Monday, January 31, 2011

Is Preschool Necessary? (part two)

Part one of this post is here. 

Socialization in Preschool

What exactly do people mean when they say preschool is good (or even necessary) for socialization?  Honestly, it’s something I’ve had a hard time understanding.

My best guess is that people who speak of preschool as being necessary for socialization actually mean something like this:

  • preschool can help the child learn to get along with other children (sharing, taking turns, manners, etc).
  • preschool will give the child an environment in which to make friends his own age.
  • preschool can help the child get ready for formal schooling in a classroom setting.

I think that everyone who has encouraged us to send M to preschool has good intentions.  All of these people care about him on some level.  I feel I need to take their concerns and look at them, not just dismiss them, in the spirit of maintaining healthy, caring, and peaceful relationships.

Let’s get the third reason out of the way first.  Since I tend to think that the older a child is, and the more developmentally ready he is, the better he’ll be able to learn in a classroom setting, I don’t give a lot of weight to this particular argument.  Also, with 13 years of school ahead of him, most likely he’s got time to figure all that out, if necessary.  Also, most preschool classrooms are very different from the classroom of a higher grade, as they should be.  I agree that it’s important for a child to learn to respect authority figures other than his parents, but this can be achieved in many other ways.

Now, in regards to learning social skills and making friends…

It seems to me that the best way to learn social skills is to have parents who are good role models and who make the time and effort to teach their child the kind of behavior that will best equip him for healthy relationships in the future.

Why the parents?  Simply because parents are the people most important to the child; their opinion matters most to him; from them he gets (or should get) the nurturing his body and mind and soul crave, which helps develop his confidence and a sense of his self-worth.  And this is exactly what he’ll take with him into the “real world” where he will have to get along with others, and form friendships, and know how to behave in a variety of situations.

Doesn’t it seem that, as adults, we often find ourselves looking to other people in our lives to meet some need we feel?  Quite often it seems (to me) that need stems from something that was lacking in our childhood.  For example, children who were abandoned or always in fear of abandonment, still fear it in adulthood and can place unrealistic expectations on another person, hoping that this person will finally make them feel safe.  That’s an extreme example to make a point, but I think the principle plays out in other, less dramatic, ways also.  It’s hard to overestimate the value of developing a good, secure, relationship between parents and children.  And it’s something we can’t rush along.  And “attachment” isn’t a bad thing at 4 or 5 years old.

As M’s mother, I am in a position to stay on top of behavior issues with him – I can remind him a hundred times a day (and I think there have been days like that!) that he needs to share and take turns and develop a caring heart towards others.  I can take him with me to the store, the post office, church, playgroups, etc. and show him by my example how to be polite and mannerly.  I can take him with me to pick out toys for less fortunate children; donate diapers and formula for new babies; or take him to visit elderly people on a Meals on Wheels route, all the while teaching him about the respect we owe to each person, and the inherent dignity of each human being regardless of where they live or what their abilities are. 

By talking to him one-on-one about these things, I’m able to discern his growth in these areas of true “socialization”, answer questions he may have, and help him develop a greater understanding of what we, as a family, hold valuable.  I would not, for the world, give up the amazingly deep conversations about these things that we sometimes have.  For the record, I know that doing these things would still be important if he went to preschool.  But finding time for them would be much more difficult! 

So, it would seem to me that it’s better and more do-able to socialize a child out in the “real world” during normal day to day life with mom and dad, rather than in a preschool. 

However, parents are people, and as such have strengths and weaknesses, and can not be all things to all children. Many parents have strengths in areas where I am definitely weak (healthful cooking; rough playing, especially with boys; etc).  For some families, preschool meets a need and is great.

But one of the areas in which I have done well has been making sure we have ample opportunities to learn and socialize outside of our home.  (I actually feel that we are too busy sometimes, and try to limit our days away from home to no more than 3 per week, not including weekends).

I’ve been thinking about the social skills that M already has – he’s polite (most of the time, hee hee), truly cares about others, knows how to share and take turns, can carry on conversations with anyone of any age, plays well with other children (provided there are not too many other children… this is something I’ll talk about in my next post, in regards to the socialization of a shy child), and is developing a sense of responsibility in his every day life.  By my standards, he has great social skills for a 4 year old!   

