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Where preschools are doing it totally wrong!

The pre-school play scene is fast changing. The new norm is no much play, but stellar grades. Back in those ages when we were kids, playtime used to be fun and more interactive. Kids were allowed to go out and get into all kinds of trouble. That freedom did result in few scrapes and trouble with the neighbors. The kids however learnt valuable lessons from all these. However, parents today are treating their kids like little grownups. As fancy and forward thinking as this may sound, it really does deprive the kids of a lot of skills and values. And, of course, important learning opportunities are missed.

This problem is further compounded at school. Where kids used to be able to socialize and play with other kids. Nowadays this doesn’t happen as much. Too much attention and emphasis is being placed on study and not enough on social growth. Kids are being taught to become more competitive at an earlier age. Instead of making friends they are learning how to outshine each other. This new mentality has heavily impacted on their growth. Angela Hanscom took a close look at these effects recently and she made some amazing discoveries.

I still recall the days of preschool for my oldest daughter. I remember wanting to desperately enrich her life in any way possible – to give her an edge before she even got to formal schooling. I put her in a preschool that was academic in nature – the focus on pre-reading, writing, and math skills. At home, I bought her special puzzles, set up organized play dates with children her age, read to her every night, signed her up for music lessons, put her in dance, and drove her to local museums. My friends and I even did “enrichment classes” with our kids to practice sorting, coloring, counting, numbers, letters, and yes….even to practice sitting! We thought this would help prepare them for kindergarten.

How are kids affected by this?

We may all want to ignore the fact that all this pressure does not affect the children but it does. Social skills are taking a back seat more and more. Grades are becoming the focus and most parents seem to have accepted that educational success is more important.

Like many other American parents, I had an obsession: academic success for my child. Only, I was going about it completely wrong. Yes, my daughter would later go on to test above average with her academic skills, but she was missing important life skills. Skills that should have been in place and nurtured during the preschool years. My wake-up call was when the preschool teacher came up to me and said, “Your daughter is doing well academically. In fact, I’d say she exceeds expectations in these areas. But she is having trouble with basic social skills like sharing and taking turns.” Not only that, but my daughter was also having trouble controlling her emotions, developed anxiety and sensory issues, and had trouble simply playing by herself!

Getting such a call would worry any parent and with good reason. Some parents may choose to ignore it or blame it on other factors. Some will even want to assume that the child will eventually outgrow it but they do not. If anything it tends to get worse with age and before you know it you have a grownup engineer throwing tantrums at work because they cannot communicate efficiently.

This was becoming a growing epidemic. A few years ago, I interviewed a highly respected director of a progressive preschool. She had been teaching preschoolers for about 40 years and had seen major changes in the social and physical development of children in the past few generations.

“Kids are just different,” she started to say. When I asked her to clarify, she said, “They are more easily frustrated – often crying at the drop of a hat.” She had also observed that children were frequently falling out of their seats “at least three times a day,” less attentive, and running into each other and even the walls. “It is so strange. You never saw these issues in the past.”

This is alarming as many educators would agree. Most however have never really given much thought to it. This is because the changes were slow and even the educators did not know that they were falling into the same trap as the parents were. In all this it is the child who is affected.

She went on to complain that even though her school was considered highly progressive, they were still feeling the pressure to limit free play more than she would like in order to meet the growing demands for academic readiness that was expected before children entered kindergarten.

Still some of us do not want to admit that there is a problem. We want to assume that this is just wind from naysayers looking for an excuse for kids not to study. Some will even go as far as saying that this is a hippie mentality to raising kids. Some even go as far as saying that there are no hard facts to back this notion up but there are

Research continues to point out that young children learn best through meaningful play experiences, yet many preschools are transitioning from play-based learning to becoming more academic in nature. A preschool teacher recently wrote to me: “I have preschoolers and even I feel pressure to push them at this young age. On top of that, teachers have so much pressure to document and justify what they do and why they do it, the relaxed playful environment is compromised. We continue to do the best we can for the kid’s sake, while trying to fit into the ever-growing restraints we must work within.”

It is a little hypocritical of parents to entrust the welfare of the child to the teacher and then turn around and press them to do the opposite. In as much as every parent wants to think that they know what is best for their child, sometimes they really don’t. It is about time that parents got back in touch with what is really beneficial to their children. So what if you son grows up to be an astronaut? It will not be a complete joy if they are depressed and cannot form bonds with peers. This pushing of our kids to excel is getting them closer and closer to being academic robots than it is to happiness.

Angela says,

“In fact, it is before the age of 7 years — ages traditionally known as “pre-academic” — when children desperately need to have a multitude of whole-body sensory experiences on a daily basis in order to develop strong bodies and minds. This is best done outside where the senses are fully ignited and young bodies are challenged by the uneven and unpredictable, ever-changing terrain.”

It is about time that parents stopped caring more about a grade on a piece of paper and more about the happiness of their children. No one is being asked to turn their child into a failure bt rather to redefine success to encompass other aspects of wellness.

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