A friend of mine sends her daughter to a Christian preschool. She was horrified when a staff member told her she was damaging her child because she only came to preschool for one session a week! Why is it suddenly damaging for a child to spend the majority of her time at home with her mother? This kind of condescending attitude from preschool educators towards parents undermines parents’ confidence that they can do a good job of stimulating and educating their preschool children at home. Miranda Devine in a recent editorial wrote, “Pre-school has become an arms race, so even mothers who want to rear their own children feel pressured to deposit them in an institution, for fear the darlings will fall behind their peers.”
My particular concern is not at pre-school education per se, but rather at the push for a more formal, school-like preschool education. Programs like Baby Einstein can seem to produce amazing results, but recent research in preschool education would ask “at what cost?” Research suggests that children’s capacity to learn and think is far greater than was previously suspected. Pre-schoolers’ brains are amazing! This has led some to conclude that children should be in formal learning situations younger. However, formal education can actually undermine the creative and problem solving thinking skills children intrinsically have. Professor Kathy Hirsch-Pasek puts it this way, “What we’ve been doing is teaching kids how to build the tower, but we’re not giving them the context to explore the [other] things they can do with the blocks.” What is actually needed is the type of education that helps children explore the world, taps into their natural curiosity, and is fun and engaging.
Even the way New Zealand society has made the norm to send children to school at age five, despite the fact that legally they do not have to be enrolled until six, has pushed some children into a formal educational setting too early. I believe this sets up many children for failure and a negative first impression of learning, which, for many children, will stay with them their whole lives.
So, I would encourage you to not be afraid to keep your preschool children at home. Don’t buy into the lie that professionals can do a better job than a loving parent. Don’t feel you have to sit down and do anything formal with your children at home. Provide plenty of stimulating experiences, and that doesn’t mean having to buy expensive toys either. Another mother friend of mine says her nine-month-old’s favourite “toy” is the recycling! Tap into your child’s interests, while also exposing them to new potential interests. Read them stories, let them explore nature, talk to them, get them involved in the jobs you are doing around the house—all these things are helping build a great foundation for later formal learning.
If you do want to look at preschools or day care centres for your children, look for one with caring staff and that will provide plenty of fun activities to engage your child. Being one of those lazy parents who hates to set up messy, painting activities at home, I love the fact that day care will do this for my girls. Be careful, however, how many hours your child spends in care because it’s so important to protect the bond between parents and children which is only built through time. If your four-year-old is ready, then go ahead and start them in the ACE Preschool with Ace and Christi program or spend some time teaching them their letters, but I’d suggest not pushing it if your child is uninterested. You may undermine the very thing you are trying to achieve.
Devine, Miranda. “Attitude to Mothers.” Investigate, May 5015.
Hirsh-Pasek, Kathy, and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff. Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children Really Learn — And Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less. Rodale, 2003.
Sparks, Sarah. “To Teach, or Not to Teach.” Investigate, March 2015.