There’s a lot of pressure these days to send your child to preschool. Everywhere I turn, I’m asked whether our children attend. Perhaps some of the questions come out of curiosity because my husband is a pediatrician, but perhaps not. All sorts of reasons to do so have been set forth: socialization, academics, giving mom a break, and a few other minor reasons. I think some of these have some validity. A number of our friends put their children in preschool; they have not put pressure on us, nor am I writing to them. I simply have been thinking of reasons we are choosing not to put our children in preschool.
For the sake of discussion, I am not addressing academics. I’m a teacher with a master’s degree in education, and teaching is something I enjoy and can do better than most preschools. I understand not every mother is like me, and really, academics isn’t in itself a spiritual issue. That’s a personal decision with many individual factors to consider (although I truly believe it doesn’t take a teacher to provide a challenging, academically stimulating environment for her children).
The question I ask myself is, what do I gain or lose by keeping my children at home?
I’d like to start by considering social reasons: the Bible is all about relationships, and I’m not confident that a preschool is the best place to learn biblical ways of relating to others. For example, when a young friend is disobedient, my children’s natural reaction is shock and pride; they do not see their own struggle to do right. I want to challenge that tendency. I want to help my children understand our responsibility to pray for them. I want to remind them that they are learning to obey, too, and I want them to feel compassion instead of pride. A preschool teacher simply doesn’t have the time to teach these things. An excellent preschool teacher will help children learn that disobedience is not rewarded. That’s good, but I’d like to be able to teach more.
There is a need for learning group dynamics, and parents often see preschool as the ideal setting for learning them; however, I don’t think preschool is the ideal setting for our children. I’ve noticed my older child tends to follow the bigger children. He’ll let them pummel him, even if he’s not enjoying it, because of his desire to be a part of the group. I want to be able to teach my child how to respond to the group, but I will not know where he needs guidance if I never see him in a group. Again, I’m not convinced a typical preschool teacher is going to be aware of each child’s personality and limitations, and have the time and wisdom to deal with it biblically.
Another difficulty is that in a preschool setting, the group dynamic that tends to develop is a dominant child directing play, with the more passive children accommodating and following. We do need both leaders and followers in life, yet this dynamic is not always a healthy one. Often a dominant child is selfishly taking toys, overruling other ideas and contributions, and manipulating the environment to suit his whims and desires, while the passive children simply shrug their shoulders and go along.
These social problems exist in preschool settings (and some homes) when the highest virtue tends to be keeping the peace. Children quickly learn that keeping the peace is valued and praised, and a dominant child’s manipulating of the environment may go unnoticed. A passive child who screams and fights back quickly learns that such behavior is inappropriate, but isn’t also taught how to respond to a selfish, dominant child. I know that I sometimes find it difficult to make a decision that I know will result in emotional upheaval, even if it is the best decision. When two children are in conflict, it is difficult to discern which child I allow to be selfish as I help them resolve the issue, so I understand a preschool teacher will undoubtedly miss and misinterpret these same challenges in a group. Ironically, dominant children may be those whom parents are most likely to sense need additional social interaction, but be least likely to learn the skills they need, in preschool.
Yes, preschool can teach children to share, take turns, and play fairly. But I can teach those things in my home, and I can do it better. I want to teach these things from a biblical perspective. In the world, politeness and other social customs are taught as a means to get what you want, not as a way to show God’s love. I must work to make sure that my children have opportunities to learn these things.
Of course, every child and family are different, and there may be reasons that one family may legitimately and wisely make a different decision than the one we have made. I’m simply explaining why for our family, we have found preschool unappealing for the very reasons it is supposed to be beneficial.
We’ll continue this discussion later. I’d like to consider a few more reasons we have not chosen preschool, and why a Christian parent may not have a need for preschool that the world does. Click here for Part 2.