Posted by: Tracy Barsamian | January 20, 2013

Preschool is Not Necessary For Children…


…BUT oh so often, it IS necessary for their mamas!!

Now in the spirit of full-disclosure (and so I don’t sound “judgey” in this post), Keira started preschool at 2 years, 5 months.  She went to an in-home play group.  And now Lauren is not in school (and I do not plan to send her next year), BUT she has the most wonderful babysitter (a Waldorf teacher, in fact!) a couple of mornings a week.  So while Lauren is not in school, I still have a few hours, twice a week to myself.

And so with all of these disclaimers out of the way, I begin my post, which is dedicated to Sarah and Andrea, two of the smartest, bravest mamas I know!!

I am a member of this on-line group called GardenMoms.  I’ve gotten some really great resources from the GardenMoms – most notably, the amazing photographer Bella Wang!  But, in general, the site is primarily a daycare/nanny resource for working moms.  This week, however, a mom posted this really interesting article, The Early Education Racket by Melinda Wenner Moyer.

The whole article is quite good – and filled with lots of research to back-up her claims – but the following three paragraphs pretty much sum the whole thing up (for me anyway!!).

Moyer writes, “Research suggests that preschool only benefits children from…disadvantaged families (in particular, families that are below the poverty line, whose mothers are uneducated, or who are racial minorities). This could be because preschool acts as a kind of “equalizer,” ensuring that for at least a few hours a day, these kids get the same high-quality interaction with adults as more advantaged children do, which helps to even the developmental playing field.

…So if preschool doesn’t really matter for advantaged kids, then the type of preschool matters even less. Waldorf, Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Catholic school? Might as well flip a coin. Some approaches may, of course, be a better fit for certain personalities: Waldorf schools, which teach through imitation and imagination and don’t ever give tests, might mesh well with artistic children (and anti-vaxers, since Waldorf schools have an astoundingly low vaccination rate); the Reggio Emilia approach is a project-based philosophy in which children spend days, weeks, or even months exploring a particular topic, like seashells; and the Montessori method teaches skills through the use of special manipulative materials, perhaps good for an engineer-to-be (though I’m not sure any parent knows what kind of to-be their kid is at age 3).

…So what’s a type-A parent to do? If you’re providing your child with a stimulating environment at home—and if you’ve read this far, you probably are—don’t stress about preschool. Hell, skip the whole damn circus if you want. (My husband is going to quote me on this later.) Or apply, but if little Aiden doesn’t get into his (er, your) first choice, don’t fret. Instead, take to heart the blunt, reassuring words of social psychologist Richard Nisbett, co-director of the Culture and Cognition program at the University of Michigan. When I asked him how important it is to send your child to the best preschool, he told me that as far as he knows (and he seems to know a lot), “It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.”

I have to say that I totally agree:  preschool is NOT necessary (except, as the author states, in cases of disadvantaged families).  But as I stated in the beginning of this post, I REALLY think that moms need a break!  And if you don’t have a strong family support network, preschool becomes mom’s option for a couple of hours to herself.  Only when we take care of ourselves, can we really take good care of our families.

I also agree that the type of preschool does not matter from an academic competitive advantage!  BUT, I would argue that type of preschool is important in that, in my experience, academic preschools can actually be detrimental to children.  Three and four year old children should be PLAYING, not sitting in circles counting by 5’s.  They should be outdoors, not inside learning the date and days of the week!

Here’s what really matters about our children’s early childhood education:  THE TEACHER.  If you have a warm teacher who loves and cares about each of her students, the child will most likely have a good (and at worst a neutral) experience.  I think that Waldorf is a good fit for Keira, but her teacher is an even better fit!  She is warm and amazing — and I believe that if that same teacher were teaching Keira to read this year (as opposed to the Waldorf play-based kindergarten), Keira would be still be having a good experience.  There is another kindergarten teacher at the school who is not warm or kind or even pleasant for that matter (so why is she a kindergarten teacher you ask?  hmm…good question!) and Keira would have had a terrible kindergarten experience in that Waldorf classroom.

The argument for preschool then becomes socialization.  But what does socialization mean anyway?  What are we socializing these 3 and 4 and 5 year olds for?!  Learning to stand in a line doesn’t seem like a good use of a 3 year old’s developing brain!  In fact, why do we dedicate so much time in elementary school to standing in quiet lines?  As an adult, the only time that I stand in line for long periods of time is at the registry and the airport.  And both of these are among life’s most unpleasant experiences.

And since I am on my soap box, here goes:  Why do we send our children to school for 7 hour days?  Five days a week?!  I understand that public education first came about as a way to educate factory workers.  But we really don’t have any factories in the US anymore!  Why are we trying to get children used to shift work?!  We live in an age where technology makes it possible for us to work anywhere, at anytime.  So why are we treating our children like the little factory workers of tomorrow?!  And we’ve even take all the good stuff – like art and music and drama – out of our little assembly line workers’ days.  Sir Ken Robinson says this much more eloquently than I do – in this quick 10 minute video.  And here’s a link to his awesome TEDx talk.

I am pleased with the Waldorf School’s inclusion of art and music and movement into each and every day.  But, I am not pleased with the required 7 hour shifts.  As adults, we know that we get home from a full day of work, we are tired.  We are cranky.  And so we as a society have created a model where the parents and children are all exhausted during the few hours that we spend together each night.  I don’t like the model.  In fact, I think that I reject the model.  And so…what’s a mama to do?  Homeschool?!  Did I just write that?!

To Be Continued…


  1. I tend to agree that having an “enriching” educational experience in pre-school is not needed. However, do the experts have an opinion on the social value of pre-school (if any)? Keira was an only child when she started pre-school and we used to getting her own way. Lauren is in a different situation where she has to “share” every day with her big-sister. That’s the value I can see in pre-school yet I am not sure how the experts feels about that? Is the research focused on academics? If that’s the care, then maybe a play-based pre-school is a better fit for many kids than the academic ones??? Again, I don’t know the answer.

    • I have a Waldorf article about this…I’ll look for it. Steiner (Mr. Waldorf) says that very young children are not developmentally ready to “share”, so we are trying to teach children a skill that they are not able to learn. I’ll find the article…

  2. First of all…… Did you write this during the Patriots AFC championship game? Children need preschool to learn how to sit still and be quiet for 3.5 hours while their parents watch important television programing( like football). 🙂

    • Ha!! That’s one LOFTY goal for preschools: 3.5 hours of sitting still?! And yes, I was writing this during the big game!! Rob was at his buddy’s house and I’ll admit it – it would be impossible for me to care less about football!! So I took advantage of the time to climb up on my lofty soap box. P.S. It was great to see you yesterday! Start thinking about our big 4 – 0 trip!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: