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When the topic of preschool comes up in homeschool circles, you may have heard that dreaded phrase: “just play.”
Before we begin, let me be clear – I believe in lots of free play, especially for preschool children. However, I also believe there are scenarios where a preschool curriculum is helpful. Furthermore, telling the worried mom of a three-year-old to “just play” is unhelpful at best, and dismissive at worst.
The world has changed since I was a preschooler in the 1990s. Mothers of preschoolers face a barrage of questions. Where is their child going to preschool? How many days a week? For a full day or a half-day? Do they know their letters yet? Can Johnny write his name yet?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “The percentage of 3-to-5-year-olds in preschool programs who attended for the full day increased from 34 percent in 1990 to 49 percent in 2014, with all of the growth occurring during the earlier part of the period, between 1990 and 2000. The percentage of 3-to-5-year-old children in kindergarten programs who attended for the full day nearly doubled between 1990 and 2014, increasing from 44 percent to 80 percent. The percentage in 2014 was also higher than the percentage in 2013 (76 percent).”
Statistically, the use of preschools has become more prevalent. If you live in a city filled with highly educated professionals, like I do, the effect is even more pronounced.
Kindergarten entry expectations have also changed. The seminal work on this topic is aptly entitled “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?” Authored by Daphna Bassok, Scott Latham, and Anna Rorem, it ultimately concludes that the answer is yes. This isn’t your mama’s kindergarten any more. It isn’t even your kindergarten any more.
This study compared attitudes of kindergarten teachers in 1998 to the attitudes of kindergarten teachers in 2010. The results were astounding.
Take this excerpt, for example: “Most strikingly, the percentage of kindergarten teachers who report that they agree or strongly agree that children should learn to read in kindergarten increased sharply from 31% to 80%. We also see substantial increases in the percentage of teachers who think parents should teach their children the alphabet before they start kindergarten as well as the percentage who think children should begin formal reading and math instruction before kindergarten (33-and 30-percentage-point increases, respectively).”
Or this one: “For literacy, we observe substantial increases across a diverse set of measures, but the largest increases are in the use of textbooks, writing words from dictation to improve spelling, writing stories and reports, and using workbooks and worksheets.”
Or how about this bit: “On the dimension of standardized test use, our results suggest that kindergarten classrooms in the later period devote considerably more time to standardized tests than first-grade teachers did 11 years earlier.”
If you’re thinking this sounds rather intense, I agree with you. Remember, this is what was going on in 2010. The situation hasn’t improved since then.
My mother homeschooled me from 1999-2012. I taught preschool for two years in a classroom setting. I have homeschooled preschool for the past two years. All of these experiences blend together to create my take on preschool education.
Our current culture’s take on preschool is historically unusual. However, if you are surrounded by people who insist that this is the only way, it takes some significant guts to say, “No, I am opting out of this.”
Moms who are researching homeschooling preschool are often coming from this pressure cooker environment. Something deep within their souls is telling them that there is a better way.
Swinging from the background I just shared to “oh, just let them play” is a massive leap, and it’s one that many people just aren’t willing to take.
So what is our alternative? I posit that there are five good reasons to use a preschool curriculum in your homeschool.
- You may want to use a preschool curriculum if your preschooler is your oldest child.
My daughter is two years old at the time of this writing. When she is three years old, I’ll also have a kindergartener and a second grader. By the mere virtue of being around her brothers, she will be exposed to higher level vocabulary, read alouds, classical music, art appreciation, and more. A firstborn child doesn’t get this natural enrichment in their environment. Thus, there is more of a reason to purposefully create an enriching environment. When my oldest son was in preschool, we used Gentle + Classical Press products. The quality is excellent and we have been able to reuse the materials with my younger kids.
2. You may want to use a preschool curriculum if your intention is to send your preschooler to a public or private school for kindergarten.
For better or for worse, public and private kindergartens have higher expectations of incoming kindergarteners than they did in the 1990s. Given this fact, it’s best to prepare your preschooler to thrive. I recommend Abeka’s K4 program for a child who is heading to a public or private school for kindergarten.
3. You may want to use a preschool curriculum if your child thrives on structure.
Some children do better with routines and structure. They feel more secure when they know what to expect. It doesn’t need to be an elaborate structure. Just knowing that they will have a thirty minute preschool routine is enough.
4. You may want to use a preschool curriculum if YOU thrive on structure.
Where are my type-A moms? I’m raising my hand. I love a good list and boxes to check. If this is you, own it! Just make sure your curriculum has a realistic number of boxes.
5. You may want to use a preschool curriculum if you are still learning how to have the mind of an educator.
My friend Elizabeth is a former elementary school teacher. She has a knack for finding the learning in any activity. She’s incredibly creative and invents her own educational activities for her daughters. If you’ve never taught before, these things are less intuitive. You’ll find yourself growing in this area as you go along, but there’s no shame in getting some help when you’re first starting out.
The ultimate purpose of preschool curriculum is to help the parent. If you think a preschool curriculum would help you…buy it. Your peace of mind and sanity is worth it.
Remember that the choice to use a preschool curriculum does not necessarily mean that you have to use worksheets or require your child to sit still for long periods of time. There are many play based or literature based options available today.
Now, lets turn our attention to the flip side of the issue. Here are some reasons NOT to buy a preschool curriculum:
- You’re busy teaching your older children.
A child who is tagging along with an older sibling or two (or five) does not need his own separate program. If he insists that he must “do school,” take him to your local Dollar Tree and let him select a couple of workbooks.
2. You’re afraid of your child failing at life if you don’t jam-pack his little head full of information ASAP.
Any parenting decision that is made primarily out of fear is probably the wrong decision.
3. Everybody else is doing it.
I know it’s scary, but you can choose to opt out. Don’t let peer pressure deter you from doing the right thing for your child. You are the parent. You’ll know when the time is right to introduce a gentle morning time routine, or other learning activities. If you know your three or four year old needs another year before she learns how to write her name, give her the gift of that year. You won’t regret it.