Preschool: Nice But Not Necessary For Your Child’s Educational Success

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I considered preschool when I had a 4, 3 and 2 year-old at home. I would watch my neighbor send her children off and the space and quiet she got for two hours a day was enviable, but when I looked at the cost of sending 3 children to preschool, it came just short of $800 per month. I figured that amount could be better saved for tuition at university rather than a few hours of wonderful peace and quiet.

 

Are preschools absolutely necessary? No! They are a “nice to have” change for your child, but are not necessary for building social and active learning skills. Your child can do just as much at home as the average child at preschool and excel in arts, sports, friends and academics when they get to school.  The key is in you as facilitator, and your home as the environment, and your willingness to endure a wee bit of mess.  In fact, research supports that a child that has a huge hand in their own creative endeavors, builds more brain connections than a child that has to be told what to do. There are also studies that show that the more years of institutional education a child has, the less likely they will go on to post-secondary education. Burn-out is the reason.

In addition, children most need “serve and return interactions” with an adult (not a peer) in the early years to develop their brain connections and they are more likely to get that in a one-on-one home environment with a single caregiver, than in a peer-based institution.

If you can’t afford the cost of preschool, or choose not to feed into the parental peer-pressure of signing your child up, here are some alternatives that will foster your child’s social, cognitive and emotional development just as much. Remember that your child needs you, a few toys and unstructured play the most!  Not peers, not worksheets, and not early school.

  • Have a sand/rice/lentil table.
  • Set up painting twice a week – all you need is newspaper, paper, paints, brushes and lots of patience.
  • Save the funds you would have spent on preschool to buy a season’s pass to the zoo, science center and museums. Look at every public place as an opportunity for a field trip.
  • Set up water play in the sink or backyard pool.
  • Have play dates in your home, in the other parent’s home or meeting at an indoor play-place – you control length, company and activities.
  • Have as many toys on hand as possible, but rotate them often, so every week is a new bucket of theme toys or old favorites.
  • Have a building block station with wooden blocks, Legos, K’nex or Meccano pieces.
  • Assemble a dress-up tickle trunk with hats, shoes, belts and shirts obtained from the local goodwill store
  • Leave out books and puzzles and read with your child often.
  • Set up a play dough table with cutters, rollers, pans, etc.

Half of Canada’s parents do not send their child to preschool and Canada’s 15 year-old students are still in the top 10 of the world’s PISA education results according the OECD.  You got this!

Canada’s PISA Scores and Canada’s Preschool Enrollment rates.

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When Do Children Understand “Consequences?”

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Why is it so difficult to teach children that actions have consequences?  The question might be, “Why do children not choose the best course of action?”

It is difficult because of caregiver/parent’s unrealistic expectations of children’s brain development. Honestly, I think every parent should take an online course about brain biology when they have a child! Brain growth occurs at different ages, and when parents understand the appropriate ages, they will learn when it is best to expect that children can base decisions on understanding consequences. Most parents give children “consequences” as a punishment much too young an age, when they can’t yet understand them.

The prefrontal cortex is the last section of the brain to fully develop and is responsible for behaviour control and critical thinking. Before age 6, children are pre-operational in their thinking, which means they do not have the ability to think out plans and imagine consequences of those decisions. They do not have all the information in order to make the right decision. When they reach school-aged, from ages 6–13, they get better at understanding consequences and can make decisions. However, they do not have abstract thinking skills yet. School-aged children are still operational in their thinking which means they understand what is tangible and what is in their immediate environment – things they can readily see, hear, touch, smell and taste. They can’t think conceptually until the teen years, so they don’t understand the “gray” areas of decisions, or theory or ideology. Consequences demand that the chooser understands all aspects of the decision in order to make an informed choice.

Children are able to begin understanding consequences around age 6 and are much better at it around age 13. Parents and caregivers need to adjust their expectations accordingly. And consequences should never be given to punish children for their decisions. They need an adult/caregivers help to problem solve a solution instead of “pay” for their behaviour with a “consequence.”

