Monday, November 21, 2011

Is preschool necessary?

My second child KG who is now 4 yrs and 5m old is going to preschool three half days a week.  My son KB who is now 6 yrs and 3m old went to a preschool program offered by the city (two hours a day, four days a week) for age three and to a proper preschool for three half days a week when he was age four.  He is now in first grade.  I think back to what my perspective to preschool is after seeing him go through kindergarten and now first grade and having seen four different kind of preschools between the two children.

I find that at the end of the day, no matter what the reputation of the school is, it finally boils down to the teacher.  Where I live, it is pretty hard to find spots in good preschools.  And really am still not clear on how to find that perfect preschool.  I sometimes wish I could just get early education credits and start a preschool that fits my requirements! Because I still have not come across a preschool that has all that I want.  Either the school emphasizes academic learning too much or they do only play and have no emphasis on academic learning.

Parents who are both working have to send their children to day care anyway so it makes sense for them to spend a premium in terms of money and time in finding a really good preschool.  If the child is going to be at school during most of his/her waking hours,  then it is worth spending a lot of money on preschool.  But after my experience with preschools I feel that if one parent is not working and does spend a good amount of quality time with the child, then preschool is necessary only so much.  It helps to get used to being away from the parent, to get used to making friends without the parent guiding the process, to get used to authority (although I have a whole lot of thoughts about that part).  From my perspective I find three half days a week more than enough.  I did not choose that, it so happened that the tiny preschool that KB went to only had three half days open  and the school KG now goes to had only one spot available when I applied and that was for three half days.

KG went to a play/developmental preschool at age three.  Her teacher was a loving, charming and lively teacher.  I was really happy with that school for age three.  KG's teacher loved children.  She would hug them, talk to them and would rarely yell at the kids.  Their school had a great play yard and plenty of good play equipment.  They read books to them but any ABC's she learned came from her learning at home.  No writing ever.  I felt there was always some chaos in the room because the children were playing a lot and I somehow felt at age four KG needed a little more focused play or quiet time.  It so happened KB changed schools so I decided to change schools for KG also.  I love Montessori materials and I like the activities that make children focus and do work quietly.  But the problem with Montessori schools in our area is that they are way way too expensive esp considering that I am home with the kids and they don't "need" to spend time at school or day care.  Nevertheless, I found a school that was somewhat affordable for four full days (9 to 3).  Let's call this school M (for Montessori).

I had an uneasy feeling even when I toured school M because when I went to the pre-K classroom, the teacher did not look up or make eye contact with me or KG.  She may have been busy with the kids but I still cannot understand why they cannot acknowledge us when they walk from one desk to another by just giving a half nod at least.  When I initiated with a smile, she smiled back a little.  Anyway, the director of the school was very good and the distance/cost/timing etc worked well and they were serious about "teaching" the kids a lot.  In a way I was impressed by all that but I kind of brushed aside the discomfort I had with the how  the class environment did not seem warm, esp the interaction between the teacher and students.  When I took KG on the first day of school, we walked in at 9.00 a.m. (some of the kids walk in a line at 8.45 a.m. it seems).  I was stunned that no one welcomed her or even looked at us.  Two lead teachers and one assistant teacher.  Every one was busy.  One crying child fully occupied one teacher.  I found it very strange.  First day of school and no one to say hello to a child who is new to the class.  Anyway I settled KG in and got her going on some activity and I left.  She was OK when I picked her up.  But at night the ranting started.  KG who normally goes to sleep in a wink if she is tired would come from her bed to the living room five times or so worrying about school and constantly saying " I don't know what I am supposed to do!", "Ms.M gave Brandon a time out", "My lunch mat did not have any crumbs, why do I have to put a wet sponge on it?" etc etc.  After about two weeks of this ranting, I finally went and spoke to the director.  He was very understanding and he told the lead teacher Mrs.D to keep an eye on KG and "teach" her some of the Montessori activities since she was not familiar with some of them.  Mrs.D was nice and did help KG through the adjustment for a bit.  But the ranting still continued.  And every day I found that the atmosphere was the same.  Stern looks from the teachers towards the children.  May be this is how a Montessori works, am not sure.  But I have seen one other Montessori which is quite far from my house.  There the teachers were very warm and nurturing towards the kids even if the activities were all the same as school M and the kids were still focused.  It basically did not gel well with me because KG was sounding worried and hassled every night even though she did not cry when I dropped her.  Towards the end of September, I started thinking about pulling her out.  One morning KG said to me, "Mrs.M held my hand so tight, it hurt me.  Why did she do that?".  I asked her why she held her hand and what time of the day it happened.  KG said, "She said that I had to say "Good Afternoon" to the kids.  Why should I say it to the kids? They are not my teachers!".  I don't know what really happened then, but what ever it was, this was the last straw.  I did not want this kind of hand holding and being forced to say good afternoon etc in preschool.  I had seen that teacher harshly plop a crying boy in the time out chair.  I could believe she was capable of being a little rough with the children.  I emailed the director that day and told him I would be pulling KG out of that school and that it was not working out.  I found another play school near by with just 12 kids per class and the teacher was very warm and cheerful when we went to tour the place.  She looked at KG and talked to her.  That was important to me.  I could only get a spot for three half days but I took it anyway.

