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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 11/ 2/2009

Tutors for 3-year-olds and more preschool nuttiness

By Valerie Strauss

It is well known that many preschool parents have become super anxious trying to give their kids a leg up on kindergarten, but I didn't realize just how nutty things have become until I talked to several dozen preschool program directors.

What child development experts know is that youngsters best learn the fundamentals of literacy through well-designed play. But lots of parents don’t. Here is what’s going on in the preschool world of the greater Washington D.C. region, and, I have no doubt, in other places around the country as well.

Parents are:

*Begging school directors to let their 1 1/2 year olds into programs for 2 year olds because Danny and Olivia are so incredibly advanced.

*Demanding to know why their 2-year-old isn’t being given the alphabet to copy over and over and memorize.

*Afraid that any services their child needs, such as speech therapy, will go on the youngster’s “permanent record” and harm their chances of getting into a private school.

*Enrolling their 3 year olds in so many activities that the kids are falling asleep on their preschool desks.

*Buying toys for 2 year olds that are labeled for older children.

I learned this after some preschool directors called me after I wrote several weeks ago about how academic kindergarten had become--complete with test prep and homework but no recess.

(One reader, raynecloud, responded to that post with this: “This story makes me thankful we’re currently living in Europe. My four year old just started in kindergarten equivalent, and, while they are learning to write, it’s primarily about learning through play, making friends, and running around in the attached-to-classroom outside play area whenever they want throughout the day, plus three scheduled half hours of outdoor play over the wider school grounds. My son loves it!”)

These directors wanted to discuss the worsening anxiety they see in preschool parents who see that children are being required to read and write in kindergarten and want to make sure little Johnny and Joanie stay on track--whether or not they are developmentally ready (and lots aren't).

“It’s not that we don’t think learning is important,” said Mara Bier, director of the Early Childhood Development Area of the Rockville, Md.,-based Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning. “We do. Where we disagree is how that is achieved.”

The partnership runs dozens of preschool programs for thousands of children of all faiths in southern Maryland, northern Virginia and the District--and many of these directors see parents getting ever more anxious. Directors of other preschool programs at churches and civic organizations echoed the observations.

There is solid research on the benefits of well-designed play that teaches kids to ask questions and find their own answers. Unknowing parents see their kids playing at a water table and think they are wasting their time.

“I don’t blame the parents,” said one preschool program director. “In public school kindergarten, the kids better hit the ground running. These pishers are supposed to write 3- and 4-word sentences.”

The reason for all of this is "No Child Left Behind," which has pushed down curriculum into the earliest grades and put the focus on high-stakes standardized tests that start as early as third grade.

That’s why the preschool directors I spoke with (who did not want to be identified because, obviously, they didn’t want their students’ parents upset) said they have great sympathy for the parents.

“I’ve had parents sit and agree with me,” said one. “They say, ‘I know you are right but I can’t do it.’ ”

What they “can’t do” is stop pushing so hard that they kill the joy of learning in their child before second grade.

People!

However super educated you are, I am going to bet that most of you don’t have a degree in child development.

This is the only time your child has to be a child!

Can you at least wait until you child gets into 1st grade before you start driving him/her academically crazy?

Later today we’ll hear from cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham on what is known about the cognitive abilities of young children.

What have been your experiences with preschool? Do you sympathize with parents like the ones described above?

By Valerie Strauss  | November 2, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Early Childhood, No Child Left Behind, Parents  | Tags:  child development, early childhood education, preschool  
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Comments

Isn't it a bizarre turn of events. Used to be that the public schools didn't provide enough instruction and challenge and we sought out private school for that purpose. NOw public schools are demanding work that is developmentally inappropriate and we seek out private schools to provide relief and a more relaxed atmosphere where children can actually learn - appropriate material at an appropriate pace.
When will the madness stop????

Posted by: whatsnext | November 2, 2009 8:20 AM | Report abuse

I know a woman who fits the profile perfectly of the nutty parent. She's having fits that her precious snowflake is behind other kids in their private school. So, the kid now has a tutor. She's only 5 years old. I think they're all nuts.

Posted by: barnabytwist | November 2, 2009 10:31 AM | Report abuse

You've basically described the reasons we are opting out of public education for our child, at least in the early years. We strongly believe that children need to learn through play (which is, after all, the work of childhood), and we believe they need a lot of opportunities to be outdoors running around and exploring the world. Our child is in a pre-K program that's part of a K-8 school which builds its curriculum around Chip Wood's Yardsticks. It's not cheap, but it's well worth the cost. So no, I don't identify with the parents you're describing. My goals are simple: To help my child love school and learning, and to lay the foundation for happiness not only in childhood, but in adolescence and adulthood. Our hoped-for return on our investment in private school is not admission to the Ivy League -- who cares? -- but a healthy, happy child who has something to give back to the world.

Posted by: ezr1 | November 2, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

We enrolled our four-year-old in the local nursery school that's been in existence for decades. It's so low-key and our daughter loves it. I just don't understand these crazy parents who have such high expectations -- for their toddlers!

My stress? Having to potentially enroll our wonderfully imaginative child in a rigorous public school kindergarten that's all about beginning the ridiculous process of preparing kids for the third grade NCLB-mandated tests. I really don't want to have to pay for private school, but it's the way I'm currently leaning just so my child's love of learning isn't snuffed out by drill and kill.

I keep hoping that ESEA reauthorization will fix what havoc we've wreaked on our education system over the past 8-10 years, but when I read blog posts such as this, I realize how much damage has been done in the minds of parents.

Education is so much more than how well your child does on an annual reading or math score!

Posted by: bmichelman | November 2, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Making fun of how other people parent is the definition of low class. Please refrain from this in the future.

Posted by: Wallenstein | November 2, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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