How Important is Preschool Education?
I don’t need to send her to preschool, I said, as I felt the internal fear.
I don’t need to send her to preschool, I said, as I tucked her little body in for a nap.
I don’t need to send her to preschool, I said, as I watched her carefully chew her lunch, and again as we together noticed the leaves change at a local play group. And while she explained her water color painting in great detail.
When I made this statement aloud (to several people), the response was the same: what do you think is best for her?
The decisions we make regarding what we think is best for our kids weigh heavy on a mom’s conscience.
Preschool might be the first big decision a mom makes that requires someone other than mom as the one responsible for that decision. You might be sending your child to someone else’s care for the first time, long term. You are embarking on the end of your time with the child. It is as much a rite of passage, a momentous occasion, as it is a large decision. You might wonder if it’s even necessary. Couldn’t you just teach her the same things at home? Do you need to spend the money? Can’t you just spend more time with her until preschool? Regardless of whether you design a homeschool type curriculum and schedule of various play groups or choose an establishment to bring your child to-questions regarding preschool will be heavy and emotional when they arise.
For me, I knew it was time to let go. I knew it was best for her to have this experience. I also felt that pain and weight of knowing it was time. And herein is the struggle of this very important question.
In 2013, President Obama proposed making high-quality preschool education available to every four-year-old in the United States. Since then early childhood education has been a controversial topic with both parents and policymakers. (https://www.verywell.com/is-a-preschool-education-important-616524 10/4/17)
How does a mom process and synthesize the plethora of information available? On one hand we do it the only way we know how, which is to say, we do our best with what we know. When we know better, we do better. We give ourselves confidence that our decisions are worthy of faith, in ourselves. It is easy to fall prey to a society that undervalues motherhood, slip into undervaluing ourselves, and most dangerously undervalue the contribution we make to our children. That contribution includes, all the many decisions we make in their trust, big and small. The decision to send your kids to preschool is a big one. It is one that affects many parts of your child’s development.
Let’s look at the considerations on the table. I propose while doing so, remaining open to your inner guidance system that knows your own child. That will help you sort through the options when none are good or bad and all are simply various paths and philosophies.
We can, and should, be creating a preschool system that would be good enough for everyone. Public preschools should be built the same way we constructed our highway system: the same road available to all Americans, rich and poor. (Merrow, 2002)( https://www.verywell.com/is-a-preschool-education-important-616524 10/4/17)
Right now, this is not the case. There are huge variances in current preschool programs available. I summed up what I believe to be most important considerations in this choice.
Hello, my name is….
Preschoolers are learning the most basic form of social skills within their own peer group. Manners, kindness, conversation cues, eye contact, non-verbal communication, turn taking and respect are all being learned intrinsically at this age. Preschools give the opportunity to do this simply by providing a safe place for a group of young children to be together. However simple, providing that space requires a great deal of developmental awareness. Teachers will facilitate social skills through guidance and modeling.
Mommy detective on the case…what to look for:
The number one concern I had when visiting preschools was, how are the teachers talking to the children? Are their tones of voice calm, patient, curious, understanding, and confident? I know my child will pick up on, reflect and respond to all of those, or lack thereof. Children will inevitably display their natural lack of social grace. This is the reason they are there; to learn socialization, right? When this happens, observe how the caregivers respond. Do the teachers reply with anger, promoting shame, or with loving correction and guidance? Do teachers model respect and kindness? Are expectations clear?
Let’s say you see a child not sharing a toy. Does the teacher admonish a child for not sharing or recognize that 3 and 4 year old children do not fully grasp the notion of possession and time, on a developmental level? Do teachers deliberately and slowly explain things at the child’s cognitive level? If you see this happening it’s a sign of a good program. If you see teachers ignoring, quickly placating, punishing, admonishing, using sarcasm, distraction or any guilt or shame methods, they may not have the education and training needed to fully understand this age group.
ABC and 123
This is actually not the most important part of a preschooler’s day. However, all preschools will include academics as part of their curriculum. It will be focused on pre readiness for Kindergarten. Beginning math, language and reading skills will be the goal. The way it is incorporated is much more important than ensuring your child attain any specific skills. This is because at age 3 or 4 many children are on very different readiness levels regarding skill based learning. This is also because direct acquisition of most skills is found to be beneficial at later ages. That said, there are a few things your child will want to know. It is more about exposure and providing language and listening opportunities for your child.
Mommy detective on the case…what to look for:
How are skills learned? Any program that teaches skills through hands on, multisensory activities and play is already off to a good start. For example, a 3 year old will not learn letters as well through completion of a worksheet as she will by singing the ABC’s and painting the letter of the week. The educator should know not to focus on doing anything perfect or even specific. For example, that painted ‘a’ might look more like a tree. The point is to encourage the child and provide a platform for developing self-confidence and exposure to these academic concepts.
You do not need to be concerned with your child learning any specific facts or knowledge. This comes later on.
I feel safe
You want to choose a place where you have full confidence that both you and your child can say this about the school. I once visited a preschool that had boxes piled in the corners and no covers on the outlets in a toddler room. The girl giving me a tour apologized immediately and explained that they were in the process of renovations. She then explained how a teacher she gestured toward is usually with a different age group and asked her for the name of the teacher usually in that room. Neither of them knew the answer. At another preschool, I observed a student eating a sandwich on the playground, not being supervised while three teachers sat off to the side chatting, not even facing the children. Meanwhile, the director was complaining to me that ‘the state’ needs to provide better training for preschool teachers. I was a prospective parent on a tour. I literally felt chills for the children in this environment for hours after. I certainly did not feel safe. I would never send my child to either of those schools. That might sound harsh and I could think of ten thousand reasons that could excuse those incidents. However, that was a line I wasn’t willing to cross with my child.
Mommy detective on the case…what to look for:
If for any reason at all, there are signs that safety and a secure environment are not a number one priority, I would choose elsewhere. Remember what you see during a tour is their best. Don’t compromise on safety for little ones who are too small to take care of themselves. Your child also needs to feel safe in order to learn, which will not happen in an environment that is not prioritizing safety and a sense of security and predictability. This will even take the form of anything from staffing, to scheduling to curriculum. Look for actual hazards such as outlet covers or objects that could pose danger, but also gauge the general sentiment of safety in these less obvious things as well, such as teachers’ tones, attitudes and accountability, in terms of best practices.
Freaking out or figuring it out?
This is a big decision and one that will ultimately be okay. Chances are, if you are reading this article to begin with, you are doing your due diligence on vetting out a good preschool. Be a preschool detective and don’t be afraid to go on many visits and ask many questions. Then, come home and tuck the little one in for one of the last of her mid-day naps at home; sit down and take a quiet moment to dig deep and check in with you. You are the mom. You are already achieving great success for having raised another human for 3 or 4 years. Have confidence that you will make the right decision. And the overall theme is still true for moms as it is for preschoolers. It’s not about perfection and getting it all right all the time. It’s about doing your best.
As my daughter said to me this morning on her first day of preschool, when I carefully showed her the contents of her lunch box and went over what to expect for the day. “Mommy, I know I feel a little bit shy, but I’ll freak out!” My older daughter and I surrounded her in hugs and said, ‘No, honey you don’t need to freak out-She gently pushed us away and said, “NO, I didn’t say I will FREAK out. I said, I feel a little shy but I will FIGURE it out! So, there you go. This is going to hurt a little, but you will figure it out!
Written by, Olivia Treubig MS Ed., Writer