The Purpose Of Preschool

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I have been giving preschool and its purpose significant consideration over the last month or so, for a number of different reasons. I have my third child attending four year old kinder (preschool) this year and soon have to make some decisions on preschool for my fourth child.

I often wonder if there is certain levels of literacy that they should achieve during their preschool year. My philosophy has always been to “follow the child” and support their interests along side what they learn at preschool, as the moment arises, but I wonder is this enough?.

My eldest son went to a Montessori preschool which I loved, but we moved and it was no longer and option to send my children there. My second son went to the same kinder, where my daughter now goes, but had a different teacher. I think we have been lucky as all three teachers have been great, they engaged and respected the children and had a beautifully set up class room.

There was a stark contrast moving from Montessori to traditional preschool in terms of equipment, daily structure and fees! However there was a similarity in that the programs were “planned to enhance physical, social, intellectual, language and emotional development”. At neither was there a big push to have children reading, writing and getting them “ready” for school.

In the blogosphere I have recently come across many criticisms of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and some of its flow on consequences for preschool:

Because NCLB focuses on literacy, math and eventually science, these content areas are driving K-3rd grade curriculum, and influencing preschool curricula. Kagan et al (2006) have pointed out that all state preschool standards focus on academic areas at the expense of other areas.

Although in Australia we do not have NCLB, I think the push down of curriculum into preschool is something that is also creeping into parts of the preschool system. I think the expectations of what children learn in preschool is changing and mainly from the parenting arena. (Not all parents though!!!)

Kathy Walker (a Melbourne based education consultant) spoke about this in her article in The Age Newspaper:

The preschool year is not, just like any year of school is not, simply a year in which we somehow get them prepared for the next year. Each year is valuable and a means unto itself. Sometimes parents believe preparation for school means using the preschool year to practise lining up, learning to read, reciting the alphabet or learning to count. This is not necessary and neither is it preparation for school. Each year of preschool and school needs to be valued for the time and experience and stage of life and learning that each child is at.

Having read the above information, when I left the beautifully set up classroom of my preschooler yesterday morning, where she had an opportunity to move from role play, to fine motor activities, to outdoor activities that encourage development of gross motor skills, I concluded that I think this is enough.

In the words of Kathy Walker:

we all need to ensure our children enjoy, engage and make the most of each year of their education. Learning is not a race to be won to see who gets there first. Learning is about acquiring satisfaction, meaning and skills and feeling good about ourselves. It is learning to interact and respect others, rather than intimidate, criticise harshly or judge others.

Giving ourselves permission as parents and teachers to enjoy the year our children are having – rather than spending endless hours preparing them for what we think might occur in the future – will help all children experience a meaningful and happy year, whatever year they are in.

What are your expectations from preschool?


  1. says

    Whilst it’s been a long time since my children were at preschool, I agree totally that it is a time of experiencing different things,learning about the world and themselves and one another. Then again, I feel the same about all schooling and education. Love of learning is my highest aim as a teacher. I want to model it and inspire it in my students.I think it is a real trap to focus exclusively on academic learning.

    Joh’s last blog post..ANZAC Day and Pa

  2. says

    Funny isn’t it the whole expectations of pre-school and stuff.

    I’m facing a major dilemma with pre-school this year. My oldest is in 4yo pre-school and I’m less than impressed with the kinder she is at. Yet I can’t put my finger on exactly why. It is disorganised and not very structured. Nothing really happens when it is intended to or in the manner we are told it will.

    Yet in many ways the Pre-School she went to for 3yo kinder and where her sister currently goes is also disorganised and unstructured. But they seem to do it in such a way that the children still learn from it.

    I was surprised when Heidi got given homework in 3yo Pre-School but it was about feelings and actually turned out really well for us. An activity we both enjoyed doing together (well until the end) –

    Both my girls are happy at PreSchool but I certainly am crossing my fingers that Heidi continues to attend the same place.

    And those so called “learning centres” drive me batty. Just let the kids get out in the sand / mud whatever and play.

    Marita’s last blog post..Anzac Day

  3. says

    I think its very easy for parents to get sucked into pushing their kids to overachieve, even from a young age. Someone has to be average, but everyone wants their kid to be above-average.

    Pre-school here is quite full-on – Guerita gets homework and they are doing a lot of work on writing letters and numbers. Compared to most other schools here though her kinder is very relaxed. When we were looking for (3 year old) pre-school 2 years ago we rejected a lot of places because they were a traditional classroom setting (rows of desk facing a chalkboard) with schedules of maths, science, English etc – it all just seemed to much for pre-school!

    It’ll be interesting to compare it with Aussie schools when we go back – she’ll be going into pre-primary then.

    Guera’s last blog post..Expat Schooling and The Cultural Divide

  4. kazoo says

    As a kindergarten teacher i can safely say that half of my job involves convincing the children’s parent of the benefits of a ‘play based’ program and that preparation for schooling is not about letters and numbers. To see the way a young child develops throughout the year and the journey they take towards becoming autonmous, bright happy children with a positive self concept and self esteem, who are ready to test their curiosity in a confident manner and who have learnt so much throughout the year without even realising it and loving every minute of it…thats what kindergarten is about!!

