4 Reasons To Ditch Academic Preschools

I’m still scratching my head that I actually witnessed this…  Years ago, I was investigating preschools for my first child and made a scheduled visit to one of the most popular schools in the neighborhood, chosen by parents I consider to be intelligent and thoughtful.  As I entered the classroom and discreetly sat on the floor behind about fifteen 3-4 year olds, a teacher stood at a chalkboard to present a lesson on ‘shapes’. She drew a square and asked, “What is this?” One of the preschoolers raised her hand and shouted “Square!” The teacher gave a brief nod of approval and continued drawing, this time a circle… A few hands shot up, and she pointed to a boy. “Circle!” the boy exclaimed. To my astonishment the teacher frowned, shook her head and corrected him. “No, round.”

Huh? A trick question? Preschoolers need this?

There were other dismaying interactions between the staff and children in the time I spent at the school. The director manipulated the 2-3 year olds to move onto a climbing structure by pointing to the sand and saying, “There are sharks in the water!” while smiling smugly at another teacher on the playground. Later she admonished a boy who found it difficult to stand still during the long graduation performance rehearsal. “If you do that tomorrow, I’ll embarrass you in front of all the parents!”

Needless to say, I passed on that school. Eventually, I lucked into finding a jewel with an educated staff, child-centered philosophy and developmentally appropriate educational curriculum – play. Although the name of the school did not include the words “creative children” as the first had, this was a center where creativity was truly nurtured, and where preschool-aged children were understood and respected.

Our child’s first school experiences can color his or her perceptions about school and learning for years to come. Child development experts and early childhood educators agree that the preschool years are a time for the development of social skills and hands-on sensory learning that is experimental and exploratory. Here are a few of the reasons our kids don’t need academic instruction in these first school years.

We can’t rush development (or nature).

Kindergarten has evolved from being a time for play, socialization, cartons of milk (loved them!) and afternoon naps to structured lessons in reading, writing and arithmetic. The Gesell Institute for Human Development recently “conducted 40-minute one-on-one cognitive assessments with 1,287 children ages 3–6 at 56 public and private schools in 23 states” (as reported in The Harvard Letter). They then compared the results to identical studies published in 1925, 1940, 1964 and 1979. The conclusion: Kindergarten has changed, but children haven’t.

Teaching academics earlier is not helping children develop cognitive skills any sooner. “Marcy Guddemi, executive director of the Gesell Institute, says despite ramped-up expectations, including overtly academic work in kindergarten, study results reveal remarkable stability around ages at which most children reach cognitive milestones such as being able to count four pennies or draw a circle.”

Funneling academics down to preschools to “better prepare” children to deal with an already overly academic Kindergarten experience is a waste of time, and this “miseducation”, as Dr David Elkind refers to it in Miseducation- Preschoolers at Risk, can cause “damage to a child’s self-esteem, the loss of the positive attitude a child needs for learning, the blocking of natural gifts and potential talents.”

Stress, discouragement, shame.

Even if we have the most brilliant child imaginable, why risk setting him up to feel confused, embarrassed, and possibly even inept? The boy who enthusiastically answered “Circle!” at the preschool I observed may have felt all those things — even when he gave a perfectly acceptable answer. Giving a toddler or preschooler lessons in academics either at home or at school can create unnecessary stress and feelings of failure.

If there is one thing children need to prepare them for Kindergarten it is self-confidence, and plenty of it. Self-confidence is fostered in these formative early years when parents are patient, trusting their children to develop naturally and autonomously according to their inborn schedule and individual pace. Yes, there are preschoolers who are drawn to memorizing letters and numbers, and there are self-taught readers. Those abilities continue to flourish without formal instruction in preschool.

Untrained staff, weak philosophy.

Since an academic preschool program is counter to the expert opinion and research about how children learn and considered developmentally inappropriate, it reflects a staff that is either lacking in early childhood education or bowing to outside pressure. In my experience, pressure often comes from parents who fear that their child will not be prepared for Kindergarten and might fall behind. The director of a wonderful NAEYC accredited preschool my younger children attended often dealt with parents who expressed concern that their child wasn’t learning anything, “just playing”. I admired the way the preschool held strong to its developmental philosophy and took care to ease parents’ worries by educating them about cognitive development, child-centered learning and the power of play.

Missed opportunities.

The first years are the once-in-a-lifetime window of opportunity for children to follow individual interests, explore, invent and discover, and revel in a love of learning while establishing the secure roots necessary for a successful education. As educator Susan Westley explains in her Tallahassee.com essay lamenting the replacement of play with academics in Kindergarten, “It is akin to taking a pink rose bud and prying apart the petals to bring forth a beautiful rose. It doesn’t work. Children, like flowers, need to be given the freedom to grow at their own pace and blossom when they are ready.”

Parents may not have the power to effect changes in Kindergarten, but we do have the ability to choose a positive preschool atmosphere for our children in which curiosity is encouraged, the focus is on enriching experiences rather than performances, and children have plenty of questions, but no wrong answers.

NAEYC indicators for an appropriate early childhood program:
– A wide variety of materials with which children can play and experiment
– Children making choices about activities
– Teachers with training in early childhood education
– Each child’s interests and abilities considered in the teacher’s plans so that each
child can experience success and joy in learning

Young children learn best through direct sensory encounters and not through a formal academic process. Learning should be the outcome of hands-on experience, especially play.    – NAEYC

“Respect your child by letting his interest lead the way” Magda Gerber

I share more in Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting (now available in Spanish!)


(Photo by Jude Keith Rose)


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. GREAT post, thank you.

    This past summer I went down the preschool hunt and the experience was overwhelming. I was looking for progressive schools that included play as their teaching basis (after a lot of research) but also looking at Montessori because I liked their ideas for independence but every Montessori I went to (5 in total) I found teacher(s) that did not have the overall respect for the children as children. It seemed the kids had to do it perfectly and there was no room for exploration or failure. I am sure there are some that are not all like this but overall what I came away with is that no matter what the philosophy, because it can all sound great, the most important equation is the teacher themselves and how they interact with the kids. I still believe play is the best way of learning for all ages through a child’s schooling life, but unless the teacher themselves has the right respect in general for the little people who they are teaching, its all irrelevant.

    I went to a talk last weekend too by William Crane who wrote the book Reclaiming Childhood. Haven’t read yet myself but everything he kept reiterating was allowing your child to grow at their own pace and let play and exploration be their guides.

    I think I feel I have found 2 places that would work for my daughter because they focus on play as part of their learning and they both embrace the RIE and peace conflict resolution ideas. We will see what happens.

    p.s sorry if this sounds rambling as there’s so much to say about the subjects its hard to confine it to a short(ish) reply

    1. Natalia, I appreciate hearing your thoughts…no need to be brief here!

      I’m hoping a reader with Montessori training will comment on your experience, because the attitude of the teachers you describe doesn’t sound like the spirit of Montessori at all from what I know about it. There do seem to be a wide range of interpretations of Montessori in schools, and I’m not sure why that is.