In addition to the activities mentioned in an earlier paragraph, we have 1 to 2 playgroup meetings per week, as well as one-on-one play dates quite often (he does have a few friends!), a nature center class each week, a music class most weeks, frequent outings to indoor playgrounds in the winter and parks in the summer, and weekly trips to the library.  Add to this lots of time with mom and dad at home, as well as seeing cousins and grandparents most weekends, and you’ve got a pretty well-rounded and happy kid. 

Preschool can be fun, there’s no doubt about it.  It can provide a lot of wonderful, stimulating ideas and activities.  Many children love preschool!  I am not trying to bash preschool, and I sure hope it doesn’t seem like that’s my point here.  I know wonderful, wonderful preschool teachers who are doing great jobs.  I hope that throughout M’s life he has teachers (regardless of grade) like Deborah over at Teach Preschool, who wrote this very encouraging post (it’s well worth reading!).  The problem I have is the apparent confusion between socializing and socialization.  Socializing with children of the same age is not the same as teaching the child good social skills.  In fact, I’ve seen and heard of situations where the opposite effect has occurred – being around a large group of children for a while or on a regular basis can cause a child to pick up attitudes and phrases and all kinds of things that we definitely do not consider good social skills! 

Maybe my opinions on this subject stem from my own experiences in school – throughout all of my school years, I clearly remember being told that I was there to learn, “not to socialize”. ;)  (I’m a “talker”, as you can see by the length of this post!)  Remember, the family is the most basic building block of society.  If a child does not learn social skills and how to be a good friend from his family first, most likely no school will be able to do the job later on.

Whew – that’s enough for now.  I want to talk about shyness and socialization in my next post on this subject.  I promise it won’t be this long!

Your comments are always welcome!

Have a beautiful day! :)



  1. Great post Nicole! I can't wait to read about shyness and socializing. It's something I have been thinking a lot about.

  2. Great post, Nicole! If you haven't already read it, I highly recommend the book "Keep Your Children Close" (I can't remember the name of the author). Basically, the author says that for much of childhood, parents should be much more important than peers in terms of socialization. Like you, he doesn't advocate homeschooling as the only way, but certainly sees it as a very valid option that will only help in terms of socialization.

    I also have a shy son who would do better in much smaller settings than the average preschool. I've found a local preschool that has a class size of only 9, but they do open up the doors between the other classroom for part of the day, so there are times when it's a big group. I'm going to try it anyway, as my son also has a love for toys and thought he was in disneyland when I took him to the classroom to visit. I'm hoping this will outweigh the intimidation he feels by the large group. And his teacher is a perfect fit for him personality-wise and also had a shy son, so she's good at drawing out that kind of temperament. We live in a good school district, and I plan to give public school a try when he's older. But homeschooling is a very valid backup plan. I worry about the bad habits, attitudes, etc that you mentioned which can be picked up from other kids in school.

    My son just turned 3 and won't be going to preschool till September. Like you, we have a very busy social calendar! He goes to Story Hour at the library, the community center, playdates, etc. I actually love the days when we're snowed in and can just spend the whole day at home together!

  3. My daughter goes to preschool. And will again next year, but I really liked what you had to say! As I said before, it is a personal decision...and can even be different for each child in one family.

  4. All great points!

    B was extremely shy and timid before putting him into preschool a couple of half days a week and now I feel like he has come out of his shell which I am thankful for. Another thing I do appreciate about the preschool setting (in addition to some of the awesome experiences I can't provide at home like playing in a tepee for example)is the different vocab and ways of learning that he has come home with from the exposure to other teachers. (I guess I keep saying the same things over and over again around here. Ha!). Back to your point though, that could also be taught at home.

    looking forward to your shyness post.

  5. Well thought out and said as usual. And I think you should move down here to Texas, big plus, it's warmer, so you can be outside almost every day of the year...... You know you want to :)

    I'll look forward to your response to Natalie if you do a part 4, I know my thoughts on the matter, but I'd be curious to hear yours.

    Oh, and have you ever read Susan Bauer's book? It's a classical homeschooling book, and I really enjoyed it for the thoughts it gave me. I need to reread it sometime soon.

  6. I can tell how important this decision is to you, and how much thought you are putting into it. I hope that when you do decide, it will be a decision that you feel peaceful about.

    I don't think that preschool is necessary. (You might want to check out: I think it's necessary for children to be loved, to be read to, to play, to experiment and all that is accomplished doesn't matter so much.