Are Consequences Punitive?

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In groups, I get asked all the time if consequences are punitive.  It depends.  Consequences are natural outcomes that occur if a parent intervenes or not.  Yes, consequences happen to kids all the time when they are out and about in the world.  The rest of the world will issue consequences to your child, but only you, as the parent, will take the time and effort to problem-solve with them. Children will get consequences from teachers, coaches, police, and other adults.  That’s okay.  Those people are not building a life-long relationship with your child.  You are. When you take the time and effort to problem-solve, you are giving your child valuable life and relationship skills – negotiation.  Your communication lines will remain open and you will enjoy a wonderful relationship with your child.  Here are the differences between consequences issued by a parent in the name of punishment, and problem-solving which is a form of non-punitive discipline.

Consequences or Problem-Solving?

In parenting classes, I often get asked the following question:

When I give my 11 year-old daughter a consequence, she insists that I am being mean to her. I believe that it is respectful discipline. What is the difference between consequences and a punishment?

Brain development stage: Between the ages of 5 and 12, most children figure out that they are not choosing the consequence, and it is the parents imposing the order on them in the name of discipline. If the child doesn’t see the point, she may experience it as a punishment.

Here are the differences:

  • Consequences are parent imposed. The conflict is now between the parent and child. Problem-solving is the parent and child working together to come up with a solution to fix the problem. The conflict is now between the parent-child team against the problem (even if the child caused it.)
  • Problem-solving is a more real-world skill. It teaches kids how to fix things, make restitution, repair relationships and make things right.
  • Consequences are focused on the child, where problem-solving is focused on the end result; a common goal.
  • Consequences tend to be one solution. Problem-solving can be many solutions that would take care of the problem. The goal is repair, whereas the goal of consequences is to teach the child a lesson, which is punitive.
  • Consequences are almost always designed to hurt a child – either financially (pay for a broken item), socially (grounding or taking away cell phone), emotionally (time-out) or physically (hard physical labor). Problem-solving is designed to be pain-neutral. The goal is not to hurt the child, but help the situation. The goal is to fix the problem. Sometimes that is financial or physical, but the payoff is that the child feels good that they are now owning the solution and not just the problem. Children are very fair and more likely to dive into helping fix the problem when they know they caused it, because the focus is no longer on what they did, but what they can do to make it right. When they can put effort into fixing the problem, they feel better about themselves, learn real-world solutions and will make better decisions in the future.

Parents argue, “Yes, but it works!  Consequences change my child behaviour!” That may be correct, but the price is impaired communication.  Parents wonder why they don’t enjoy the open, caring, free communication that they once had with their child. They wonder why they are receiving attitude and silence. Pushback of imposed consequences comes in many forms. Ditch the consequences and use the adult method of problem-solving.

 

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Consequences Versus Problem-solving

Unschooling To University Book is Ready to Launch – Help us Kickstarter It!

Help us get the word out! We are promoting the concept, research and implementation of SELF-DIRECTED EDUCATION (both in and out of school).  I’ve had to wait until we had our third university graduate. We’ve launched a project on Kickstarter! For as little as $10, (in which you get a copy of the book), you can support the costs of launching the book titled Unschooling To University: How to impassion your disengaged learner. Just go to Kickstarter.com, register as a guest (anonymous), and search for Unschooling To University or Judy Arnall. Thanks!

Order This Book in Kickstarter

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/judyarnall/unschooling-to-university-book-project?ref=discoveryUTU Chris cover5

Dads Matter!

This is one of my favourite videos that show the brain science behind why Dad’s matter just as much, but differently, in the parenting relationship.

Why Dads Matter – Same love, different approach

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Education Options for Preschool Children Ages 3-5

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By the time a child reaches the preschool age of three to five, they have changed in so many ways. Many children are ready to expand their world outside of home and interact more with peers, teachers and other parents.

 

Physically, preschoolers are capable of many tasks. Emotionally, many can control their anger and uncomfortable emotions much better. Socially, they are curious about other children. The element of other people to play with adds fun, creativity, and learning (and sometimes needed conflict resolution) with other children.