  5. says

    Oh, i’m totally with you.

    My pre-school is great, they really *do* ‘learn through play’ and seem to take an active interest in each and every child. The feedback I have had has been invaluble.

    And there is a whole looming lifetime of math and deadlines and difficulties and decisions ahead.

    Which can wait …

    h&b’s last blog post..Pooped

  6. says

    oh wow I could write pages on thus but I have a cranky baby on my lap so I will try to keep this short….
    I think it all depends on how you view children and learning. Is a child a vessel that we need to cram full of knowledge as much as possible as soon as we can? Or is a child a person who has interests of their own? Is learning about regurgitating knowledge or developing understanding? Do you respect a child to learn at their own pace or feel the need to make them learn what an adult thinks they should know when an adult thinks they should know it?
    Once, right back when I began teaching kinder a very wise teacher once told me…
    “why do we have to prepare these people for school? If we knew there was going to be a famine next year, would we starve ourselves now in order to be ‘ready’?”
    There is plenty of time for school… kinder/preschool is not like school and shouldn’t ever be… if only school was a little more like kinder then perhaps I would feel better about it all.

    kate’s last blog post..Mincepuffs!

  7. says

    Our kinder organised an information evening with Kathy Walker last year and it was fantastic.

    As Kazoo has experienced, our teachers spend a lot of time explaining play based learning to parents. I sometimes think that with schools expected to teach so much to kids that may have been the responsibility of parents in the past, kinders may be expected to pick up some of the traditional school areas, which would be a terrible mistake.

    As for being disorganised, I think it is important that the kinder can be flexible enough to incorporate an opportunity or experience for the kids when it arises – a beetle in the garden for example – rather than stick strictly to the planned day.

    Journeyer’s last blog post..Simple living

  8. says

    At the end of the year they start recognising their name and writing it, and I think that is enough. I do agree that the lining up is helpful though.

    The early intervention system is very big on play and how it helps kids learn.

    Developing a good general knowledge is good as it gives them things to talk and write about.

    Thanks for visiting my blog.
    Thankfully my preschool days seem to be over. I have done one part-time kinder, four full times, and two three year old kinders. There was no 3 year old last time so we participated in a dancing class for a half year with kids that went into her class.

  9. Annie says

    Hi all. I’d just like to say don’t discount ELCs (in Aust. Wherever Guera is the places she rejected sound rather full on) completely as it all depends on how the learning is incorporated. I would have been happy for any kinder that made my kids feel secure and let them play. Almost by default we ended up with an ELC and both kids loved the exposure to letters and in no way that I am aware of felt pressured to learn them. They are now both at a play based primary school where they are also thriving – no homework until Grade six…brilliant. I think we need to be careful not to refine too much on ELC or not.. I’m sure we all agree it is about the child and the warm nurturing environment.

  10. says

    Annie – I think that the terminology used to name preschools can often cause confusion. When seeking out preschool options for my eldest son, I came across a number of centres that referred to themselves as ELCs that very much had a learning through play philosophy. Others were using the Reggio Emilia approach which is very child directed in its learning.

    There are others however that have the title ELC in there somewhere and a really long day child care (a large dominant Australian company would be a good example of that). Then there are those who I (and others)have spoken of who have a very structured pseduo curriculm focus.

    Choosing a preschoool for a child is very subjective and there are always so many factors to take into account, and I completely agree that the child must be the key focus in the decision making on this issue.

  11. says

    I loved my son’s preschool 10 years ago – it had couches like home and teachers would be seen sitting with bundles of kids reading, lots of dressup and pretend play areas and great focus on out door play too.
    I am unsure what I will do with my twin boys … they are only young once and they have their whole lives for formal learning.Kids grow up too quickly now and enter formal learning environments early. While some parents say their kids like it – the kids don’t know any different.I think letting them free play to learn with basic structure or routines is a fun approach.
    Even activites like cooking with mum to learn counting and measuring instead of rote learning 1 to 10.

    Babyamore (Trish)’s last blog post..Weekly Winners

  12. lou says

    Thanks for your blog it is such a fresh approach to Mothers issues, my husband even admitted to reading it when he couldn’t get to sleep the other night!

    Our eldest who is now at school, often says to his little brother ‘you are so lucky to be at kinder still, you can just play all day and you don’t have to do any work’. Which I think is a lovely reflection of his years at kinder, because there was so much exploration and so many fun activities that he didn’t even realise he was learning. He would go back in a flash, not because he dislikes school but because it was such a fantastic year of learning through play.

    Most kids learn very quickly to follow the rules when they get to school, I don’t think kinder needs to be structured like school.In my opinion a good kinder gives them freedom to explore and develop social, emotional and personal skills not just that they will need to continue developing for the rest of their lives.


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