From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 16 No. 2, March-April 1999, pp. 18-19
We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.
"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
I have been considering sending my four-year-old daughter to preschool two days a week. My husband and mother feel it would be good for her but I am torn. I believe I can still best meet her needs at this stage and I am not convinced she needs the socialization everyone else feels is important. She has contact with other children through play dates, visits with family and La Leche League meetings. Yet I sometimes wonder if I am being too overprotective. How have others decided what is best for their child when they had conflicting feelings?
In the great preschool debate I found it helpful to consider all options with an open mind. Raising the question in this forum is one good way to start. Check out your local LLL Group Library. They may have books that deal with children's learning and socialization. Your local public library or the Internet may also have some helpful information. Talk to other mothers who have already been through this stage. Knowing your choices is very important.
A book that was helpful to me was Motivating your Kids from Crayons to Career by Cheri Fuller. It cautions parents not to push children. It suggests that pressure to succeed, learning to read, and too-early emphasis on academic subjects places a great deal of stress on children in our society. The book also indicated that early formal learning was not associated with better academic skills later. Late learners caught up with their peers who had learned such skills earlier. Other anecdotal information suggests that children in daycare—with single parents or two working parents—benefit from preschool, while children with one parent at home full time actually did slightly better in kindergarten if they had not gone to preschool.
I opted to keep my children at home. I believed I could give them everything a preschool could offer on a more individualized basis. I also care for other children in my home, which provides ample socialization and the chance to learn routines. Our days include outings, semi-structured activities, snacks, and impromptu teaching, often in one-to-one situations. I encourage creativity with art, media. and music. My older son started kindergarten with no preschool experience, and has enjoyed school thoroughly. The teacher has no concerns and has commented on his unique artistic endeavors.
Your child is still young and has her whole lifetime ahead of her to grow and learn. Talk with your family about this issue, listen carefully to their concerns, and ask them to hear yours. They also care about your daughter's well-being. Go with your wisdom in deciding what is best for her. Remember that if you aren't happy with your decision, you can always change your mind.
Cathy C. B.
I felt very pressured into trying preschool for my first child before he was even three. It seemed like everyone else in my community does. In my heart I didn't feel this was right for Irfan, but decided that I wouldn't say no before trying. So we went along (with my six-month-old) and sat there for an hour or two. He was very shy and was upset because the teachers tried to force him to leave me. They blamed me and told me that as long as I was there he'd never grow up! Naturally, that was the end of the experiment. Two years later he agreed to try a new school when we moved to Milan. The teachers were so different and so respectful of his needs. Irfan was also older and more able to express himself. He practically told me to go home when I took him to school on the second day!
We have had different experiences with each of our three boys. I think the important thing is to listen to your children and to yourself, but not to be afraid to try new things. You can always change your mind if things aren't working out.
At a recent LLL Toddler meeting I heard the following comment, "Why is it that when our babies are little we are told to trust our instincts and when they get older we are presumed to be overprotective when we listen to our hearts?" The woman who made this comment had also been struggling with the preschool decision.
I believe it is important to listen to our hearts and to the cues we get from our children no matter what age they are. Instead of enrolling my three-year-old in a traditional preschool program, I looked into providing an educational setting for her in my home. I am not ready to have her be away from me and I also think I can still best meet her needs. The book PLAYFUL LEARNING, by Anne Engelhardt and Cheryl Sullivan, which I found in my LLL Group Library, was an inspiration and is now a valued resource. I found three other mothers with children of similar ages who were also struggling with the preschool decision, and we decided to start our own cooperative preschool. We meet once a week and our children enjoy their special morning that consists of circle/story time, music/movement time, free play, and a craft. We moms take turns planning the activities, holding it in our homes, and being the teacher. We are really enjoying this experience, and our once skeptical husbands and in-laws are now very enthusiastic about it. Good luck with your decision.
I taught preschool for four years before I had my daughter. In my experience, some four-year-olds were not ready for preschool. If your daughter is spending time with groups of other children, there is no need to worry about socialization. Some people feel that preschool can help with kindergarten later, but if you spend time reading and talking to your daughter, you are doing her as much good as academic program.
On the other hand, if your child wants to go, why not give it a try? For some children, preschool helps them to develop a love of school and learning that lasts for quite a long time. You know your child and what she can handle. If you decide to try preschool, take a good look at the programs offered. Some schools are very unstructured with lots of free playtime, some are very academic and achievement oriented, and some require that the student be part of in-house programs like dance or art. Finding a program that your daughter will enjoy will make the change easier for both of you.
If you decide to keep your daughter at home, don't let people make you feel as though you are depriving her. My four-year-old is home with me. She sees other children at birthday parties, worship services, and LLL meetings. She is excited about going to kindergarten next year, but she is in no hurry to go to school now. When I am asked why she isn't in school, I usually point out that next year she will have to go and missing preschool won't keep her out of college. At this age children notice everything, and your daughter is learning every day, whether she is in a formal program or not.
In your question, you mentioned your husband's, your mother's, and your feelings regarding preschool, but not your daughter's. Does she want to try it? Two days a week is a short time away from you, but might be an important transitional step before entering kindergarten.
My teacher friends tell me they feel that children who have attended preschool are more socially adept and better at sharing. My daughter went to preschool twice a week when she was three years old. Now that she is four, she attends three times per week. She would go every day and all summer if she could, she loves it so. She also enjoys recognizing classmates and teachers around town. It is an experience unique to her ("my teachers"), which she doesn't have to share with siblings.
Preschool has expanded both of our circles of friends, and has exposed her to crafts, new toys and equipment, and other learning skills. There are many different preschools with differing philosophies and policies. Perhaps one of them would be a good fit for you and your child. You can always stop or switch if it doesn't work out. Good luck.
This is an issue only you can decide. Many children are happiest spending time with mom and yet preschool can be fun for four-year-olds if they have the maturity to separate from their mothers.
If you are considering preschool, think about what you hope your child will gain from the program. Ask many questions. Is the preschool play-oriented or academically-oriented? How do they handle unhappy children? How are disagreements between children handled? Observe a typical day at the preschool without and with your child. Find out how the school feels about you attending with your child until she is comfortable with you leaving. Many preschools are happy to have volunteers. This would give your child the experience with you nearby. Don't allow society to put pressure on you if you don't think she is ready or if you prefer her to stay with you. Children learn many valuable lessons in growing up and getting along with others by being with mom.