      I agree that the teachers matter…a lot, but since preschool teachers tend to come and go (unfortunately), I still believe that parents are best served finding a school with a commitment to a developmental philosophy and a director that adheres to it. Then, I would observe the teachers in action and ask the director all the questions, “What do you do if a child hits?”, etc. Choosing schools at all levels can be difficult, but the 2 places you’ve found sound promising.

      With all the new research on brain development, I’m hoping the pendulum will swing back from pushing academics on children too early to a place where unstructured play is valued as not only a learning tool, but also a necessary emotional, physical and creative outlet in preschool, kindergarten through high school and beyond.

      1. Hi Janet and Natalia,

        I am an early childhood teacher (from NZ)who comes from both a RIE and Montessori background. (I love the blog…very inspiring and starts some great discussions with friends, family & colleagues). Janet you are completely right in saying that the lack of respect towards the child is very un-Montessori! Dr Maria Montessori was a revolutionary in her own right, as she based her whole philosophy on observations of the child versus imposing a philosophy on a child. A lot of commonly used ways in early childhood education originated from her – child sized furniture, allowing freedom of choice, the importance of free movement, etc. It was a shame that the Montessori centre’s Natalia saw did not have the core of Dr Montessori’s philosophy – respect and awe of children. In my own Montessori training, it was reiterated again and again about following the child and not correcting them but noting (privately) how they responded to an activity and whether or not they were ready for it. If they weren’t, no fuss or correction was made, just representing this activity later when they might have been more ready for it. I hope more of the true Montessori approach is found when other parent’s look into it. Respect, respect, respect!


      2. Regarding the range you find among Montessori schools: although it is possible (and desirable) to be an accredited Montessori school, there are NO laws protecting the use of the word Montessori in a school’s name. Therefore, many schools use the name essentially to market their school. They take advantage of an uninformed public and damage the reputation of all legitimate Montessori schools.

    2. I agree Natalia, unfortunately, as a Montessori teacher, I have the same concern with many Montessori schools. If teachers actually take the time to study Montessori’s philosophy more carefully in their training they would see that what Montessori stressed was “follow the child” and “pause and watch the chid”. The materials are meant to be done eventually in a specific way to get the entire learning experience in these multi-leveled learning materials BUT Montessori also said that as long as a child wasn’t being destructive they should be allowed to explore the materials in whatever way they chose. Montessorians are pretty strangely constrictive when the child is not doing the work precisely as they have shown them and I would say – run away!! This is NOT Montessori!

      1. Great to see a reply from a Montessori teacher, as I thought Montessori would be brilliant for my daughter. But we spent 4 years in 2 preschools (we had moved half way) and my daughter hated the place,ended up hating wood things and asked me why I sent her there, it left her scarred, there was only 15 mins of play per day (they like to say we are ‘Pure Montessori’) I eventually found out as they cleverly dont let you see much of inside the classroom (warning signs), I always wondered why she would say to me, that is not the right way mummy, you have 2 choices and that is not the choice, hmmm, a friend of mine said she saw a child building the pink tower pretending each block was a plane landing on each other, and he was told that is not the way we do it – which she pointed out, if they could not see how amazing his imagination was, it wasnt for them. They tell you, that your child could transistion into grade 1 in Aus, and that they follow the NSW curriculum, rubbish. My daughter is exceptionally bright, thank goodness, but in her language area had huge gaps and had to redo kindy. Emotionally and socially, they had to do their work alone or quietly observing, so her skills with interacting with others were impaired. They use social isolation as a form of natural consequence and behavioural management – this could be leaving a little 3 year old on a chair crying until he got it together. As they didnt like to reward or cuddle too much. One mum came to pick her son up and found his shirt saturated, and wondered why it was so wet – he had been crying all morning. My daughter was scarred by the social isolation, I wont go into it here too detail. One child, 3-4 year olds!!, was put in the office for his bad behavior – and not terribly bad behaviour, they are only 3-6 but because it was such a controlling environment the kids were sometimes, impulsive. Most of the Dad’s called it a work camp. The older kids learnt how to be sneaky, and bully the younger ones and it had a culture of it. When I use to tell all my other mum’s group friends about the behavioural problems they couldnt believe it, as they didnt experience anything like that at their preschools, these kids were so badly behaved it was amazing and mean to each other. And when they came out for pickup, it was like they went crazy – well you would too being so pent up in there. After all that money and inconvenience with the 3 hr mornings 5 days a week – I cant tell you how I felt. Also, if you challenge them or question it, you are given the cold shoulder and they push you out. I gave my child up to them and I warn others, keep your child close, and if you cant freely go into a place, and if you child shows signs of aggression and just not normal behaviour – dont believe what the so called child experts tell you – trust your heart. I do believe it is the Australia Mont schools, as it sounds different o/s. Montessori materials are amazing, I do it with no.2 at home, but in a free, natural, home like explorative way. And I am sure that is how Montessori would have wanted it – not a controlling anal environment.

        1. Hael, I am certainly sorry you and your daughter experienced this…sounds like a nightmare. Your advice is good. I always recommend observing the school without your child present and staying as long as possible.

        2. avatar Jacqueline says:

          Ditto!!!! My child went through the exact same thing. So unfortunate!

    3. Natalia: The best way to find a traditional Montessori Preschool, is to find the one that have teachers that have been AMI Montessori Training. The rest of Montessori’s training apply other methodologies as well.

      1. avatar Jacqueline says:

        AMI doesn’t necessarily mean better. Actually some AMI programs are what is described above– anal!

        1. I wanted to say that Maria Montessori set in a motion an accepting, expansive, creative, and nurturing model of supporting the development of children .

          It just happens to be very difficult to get adults raised in traditional ways to implement such a respectful philosophy.

          Montessori classrooms can be amazingly vibrant and loving places. As respecting children (and elevating childcare) becomes more accepted and pervasive in our society, hopefully more classrooms will be able to live up to the fullness of its promise.

    4. avatar florida town says:

      I believe the job of pre-schools, kindergartens and primary schools, is to let kids learn how to learn. And they will – without even thinking about it, they will find the learning style that best suits them.
      I taught myself to read when I was 4. Mom didn’t worry about the academics – I picked up on those with no problems, but she did have me in ballet, gymnastics, tap and piano lessons. Music was a great grounding for arithmetic and the concepts came easily.
      Forcing kids to fit into a mold just doesn’t work. And unhappily, all it does is stifle any curiosity or urge to learn because the teacher’s approval becomes more important than what is actually going on with the child. I’m all in favor of scrapping ‘education-based’ kindergartens and going back to the play school concept, where kids can explore, discover, and learn, as they are inherently programmed to do.

