January: National Preschool Freak-Out Month?

cute kidWarning: Rant Ahead!

Did you know that January is National Preschool Freak-Out Month? Seriously, January is the month that many preschools begin registering kids for the fall. That means that FIRST TIME PARENTS might not have a clue that in the dead of winter they need to be making plans for the end of summer. I didn’t know in 1999. So when I got the news a few months too late, all the “good preschools” had filled up. Slight panic ensued.

Sure, I’d made mistakes before, (I let my son go down a slide when he was too little and he flipped back and banged his head–hard. Oh, and I didn’t know that grapes were choking hazards until a stranger told me I was trying to kill my toddler. And I…) but this was serious. My son’s college acceptance was at stake here.

Actually, it wasn’t. Last month Michael was accepted at the engineering school at Purdue University—early admission… and during his two years of preschool…he played with blocks. He sang about the little turtle. He pounded nails into a board. He painted macaroni. He never did a worksheet. He never learned to read.

woman screamingJust today, I got a frantic call from my (predominately)laid-back sister, worried that the preschool where she planned to send her daughter in the fall didn’t “have a very strong curriculum,” at least that’s what a neighbor told her—with a sigh of disgust. I began the following tirade:

2nd WARNING: The following are MY opinions on preschool. They can’t be disputed, refuted, or generally slammed because I never claimed these to be facts. :-)

  • If you freak out/stress/over-analyze this decision, you begin the possible habit of giving schools and activities too much power over how your child “turns out.” It makes it too easy to begin to think that any one decision destines your child to a given future. It over-emphasizes what our kids do rather than who they are.
  • Sure, your kid (like my adorable niece) might be really advanced, smart, ready to read…so what? She will always be advanced, smart, and reading soon enough. I will never forget the mom of a sixth grader who told me her daughter was, “…beyond reading novels. She should be reading technical journals.” WHAT? Novels are fun. Play Doh is fun. Planting a seed and watching it grow is fun. All these things also teach us much. Coloring a worksheet of the letter “B as in ball” can wait.
  • And preschool is NOT the only place kids learn. Parents can follow their child’s interests and teach/explore all sorts of things at home. One of my kids learned to read at age three while another struggled until October of first grade. They both attended the same preschool. One read the Hobbit (well, the first chapter) in kindergarten while the other struggled greatly with his list of sight words that made no sense. Guess which one spent all last weekend reading a business book just for fun? The one who struggled.
  • Choose a preschool whose teachers will smile and speak kindly to your child as they leave the safety of your home. Look for their warmth and encouragement and a love of children.
  • When I opted out of full-day kindergarten in 2002 (no longer even an option today), I was told by one veteran teacher that kids usually “even out” by third grade no matter what their pre-first grade experience was (Preschools DO matter when the home environment is unloving and chaotic.) When she said “even out” she meant that those kids who learned phonics later, were performing as well as those kids who seemed very advanced in first grade. The parental “buzz” at the time of my decision was that my sons would be “behind” when they entered first grade if they only did part time. I said, “So what?”
  • Kids learn through play. They always have. Just because they can do phonics drills when they are 3 and 4 doesn’t mean they should. It certainly doesn’t guarantee  that they will develop a love of reading. 
  • A canned, rigid approach in preschool limits a child from discovering what things they like to do, play, and explore. Play is one of the most important things our young kids do. It’s their job.
  • Preschool is great for teaching kids to walk in lines, respect others, be independent from mom, follow directions from other adults, and navigate friendships within a group.  Kids learn that other adults have authority and can love them as well. These are all great things that we cannot teach them. All preschools do this.
  • For those kids who will struggle with learning to read? I’m not sure starting them earlier does anything more than frustrating them earlier. My “late-reader” hated kindergarten as they pushed and pushed him to figure out something that his brain was not ready to process. During his second grade year, he read 100 biographies–just because he wanted to.
  • Lightbulb: Those kids who learn quickly, usually always learn quickly (no matter what class/preschool you choose. They won’t “fall behind” because school will always be easy for them. Likewise, those kids who struggle with certain abstract thinking in specific areas, usually always struggle in those areas. So what?  Teach your kids that some things are harder for them. We can help, but there is no magic bullet. For example, those kids who struggle with math will always struggle, yet usually they have another area (art, communication, building things) that they excel at. Focus there rather than pushing for excelling in math. My child being in grade level math rather than “advanced” does not make him dumb or behind, and it does not mean I chose the wrong preschool.
  • Preschool’s ultimate purposes should be to show kids that learning and school are awesome, that they can be independent from mom, and to give mom a much-needed break.

As a reference point, my four boys had a variety of preschool experiences (some only one year, some two years, some had extended day, some at our church, some at another church.) I based each decision (once I stopped freaking out about missing the “competitive preschool deadline,”) on which school’s schedules worked for our family at the time. I always chose one that had a nurturing environment for each boy to explore is expanding world.

January: National Preschool Freak-Out Month?


  1. I love this and couldn’t agree more. None of my four kids (one isn’t old enough yet) have gone to preschool. My oldest was a reading whiz. My second decided she loved reading at third grade, but did the bare minimum before that. My first grader is still struggling, while her four year old sister reads very capably. Amen to you!

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