    But would preschool be a good thing for your child? What would be the benefits for him? Would there be any benefits for you? Are there any issues/problems that might be helped by preschool? At the same time, what would be the cost of preschool? (I don't just mean tuition, but the overall cost...what activities would you have to give up, how much driving would it require, etc.) When you take it all together, weighing the cost and benefits, how does it come out?

    My main advice is this: if what you're doing now is working, why change it? And if there isn't a reason to change things, why worry about it? (Now if only I could follow my own advice...I worry about these sorts of things all the time! :)

  7. Monica (and everyone else :) ) -
    Thank you so much for your comments. I should clarify that I'm not particularly worried about whether or not we should send M to preschool. Most likely we will not.

    However, I'm writing these posts as a way of getting my thoughts out about the whole subject in some sort of clear way. This way I'll be better able to answer (instead of just saying "ummmm...") those people in real life who question our decision and sometimes try to talk us into sending him to preschool.

    I'm so much better at writing out my thoughts than actually speaking them on the spur of the moment. I can either direct people to read these posts, or I will be better able to explain my thoughts out loud after having written it all out. Hope that makes sense! I guess if you didn't know that, it would seem like I'm kind of obsessing over this decision, lol. :)

    My husband also understands my need to write things out, and through these posts he'll better understand where I'm coming from as we discuss the issue.

    Just wanted to answer this publicly so everyone understands the points of my posting about this. Thank you!

  8. This is a lovely post! You have made a well thought decision. He seems to see a lot of people and go to a lot of nice places. He must be having a lovely childhood. Good for you!
    Blessings xxx

  9. Hee hee, I was kind of wondering if you were obsessing a bit much! And what's funny is that I just assumed that, probably because I obsess too much! :)

  10. I have to say I respect how diplomatic you are. It's easy to bash preschools. For example, kids learn poor behavior from other children who aren't mature enough to discern. They are forced into separation when the child prefers to be with the parents. It's a glorified babysitting for parents who work or those who need to get a break from their kids, etc. But I'm not going to go there. My MIL wasn't against sending K to preschool because she felt it was a waste of money. I believed that it was essential for her to go there to make friends and develop social skills. But I was wrong. Kids are best with their parents (assuming parents want to be around them). I believe all the attention and care during the early childhood will help build a secure sense of self. All other things like independence, respecting other authority figures, etc. can wait. They are 3, 4, 5 years of age! They can indulge in a little of mommy or daddy time because before you know it, they will not want to spend every waking moment with us! LOL.

  11. I totally agree that this push for independence for preschool age children is totally overrated. "Professionals" score a child as delayed if they haven't met certain independence milestones, when in reality it has nothing to do with the child's ability but more to do with their parents' value system (which these "professionals" see as coddling, which is not necessarily the case). That being said, while I don't think preschool is essential, it does have its benefits for parents who choose to utilize it. My son will be going two mornings/week in September, and this is not because I need childcare or because I need a break from him. It's because I think it will benefit him. If I find out otherwise, I won't hesitate to pull him out.

  12. I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading your post. I started blogging to be able to look back on the time I spend with my son. I didn't realize that it would also be a wonderful outlet to sort through thoughts and get everything out there. It can really be theraputic.

  13. I'm sorry, the book I mentioned in my first post is actually called "Hold On To Your Kids".

  14. Claire - I'm so glad to hear from you. :) I tried looking for the book you mentioned and couldn't find anything like it, tried looking for your email, but couldn't find that anywhere either. :) Thank you so much for letting me know the title of the book - it sounds like one I will definitely want to read!

  15. I also wanted to say thanks for posting your thoughts on this. I'm homeschooling my kids at least until Kindergarten (I haven't decided past that yet, right now my kids are almost 2 and almost 4), but people ask me all the time when my daughter will start preschool.
    You helped me realize I need to think through my decision so I can tell others (intelligently) why I do what I do.

  16. Nicole..Thank you for such a great post on the need for preschools.. I am a SAHM with my beautiful 3 year old and often I feel judged negatively for my decision to not send my little one to preschool...I agree 100% with your opinions regarding the "opportunity for socialization" alleged benefit that preschools provide. I live in a Latin American country and everytime I am among other Moms they make me feel like I'm doing something wrong to my babie because of my decision...Your post was refreshing to read..


Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment; I love reading them! If you ask a question and don't receive a personal reply, check back here for the answer. Often I reply via comment to something that might be of interest to others.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...