  2. Janet, I wonder why I am just discovering your blog and Facebook fan page only now! Thank goodness another blogger whose work I follow reposted this blog entry to their FB page, so I am playing catch-up in the wee hours of a Northern California morning! This is such a wonderful thought-provoking entry and just what a colleague and I were discussing last night over dinner and post-dinner as we poured through a collection of images from our two schools and other sources we admire to re-visit why we believe and do what we do as early childhood practitioners. And here you have put it all in writing! Thank you also for sharing your incredible life journey in your bio on your Facebook page. It so clearly illustrates who you are now, how you have gotten here and what you believe. Bravo! I look forward to reading all your posts past, present and future.

  3. Janet this is an excellent article. It is one I hope EVERYONE reads. This message is so critically important.

    Sadly I have seen the type of preschools and kindergartens you initially described.In one of the programs, the teacher was entirely focused on ensuring every child sat with crossed legs on the floor during story time. She stopped reading repeatedly to make sure each child was sitting as she wanted them to. Then, as she turned a page one little boy became very excited by an illustration in the book. He got up on his knees and pointed to the picture in the book and said, “That’s a puppy!” He was immediately told to sit back down and to remember never touch the book.

    Hopefully articles like yours and the reports you included will help to create awareness of the optimal learning young children need and eliminate experiences like we have seen.

    This week I had the opportunity to do a webinar for early education professionals. Your article compliments the focus of the seminar. In this presentation I focused on the importance of play, choices, opportunities to explore, and differentiated learning. This was all provided with the explanation of how it supports early brain development and why play is the best way to learn.

    Children’s brains physically grow and develop based primarily on experiences in the pre-school years. Scientific research shows us that hands on interactive experiences with nurturing and responsive adults leads to optimal development. We need to use the knowledge we have to do all we can for our young children.

    We have the knowledge of what is best … now we just have to create further awareness. Your article is contributing to this!


    1. Deborah, thank you, it’s wonderful to have your corroboration. I so admire the work you do and your website (http://braininsightsonline.com).

      Just this week a mom in my parent/infant class was talking about a preschool she visited. She said it was a physically beautiful environment, but that the school seemed to have nothing to do with the children. The day was loaded with teacher-led activities in art, drama, dance, etc., even for the two-year-olds. Teachers were holding childrens’ hands to draw and complete art projects. I can only imagine that this is a response to what parents believe is good preschool education. But learning isn’t about performing and bringing home products — it’s about what is going on in the brain! We all have to learn to relax a little and trust our children to develop without needing constant proof.

    2. as a teacher though you have to have some sort of order. no, we don’t want kids to be robots and sit rigidly and not be engaged but at the same time if you have 20+ kids all on their knees and jumping up and pointing to the pictures the teacher woudn’t be able to read the story!

      as far as ditching academics altogether? i don’t see the need for that. academics can be taught through games and through play. what’s wrong with exposure? i know this may not be a popular opinion on this blog but as an educator for 20 years I find that exposure in early childhood is perfectly fine. If they aren’t ready for it, then leave it alone-but some kids may enjoy learning those things and what’s the harm in that?

      1. Hi Joy, and thanks for your comment. Here’s where I disagree: “academics can be taught through games and through play”. Yes, they can, but they are also learned naturally (and in a more fruitful, age-appropriate manner) through games and play without ever being “taught”. “Exposure” to my mind is having classroom tables, shelves and toy boxes labelled with the words ‘table’, etc., and responding to children’s comments and questions. But I don’t agree with the kind of “exposure” that has a subtle (or not so subtle) teacher-driven learning agenda behind it.

        And, I would be thrilled if children showed such engagement in the details of a story that it took me ages to finish the book. Finishing the book is our agenda.

      2. I agree with you Joy! There are lots of ways to make learning fun. I feel nothing is wrong with exposure, this has always worked well in my preschool class! Most of the children did great in school. I also do agree children do learn threw play. I also feel 4and 5 yr. Olds need to have a some structure.

  4. I STRONGLY agree! My daughter’s daycare/preschool is all about creativity. In fact, they also practice RIE which is where I learned about it. I encourage anyone in Santa Monica who is interested in these principles to check it out:
    The Growing Place
    Thanks Janet!

  5. I love this article. Thank you so much for your thoughts on preschool. Having two boys, aged four and two, it is something that I’ve given a lot of thought to. After much deliberation, I made the decision to not enroll my oldest in a formal academic setting, and to instead explore the world together though play and reading, and just spending quality time together. We have a group of four other kids that we rotate a play-school group with, who have similar philosophies about learning. It has been so fun and enriching for him. I’m glad that I went with my instincts and kept him from preschools that I felt were too focused on formal learning.
    I love the quote about prying the petals away from a flower. Such a great image.
    Thanks again– this has given me something to think about!

  6. Thank you for this excellent post, Janet. My favorite line: “We can’t rush development (or nature).”

    I think those teachers and preschools who are disrespecting children (and their parents) are the product of unhampered and misguided strict Skinnerian-behaviorism.

    The disrespect extends to the natural development of the brain in favor an arrogant belief in shaping makes all things possible.

    I’ll just add one more of my soapbox favorites – ‘interactive’ implies a motor component. Young children need movement and variety of movement to develop their cognitive skills.

  7. Janet,

    Thanks for this. I think another important contributing factor is the competitiveness that we parents can easily get swept up into as we see other families making different choices. I clearly remember the pressure to have our first child put on the wait list at “the best” preschool so that she could also get into “the best” elementary, high school, college….and of course, career. Wow! What pressure!! Like a house of cards, we’re led to believe that “one false move” will result in terrible lifetime outcomes for our babies!

    It’s such a disservice. Information like this is very important to have, but parents also need ways to combat the internal pressure we start to feel to deal with the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality. And with “academic” preschools all the rage these days, it’s crucial to recognize trendiness and popularity contests for what they are.

    Great post. Aloha!

    1. Dr. Heather,

      Excellent point about parental peer pressure and competitiveness. All the more reason why I believe that parenting on instinct alone can sometimes fail us. I know I needed parenting guidance, and I see no shame in that. After all, we train for far less important jobs. Fortified with information that feels instinctively “right” we can garner the strength we need to withstand trends and swim against the tides.

      Thanks so much for sharing!

      1. “Parenting by intuition” is one of my pet peeves, Janet — how did you know? Dr. Spock, I’m sure, meant to empower parents with the notion that Mother’s Intuition trumps all, but instead people internalize the expectation that somehow we should just “know” — how to handle a crying baby, what to do about potty training, toddler discipline, etc — and when we don’t (I often don’t) — we question (and doubt) ourselves, and feel “less than” those who purport to automatically know what’s best in every situation.

        Parents are left feeling embarrassed that they don’t know what to do, and ashamed to admit their “failings”. And so yes, thank you for pointing out how important it is to get training, to learn, to gather information from experts. Not because the “experts” know everything, but because we can better tune in to that teeny intuitive voice — and make it louder, over time, when we have a grounding in science and experience.

