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January 24, 2014

What’s the most important grade of all?


 By Connie Matthiessen, Associate Editor

When my oldest son entered preschool, his social skills were, to put it kindly, underdeveloped. He has a forceful personality and at home he only had to contend with doting parents and a toddler brother who was happy to let him create all the games and play the starring roles. He was a little bossy and very stubborn;  he wore a Spiderman costume and thundered around the house, brandishing sticks and other weapon-like items at pets, babies, and other innocent bystanders. 

At preschool, he loved every day and came home exhausted from racing in the yard, playing dress-up, painting, listening to stories, and messing around in mud and sand and tubs of flour. He also learned how to take turns and listen to other kids, to wait for the swing, to share toys and sit still (sort of) during circle time. When he graduated from preschool,  he could read just a little and he wrote his name in a highly eccentric fashion, but in all the ways that mattered, he was ready for kindergarten.

Already behind on the first day of school

Many families in the U.S. aren’t as lucky. From 2009 to 2011, more than half of 3- and 4- year-olds in the U.S. weren’t enrolled in preschool, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and when they  show up at kindergarten they’re already behind. 

Our understanding of the brain has increased exponentially in recent years and the latest research underscores the powerful effect of early experiences and stimulation on the growing brain.  A quality preschool teaches kids valuable cognitive, emotional, and executive functioning skills at a crucial time in brain development.   (Learn more about what constitutes a quality preschool.)

Benefits go on and on...

Children who attend preschool do better in kindergarten than those who don't but that’s not all: the positive effects of preschool go on and on.  As Barbara Willer of the National Association for the Education of Young Children told C-Span, “[Preschool] helps determine the trajectory of success they will have later on."

Another recent study found that attending a quality preschool boosted test performance for low-income children well into middle school; researchers also found evidence linking preschool attendance to higher rates of parent involvement and maternal employment.  A third, long term study of children who attended an early education program in Chicago found that 25 years later, participants stayed in school longer and had a higher standard of living, as well as lower rates of crime and drug use, than a control group.

Experts say that low-income children benefit most from preschool, but there are obvious advantages  for all kids, including the valuable social-emotional skills that helped civilize my child.

An education fix that people actually agree on

There isn’t a lot of consensus out there about how to fix our struggling education system, but there is astonishingly little disagreement about the value of preschool. The Obama Administration vigorously supports it, and city leaders in San Antonio,  New York, and other major cities are forging ahead with universal preschool proposals of their own.

What’s more, 30 states and the District of Columbia increased their preschool funding last year, according to Education Week some by as much as 20 percent.

To be sure, the news isn’t all good. A study just released by the New America Foundation  found that, while there have been gains in some areas, access to early education is still spotty around the country. The report also cites this disturbing stat: over 48 percent of all public school children in the U.S. now qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

Good beginnings

One more important benefit to consider when it comes to preschool: it educates parents as well as kids. For one thing, it provides the first of many lessons in letting go. On my son’s first day of preschool, I hugged him goodbye and he raced off to join a gang of boys chasing each other around the play structure. As I watched him speed off without looking back, it dawned on me that I wouldn’t be there if he got hurt, or if someone said something mean. This realization stopped me cold and I might not have left at all if the preschool director, who had an unnerving ability to read minds, hadn’t told me gently but firmly, “He’ll be fine.” She was right then, and she’s still right, all these years later, as my son gets ready to head off to college. And it all started in preschool.


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Preschool should always remain a great option for families who choose it.

I, on the other hand, have happy and healthy non-preschooled children who are now in the workforce (married college graduate) and one who's in 7th grade. My parents also opted against preschool, and I can say we turned out just fine too.

By working from home, we spent more time with our kids, and I wouldn't change that for the world. When they do move away, you start to realize how short a time families have them.

While people who work, and who'd like a few hours free each week need quality preschool options, I am not happy with the gradual addition of a 14th year of public education. It was bad enough I had to send my daughter to full-day kindergarten for fear of her losing out on the things like art and music (since the half day kinders at that point stressed ONLY math and reading). Forcing districts to add trans-K and and universal pre-K make families nervous that their kids will start behind.

That's not the case, but it's hard for families to shake that nagging doubt. From my point of view, I'd never change the time we had with them, nor would I put them in school sooner than we did.

There are absolutely ways to socialize children that does not require spending a lot of money, investing a ton of tax money, or taking a kid out of the home at three or four.

The author of this article and anyone who reads it - or any parent at all for that matter should read "Hold onto Your Children" by Gordon Neufeld and Mate Gabor for a very different and brilliant view. Preschool is a great alternative - but it is just that an alternative for parents who don't want to or aren't able to educate their children at home. Some top educating countries don't even start Kindergarten until age 7. To keep putting pressure on parents to relinquish their children to situations where ONE adult is supervising 10-17 children at one time is ridiculous in the constant exploitation of parents fear to "not get behind."

As the article mentioned, America has broken education system. it does not make sense to provide the preschool based on the income. This will haunting the kids (who did not attend the preschool ) throughout their life by not giving the equal performance with the kids who participated in the preschool.

