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.

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.

 

 

Separation Anxiety: The $120.00 Swim Lesson- Should you push them to go or let them drop it?

This was the summer my son was going to learn how to swim!  He was seven and old enough to agree to the lessons when I asked him in March.  I signed him up and paid the $120.00  Come July, he was feeling more anxious about it and resisted going the first day.  Once again, I’m faced with the age-old parenting question: “Should I make him go, or let him stay home?”

As a parent, we want to provide our children with a taste of the many wonderful experiences that life can offer.  We flip through pages of booklets of the many offerings of classes, daycamps, preschools and envision our child loving the sports, art, music, science lessons, camps and activities.  We take time to sign him up, write checks, arrange transportation, and prepare him for the first day.  The first day arrives and he doesn’t want to go.  What to do now?  Should we drag him to the activity kicking and screaming, or give in and let him miss?

It depends on your child and your goals for the activity. Does your child usually complain until he gets there and then loves it? Or does your child complain loudly the whole time he is there and all the way home?  Did you sign up your child to acquire skills, socialize a bit more, or for a little down time for you? 

I would suggest the “Nudge, but don’t Force” approach.  Encourage him to go the first day and try it out.  One day. This is giving the child informed consent.  He needs to experience what he is going to make a decision about and if he goes the first day and hates it, then let him drop the activity.  Most venues will give you the majority of your fees back, if you drop it immediately after the first day. If he loves it, then he will be glad you nudged him.  Like getting kids to try new foods, one bite is enough to know if it will work for them or not at that time.  If you can’t get a refund, don’t worry about wasting the money.  It’s better to build trust with your child in that he will try new things if you don’t force him to attend the whole way through in the name of “committing to the agenda.”  Many adults get second chances and can drop out of things they don’t like.  As children get older, you can teach the importance of committment with chores, friends and homework, rather than with activities. If you force them to attend the activity the whole course, you risk teaching them to hate the very activity you were hoping they would love. If it’s skills, socialization or time to yourself that is the goal, is there another way to achieve it?  Is it the right time to work on that now?

If you have a quiet, shy or anxious child, promise to stay with him and leave in baby steps as per his comfort level. Again, building trust is important.  Ignore complaints from staff that will recite their “No Parents Allowed” policy.  You know your child best and need to act in his best interests.  Research supports a gradual leaving of your child and building trust in your relationship that you will fulfill your promises of staying until he no longer needs you. Child program professionals should understand that the importance of your child’s comfort level and it should supercede any perceived concerns that ” it will show favouritism to one child”  if their parents are allowed to stay.  If the venue or staff will not let you stay, consider a more parent-friendly program or venue and also consider if your child is really ready.  Sometimes a few months or weeks of further emotional or social development is all your child needs to push his independence further.

In the end, my son didn’t go back after the first day of swimming lessons.  However, he trusts that if he tries something new, he has the power to trust his instincts about whether the choice is right for him or not and have those instincts respected by his parents.  That is worth more than $120.00

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