 

The cognitive development of preschoolers puts them squarely in the magical/fantasy element of brain development. Their whole world is constructed of “make-believe” which further enhances play with others. They also have enough brain power and self control to understand a few safety limits and to listen to adults a wee bit more than toddlers.

 

Many parents wonder what type of education is best for this age. The answer really depends on the child. Factors that affect this are: gender, temperament, personality, and learning style more than age alone.

 

Gender Differences

 

In terms of gender, preschool boys are still quite active and find it hard to sit, concentrate and participate in circle time. They tend to fidget more when compelled to listen to music, storybook reading or teachers talking. Programs to look for should be active and fun with a high physical component. Preschools with lots of circle time and quiet play should not be the first choice. Girls, tend to love role-playing with toys and make believe play and often can sit longer to listen to stories.

 

Temperament and Personality

 

Temperament is another consideration. For spirited children a small group is less sensory stimulating than a large group. An unstructured type of play environment such as Waldorf, Montessori, or PACT play program would be more suitable. Children decide where and when they would like to explore in these programs, instead of having definite centre times. An easygoing child would adapt more to structured settings such as conventional preschools that have set times for snack, music, and creative play.

 

Introverted children who prefer the company of a parent, home and his own toys may not benefit from structured learning environments. Research shows that some types of preschool help disadvantaged children catch up to what they need to know for grade one. However, for children with a stimulating home environment (homes that have books and toys), early schooling doesn’t make any difference in grade three test scores. If your child is an extravert and his boisterousness is wearing you thin, the excitement of preschool may be what your child is craving.

 

 

Learning Styles

 

Learning styles also play a key factor. Your child’s learning style emerges by the preschool years. A good preschool should mix up their program delivery to accommodate learning styles.  If your child is auditory, then circle time, oral instruction and story listening are their preferred ways to take in information.  If your child is visual, then videos, picture books, and painting/ art should be high on their list. If your child is kinesthetic, then again, a high physical game content is needed with lots of building materials, art supplies, board games etc. as well as a good chunk of playground time.

 

It’s important for parents to keep in mind the developmental tasks of preschoolers. Their job is to explore with all their senses.  Touch, hear, see, taste, smell and move!  Worksheets have no place in preschool or Kindergarten.  Those are the times for learning how to play, get along and have fun.

 

What to Consider

 

New options include all day preschool. If you child tolerates daycare well, then they should be happy to ease into all day preschool. There is not much difference in the level of activities offered to children, but to be funded as a preschool, there may be pressure to add more “academic” looking activities. Parents should be warned though that grade one entrance has no expectations that children should know more than to write their name and use the bathroom independently.

 

Kindergarten is still optional and voluntary in Alberta. It is assumed that in grade one, children are coming with no academic advantage. The grade one curriculum starts at knowledge level zero. Many children who have spent three years in an “academic” preschool may be bored in grade one if they already have covered colours, letters and numbers and have attended all the typical field trips already. In addition, children that have not attended preschool or Kindergarten catch up pretty quickly on the social rules of learning to take turns, line-up and raise their hand to speak.

 

Look for preschools with lots of unstructured toys that are open-ended play value. Sand tables, paint, playdough, blocks, people, houses, cars, trains, building toys, dress-up, puppets, art supplies, are very good toys in addition to a playground. So many families have computers, video consoles and hand held gaming systems at home, that children have ample opportunity to use them at home. Preschools away from home should have more physically interactive toys. At this age, it’s better to paint on paper and build with Lego than to do it on a computer screen. Children need the tactile experience.

 

As always, parents who try out a preschool program should watch their child for signs of discontent. Anxiety, sleeplessness, increased temper tantrums and sibling fighting, moodiness, and eating jags are signs of stress. Give a program two weeks and if signs do not subside, it may not be the right time for a formal play environment for your child. That’s okay, because they have plenty of time for outside the home experiences when they are older.