        Because “Parents’ Intuition” is really nothing more than the combination of 1) knowing YOUR child’s temperament and personality, plus 2) a foundation of guidance from the “experts” — and other parents (and a good healthy dose of common sense). It’s our own “best voice” of knowledge about our child.

        That said, I think that in any “brand” of preschool, great teachers can be found who do a fabulous job with the children, despite a theoretically ridiculous curriculum. So it really goes back to the teacher, and how good she/he is at knowing (and following) the child. (Plus all the other magical things that great preschool teachers do to gain childrens’ attention and cooperation!)

        The notion of “early reading” and all that nonsense is just silly, as well. Young children really don’t retain much of what is “academically” learned before age 6-ish anyway (despite that crazy “Your Baby Can Read” program). It’s all just fancy tricks and memorization. Yes, for some rare few, early reading is a reality — but those children will learn how to read ANYHOW – from signs on the side of a bus – and not because they went to “academic preschool”.

        Aloha! 🙂

  8. avatar tigerljily says:

    I’m pretty lucky in that the school basically believes in play and the staff is young and energetic, but I feel even there the pressure for ‘kindergarten readiness’ is pretty heavy, not sure if it’s other parents, who seem to be more or less self-selected mellow, or the state requiring some measure of progress in order to keep funding going for those kids who receive benefits (I suspect the latter).

    I really don’t understand what ‘kindergarten readiness’ means. To me it’s just they’re school age and interested in learning, but this is feeling more like college prep.

  9. Thanks for the great article. I am a home daycare provider and see so many parents that want too much from their children at a very young age. I once witnessed a parent get upset with their 3 year old for not coloring in the lines on a paper they were showing them at pick up one day. I do a preschool program at my daycare but its very relaxed and fun. Thanks again for your article.

    1. Angela, it must be very challenging to calm parents’ worries. Maybe it would help to be armed with articles (http://naeyc.org has many) and books (like David Elkind’s) to lend to parents. I would love to hear how other providers deal with this issue…

      Please keep up the good work!

  10. Thank you for a fantastic and meaningful article. I work at a center that is play-based and filled with discovery and exploration. Watching children learn and grow at their own pace is exciting. Many years ago I had a button that said “Childhood Should Be a Journey Not a Race.” I sometimes have to convince parents that learning to read younger does not mean better.

    What I like best about our center is that it is joyful. When I walk down the hall and see all the artwork (all open-ended, no cookie cutter) lining the hallways and then peek into the classrooms and see children with their hands in mushy green oatmeal, or painting a giant box to turn into a listening center, or making signs for their shirts because they have, on their own, decided to have a rockstar band, I can’t help but smile.

    1. Yay! Thank you for sharing this lovely example. Makes me wish I was in preschool again!

  11. Thanks for this. I’ve been at odds with myself since September over this issue. I enrolled my daughter in an academic preschool because she’s extremely bright and inquisitive– she asked me to teach her how to read when she was 2, and I hadn’t the faintest idea how to start. So now she’s learning the kinds of things I know she wants to learn, and she’s blossoming in that sense– she retains so much of it and blows me away with the things she can now teach me about gravity, chlorophyll, the planets, etc. And she loves her teachers, who I know are sweet and not at all hard on the kids.

    BUT… I don’t see her making any social progress at all. Why does she not have a single friend yet? Why does she not know most of the other kids’ names? Why am I not hearing zany stories about how they decided to start a rock band and stick their hands in oatmeal? (Err, you know what I mean. Previous commenter!)

    So, yeah, I’m doubting my decision and will probably move her next year. I have no doubts about her academic potential, but what’s so much more important in life is to have friends. To know how to relate with others your own age. To have fun.

    Wish me luck finding the right place!

    1. Jenna, in your daughter’s case it doesn’t sound like the academic exposure is harming her, but as you are noticing, there’s only so much time in a day. If the focus of those hours is instruction –teacher directed learning — there is not going to be enough time for child-led play and socialization. Plus, the academic lessons make for a competitive environment, which doesn’t encourage social interaction at an age when children are just beginning to learn how to make friends.

      Your daughter’s inquisitiveness is wonderful and we want her to hold onto that. Yes, she shows amazing academic potential! Trust her to show you what she’s interested in learning about. Let her curiosity lead the way. Expose her to books, nature, & the occasional museum and answer her questions. If she has an interest in reading she’ll start deciphering the words and ask YOU to help. We don’t have to do anything! Two of my children were self-taught readers, fluent before they entered Kindergarten. They were book lovers beginning in infancy and did it all themselves. All I did was drive them to the library and answer questions. Parenting preschoolers is so much easier when we relax and trust (and enjoy!) Isn’t that a relief? And I do wish you luck finding a school that provides a more developmentally appropriate program.

      Thanks for sharing!

  12. Hi Janet,

    What a timely post!

    My son, who is currently in home based daycare will be going to pre-school next year. I am really anxious about finding the right place for him. He is very inquisitive and smart and also large for his age. But I am still anxious about putting him in a large group with less personal attention at the ripe old age of 3.

    I have now started to look into schools and the example of questions to ask that you gave will be very useful. I’m just worried that I won’t find the a suitable environment. Personally, I think I am the only person in Israel to have ever heard of RIE 🙂

    1. I’m sure you’ll be able to find a place you and your son are comfortable with… Try not to project your anxiety, since your worries might make a transition more difficult for him. How about posting a query on the community forum about developmental preschools in your area? https://www.janetlansbury.com/community/ You might even be surprised to find other RIE parents in Israel!:-)

  13. I would love to find a great school in Orange County, California that embraces RIE. If anyone knows of one, please let me know! I will certainly check out the schools in my area and do the due diligence as well. There are five or six Montessori schools here that I know of, as well as some Waldorf schools, but I agree that what it ultimately comes down to is the actual teachers at the school, and to what degree they truly put principles into practice. In fact I think this is true all the way through high school!

  14. This is such a great post, I too was in search of the best and found it in a retired teacher. Both my kids have gone to her home for “preschool” along with a few other kids. She prepared them for school through play and activities. It was not completely unstructured time, but I believe my kids are able to think and demonstrate cognitive learning a lot better than a pricey preschool.

