I moved, then rearranged, my office not long ago. With attention on dusting and nailing, moving and sorting, and stacking and crumpling up with one side of my brain, I absent-mindedly skimmed the feeds of my social media sites with the other.
What caught my eye that day was a post written by a young mom, in which she lamented the time lost with her children by sending them to school. She estimated parents lose several years of precious time with their children over the course of 12 years of schooling and, for a variety of reasons including time lost, had turned to homeschooling instead.
This type of regret is not uncommon.
I have read other blogs like that before. I’ll bet you have, too. You’ve probably also witnessed moms weeping in school parking lots, crying after dropping babies off to preschool. I have seen that many times, too.
For parents, it can be tough to let go of a child of any age, but is particularly heart-crushing if the child is a wee one. It is both scary and sad to hand a toddler over to strangers, giving over to someone else a little person we’ve hardly had any time to love.
Some of you may recall what preschool was like, and might even remember attending preschool yourself. You might remember that preschool started around 4 or 5, lasted just a couple of hours, and happened only a couple of days a week at best, maybe a few months out of the year. You might even recall the names of children who went to preschool, for it was noticeable because far fewer children attended. Cost was an issue for families. Transportation, too. Not everyone could afford preschool, nor did every want to try it anyhow. Typically, the families using preschool were those unable to oversee their children during the day — like those where both parents worked, or there was illness, or some dire need making child care at home impossible.
Preschool has changed a great deal over the years. No longer just child care, preschools have turned into full-blown schools themselves, marching children about, imposing schedules upon their young psyches, forcing nap times whenever convenient, dictating the time and place for creative activities, following standardized curriculum, compromising toileting and other matters of privacy and hygiene, and starting much earlier than before — commonly as early as age 2 or 3. Though still “voluntary”, early preschool is now free, making it more accessible than ever before.
Greater access and use of preschool has left many homeschool (or would-be) families wondering whether homeschooling should now begin in preschool, too. And if it should, what form should it take on? Is a curriculum necessary? What should be covered so a child is “ready” for Kindergarten? Is age 4 early enough? How about 3? I get some of these questions in my work. I hear them on playgrounds, in checkout lines, and at the library, too.
Fueling the fire, the makers of homeschool curriculum products (many who are homeschoolers themselves) have begun developing products to satisfy this fabricated need in the marketplace, and have begun enjoying the rewards of capitalizing upon new-found concerns over children falling “behind”. (I will not advertise these products here, but enter “preschool curriculum” in any search engine and see what I mean.)
As a parent and educator, I find the pressure of preschool preposterous and the notion of kindergarten “preparation” unsettling. As a parent and educator, I certainly understand the pressures felt by modern families to keep up with one another and help their children gain an early edge to college and other opportunities. I feel some of these myself. Yet I cannot justify the need for organized preschool, and am especially opposed to the notion of preschool so young. Frankly, the future of preschool frightens me. It won’t be long before lawmakers decide early preschool is required– the Common Core Standards Initiative is making sure of that – and then what? Mandatory infant day care, where babies are force-fed nutritional drinks while they listen to audio times tables?
Think for a moment what is traditionally learned during the early years. Do letters, numbers, colors, telling time, families, community helpers, tying shoelaces, and memorizing telephone numbers come to mind? Must these skills always come from a book or computer, or can they easily be taught at home? Is a curriculum really necessary? When one actually thinks about it, (barring specific challenges) it’s silly to think it takes a professional to teach these skills — isn’t it?
Consider the other reasons parents give for sending children to preschools, like making friends, listening to adults, and getting along with others. Assuming these skills are really learned in preschool, could not these same skills also be taught from home as well?
The truth is, there isn’t anything in preschool that decent parents cannot teach at home. As a matter of fact, teaching isn’t really the right word — because much of what occurs in preschool doesn’t require formal teaching at all. I challenge anyone to think of a skill, idea, practice, concept, or habit taught in preschool that could not also be taught in a good home by a loving parent. (Should the socialization myth cross your mind, that can easily be covered from home, too.)
I cannot think of anything, save riding a yellow bus and eating nutritionally-poor lunches in an unsanitary and overcrowded setting, that homeschooled preschoolers cannot do.
As a bonus, preschool activities from home are taught under the supervision of the people who matter most — the preschooler’s own parents – in a safe, secure and loving environment.
As a double-bonus, preschool activities require no formal teaching or fancy equipment at all.
When I read of the mom’s sadness over leaving her child at school this weekend, I found myself hoping she was surrounded by those who understood, those who would encourage her to grieve the loss of this time together, for it is important and not insignificant at all. Feeling sadness over leaving a young child (any child), wanting to hold that child close, and experiencing sadness over lost time together is beyond normal. It is expected, and I feel — desirable. Kept in check at times, yes. But the instinct to keep children nearby is one of the miraculous things that makes us human.
When I read comments from other women after articles like these, imploring other moms to toughen-up, stop spoiling, end unrealistic expectations to protect their children, and embrace the many benefits of preschool, I find myself wondering how secure these moms are in their own decisions, too. For while it is normal to cheer ourselves on and justify our decisions to others, it is far more normal to live by our own truths and have no need to justify them at all.
When it comes to preschool, the choice of teaching it or not, or enrolling children in preschools or not, is of course best left to every family. No one knows best, except the individual families involved. When it comes to homeschooling however, I encourage all families to think carefully about whether formal training is needed, or if these skills will come on their own, in the course of life, eventually, and naturally.
Remember, it doesn’t take a teacher, or any kind of professional, to teach a baby to walk. Or a toddler to talk. Or anything else that occurs at the earliest ages. Why then, should it take a professional to teach preschool skills? When exactly do parents lose their ability to successfully raise and teach their children? When a child turns 3? 4? When exactly should the professionals take over?
Parents may be confident that they absolutely, already possess the skills, knowledge and tools to teach preschool (and beyond). A professional license to teach does not make an individual any more capable of reaching a young child than a parent. Speaking both as a teacher and a homeschool parent, I pinky swear.