We’ve all seen it, you’re on a homeschool message board or Facebook group, and inevitably the questions will arise, “what curriculum should I get for my three-year-old”? After I recover from the whiplash caused by my eyes rolling so rapidly, I ask myself “why”? Why do people think they need preschool? Homeschooling preschool is a waste of time for you and your child.
I believe preschool, in general, is a waste of time, but for a homeschooler, it seems particularly redundant and contrary to the idea of home education. Why has preschool become such a fixture in our society?
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I’m old enough to have grown up right before the mass hysteria of preschool. Kindergarten was half-day and primarily play. My memory is quite good, and Kindergarten was filled with picture books, some brief cut and paste type work, and lots of play.
All the girls would run to the toy kitchen whenever it was time to play. Outside we would play Red Rover, which I’m sure would not be allowed today, and we had a big, red tomato looking toy that one kid could get inside and everyone would push them around.
Very few of us had gone to preschool, and we weren’t expected to enter Kindergarten with any academic skills. Somehow we grew up and became successful, happy people.
Today, everyone laments a skills gap and how unprepared young adults are for life, but I would venture to say that the vast majority of recent high school graduates attended preschool. How do we make sense of this?
How often in society, and our lives, do we see the bad outcomes of good intentions?
A good intention is like the seed of a tree whose fruit we do not know.
-George Bernard Shaw
On the surface, preschool sounds good and it makes us feel good about ourselves for doing preschool, but at best it produces few positive results, and at worst is damaging.
In 1965, Head Start was created with the best of intentions. Of course, disadvantaged children need extra support, who could argue with that assumption? But most studies have shown that all positive gains are irrelevant by the end of third grade. A more recent study found all benefits were gone by the end of first grade.
However, the creation of Head Start seems to be the source of our preschool craze. Within 20 years, the necessity of preschool for all children seemed obvious.
One notable dissenter was homeschool pioneer Raymond Moore, whose book Better Late Than Early, outlines the origins of the early school movement and its erroneous assumptions.
Another serious influence on the family has been those professional who insist that to deny preschool experience to the normal child is educationally and psychologically unsound. But such people commonly make a basic assumption that is not true. They assume that the rapid development of a young child’s intellect requires stimulation of a school-type program.
Instead of providing care for those in need, we’ve instituted an educational rat-race we force children to join at 3 or 4-years old. When you think of it in those terms, does it remotely sound reasonable?
The Good Intentions of Homeschooling Preschool
Parents who decide to homeschool preschool are doing it with the best of intentions. They don’t want their children to be “behind” or have gaps. Or we hear how their children are so smart and beg to do school work.
But are these reasons enough to disregard all the information we have that disproves its value and shows the possible adverse effects of early academic training?
I don’t think they’re reason enough, but the internet is still overflowing with preschool printables and curricula for homeschoolers.
But when the panic hits you in the middle of the night and you find yourself frantically searching for alphabet printables for your 4-year-old old, stop and take a breath. What is causing this stress?
- Fear your child will be perpetually behind
- Concern that “experts” know your child’s needs better than you
- A belief that you “have to” do preschool
- The desire to have a product to prove your child is learning
- You want to brag about your child’s intelligence (brutal honesty here)
Whatever the reason, there is so little to gain and so much to lose by introducing academics at too young an age.
Life with Your Young Child
In a loving, connected family there is no need to send your child to preschool or to emulate that environment in your home. Everything a child needs to learn and grow can be found in everyday life, without the need for printables and workbooks.
You don’t need a particular scope and sequence now that they are four any more than you needed it when they were two. Young children are curious about everything. However, we must make the time to support that curiosity rather than rush between adult-scripted activities and lessons.
Writing and Fine Motor Skills
I’ve combined writing with fine motor skills because they are so intertwined. Children’s fine motor skills develop at an individual pace. I’ve had children slower to gain these abilities and others that seem to be naturally skilled.
What everyday activities contribute to the development of fine motor skills? One that all my children have clamored to do is crack eggs. You have to be willing to lose a couple, but they learn quickly how hard to break the egg and how to use their fingers to separate the shell.
Also, nothing beats some blank paper and crayons or markers. Let them draw whatever they would like. By doing so, they are experimenting to find out how much pressure they should apply and what is needed to create a straight versus curvy line.
Lastly, mazes are great to help them develop the ability to take the crayon or pencil in the direction they want to go. The Kumon maze books are my favorite and have been loved by all my girls.
Number and Math Skills
Numbers are everywhere and there is no reason to think your child will be behind if they don’t have a formal lesson. The best place for real-life math skills is the grocery store.
- Have them choose six apples or three lemons
- My girls always loved to weigh everything on the produce scale. Ask which is more and which is less?
- Which are cheaper, green or red grapes
- If there are ten juice boxes and you have two children, how many can each have?
There are so many things to learn at the grocery store. Weights, colors, shapes, and sizes can all be discovered and discussed just be visiting the produce section.
Music and Rhythm
But there are so many songs kids should know like London Bridge, Itsy Bitsy Spider, and Row Your Boat. Sing them and act silly. We played London Bridge and Ring Around the Rosie this summer in the pool.
Also, much to my husband’s dismay, I’ve always had several instruments around for the little ones. My little guy loves a harmonica, but we have recorders, drums, xylophones, and more. Let them make some noise and find their rhythm.
In the Kitchen
You won’t get dinner made in a hurry, but your little one will have a wonderful time helping in the kitchen.
- Give directions and let them retrieve the item you need from the refrigerator
- Have them help you measure and show them the different sizes
- Double a recipe and explain what you are doing
- Let them wash the dishes (what young child doesn’t love that job)
It can be tough to allow them to “help,” but think of how you are helping them to be comfortable in the kitchen. This time being patient will pay off in the future.
Arts and Crafts
It doesn’t take much to keep a little one happy when it comes to crafts. They don’t care so much about a finished product yet and are delighted putting paint on the paper.
This is one of those areas where parents have a tendency to interfere with and care more about the final product than the child’s experience with the materials.
Don’t succumb to the pressure to produce a Pinterest worthy craft. Your kids don’t care; they just want to make something.
Outdoors and Nature
As we were walking into the library today, we spotted two caterpillars making their way across the parking lot. We stopped, watched their progression, and then said goodbye.
Nature is all around if we just stop and take notice. Watch the ants, listen to the birds, and talk about the clouds. It’s all new and unusual to your small child. Marvel with them.
Whether making mud pies or playing at the park, being outside gives them a chance to use those gross motor skills that might not be welcome in the house.
Studies have also shown the less time a child spends outdoors, the higher their risk of nearsightedness. So get outside and enjoy nature.
Childhood is Not a Race
Childhood seems to be a long forgotten, quaint concept that we no longer have time for in our uber-competitive global economy. As soon as our child is born, we are preparing them to get ahead and not fall behind.
Childhood is not a race to see how quickly a child can read, write and count. It is a small window of time to learn and develop at the pace that is right for each individual child. Earlier is not better.
– Magda Gerber
We accept this as inevitable, even though study after study has shown that the decline in free play and the increase in adult-directed activities are having a negative impact on children’s well-being. However, we have a choice.
Preschool is a Waste of Time (Their’s and Your’s)
We can choose to ignore the push for earlier and earlier academic instruction for children.
We can embrace a life that creates an environment supportive of a child’s development without resorting to a curriculum and schedule.
We can trust our parenting intuition while reading picture books, playing in the park, and baking cookies.
Don’t waste your time, or theirs, by starting their academic instruction at too young an age, when the benefits are questionable.
This should be a time of encouraging curiosity and wonder, not of being confined to a schoolroom and worksheets.