Recently, a reporter from a parenting newsmagazine called me and requested an interview for an article to be titled, "Homepreschooling." "Homeschooling preschool?" I asked in disbelief. The reporter assured me that I had heard correctly. She wanted to find out why some parents opt out of institutional preschools to teach their toddlers and little ones at home. I agreed to talk with her and was barraged with questions. Why should parents homepreschool instead of sending their kids to preschool? How do parents know if they are qualified to teach their preschooler? Wouldnít a certified teacher be better qualified to teach a preschooler? Wouldnít a school have better resources and more stimulating activities than a home? What can parents do to stimulate their preschoolerís learning at home? Where can parents get preschool curriculum? What are some of the drawbacks to homepreschool? Will a homepreschooled child be accepted to Kindergarten? What about socialization?
I couldnít help but answer her questions with questions of my own. When did preschool become mandatory? Why would parents want to send their tiny kids to preschool? Doesnít the fact that parents love and care about their children more than anyone else in the world make them uniquely qualified to teach them? What does it say about a society when parents are indoctrinated to believe that they have no authority, no expertise, and no ability to parent and teach their own kids? What do you make of a culture that thinks mothers canít be trusted to rely on their instinct and intuition to know and understand their own children and to guide them in learning about the world? Are you suggesting that the education and lives of our children are far too important to be left in the hands of their mothers? Did you know that from the beginning of humankind until only about 150 years ago most children were taught by just their mothers and fathers? Arenít children curious about everything? Doesnít a little child ask a thousand questions every day because they are innately driven to figure out how to function well in the world? Donít kids follow their parents from room to room and imitate their behavior or try to learn whatever their parents are doing? Donít kids want to learn how to do everything Ė right now, all by themselves? Doesnít a home have a kitchen, a garden, pets, books, magazines, newspapers, money, computers, television, tools, machines, toys, games, music, artwork and an infinite number of enriching items and environments for a child to explore? Donít you see that life offers opportunities to learn at every moment and that the world around us provides plenty of curriculum?
I paused for a breath and then I assured her that homeschooled preschoolers would get accepted to Kindergarten and elementary schools Ė if their parents wanted to send them to school. I eased her concerns about socialization by explaining that parents model appropriate civil behavior and provide lots of opportunities for their youngsters to play and interact with other kids of all ages at homeschool park days.
I told her that the only drawback I could think of to "homepreschooling" would be in the rare instance of a clinically dysfunctional and/or uninformed or ignorant parent being unable to provide an enriching environment for his or her child to learn and grow. I told her that preschools were probably one adequate solution for at-risk or neglected kids, and useful as child-care centers for families where both parents must work outside of the home. Beyond that, I didnít see the need for them at all.
She said, "What about the California First Five advertisements? Studies show that the first five years of life are the most critical in brain development and that children who attend preschool do better in elementary school, high school, college, in their jobs, and have more successful lives. " I explained that what the ad doesnít tell you is that you donít need to go to preschool to get the kind of brain stimulation necessary to encourage neural development that will lead to academic and career success and a happy life.
Itís true that the first years of life are the most important. All significant brain growth in human children is completed by the time they are six years old. Their brains grow at an astonishing rate of speed Ė not only physically, but in capacity and intelligence too. The human brain contains more than one trillion cells and over ten billion functioning neurons, of which we typically use a very small percentage. The capacity of the brain grows by use. When children are consistently supplied with information and stimuli through the incoming sensory pathways to the brain that include visual (sight), auditory (hearing), tactile (touch), olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste), and through the outgoing motor pathways, they gain more information, and become more competent as their brains grow. The more the brain is used, the more pathways are developed to store and utilize the information and cross-reference it, and the more intelligent one becomes. Our childrenís intelligence and ability is directly related to the opportunities we give them at a very young age.
Parents who spend copious amounts of time with their kids and who talk, read, sing, hug and kiss their kids, and who play with them and take the time to show them how things work, and answer their questions with facts, clarity, and honesty, and who expose their kids to the bounty of life, are helping to build neural connections that will not only increase their childrenís brain power, so they can tackle academic subjects successfully when needed, but provide self-confidence and emotional stability as well. While institutions like preschools may provide some activities that get the synapses firing, they are woefully lacking in the variety of stimuli, attention, love, support, and encouragement received by children raised in a loving home.
I told her that I donít think taking tiny children out of their homes and the arms of their mothers to drop them off at an institution with strangers, for hours each day, can possibly bode well for humanity in the long run. Above all else, little kids need to be with the people who love them the most and who put their needs first. They need the one-on-one time with mom and dad to establish the bonds and emotional ties that develop a healthy family relationship that will last throughout their lifetime. They have to be able to trust that the person who means more to them than anyone else in the world will be there for them. They require the physical, mental, and emotional stability and comfort of the natural rhythm and routine that takes place at home. They donít need to be plunked down in a preschool setting with transient teachers who make them comply with an artificial routine that satisfies some arbitrary standards for child development and classroom management. Does this setting work to the advantage of your unique child or mine? How can putting 12 or more very different kids, aged 2-4, in a room together for 3 to 4 hours or longer each day provide for their individual needs? I think weíve got the idea of child-rearing all mixed up with something called "preschooling." Most parents who do not put their kids in preschool, donít think of themselves as "homepreschooling." They think of it as a natural way of living and raising children. Itís worked for thousands of years.
My filibuster was met with a long silent pause, and then the reporter asked, "Did you ever put your children in preschool?"
I explained that one of my children was a preschool drop-out. Before we ever considered homeschooling, my husband and I enrolled our 2-Ĺ year old son, Chad, in preschool. (At that time, it didnít occur to us to question the accepted social custom.) My husband trusted my judgment in selecting a preschool for our precious little tyke. I took all of the expertsí recommended advice in finding just the right preschool for our child. I read about different preschool methodologies, and visited seven different preschools in the area where we live. I observed the teachers interacting with the students, and searched for just the right mix of age-appropriate enrichment activities in a safe, clean, socially respectful and interactive environment. I filled out four-page application forms in triplicate that asked about my sonís physical and cognitive development, his special talents and skills, his likes and dislikes, and interrogated administrators about their educational philosophy at countless interviews. I finally settled on a Montessori preschool that I believed would provide all of the academic readiness skills my son would need to gain entrance to the kindergarten of our choice. (Donít laugh. Where we live, the competition to get into some elementary private schools, and even some of the satellite and charter public schools, is cutthroat. People go to great lengths to stack the odds in their favor for admission.) Anyway, we did enroll our son in a program that was for 3 hours, three days a week. On the third day of preschool, when I picked my son up, he greeted me at the door and told me that he was never coming back. "Why?" I asked. "Because preschool is a stupid, boring, waste of my time," he replied.
He proceeded to tell me that he didnít like the activities and he hated "circle time." I went to the director of the school and asked if I could sit in on the next class, so I could see for myself what the problem might be. He agreed. Chad and I went together to preschool on the following Monday. Circle time was a big portion of the day. The teacher introduced the letter-of-the-week, followed by a poem about the letter told by a puppet. A pipe cleaner shaped like the letter was passed around the room for all to see and touch. Chad, who had learned the alphabet at home, rolled his eyes at me. The exuberant teachers taught the kids to sing a nursery rhyme. Chad whispered in my ear, "See what I mean? Itís boring." When the class was over, I spoke to the director who understood that circle time was a little slow-moving for Chad. To his credit, he offered to let Chad empty the waste baskets for the teachers during circle time. Chad liked that idea and dutifully went to preschool and performed his job of emptying the trash. He even used a whisk broom to sweep crumbs from "snack time" off of the tables and benches. He didnít have to sit through the interminably long circle time antics and the teachers praised him for his custodial help. While he wasnít exactly enthusiastic about going to preschool, he seemed content with his lot. Although I was beginning to question the necessity of preschool at all, it was my husband who cut to the chase. One day, he asked Chad, "Whatís your favorite part of preschool?" Chad thought about that and said, "I like taking out the trash, but my favorite part is when I get to come home. I like being home." My husband looked at me and said, "Let me get this straight. We pay $320 a month in tuition so he can take out the trash?" "Yep, that pretty much sums it up, " I said. My husband turned to Chad and said, "How would you like to stay home and take out the trash?" Chad broke into a big grin, threw his arms around his daddyís neck, game him a big hug, and said, "Yes!" The next day, he dropped out of preschool.
I didnít think that I would "homepreschool" Chad. I simply figured that I would continue to do the kinds of activities we had always done together; things that by their very nature provided kindergarten readiness skills and a solid foundation for life-long learning success. He liked to help me cook and clean. He loved to plant and harvest our garden Ė and search for interesting bugs. He enjoyed going on nature walks. He snuggled in my lap while I read to him Ė sometimes for hours. He liked to build with blocks and boxes. He cut, colored, pasted, and painted Ė and he never ran with scissors. He and his brother would turn the couch and blankets into a fort and play make-believe games acting out dozens of characters and scenarios. We went to the park and he learned the sandbox rules as he played with other kids. He liked writing letters, words and his name. He loved to play in the dirt and dig, excavate, and make mud pies. He relished water play. He enjoyed swimming, jumping, and tumbling. He was fascinated with sorting and counting rocks, shells, seeds, and coins. He sang and danced and I showed him how to play simple tunes on the piano. We explored our neighborhood, and took advantage of community resources, like Story Time at the library. We looked at the stars at night and took walks in the moonlight. We made all kinds of things, from gooey science experiments to handcrafted holiday gifts Ė our imaginations were the limit. He asked a million questions and we tried to answer every one.
My husband and I held and cuddled him to our heartís content. This wasnít rocket science. We didnít need a laboratory, a classroom, or a teacher. We simply lived our lives and by virtue of including our son in our learning, work, and play, he acquired knowledge of the world, all of the skills he needed for enrollment in Kindergarten or elementary school, and he was confident and happy. Raising little kids and learning with them just doesnít require preschool or something called "homepreschooling."
The reporter thanked me for my comments, but wanted to know if I could put her in touch with some parents who were homepreschooling their children. She wanted to know if I could provide the name of a homepreschool co-op or support group. And, by the way, did I know where one could purchase homepreschool curriculum? With a heavy sigh, I obliged her request and hung up. I donít expect that much of what I had to say will get published in her article. I guess my questioning the need for preschool was just a stupid, boring, waste of her time.
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