Benign Neglect: A Case Against Preschool

okayestmom strikes again

Since I am both a mom and a former kindergarten teacher, parents are always asking me what they need to do to “get their child ready for kindergarten”. I always say, “The fact that you are asking means they are ready. But if you really want to know, the secret is (drum roll please) Play-doh, crayons, and scissors. That’s all it takes.”

I am so tired of the competition and pushing kids too early. Kindergarten teachers have a real beef with preschool. We have certain state standards that we have to teach, which do include basic things like letters, numbers, and counting. Preschool teaches a lot of that same stuff too. Sometimes children are pushed to learn things too early, and it isn’t always developmentally appropriate. Preschoolers and even kindergartners should still be learning in a very hands-on way.

The dirty little secret? Kids even out. Parents may think that their kid is getting a head start, but children who go to preschool and children who don’t end up scoring the same by third grade.  What I’m saying is: it doesn’t make them smarter.

Memorization isn’t the same as learning. Pushing kids too early isn’t teaching.

I didn’t quit a successful teaching career to send my child to another teacher. The only reason I might consider sending him to preschool is because I can’t give him the time and attention that I could have if we hadn’t had twins right after him. If I did send him to preschool, I would want it to be something that I couldn’t offer him at home. (I have one word: Montessori.)

There are many different, and worthwhile, reasons that stay-at-home moms might  send their children to preschool. I am not ever going to say (or even think!) what is right or wrong for someone else’s family. However, if you are sending your kid to preschool because you feel pressured by other moms or because you have a tiny competitive thing going on, you might want to back up and slow down.

The most imaginative students I had during my years as a Kindergarten teacher always seemed to be the ones who had the most free time. My friend Chrysta said she provides three things to her kids: classic toys, free time, and “benign neglect”. That is the best thing I ever heard. That’s what I’m doing. I didn’t know it had a name. Benign neglect. It’s the opposite of overscheduling and helicopter parenting. Benign neglect.

Despite graduating cum laude with a B.S. in Psychology and Early Childhood Education, my personal parenting and teaching philosophy comes from church. The wife of the former president of my LDS church, Sister Marjorie Hinckley, said, “Give them time to explore and learn about the feel of grass, and the wiggliness of worms.”

My gift to my preschooler is not rushing him. That is the best I can do in this crazy Okayest Mom household. When he was given to me, I promised myself never to interrupt his play if I could help it. I promised myself that he would learn the feel of grass and the wiggliness of worms. I quit teaching so I can give him this gift.

***

Insprired by an article I read that summed up how I feel:

http://magicalchildhood.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/what-should-a-4-year-old-know/

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74 thoughts on “Benign Neglect: A Case Against Preschool

  1. A thousand times, yes. My almost-four-year-old is heading to Kindergarten proper next week. I’d be a hot mess about it if my own mom wasn’t a retired K teacher, constantly reassuring me that he’ll still be playing, just at a different address.

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  2. I taught middle school for over thirty years. I found like you that the creative child is just that. He or she will create. It is in them and give them the room to grow and some encouragement it will happen. They are not in a boardroom were their presentation has to judged to sell a product. They are kids and that is a wonderful time to expand their minds. You can give a child an expensive toy and he or she will be thrilled but give that child an empty box, tape, scissors and crayons will also stimulate the mind. I wrote a blog on Pablo and would love you to read it and get back to me telling me what you think. Did I miss or hit the mark?

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  3. A short search online will yield a slew of scientific studies that back up this very point. The wave of Mozart babies is over (you know the one) and thank goodness. Actually, they’re finding that not letting the individual learn at his or her own pace is detrimental to the way the brain forms connections. Pushed learning impairs learning. The best skill you can teach your kids is how to listen to their own inner guidance about the world. It’s never wrong.

    Bring on the wiggly wormies!

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  4. I found the best behaved kids in school were those who went to daycare and preschool. I was fortunate to find wonderful places to send my daughter to (I work and she started daycare at 11 months.) Her friends, fortunately had the same good experiences. It seemed the kids who skipped preschool tended to be the ones who didn’t share, didn’t follow rules or make friends easily. That is just MY observation. I also feel that children need to lean many points of view and experience people who are outside of their parent’s social circles to become well adjusted adults (or school kids for that matter). Sending my child to preschool wasn’t about competition – it was about doing the research and finding the best care for my child, who is now a funny, happy and well adjusted, popular and amazing high school child. And since I have to work to support my kid I think I’m a good example to my daughter who will one day have to go out into the world as well. Best of all my daughter is proud of me and happy about how she has been raised AND we’re very very very close. But like I say in my blog and to my child – every family is different and parents have to make their own choices. The key is to be a deliberate parent and make deliberate well thought out choices for your children and your family.