  15. avatar Ashlee Gensman says:

    Just…. Ahh!
    Although I fully agree with the vast majority of what you are saying here, I highly disagree with sone as well. An academic preschool education should not be lumped into one school with an uneducated teacher and limited philosophy. An academic preschool can be amazing, brilliant, and wonderful for a child. There are “academic preschools” that not only teach reading, writing, shapes, etc., but also focus on play, independence, social skills etc. without the rubbish of embarrassing, scolding and what not.
    It is ridiculous to me that children are not taught certain skills until they are five, six, seven years of age when they are completely capable and happy to do so at two and three and four. A three year old can be taught to read, write, etc. if taught properly and will benefit from such learning for a lifetime. If a child can read and comprehend well, than in essence they can learn to do just about anything. Why not give them that early start? But do it in a positive, understanding, and supportive way. If a public school study shows no difference, why is anyone surprised? The public system has been failing this country a long time. Run the same study in certain areas of india

    1. avatar Cornelia Ojukwu says:

      I whole heartly agree with you Ashlee Gensman. I am appalled when I read or hear professors who say that children learn thru play and interaction with real material. So a positive way of learning to write and read repetitiously with an effective support system will destroy a child’s self esteem. (I beg the difference) Why, Why must we continue down this same path when this country are number 25/26 on the academic pole. Kids of today want to be challenged and their brain are ready to soak up so much information and retain it into the future….. sponge that………

      1. I would have to take issue with your claim that repetition is the way to bring the US or any other country back from falling international educational rankings. The US and Australia are beginning to lag behind many other countries more because of the reliance on standardised testing to indicate children’s learning. While it is true everything can be tested, trying to measure the adequacies of an education system in such a way is flawed from the outset as it fails to take any number of factors into consideration, not the least being anxiety which Janet mentioned in her article.

        You will find most of the leading countries in regards to educational outcomes encourage learning through play, engagement with nature, and value a stress-free environment for their children. Japan and China are perhaps exceptions, but the level of stress experienced by school-aged children in such countries is astonishing.

        If you want your country to be the best at educating its children then try to learn from the best – Norway.

    2. Ashlee, are you aware of the study mentioned here: http://lauragraceweldon.com/2012/10/03/educating-too-early/ “Researchers followed high-risk children who attended different preschool environments. Some were enrolled in an academic setting, others in a child-initiated play setting, and a third group in a preschool that balanced both approaches. By the middle grades, children from the play-oriented preschool were receiving the highest grades. They also showed the most social and emotional maturity. Those who had attended the academic preschool lagged behind in a significant way— poorer social skills. The differences became more apparent as these children got older. By age fifteen, students from the academic preschool program showed twice as much delinquent activity as the other two groups.”

  16. avatar Ashlee Gensman says:

    Pardon, on a mobile device and was cut short.
    Anyway, my main point is that studies do not always show children as a being, but often shows educational systems being used, so don’t just go by that. An academic education in proper hands can be the way to help our country achieve educational success.
    By the way, the Montessori method is not a copyrighted or protected method, therefore is open to interpretation from whoever decides to teach it. Unfortunately this has lead to much misuse and misunderstanding of the philosophy in general. Though it’s not my cup of tea, I feel bad for those who have opinions based on misinterpretation and those who have to defend because of it. May Carden was wise to protect her methods.

    1. This is the first time I have ever sen a mention of May Carden anywhere, I’m 70 and my elementary school used the Carden method to teach reading. Every once in a while May Carden would visit to make sure it was being done right. Thanks for the memories.

  17. avatar Ashlee Gensman says:

    One more thing, about NAEYC: After working in over a dozen “NAEYC ACCREDITED” schools, I can guarantee you that not all of their schools (I would optimistically venture half) are being held accountable to their standards so parents should not assume they are. Not to say this is the fault of NAEYC entirely, perhaps they don’t have the funds or manpower to keep a vigilant eye. Either way, to say and to do are two completely different things.

    1. Ashlee, I agree with your points about philosophical standards not always being met or consistent, whether it be a Montessori school or NAEYC accredited developmental preschool.

  18. Hello Janet, thank you for this fine post. Yes, yes, yes!! I’m an early childhood educator and have worked the full spectrum of birth to seven in Waldorf environments and want to share that from the perspective of Rudolf Steiner’s perspective of child development the child in the first seven years is entirely in the limbs, in doing and in action and the cognitive thinking and reasoning does not come in until much later in the curriculum. This leaves time and space for self initiated free play and movement in the nursery, in the kindergarten and even in the early grades, the child is able to fully live into life with the active little body, so intent on moving. That’s my little plug for Waldorf and thank you for all that you do. I heard your talk on play this week and greatly enjoyed it. I use RIE principals with the wee littles and it is so helpful and satisfying.

    1. Lisa, thanks for the shout-out and the Waldorf plug! Yes, Waldorf definitely fits the bill regarding “learning through play” and I love the Waldorf aesthetic…beautiful, natural toys that foster imagination.

  19. avatar Genevieve says:

    I agree with most of what is being said here…..children only get one chance to be children….why are we always trying to mold them into little mini adults….my mom always said to me “you only get to be a kid once and you’ll be a grown up for the rest of your life”! I think that as parents we really need to slow down and absorb this philosophy…..allowing children the time to play lets their natural interests have a chance to surface and we then have a chance to provide opportunities for them to further explore these interests….I’m sure we would all love to work in jobs that we have a passion for but how many of us do? Give your child a chance to discover her talents and passions through play. I would also like to mention that although I did not attend a Waldorf school I grew up in a town where Waldorf students entered our junior high in grade 7 and I can tell you from experience that not only did they meet or exceed academic standards but they also had such creativity and diverse talents.

  20. avatar birgitlarsen says:

    It would take me too long to write it all, but I sure have seen my share of shady facilities. I am fortunate to have stayed home when my children grew up. I think they greup kind of Waldorf style, but on a farm. We had no luxury, but my children became very creative and skilled because we could allow our children to learn what no centre would be allowed to do. I am now an ECE, and I have seen just about enough. We are making children into little experiements following this philosiphy and that.
    Kids love to copy adults, and that is anything from cooking, cleaning to learning how to read and write. When children start showing interest, they are ready to learn. Some are ready at 3 and some are not, but it can all be incorporated into free play. If we are observant and ready.

  21. Janet, I first read this post when you wrote it and I’m still fuming on behalf of that little boy who said ‘circle’! The teacher response there epitomises bad teaching practice to the nth degree. It’s bad enough when teachers humiliate children for wrong answers, but to be humiliated for a correct answer which just wasn’t exactly what the teacher had in their head? AAAUUUGGGGHHHHH! That is a teacher who’s allowed herself to build a box around her ideas that doesn’t let in any creativity at all.

    So wise of you to recognise that, despite the hype, this was not a healthy place for your child.

  22. Janet, I have another kind of question. With my son turning 2, I’m getting pressure to put him in some kind of preschool. He’s bright, very social, would probably be very happy in any hole in the wall that has other kids. But I’m having issues. I visited a preschool and toured it and just had a bad feeling in my gut. I wonder what is the opinion of “experts” how important is preschool in general at 2? at 3? at 4? Why can’t I just stick him in kindergarden at 5?

  23. I would also like to hear people’s opinion on starting preschool at age 2. Like Shana, my son is very cheerful and friendly. He loves socializing and exploring new environments. We are thinking of putting him in preschool 2 mornings a week (6 hours total) for no other reason than we think it would be fun for him. The alternative is to spend time one-on-one with his beloved nanny as I work part time. Thoughts?

    1. Shana and Abbie,

      Two years old is very young to be in preschool, in my opinion, and not something that would benefit every child.

      Shana, NEVER cave in to outside pressure…You know your boy best! There are some good two year old programs out there that some children are ready for and enjoy.

