometimes valid reasons. I just feel the majority of people don't really consider it--they just follow the crowd and do it because everyone else is, not realizing their child might thrive just fine at home.

swedemom said...

I really think you make a great point when you say that most people don't thoughtfully consider the issue of preschool--but follow the crowd mindlessly. It is so true. Where I live, people are so obsessed with academic excellence that the pressure on the child is horrible. I was pretty careful about the program I put my daughter in for that reason. I wanted her to learn but still engage in learning in creative play.

I also think that you have hit on something that most people don't realize--that they have the capacity to teach their children themselves. You, like me, often realize that you can't afford to farm out the care or teaching to others, so you must do it yourself. I also realize that you honestly desire to do the teaching. I've loved all your teaching ideas--really excellent!

I like how you've changed to the debate from teaching styles/preschool selection to a home vs. school environment. That's a great one to consider!

swedemom said...

I had another thought in relation to the argument. In Sweden, the biggest reason everyone pushed me to put my child in school was for socialization--a reason which was incrediby funny to me. How were my children not being socialized in a larger family? They learn valuable life lessons negotiating their place in a large family. They have learned how to share, take turns, play with kids of different ages, and to help one another. I have far better control in helping my kids socialize than some daycare or preschool teacher does.

It also occurs to me that this delegation of parental teaching also leads children to not developing life skills such as cleaning, cooking, budgeting, etc.


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