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    • Thanks for your comment. We probably agree on some points (I went to preschool myself!). A lot of things depend on the kid himself – and the things to which he is exposed. My son sees other children almost every day, goes to nursery at church, and is involved in playgroups.

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  5. Our daughter went to preschool at age 3-4 and my son is doing the same thing. Both were born more of necessity than any desire or belief that it’s making them any smarter than their non preschool peers. We just needed somebody to watch them and the preschool was cheaper than the day care. There are some kids my son’s age in the hood who I feel could use a good dose of preschool though, if for nothing else than to expose them to other kids. The ones who spend all day with mommy and nobody else seem to be more um, rambunctious than the kids who are used to interacting with other kids their own age. Just my two cents though.

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  6. I’ve always had a problem with the approach sometimes seen in early childhood education where the teachers say they will teach the material that the kids will be taught the next year so that they are “ready.” Doesn’t make sense. The way to stimulate young minds, in my opinion, is to “show them stuff” — nature, music, art, people, water, big trucks, airplanes, dancing, etc. Kids do even out. I’ve seen it. Unless there’s a learning challenge, they’ll all eventually learn how to read. There are other things to learn and just experience until then. (And, after.)

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  7. I couldn’t agree with you more! I too am a former kindergarten teacher and stay-at-home mom. My oldest started kindergarten this year and (gasp!) she cannot read. I wanted her to enjoy her childhood especially because I know how academic kindergarten is these days. I never pushed her, pressured her or forced her into at-home lessons. I’m glad she had that time to just be a kid before the local school district and everyone down from there began their own pressuring on her little brain.

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  8. Wonderful post.

    My daughter will be starting her fourth year in a Montessori school this Fall and we love it. Her teacher’s advice for us over the summer, regarding what she should do to prepare to move up to the Lower Elementary classroom? “Nothing. Let me her play.” And that’s just what we did.

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  9. The culture of helicopter-parenting and academic hothousing that’s seemingly percolating through society and the circles I run – is becoming inane. Any affection for the unfettered, abounding and free nature of childhood seems to be fading, to be supplanted by preschool textbooks and parenting guides. I think you summate my sentiments perfectly with the wonderfully Arcadian line:

    “I promised myself that he would learn the feel of grass and the wiggliness of worms” – awesome.

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  10. Congrats on being FP’d! I love this philosophy. I do preschool, but just 7.5 hours a week. So there is LOTS of time for the feeling of grass and digging of worms. I do it for socialization, not learning per se. I’m LDS too. Following you now.

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  11. Great post! I’m with you all the way here, and when my kids were younger I stayed away from mommy groups so that I wouldn’t have to listen to moms trying to outdo each other with how early they’d started them on solids, how quickly they learned their alphabets, etc. Just too annoying and in my opinion, too damaging for the poor kids who just want to be kids. A close friend at the time also discovered the hard way that putting her child in preschool meant that he was bored out of his mind by alphabets and phonics by the time he went to school. Anyway, congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

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  12. Wow, this is just what I needed to read. My oldest started first grade today and I have no worries about his development. My youngest is nearly four and has been home with daddy since he was six weeks old and I was able to go back to work. Sometimes I stress that he should have a little more structure and have considered looking into a morning out program even though it will cost us and Daddy is free. But this post reminds me that he is doing just what he needs to be doing, playing, exploring and making great memories with his Dad.

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  13. “Memorization isn’t the same as learning. Pushing kids too early isn’t teaching.”
    So true! Thanks you for this post. I’m a former pre school teacher as well and know exactly what you’re talking about! It seems to be the same in different countries as well..

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  14. I love this…. As a teacher myself I am constantly having to push children onto the higher level because their mum doesn’t want to be seen to have their child a level below the rest. I feel like shaking them and saying get a life…. If their child is happy and enjoying the work then believe in them…. They will achieve the same as the rest of the class in their own time!!

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  15. Loved this. There is no substitute for self-discovery and organic development. I don’t have children, yet, but my partner and I have discussed our child raising philosophies at length. A healthy environment and feeling empowered to learn is what seems important to us. Montessori is just the route we are considering!

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  16. Amen! I would take it a step further and suggest reconsidering school at all. But I know that’s taking a step too far from typical for many. You’re preaching to the choir, and Im definitely with you!

