Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is Preschool Necessary?

Everyone knows that parents constantly worry over their children’s physical safety. Prior to having my own kids, however, I was not told about the constant worry over even the most mundane decisions.

Maybe it’s just me, but I find myself re-evaluating my options on every choice from diapers to first foods to kid-friendly houseplants. It’s no surprise then that I’m completely fixated on whether to send Maya to preschool two days a week starting next fall.

Of course I want her to be exceptionally prepared for educational success that will carry her on to fame and fortune as a Nobel Peace Prize winner. But will preschool at three-years-old make or break her chance for that? Some parents in my ECFE group think so!

In June, Maya will turn three, and then the remarkable opportunities in the Twin Cities really open up for her. The Guthrie Theatre, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Children’s Theater, the Children’s Museum, the Minnesota Zoo, and the Science Museum, all offer occasional classes for three-year-olds. I’ve even had my eye on a toddler Spanish class! So even without a predictable pre-school schedule, she’ll be meeting other kids and interacting in a classroom setting.

In fact, when I look at my favorite three types of preschool options, we have it covered right here. Montessori schools tend to emphasize child-focused, child-led activities, and teachers simply help kids expand on their own interest. This morning, Maya found a can of pumpkin in the cupboard and said “let’s make this in something.” So she dumped and poured and stirred (and licked the spoon) and we enjoyed pumpkin muffins for breakfast. She also loves to wash both vegetables and toys in the kitchen sink while I cook:

Waldorf schools are so appealing to my inner hippie. They insist on reducing exposure to technology (especially TV), emphasize play with wood and cloth toys, and encourage kids to grow and cook their own food for snacks. Well between our garden and our baking, we have some of that covered. I really try to limit the noisy toys and encourage creative play, so we’re at least headed in the right direction.

Finally, academic preschools typically introduce kids to the alphabet and numbers. The alphabet song actually made it on Maya’s “I Love it” list on Valentines Day. She can also count to 20 (with some consistency), identify all the letters in her name, and identify the 2 for her own age and the 4 and the 5 for Nana (although it’s not clear that she knows they are two different numbers).

Besides, she's going to learn so much just playing with and teaching Elliot that she won't need preschool!

So for at least the next year, we’ll skip the scheduled demands of preschool and focus on fostering a love of learning that starts with creative play right here at home.

Of course my deepest fear is that this small decision will damage her chances of getting into a good college and then we’ll have her here at home well into her thirties. So we’ll probably send her to a three-day preschool program next year just to hedge our bets.

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