The latest buzz in the parenting world is about the benefits (or lack thereof) of preschool. Writing for Slate, Melinda Wenner Moyer suggests that we educated, helicoptering parents might be wasting too much time and money stressing about getting our kids into the fanciest and most prestigious preschools and early education programs. She points out that the latest research indicates that the children who really benefit most from preschool are, in fact, disadvantaged kids, many of whom will sadly never get the opportunity to attend one.
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As to the “advantaged” parents — the ones on the Internet up late at night reading up on every possible philosophy of early education program from classical and “supplemented” Montessori to Waldorf to Catholic — Moyer says stop! She quotes a social psychologist who asserts that the type of preschool we choose “doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.” And she says that if you’re the kind of parent that has the time, money and inclination to conduct fact-finding missions on preschools, well, your child is getting enough stimulation and enrichment at home and probably doesn’t even need to go!
My response to all of this? To use a polite (and dated) word, hogwash.
First, a disclaimer: I’m not an expert of any kind (other than in talking) and the only “research” I’ve been able to do involves the small control group of myself and my four children who have attended preschool so far (my kids range from 2-8 years old, so we’ve attended our family’s preschool for a combined total of 11 years).
That being said, I think my children got an awesome start to their educations at our family’s preschool and that preschool made an important difference to me in my own educational life, as well. Although admissions processes are certainly more intense for preschool than they are for college at this point (!), stop complaining, people, because once you’re into a good preschool, in my view, it’s well worth it. Here are my top five reasons why preschool is important to my family.
The Advantages of Preschool
1) My home is not a preschool. I am a work-from-home mom of five children, and I never feel like I have enough quality time for my 2-year-old, even on my best days. Of course I talk and play with my baby girl, but I can’t run circle time, do play doh, structure creative play activities or supervise her finger-painting. Instead, I can bring her to the grocery store in the stroller — uttering the word “broccoli” once or twice while she snacks on Cheerios to keep her from screaming and embarrassing me in public — and allow her to roam freely around the house clinging to her doll and clanging on some pots and pans and old toys while I type keywords into YouTube. Call me an awful mom, but that’s my reality. Legions of other moms and dads must be in the same boat because someone is posting all of that other stuff on Facebook.
2) The teachers at my kids’ preschool rock. My kids bonded with their preschool teachers so closely that they still beg me to go back and visit. My boys have volunteered several times to help out in their former classrooms for the day. One of my boys teachers brought him back a special soccer uniform from Brazil to thank him for helping her so much during the year. He treasures it. These are isolated experiences and I’m not a psychologist, but common sense tells me that forming trusting, emotional bonds with other adults apart from one’s parents from such a young age is a very good thing for kids.
3) Preschool taught my kids that learning is fun. Again, based on nothing more than what I’ve seen, I’ve never had one day — NOT ONE DAY — when one of my kids did not want to go to school. They love going because school is fun. It’s certainly loads more fun than being home. Ask any educator and I bet they’ll say that showing kids that school is fun is a key goal in the early years and sets the stage for a lifetime of good learning. Sorry to sound so corny, but it’s just got to be true!
4) I learned about my kids thanks to their preschool. Each time we had a PT conference, I learned something about my kids that I hadn’t known before. Those teachers knew my children in a different way because they saw them in a fresh environment away from their own family dynamics (i.e. other siblings bossing them around and frequent fighting over nothingness). Little did I know, one of my boys loved giving bottles to the baby, another was really into buildings and blocks, and the third was especially interested in just plain old chatting with his friends. These were tiny things my kids discovered about themselves, and I learned more about them as individuals than I would have had we all camped out together chez moi.
5) I loved preschool and still treasure those memories. I am actually a third generation Montessori child (I was lucky enough to attend one in the 70’s as did both my mother and grandmother back in Sweden) and even though I chose a different sort of preschool for my kids, I still remember all my teachers as well as my playmates there. From running and dancing with ribbons during movement to making homemade ice cream to story and song time to the jungle gym, those memories flood back to me often as I wade through my adult life. That must mean that they were important to my development.
To me as a parent, finding the right preschool wasn’t about finding the best for academic excellence, it was about finding a secure, warm, friendly place where my kids would realize that there is nothing more fun than learning new things with new and interesting people. Sure, the application process was was a pain, and sure all of us are a little nuts for what we put ourselves through, and I know I got a few gray hairs in the process, but once past that pain was quickly forgotten and I’ve never looked back. God willing, when I “graduate” from our preschool in 2016 after a combined total of 15 years, they’ll be able to get me out of there without completely losing it. That school has become such an integral part of our lives it’s hard to imagine life without it!
So, having done my personal research, these have been the advantages of preschool for me and my family. Just one mom’s point of view.