The Purpose Of Preschool

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?