Last week President Obama made a push for universal preschool for 4 year-olds, which has much of the homeschooling community concerned. And with good reason! Any change to the nation’s education policy has the potential to impact our homeschooling freedoms. Unfortunately, most Americans naively entertain warm and fuzzy feelings about any plan intended to aid in the education of our children, never realizing that policy sets precedent, in this case possibly declaring that the home, under the care of parents, is not the best place for 4 year-olds. If that’s the case, what’s to keep them from deciding the same about 2 and 3 year-olds or even infants? It sounds ridiculous, but it ought to make every homeschooler, (and every parent!) at least a little nervous.
Especially when you consider that the long-term benefits of preschool are very, very questionable at best. Even avid supporters of early education will admit that all-too-often preschool is merely glorified daycare, a problem they insist could be remedied with better teachers and, of course, more money. But while some researchers make the claim that two years of preschool can improve literacy, others argue the negative emotional and behavioral affects far outweigh any positives. And studies seem to indicate that the academic benefits of preschool, (if there truly are any,) generally disappear completely by the third grade.
But I’m not anti-preschool. My oldest child attended Christian preschool, though technically it was called a parents’ day out program. She did so three days a week and she enjoyed it very much. And so did I! I’d be kidding myself to try to make the claim her time in preschool wasn’t just as much for my benefit as for hers! Regardless, I’m not here to knock preschools. They can be a fun experience for some children and I don’t blame anyone for wanting their child to be part of a fun and relaxed preschool if they feel their child is ready for it and would enjoy it.
But I have come a long way in my thinking since Polly Wolly’s preschool days. I have a 4 year old now and with him, I never even considered preschool. Not even at home.
You mean, you aren’t teaching him his letters? Nope. You aren’t teaching him numbers? Nuh-uh. You don’t him have coloring giant 3s and decorating Ks with little bits of colored tissue paper? No. I’m afraid not.
Now don’t get me wrong. Peanut is very much a part of our homeschool. He participates in much of what we do, but he tends to wander in and out of our school and I am perfectly okay with that. I do zero structured schooling with him. None. He does sit there for Bible, but that requires more listening than anything else. Other than that, if there’s an activity we’re doing and he wishes to participate, I let him. If not, that’s fine by me.
So why don’t I sweat preschool, even at home? There are a few reasons:
I realize now there were certain things my daughter simply wasn’t ready for, especially given some of her learning challenges. We all claim to know that no two children are alike and yet if child #2 doesn’t learn like child #1 or our kid doesn’t progress at the same rate as the neighbor’s kid, we immediately go into a panic! But pressuring children, particularly at very young ages, can have more of a negative impact than a positive one, in many cases resulting in a cripplingly negative attitude toward learning in general. There are scores of articles online to support that claim, but here’s one from The Boston Globe I found particularly interesting: Rush, Little Baby–October 28, 2007.
Now, a few years past that first attempt at homeschooling, my daughter is naturally beginning to advance in her learning in ways I tried to force her to do early on. I truly believe my pushing slowed her progress more than it moved her forward and I will never make such a mistake again.
It’s important to remember that early education is a relatively modern phenomenon. None of our founding fathers, for example, began any kind of formal schooling until at least 8 or 9 years old and some much later than that. And among these men were some of the most accomplished and brilliant minds in history! While early education has become the accepted norm in our country, no one can seriously make the claim that it has resulted in significant overall improvement in education. And if its success is so questionable, why are we so devoted to it?
So am I saying I won’t do any sit-down schooling with my youngest before he’s 8? No, though I can assure you whatever schooling I do with Peanut will certainly be more relaxed than what I have done with my others, especially considering he will be a very young kindergartener next year.