Is Preschool More for Fun or Learning? - FamilyEducation

Is Preschool More for Fun or Learning?

March 25,2011

True story: I once saw a mom out and about who was asking her two kids -- probably ages 4 and 6, if that -- "Where do you see a right angle?" Seriously? Those kids are in for a long haul of sky-high expectations.   

There's a growing trend these days to start educating children earlier and earlier to try to give them an edge. Parents want their kids to know their alphabet, colors, shapes... everything, earlier and better than all the rest. Recently, one mother in NYC even sued her $19,000 a year preschool for not properly preparing her child for cut-throat private school admission.

Now, however, research is emerging on instruction vs. exploration in preschool. This article makes a case for "Why Preschool Shouldn't Be Like School" -- because young children seem to learn better through play and exploration than through formal instruction.

The two studies cited -- one from MIT and the other from UC-Berkeley -- had strikingly similar results. Kids who were taught how to use a developmental toy didn't venture to discover all of its bells and whistles. Those who were given the toy to explore on their own learned more about what it could do.

This is probably nothing earth-shattering to moms and preschool teachers who have favored less structure and more fun for little kids all along. But those who have had their baby's name on the waiting list for a fancy preschool since birth might have some new food for thought.

I get why parents are obsessed with a great education while their kids are still in Pull-Ups. College admissions are ultra-competitive, and standardized tests are daunting from elementary through high school. But there needs to be a balance -- room for kids to be kids. 

Here's what I remember from my two years of preschool: building with big cardboard blocks, turning milk green with food coloring around St. Patrick's Day, making crafts with glitter and popsicle sticks, finding out boys stand up when they go to the bathroom (I walked in on a classmate of the opposite sex -- traumatizing but memorable). I remember fun stuff and not much else.

What do you think preschool is all about?