      One way to look at this… Once you commit to starting school, you are placing your child on a track that will continue until he is at least 19 or 20 years old! What’s the rush??? (Unless you need child care…that’s a different story.)

      Group care is much more stressful than home care, even for a 4 year old, but at that point the social benefits can far outweigh the downsides.

      Here’s a post that includes my thoughts and those of Roseann Murphy, who was director of an infant – preschool program for many years: https://www.janetlansbury.com/2010/09/is-two-too-young-for-preschool/

    2. I am a qualified early childhood teacher that used to work in a centre before having my own child, and becoming a home based educator. I don’t believe that children need to go to a preschool at all. Here in NZ children can start school at 5 or you can choose to wait until they are 6. I will be keeping my son at home until he is nearer 6 years. Research does not suggest that early socialization with peers is necessary for children’s development, and they learn much better alongside adults. Research into developing brains shows that secure attachments with adults is of vital importance in the first 3 years and I believe this is also important past the age of 3. In a preschool, there are always going to be different teachers. I would stick with the nanny. There are plenty of studies that show the stressful effects that large group care can place on the brain. I use a play based programme at home for the children I care for, based upon the RIE philosophy and the children’s individual interests.

  24. Love this information! Let kids be kids! Let them develop as they will without forcing organized education in them.

  25. I too am fuming for the little boy who said circle. I’m 33 and I can still remember feeling humiliated by my kindergarten teacher when she asked the class to find rhyming words for “on.” I said, “don” since I remembered a lyric from Deck the Halls, don we now our gay apparel. Anyway she and the student teacher laughed at me like I had said something ridiculous. Not sure if they thought it was cute or if they for some bizarre reason had never heard of the word (or the man’s name). It was a small things but bothered me almost as much as when another teacher called me stupid. Even though I was an easy student (well behaved shy child with high standardized test scores and loved to read), I always felt that teachers were condescending and mean. How people feel about lawyers, that’s how I feel about teachers. I really only enjoyed college and grad school. My younger brother went to a Waldorf school while after I was already out of public education and I was so envious of all the wonderful and creative things he was able to do there. My child is in a public preschool for special needs (he’s on the spectrum) and It worries me that so much emphasis is placed on sitting still and following direction and not on creative play and socialization. He is not an “easy” student but he is brilliant and artistic and loves to learn. I’m wondering if I should just keep him home except that he loves being around kids everyday and seems bored at home with me and his baby brother.

  26. i am the omi of a little girl who was chided (at a montessori school in sf) for not putting her coat on in the prescribed manner-and eventually asked to leave as she was “too young”- my grand (who is now 6, still prides herself on being kicked out of school when she was 3)…i am an educator who taught in “public” schools for too many years and was always the one they sent the “troublemakers” to-because they would respond to me-and i to them-children need love and space and someone willing and able to tune in to them-a lot to ask in any world of anyone-the beatles had it right…..as did maria m and rudolph steiner

  27. Janet, I need to take a moment and say thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU!!
    This semester, I’m taking Child Care Administration and Center Development in college. You’re posts and your wonderfully researched writing shape every one of my discussions.
    This particular post sums up my experience, entirely. I attended preschool and full day child care during the mid-1970’s. The play based, child centered environment was alive and well. However, it’s not what I see today and its something I fight for on a daily basis. Thank you for continually providing information, research and resources I can easily quote to support child centered care.
    I’m always floored by the number of preschool teachers and administrator who are arguing for and creating high pressure, no imagination environments to “prepare” children for the NEXT level.

    1. You’re so welcome, Bethany! I think it’s sad that we have to fight for what used to common sense. I hope you’ll keep fighting!

  28. avatar Michelle Mullen says:

    As an educator and parent, I thank you for this article. I was unable to link to Susan Westley’s essay and was hoping you could submit a different link. Thank you in advance!

    1. Hi Michelle. Aaargh, I did a bit of research and it turns out that the article must now be purchased online from Tallahassee.com. I guess it makes sense… These papers have to stay in business!

  29. I am an ECE the problem I have seen most is that in my state (Florida)they have an absurdly high teacher child ratio. 20:1 for 4 year olds 15:1 for 3 and the centers will pack a class full of 30 3 year old children with 2 adults. At the few play based centers I worked for that meant that the children were running around throwing toys and hurting each other mostly because they were overly stimulated by all the noise and things going on It was not a happy place for the children or the teachers. I’ve also worked at a few academic based schools were the children were reading before leaving. In Florida we have a free voluntary pre K (VPK) for any child 4 before september 1st they get a free 3 hours of preschool a day paid for by the state since it is a state run program the state wants results so during the 1st month of Kindergarten all the children are tested and the results go back to whatever daycare/preschool they attended and that school gets a rating. So that is why were are currently teaching Compound words and syllables because that is what is on the test as well as identifying money and street signs and shapes and colors and letters. If we could find a happy balance that would be great.

  30. As an ECE with nearly 20 yrs experience and an MEd, I am a huge supporter of play-based education. This was a great post overall, but I think that it’s important to point out that play-based education doesn’t mean letting children do anything that they would like. There are limits and boundaries in the classroom, just as there are in life, although different programs apply them to different degrees and in different ways. The teacher offers many activities and materials for exploration, and they choose those based on lesson plans that do have objectives in mind, whether they be to promote social-emotional, cognitive, language, or physical development, or a combination thereof (though they should always be based on children’s interests.) Also, in your comment to Joy, I feel as though you were splitting hairs about “teaching” through songs or kids “learning” through songs…teaching through music is a pretty common method, which doesn’t mean that the teacher is being academic. Have you taught in a classroom? Your comment about being thrilled that the children were engaged in the book from the situation Joy described makes me guess you haven’t. If you have and that was your thought, I’d love for you to expand on it, if you wouldn’t mind.

    1. Hi Kelli, and thank you for clarifying that play-based education includes behavior boundaries! You’re correct that I have not taught in a preschool classroom and I’m sorry if my comment came off as frivolous and uninformed. My point is that I believe student engagement and not getting through the whole book would be preferable to the children not really caring or paying attention while the teacher read on… But I realize that in a classroom there would be children who wanted to hear the story and didn’t appreciate the interruptions. So, the class can obviously not be a free-for-all.

      I think preschool teachers have to be open to altering their agendas to “flow” with the children’s needs. (I’m sure you know much more about this than I do.) That is also what I meant by allowing children to learn rather than teaching them. If a child asks me about the letters on the page of the book I’m reading, I know that child is ready to learn what those letters are. If I try to teach the whole class these letters, I’m teaching many of my students something they’re not interested in or perhaps ready for…while they might really love to know more about the animals in the forest scene in the book. I see teaching at this level (and perhaps every level) as a sort of balancing act and have the greatest admiration for teachers who are able to do it well.