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  17. benign neglect; that’s an interesting way to label it.The freedom to explore and imagine is only really available when they’re young right? Might as well let it roam and let the kids learn as they grow; no need to force feed kids things they’ll eventually pick up

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  18. Glad came across this post. My kid just started his preschool few weeks back. He has started showing improvements in mixing with other kids and people other than his mom and dad. We are all trying him to play and develop social skills at pre school. No pressure on him.

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  20. Reblogged this on Butterflymumma and commented:
    I have been wanting to write pretty much the same post from my perspective as a piano teacher. Back to school is a time we often think on these things. I get requests to take children that are 5 and even 4 each fall and usually wisely say “Not now. Maybe later.” When I’ve said otherwise, I’e been sorry. There is an age when things become “developmentally appropriate” and we have to bide our time till then, even when us newbie parents want to rush ahead and prove something. Also, I’ve noticed a trend: Pushed kids later become kids who push back. Push them too much now and you pay when they become teens.
    Thanks to “Okayest Mom” for writing this much needed post at this time of the year. Perhaps I’ll save that hilarious picture of my hubbie as an unhappy preteen in hockey pants for another occasion! 😛

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  21. I’ve been thinking about the same issues a lot myself lately. My son starts full day Senior Kindergarten (we have two levels of Kindergarten here in Ontario, Canada, it is basically free daycare) next week. My daughter, a September baby, will start full day JUNIOR kindergarten next fall – the same week she turns 4. I am a piano teacher and often get requests to take children as young as 5 or even 4 years of age. Over the years I have learned: This is simply too soon. Let them play for another year instead. As well as not being appropriate for where their little brains are at, it’s simply making life too much like the adult world of work too early. I’ve noticed the pushed kids become kids who push back in later years. You’re right – it ends up evening out. And the kids who weren’t pushed are keener later.
    I reblogged this to my blog at butterflymumma.com as it so well sums upsome stuff I have been wanting to say lately.
    Btw, as you have boy (s ?), have you read BOYS ADRIFT, by Leonard Sax? It’s fascinating reading.
    Thanks for making this post and congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

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  22. Playing is a very important thing that too many parents don’t seem to understand. It good for them, and good for me as a dad. I look forward to coming home from work and just playing with my daughters. The learning part will carry on forever. The playing together won’t.

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  23. At the preschool I work at, ninety percent of their time is individual play, about eight percent is eating (we provide two meals and a snack), and two percent is group play. We teach more about social skills through play than how to read or math. All of our lessons are student initiated (except the first week, which is mostly a getting-to-know-everyone week). That’s why I love working where I do.

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  24. It’s really nice to read this! My oldest (now 5) went in 2 days a week just to give me a break back when he was about 1 year old, then I popped out another one and I really needed the break. Once #3 came along the following year, I had to just deal with her being around while I worked from home because I couldn’t afford to have all three in preschool/daycare. I see both sides of the preschool/no school argument from the point of multiple kids. Know what, my youngest that hasn’t had a lick of schooling can count to 20-something, knows a ton of shapes and colors, and even some letters. She learned from her siblings. Whoulda thunk!? 🙂

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  25. I LOVE THIS! I am a SAHM and I am so tired of hearing about preschool! I guess to each his own, but I just think we need to take care of our children and let them be children. Why are we rushing them through childhood so quickly?
    Thanks for organizing my thoughts on this subject for me!

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  26. I totally agree..unfortunately myhusband believes in the power of me making more money for our financially stable household. So for a thousand a month my son had to attend montessori preschool before age two.He has learned to share and play at an earlier age . YAY.I missed out on his best hours of the day,wondering which teacher was enjoying his antics and what antics he was up to.

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  28. Fantastic article, thank you! It is so hard because there’s so much pressure. I need to make a decision this week, 7 months ahead of time whether I’m ready to send my son who will be almost 3 years old to part time nursery school soley for the ‘opportunity’ it gives him, and will give to me to a lesser extent because Ill have a new baby by then. The decision is killing me! He is so gorgeous I dont want to miss a minute of him! Its bad enough that I have to leave him with our nanny while I work 15 hours a week. We do toddler music classes, play group, weekly play dates with friends, lots and lots of outdoor play at the park (he’s so active), swimming lessons, he’s learning letters, colours and shapes with me at home. I just dont know if im going to be able to give him all that with a newborn. I don’t want him bringing loads of illnesses home to a newborn either. Very difficult to look into the future and know whats the right thing.

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    • Sorry you are struggling with this, but I’m glad you found my post. Hope it helps. I’m sure that whatever decision you make will be the right one for your child. There really is no wrong answer – he will be happy either way!

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