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: