Is Early Learning Helpful?

2013 02 25 Daycare

I’ve read and heard lots of studies suggesting that early childhood education (like preschool) is vitally important in helping put kids on the right track, and even in combating some of the negative consequences of poverty. This has made me a pretty strong supporter of this kind of intervention as an anti-poverty policy. And yet…

“Premature socialization,” says Dr. Neufeld, “was always considered by developmentalists to be the greatest sin in raising children ….[w]hen you put children together prematurely before they can hold on to themselves, then they become like [the others] and it crushes the individuality rather than hones it.”

Read the rest of this contrarian view here.

As usual? The more I learn, the less I know. Any of my readers know about this, or just have any insight or opinions?

3 thoughts on “Is Early Learning Helpful?”

  1. I am very much of the mindset expressed in the linked article. I felt a lot of pressure to plunge into early childhood education after the birth of my first child over eight years ago. So I read a lot and came to similar conclusions. I contemplated my own childhood, with a single mom, where my sisters and I attended all-day preschool and beyond. My twin and I are introverts and shy, and anxiety dominated our preschool experience even though we had fabulous teachers. In fact, if you have a “shy” kid, I would strongly recommend avoiding preschool. If you are a natural introvert (which is not the same as being shy), no amount of schooling will ever cure you of this trait. It took me a long time to realize that curing introversion is entirely unnecessary, as it is not actually a negative personality trait. It’s just undervalued in a society consisting of 70% extroverts. But that is another topic.

    Many of sisters have experience working in a variety of preschools and daycare, and they all walked away determined never to go that route after experiencing the realities from an adult perspective. Even my super education-minded, liberal stepsister, who has her Master of Education, was severely disillusioned with Head Start after working in that program, and works hard to keep her own daughter out of daycare after years of working in the daycare and preschool industry. And she loved those children. Now her husband works nights and stays with her daughter during the day just to avoid daycare, while she teaches third grade in the public school system.

    When children are at home, and they have loving, engaging parents, they will learn all the stuff of preschool at home. It really doesn’t require an expert. My kids at home were usually ahead of friends’ kids learning via preschool programs. I homeschooled my oldest until he was eight, and this is his first year of school (2nd grade). He transitioned without any trouble. Not only did he make instant friends with his school peers, but his teachers love him. He shows a genuine interest in the adults as people with feelings and lives outside of teaching. I don’t think homeschooling hindered him socially — I doubt early schooling could have done better. My daughter is in half-day Kindergarten at the same school, and I was thrilled over the half day option. She doesn’t need full-day Kindergarten. I have experience teaching Kindergarten to my oldest and, I know, even with our advanced program, that she needs lots of free play, good children’s literature, and her family more than anything at this age. Both my school-aged kids are advanced in math, but it takes surprisingly little effort to help a kid jump forward in math when working one-on-one unless the child faces learning disabilities. I would welcome an expert’s help in the case of learning disabilities or developmental delays.

    I realize that not all parents are capable of staying home with their children. I think the preschool debate starts there. What do we do with kids who can’t stay home? If I couldn’t stay home, I would do my best to put them in another trusted home environment (family or very close friends), but that isn’t always possible either. I’m a huge advocate of strong education, but I have become increasingly picky about educational models over the years. I think early childhood education is an attempt to replace something that is lost when families cannot be together, an increasing problem with diminishing two-parent households, the need for double incomes, an increased focus on education as a means to acquiring a better life for our kids, and the fear of falling behind. Those are large challenges to overcome, and I am open to suggestions.

  2. LT-

    I meant to say thanks already for your long and thoughtful post. It hits a little close to home. With me having to work in a different city from my family and my wife in her PhD program, our kids are in pre-school more than we’d like. (Well, my daughter is 6 so it’s like kindergarten.)

    But that doesn’t mean I disagree with your points. I don’t at all. We’re just one of those families who, for now, are not capable of staying home with their kids.

    I’m curious to hear your thoughts on Montessori schools, however.

  3. If I sent my kids to preschool, I would choose a Montessori program. I think Montessori is excellent for young children — It’s perfect for that developmental stage. I like their focus on independence, child-directed learning, mixed ages, responsibility, etc. I have my doubts about Montessori for older children. I have read up on it and understand the concepts but, at this point, I am waiting to hear personal thoughts from friends and family who have older children in Montessori programs. I guess I just need to hear about the real-world experiences before I form a more complete opinion there. Even with my doubts, Montessori is my second favorite educational model. Classical education, which shares some commonalities with Montessori, but also diverges a bit in other areas, is my absolute favorite. I taught via the classical method when I homeschooled, and my kids now go to a private classical school.

    I only have one negative thing to say about classical. Many classical schools identify as Christian (different Protestant denominations), and some of these schools are hostile to Mormons and Catholics. I think hostility toward theological differences shows a horrible lack of understanding in the very model they claim to promote, the classical education. And I wouldn’t send my kids there. Our current school is a Protestant Christian school, but they handle theological differences wonderfully. I have had some varied negative experiences (not related to religion) with Montessori schools as well but, like the hostility issue with some classical schools, the problems tend to be with the individual school and not with the Montessori model. I know there are many great Montessori schools out there.

    I can tell from your writing that you and your wife do a great job with your kids, preschool or no preschool :). I understand the distance component. My husband traveled a lot as a geologist. And I admire your wife for pursuing her PhD! Life is full of good and/or necessary sacrifices.

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