  31. Hi there. I am an early childhood educator in Australia in a not for profit Community Preschool. We have 29 children in a room with a minimum of 3 educators. Our program is child focused and play based. We have an indoor/outdoor program and natural environment.
    Our children are engaged, relaxed and happy. Very little behaviour guidance is required. They eagerly and freely explore, investigate, laugh, read, dance, sing, run, rest and more. We observe, record and plan. Based on their interests we set up the environments. We join them to extend and guide their learning.
    It is what in Australia we call “Long Day Care” so we are open from 7am to 6pm. Most children will attend for 8 hours. All day we have two blocks of 15 minutes when children will sit together and participate in a structured planed group experience. Mostly we all have fun and enjoy each others company. They learn from us and we learn from them. We respect and care for them and they respect and care for us.
    I believe that our Centre’s philosophy has created this positive athmosphere for learning and for teaching.
    Hope you have found a great place for your child to be and become.

  32. Oooo, I am sad about the negative comments about Montessori. She introduced materials for learning real things because she saw that children were interested in them…”practical life” means everything from teaching the skills so that children can prepare food (although this is discouraged/illegal in many states in day care settings, another boooooo), practice social skills and self-care skills. The believed that each child had within him/herself what they needed to be successful adults, and would be drawn to those activities that they needed to do that. This week we have made snow cream along with our regular snack preparation, with which the children are involved in every way, along with caring for all the animals, setting up dishwashing for snack, folding napkins and towels (caring for the classroom), counting, doing addition (we have a game called “the store game”, composing stories and then beginning to write with the movable alphabet (Montessori observed that children could write easily when they learned letter sounds and could associate them with a letter that they could pick out of a box instead of write with a pencil, until using a pencil became easy), acting out the stories they write, singing, doing yoga, and, every, every day, playing outside for an hour. Children are invited to work, and are free to work alone or with a friend. We are always looking to encourage the whole child, which often means teaching a lot towards social success if that is what is needed. Montessori said that children want to do “real things” and I find that to be true. However, they also want to play, and that is what happens outside, with great gusto and abandon, along with very intentional working on gross motor skills (the child who jumps, repeatedly, from one stump to another, the one who tries all the ways to swing on the tire swing, the one who very carefully carries water to her “cake”.

    Please don’t shortchange children in what “play” can mean…

    1. I think you’ll find most people are criticising particular ‘Montessori’ schools and not the woman herself. Unfortunately many services that bear her name have either forgotten the central idiom of her work or they had very little association with it to begin with and are more likely trying to cash in on her name. Either way, its a shame that such a great pioneer in the early Childhood field should be so misrepresented today.

  33. Hi Janet, I was glad to “rediscover” this blog post via your facebook page tonight. I am a preschool teacher, I used to work at a RIE center but now I’m just working as a substitute at a center that would be more or less considered an academic center. Needless to say, I have to bite my tongue many times throughout the day when I see and hear my coworkers interact with the children in ways I dislike. My center’s director and I have many of the same ideas about childcare and I would love to introduce her to RIE, how do you think I should go about this? I don’t want to step on any toes as I am only a substitute.

    Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: last week with the one-year-olds, I took the children outside to draw with chalk. The next day, the children found the chalk we had left outside and my coworker rolled her eyes and said “Oh I hate when they make such a mess with chalk.” I said “They have so much fun with it, don’t worry, I’ll clean them up.” Then a boy started drawing on the wall, keep in mind we’re outside, but my coworker immediately took the chalk away from him and told him “No no! Chalk can’t go on the wall!” I knew it wasn’t worth asking her why not, but it made me sad anyway.

  34. I love our Montessori school but all Montessori schools are not alike.
    Children really do need to explore and they also need limits…what one parent thinks is right for their child may be totally the opposite for another child.
    Thanks for this post…a child should not miss out on the opportunity to have “early childhood experiences”.

  35. avatar Lana Caywood says:

    I agree with everything in this article. We are seeing stressed and burned out students in second and third grade due to academic early childhood programs. However, I would add the following to teachers with early childhood training: the training must be child centered and play based. The concept of academic preschool and kindergarten began in teacher preparation programs. Early childhood teacher are as good as their training. Many teacher training programs perpetuate the problem of academics in early childhood education.

  36. Hi Janet! Was wandering what your thoughts were on homeschooling. Im currently homeschooling my seven year old and have a three year old as well. Not sure to start anything with him besides giving him plenty of time for free play! Any ideas as how to implement these things in a homeschool environment!

    1. Hi Cayce! I think homeschool can work well for children and parents, especially parents who want more control over their children’s education, socialization and influences. But I didn’t choose homeschool myself, so I can’t offer much in the way of advice besides following the child’s natural interests, which I would consider “the gold”. Laura Grace Weldon of Free Range Learning is someone I would recommend contacting (or following) for great advice about homeschooling: http://lauragraceweldon.com/ I haven’t read her book, but I’m sure it’s wonderful. Good luck!

  37. Wow, it makes me sad to have this barrier to my loving everything posted by Janet! Montessori said:”follow the child.” This would certainly have nothing to do with having children sit and listen to a teacher talk for more than about 10 mins….my observation of children is that they LOVE tools: scissors, hammers, shovels, and that, to me, include numbers and letters. These are tools of the adult world, that children need to incrementally master (and want to, dearly) as they want to master using a spoon. If you truly attempt to “follow the child” this can be presented (I think) in a way that is painless, intriguing, and empowering.

    As for two year olds, many parents seek out my program because their children are VERY busy and get easily bored at home; we set up a space to intrigue them on many levels and to offer many choices of actitivies. The goal is to be able to enjoy your child; preschool might help. No sin there.

  38. avatar Stephanie says:

    Hi Janet,

    Love your post! I’m wondering if you could expand on further questions that we should ask when looking for a good preschool?

    Further, I know it was asked previously but did not see an answer…..why is Preschool necessary?


    1. Hi Stephanie,

      I would ask about the school’s educational philosophy and their approach to discipline. Most importantly, I would ask to observe the school (without your child present) for as long as the school will allow. That is when you will see what REALLY happens.

      I don’t believe that preschool is necessary. I think it can be helpful for some children to learn to socialize in a group setting, especially if they will attend grade school (rather than be homeschooled). For my children, preschool was exciting and fun… And I should mention that their “play only” preschool has prepared them beautifully for the rigorously academic schools all three have attended.

  39. hi janet!

    wonderful article! thank you! i agree on all counts, but wondering what you would recommend when there is no affordable “play-based” preschool in your area? or at least not one that doesn’t have a 2+ year wait list (which we’ve been on since before my daughter was born)?

    our daughter is enrolled in a preschool/daycare where they are very concerned with kindergarten readiness and “academics”. she is young – 19 months – so i think the focus in her class is mostly on play, but i know they also work on shapes, colors, etc. both my husband and i work FT, so she must be in some sort of care, and we can no longer afford a FT nanny. what would you recommend? finding a home-based daycare until she is 3? even then, what do you recommend when there is no like-minded preschool in the area? try to balance what they’re doing at school with play-based learning at home? i’m sure i can’t be the only parent living in an area where these preschools are scarce or unaffordable.


