Ask Reading Kingdom: What are the advantages and disadvantages of putting your child in preschool?


Emily (Parent) asks:

What are the dis/advantages of putting your child in preschool?

Dr. Marion Blank answers:

When to start schooling is a highly charged topic. Currently the dominating belief seems to be “the more, the better” and “the earlier, the better.” This has led one mom blogger to write:

“… the most shocking realization that I gained from … talking to other moms is that parents are sending their kids to preschool before the age of two! When did it become the norm to send babies to school? When did childcare services for children under the age of three become considered something more than daycare? Am I the only one who regards preschool for children under the age of three as glorified daycare?”

In trying to gain a perspective on super-early school based education, it’s useful to note that back in the 18th century, school was restricted to children who had already learned to read and write at home. Pre-schools did not exist. That led socially conscious individuals to try to improve the lives of the “other children” by making school accessible to the children of women who worked in factories or were orphans. For example, in 1779, Johann Oberlin and Louise Scheppler founded, in Strassbourg, establishment center for caring for and educating pre-school children whose parents were absent during the day.

Over the years, there were many such efforts including those of Maria Montessori who in the early 1900’s created programs to overcome mental disability through special methods of instruction. She was an outstanding leader in demonstrating that education could result in major gains—gains that had often been deemed impossible. Her ideas continue today via the network of Montessori schools around the nation.

Since that time, the situation has changed dramatically. Preschool curricula evolved and the ideas of leaders such as Rudolph Steiner gained increasing attention. As reflected in the Waldorf Schools that he developed, the focus shifted to enhancing the development of all children by offering a range of “practical activities” that stimulated their desire to engage with the world. These sorts of developments led families without social difficulties to turn to preschools as a means of enriching their children’s lives in areas such as music, art and movement—activities that often were not a significant part of daily life at home.

From my perspective, these continue to be among the major advantages of preschools. Young children have an enormous capacity to learn—and the more domains they are exposed to, the more they learn. Their lives and potential are greatly enhanced by a rich environment.

Unfortunately, this aspect of preschool education has increasingly been relegated to the background as more and more schools feel the pressure to meet the demands that the children are going to face in the primary grades. Activities such as music are being replaced by phonic drills and early reading activities. This is a most unfortunate shift. The tedious, dissected drills associated with current phonic-based pre-reading activities do little to achieve their ostensible aims (i.e., they do not lead to better reading performance), while at the same time they lead more productive activities to be dropped from the curricula.