If you don't have the education level to teach your child(ren), as is the case with a lot of low-income parents, then it is best to send your child to school earlier than kindergarten to help (although not always successful) bridge that gap in learning.

But I, along with the other posters, disagree with preschool being the only option for children to be on target when they reach kindergarten. I did not send my child to preschool as I taught him far more than he would have learned in preschool. Some of the other students in his class don't believe that he didn't attend preschool because he is at the top of the class in classwork and test scores. He was also reading at a 3rd grade level when he entered kindergarten. Even though the other children attended preschool, they obviously didn't learn how to act in a classroom as is evidenced by their behavior and these parents paid for preschool!

Please.. Is this meant to make parents feel less guilty about sending their young ones off so early or justify getting them out of their hair? I have 8 children. 6 of whom are adults with great careers. My oldest is a Leading Physician in her specialty, my next two work in Criminal Forensics and the rest are in University and the youngest are home schooled. I never had a child in Preschool. I never would. Mine turned out brilliantly... quite literally, too. And what is more. They all had the same Kindergarten teacher spanning 30 years. 30 years ago you did not send your child to pre-school. There was no such thing..Daycare..or a place to dump your child really, was all.. This teacher had the pleasure (hell) of going thru all those changes and told me she could always tell the kids who were privileged enough to stay out of pre-school because not only were they brighter in many more ways, they were not self-absorbed little brats. She said ALWAYS the trouble makers were the kids whom were pre-schooled. I think this is about making parents feel less guilty about handing their babies over to the system to brainwash them at such a tender age. You send your child to pre-school you are not teaching them your values but the state's ordered values. Which will come back to bite you in the butt, but most of you are too ignorant to even recognize that. Why have kids if your just going to hand them over for the State to raise and instill their Ideals into them? You have just lost out on creating a truly independent child and thinker. You've created a Sheeple that will fit right in with the masses.. Most of you, no doubt, whom are already a Baaing part. Take your kids out of school. Homeschool them if you love them. You can do it. There are no reasons, only excuses. This is also a lie in that kids learn and retain the most at ages 10-12... What they learn then is what they will remember most. Start being critical thinkers yourselves. Reserch what I've and the other person said. Start doing some thinking of your and on your own. Quit believing the crap they WANT and NEED you to believe...Quit following the Herd!

A high quality preschool is a great place to learn and develop social skills, and as a person who works with low-income, at risk families, I have witnessed it's biggest impact. For those who feel threatened by this article and needed to write loooong justifications for their decision to home school and hype up their own children's achievements: get over yourselves! This article is not about you.

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Thanks for all the comments ! I appreciate all of you who took the time to write. I apologize if my blog seemed to imply that all parents should send their kids to preschool. In fact, if you have the means and the time and the wherewithal to keep you kids at homeduring those crucial years, thats wonderful. My point is that too many families dont have access to quality preschool, and if both parents have to work, they have no choice but to leave their kids in babysitting situations with few activities and little stimulation. When kids are already behind when they get to kindergarten, its hard on the kids themselves; its also hard on their teachers and classmates. And in many cases, these are the kids who are still behind in third grade and beyond. Its all about creating choices and options that will benefit everyone.

Thank you, Rebecca! I read this article for information, but I will read a variety of articles for information, THEN form a plan for what is best for MY family.
I'm sorry, but Tuscany, your rant is quite ignorant. The fact that you referred to kids who never attended preschool as "privileged" is a fine example of your ignorance.

I am very proud of the fact that I was the one who taught my son his letters and numbers. I taught him how to add and subtract and to read. Most importantly I taught him manners. I cringe when I hear people say you have to send your child to preschool or they will be behind. When my son entered first grade he was extremely bored! Public school did not lift a finger to challenge my son. They tested my son and he was 3 to 5 grade levels ahead of his peers.
Parents should be the first teacher a child has. A good parent should want to be the one that teaches the fundamentals. Why have kids if you want a preschool to do all the work? It makes me cringe. Wake up lazy parents and become vested in your own children.

Thanks for response,Julie, and I'm glad your son is doing so well. But it's not about being lazy -- many parents don't have the means to stay home with their children. Why not set more kids up for success by giving them access to quality preschool, so they're not behind when they start school? I'm not advocating that any parent should send their child to preschool if they don't want to -- I'm just saying that we'd all benefit if more families have that option. More on the many benefits of preschool: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/30/opinion/kristof-pre-k-the-great-debate.html

Thanks for the post. It sounds interesting but you kind of hurt other's feeling somewhere in all this. I think, and it is my personal belief, that children should be sent to preschools. Its kind of their right. Further, the competition is getting tougher and tougher everyday so it kind of makes good sense to send kids to preschools and get them better prepared for their future.

I think pre-school is great, however, some studies say all of the advantages are gone by the third grade. The greatest value is in the social aspect. They make friends and learn rules this will take away the fears that are normally experienced at Kindergarten. In our district each school has differing requirements to enter pre-school. They seem to take kids that are in less need that those in greater need. A kid who cannot tell colors, shapes, read, skip, throw, catch, etc ... should be the first on the list not eliminated. Seems this is backwards ... just my opinion.

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