    1. Hi Margaux!

      It’s sounds like your best option is balancing this at home with your commitment to “just” play. I would hold off on any enrichment classes or lessons until your daughter is asking for them herself (which is what I always recommend, anyway). I would also not buy into any school assessments that might come your way later on… Keep TRUSTING your girl.

  40. What an important piece. Thank you.


    “The first years are the once-in-a-lifetime window of opportunity for children to follow individual interests, explore, invent and discover, and revel in a love of learning while establishing the secure roots necessary for a successful education.”

    While yes this is true as they’ll never be that age again, not everyone does go to a traditional school where they are no longer allowed to follow their interests to explore and discover etc. But far too few get this opportunity later on in their education.

  41. One of my favorite parenting moments (as an Early Childhood Educator) was when my grown daughter called to say she’d found the perfect preschool for my grandson. She said, “You’ll be so proud of me Mom, I found one that doesn’t teach anything!” Amazing how much learning goes on in those kinds of preschools.

  42. Like the author, when it was time to enroll my children at Kindergarten/preschool I visited what was the most popular place at the time. I spent several mornings there with my daughter and was appalled by several things, such as the lack of creativity, the teacher led activities, the absolute control exerted over the children, and the list went on, including the cleanliness/sanitation issues that struck me as not up to standard. My daughter did not end up attending as this wasn’t what I envisaged a great kindergarten to be. I also realised a lot of parents did not invest any time into checking out the kindergarten they chose for their children, and later when a few of the became more aware referred to it as a military institution.. I can’t remember the exact words but it was sad.. sad because the children were in such a place, sad because the parents hadn’t invested any time in the choice, but had just taken on a herd mentality and enrolled their children there because everyone else did, sad because when they realised they felt there wasn’t a lot they could do. The one mother that did speak up was ‘put in her place’ by the owner/teacher and told to remove her child. I think these places will unfortunately exist until parents spend the time to check out if it is right and decide that it isn’t what they want for their children and enroll them elsewhere.

  43. I firstly feel so lucky to live in New zealand with our amazing childcare training and 2ndly lucky to have found one of the few childcare centres that follow primary care and the child’s lead. Thank you Childspace xxx

  44. I love the preschool you found to look after your children. I would love to work for them. “play” is dying out thanks to the standard tests in schools these days. It is sad that preschools are changing to “excel” students or get them ready for these testing standards and not to the DAP (developmentally Appropriate Practice) that they should teach. Hopefully as the years go on these “standards” will be lost and we can continue to teach children as they are not as they should be.

  45. I think it’s all about balance. Play is highly undervalued yet I find as an ece for the last 25 years, that educating parents about the value and all the learning taking place, definitely makes a very positive difference. I cringe when I hear “just play”, because these amazing little people are learning beyond what we can imagine, on their own terms, in their own way. Brilliant connections and skill building in every educational domain. There’s a balance to strike. .. expectations heading into kindergarten are largely skill based, with a certain level of content knowledge in math, science, language, social and motor skills expected. While we know as ece’s that these skills naturally build through play, discovery and exploration, there is a sad expectation that children are prepared and ready for their kindergarten year. Depending on district, those expectations, as well as parent expectations, vary. There’s a balance and every preschool is different. In my experience, NAEYC accreditation doesn’t indicate the preschool is any better or worse than an non accredited school. I teach in a play based preschool in a highly competitive district and I find lots of parent education in play is needed. My days and topics to explore are built around children’s interest only. Play is the focus yet skill building and incredible learning takes place within that play. Every school is different and every parents expectations are different. Visit as many schools as you can, see them in action and ask a lot of questions, sit in, observe…I also suggest checking with the kindergarten in your district to see what their expectations are for a child entering. Find the balance. I also believe strongly that the first school described isn’t bad because it’s academic, it’s bad because it employs teachers who seem highly unqualified. There’s a big difference. Kudos to the play based schools who strive to keep play the focus. I’m thrilled to be part of a school that celebrates it!

  46. My daughter who just turned five is still in preschool, I went against the teachers recommendation to put her I kindergarten this year because I didn’t think she needed to be pushed that soon. We were fortunate last year that her preschool (which she attended three mornings a week) had an amazing teacher who loved the kiss and went out of her way to spend time with each one of them everyday. ALL the kids from that class are still asking for her. This year my daughter is in the morning class from Monday to Friday and they do a lot of playing with individual children being pulled out for speech and occupational therapy, my daughter needs neither of these but they pull her out from time to time just to make sure she gets to feel special as well as get a bit if individual attention. This is all good, this part I have no complaints about.

    What bothers me is that the day that I went to class with her, the teacher spent very little time interacting with the children in any capacity, it was the aids and the specialists that spent most of the time with them. I also didn’t like the ‘screen’ time calendar activity because I believe that tactile learning means a lot more to children at that age then visual learning. Then during gym they picked an activity that asked the children to take from other children and gloat over others, while the staff stood in a circle and chatted.

    I will schedule a meeting with the principal soon to discuss my concerns but am not hopeful that anything will change. Unfortunately there are not many other options for preschool programs around here that are affordable and offer busing. But this is just a small part of a much bigger problem, the fact that our modern day educational system no longer works, if it ever really did, but as a society we are so used to it and so used to not questioning it, that we don’t think there is anything we can do to change it… And truthfully I don’t know how either.

    Great post!

  47. I’ll go out on a limb that in a few year this blogger will complain about Common Core simply because she isn’t smart enough to do her own child’s homework.

    1. How perceptive of you, Tim! Luckily, my children have not needed me to do their homework. One is in her senior year at Stanford University, the second is a freshman at Vassar College, and my son is only in 8th Grade, but I’ll admit that some of his math homework eludes me…I was once good at math, but it’s been way too long. He manages to get A’s anyway. I’m grateful that all three of my children are independent, self-motivated learners and I believe that is because we were careful to nurture their natural abilities in the early years. Learning through self-chosen play and exploration provided them with an excellent foundation for a relatively stress-free education.

  48. Thanks for some wise words Janet. What is more disturbing for me as an EC professional in Australia is that there is a push from governments and bureaucracy, as well as some from within the profession for more formal instructions in prior-to-school settings. Add to this the reliance on standardised testings (we have NAPLAN tests for year 3, 5, 7 and 9 that equates to approximately ages 8/9, 10/11, 12/13, 14/15) and you begin to get an understanding as to why more and more parents expect the more formalised teaching within preschools and early years learning services.

    With voices like yours out there and peak bodies such as NAEYC for you and ECA in Australia we can hopefully turn this torrent around before too many more children are affected adversely.

  49. The most important thing for parents to know is that anyone can use the name “Montessori” to describe any school or training center with no oversight. Sad but true. Please see this website for information on how to tell a real Montessori school with a Montessori-something: http://montessori.edu/

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