by Charlotte Hilton Andersen, REDBOOK
My son attends a fabulous Special-Ed preschool. He isn't autistic nor does he have Down's Syndrome nor does he even have a learning or behavior disorder - so how did he end up in the special education program? It all started with getting kicked out of preschool. As his teacher ("at the mean school" as my son calls it) explained to me one day in the hallway as my eyes filled with tears, "He doesn't learn like the other kids. He doesn't want to sit down and listen, he just wants to run around and play. I'm afraid he's too immature for this class and he's distracting the other kids so we need to ask you to take him out." As I turned to leave she added, "He doesn't even write his own name yet. There's no way he'll be ready for kindergarten on time." Did I mention he was three at the time?
With preschools getting ever more rigorous - you may recall the recent case where parents sued a California preschool for the return of their $19,000 tuition because they felt it wasn't adequately preparing their 4-year-old daughter for her future Ivy League education - there is a lot more emphasis on the "school" aspect than the "preparation" part. Starting with Baby Einstein and moving up through early reader programs, what you teach your preschool child and how fast they learn it can be an emotionally fraught issue for parents who only want the best. Fortunately two research studies released this week shed light on how exactly it is that kids learn. Hint: it's not by formal instruction.
Related: 5 Things Super-Happy Couples Do Every Day
Researchers in both studies set up experiments where preschool-aged children were either given a toy with little or no instruction as to how it worked or were given the toy with a formal demonstration of its features. In both studies, the kids figured out the toys faster and more efficiently when left to their own devices. As Alison Gopnik for Slate explains, "They provide scientific support for the intuitions many teachers have had all along: Direct instruction really can limit young children's learning. Teaching is a very effective way to get children to learn something specific-this tube squeaks, say, or a squish then a press then a pull causes the music to play. But it also makes children less likely to discover unexpected information and to draw unexpected conclusions."
Related: How to Handle a Mompetitor
On the other hand, early childhood education has been studied for over five decades and numerous lifelong benefits ranging from higher future earnings to a lower likelihood of being arrested have been shown. Most of these studies conducted by the National Education Association involved classes that used at least some formal instruction. In addition, practicality demands some structured learning time as anyone who's ever run a playgroup knows. The definition of madness is a room full of preschoolers left to their own devices, especially when art supplies are involved.
Related: The 18 Most Annoying Male Habits Explained
In the end I withdrew my son from the Mean School and put him in a school much more accepting of his need to explore and his learning style but I occasionally have a pang of regret when I run into his old classmates who already reading and writing a full year before kindergarten. I even cringed as one helpfully identified a Matisse for me - in French - when they saw a print on a greeting card nearby. Did I make the right choice for my son? As with so many parenting decisions I won't know for decades but when I see his beaming face as he comes out of his new school, my gut say yes.
Do you think preschool is a crucial time to take advantage of all those extra neurons or is it a time to play and explore? Anyone else have a kid kicked out of preschool?
What do you think is the purpose of preschool?
-I think preschool should provide structured learning so kids can be prepared for starting school.
-I think preschools should emphasize play over structured learning.
-I think there should be a balance between play and structured learning.
Read more from >
Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything
More from REDBOOK:
Could You Go a Week Without Yelling?
Have the Hottest Sex of Your Life…with Your Husband
- 6 Shocking Reasons Why Men Stray
- 101 Date Night Ideas
- Get More on Love, Family & Fashion - Subscribe to REDBOOK & Save Up to 84%!
Connect with REDBOOK:
- Become our Fan on Facebook
- Sign Up for REDBOOK's Free Weekly Newsletter
- Follow Us on Twitter
- Enter to Win FREE Daily Prizes
Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.