I actually feel happy that I get to spend more time with KG.  It does give me very little time to do anything for myself.  But I still enjoy my time with KG.  I am able to sit and read to her when KB is at school.  I am able to take her to the library, to the farm market and so on.  She reads simple bob books, does simple mental additions, does simple mazes or we play with her million hot wheel cars.  I feel glad things turned out this way. KB went to pre-K only three half days a week.  At that time, some of the Montessori kids were probably a tiny bit ahead of him in reading.  They could read say level 1 books very comfortably but he had to read those slowly (when he was 4.5 yrs old).  He then joined a Montessori for Kindergarten where only about 4 kids were from non Montessori preschools.  KB had no problems keeping up with them and did very well in Kindergarten.  He is now in first grade and has been placed in the advanced readers group after the assessment.  In effect I feel that preschool is not an absolute must.  It is good to send kids to preschool because it is fun to be around kids and play with age appropriate play equipment.  But if the parent can spend a lot of time at home with the child and also take the child to city classes like "clay play" etc, that should be more than enough to cover all the bases.  I personally feel/felt that for preschool age, it is most important to be with a loving and nurturing teacher.  Without that I felt as if I was sending the child to some kind of juvenile prison where they have to obey rules or else!  Children are so precious and innocent and they can be so easily manipulated or made to feel scared by people of authority.  It is important they learn how to behave well but it is equally important as to how they are taught those rules.  I may yell at my children at home but they know that they can voice their opinion back to me in equal measure.  But with a teacher, they don't have that freedom.  So the responsibility lies on the teacher to know where to draw the line when it comes to disciplining the children or in knowing how to do it.  I am getting away changing schools because KG is only in preschool.  My friend's child is in fourth grade and her teacher is rude and screams at the kids in the class.  But at that age it is very hard to change schools.  I am not looking forward to dealing with those situations.  For now, I am happy with the way things turned out with KG's preschool.  She is happy and hence I am happy !


Aparna said...

Totally agree with your reasoning. I too feel that if mom/dad is at home then preschool is necessary only for a short period during the week, for the reasons you mentioned. When Ads was 3, he started a preschool in California, 3 half days a week. It worked really well for him. By the time Yukta was born, I had switched him to a montessori 5 day program since he was older and I needed more time and that worked well too.
I feel a little sad that Y went to preschool very early (in India) but I had no choice since I was studying full-time and if she was not away for 3 hrs a day I could simply not have done it. Unfortunately the 2 or 3 day options are not available in India (not that I know of, anyway) otherwise we would have explored that.
As long as KG is happy...I am sure you are so much more at peace! Totally get what you say about spending time with KG when KB is not around...I think I missed out on that to a large extent.

noon said...

Aparna - thank you for reading my loong post and commenting on it as well. I am glad that you agree with me. Sometimes I question myself if I am thinking the right way or not. But it just feels right. I did not mention the other issue with school M - I had registered for a course online thinking she was going to be at school four full days but I withdrew partly because I had to change schools for her and now she only goes 3 half days. Finding a good preschool and getting a spot randomly in October is pretty hard. But in all I think things have worked out. I have to write more about how I wish I could just homeschool the kids rather than send them to schools am not happy with entirely. That's for another post!

Aparna said...

I understand. When we had to change schools for Ads, we decided in November and had to wait until january to get a spot in the school we wanted. I guess we were lucky.
Homeschooling??? Do that post. I admire moms who homeschool very very much...I could never do it.
What was this online course?

Sumana said...

Wow Noon a long and interesting post. Totally agree when mom dad is at home why do you need the kids in daycare. We shelled out quite a sum when in chicago for Tiny sending her to daycare all the 5 days a week from when she was 3. I am not sure what she got from there other then the american accent. She lost all of that in a 2 week span after we moved back.
Good thing you did with KG, you took her out of M. Why not? When the kid does not like it or feel comfy there is no point. Also i think at that age all the kids care about is smiling faces and probably kind people around who can make them comfortable. Schools like this are everywhere, I tell ya.

Gayatri said...

- "it depends on the teacher" - check
- "stay at home parent available then home school" - check ( but I don't know how far this would work in India where the system is so rigid)
- I googled 15 schools, went personally to 5,narrowed down my choice to 2,took Achu found out that he liked 1 and stayed with him at school until he was was worth the effort :)

noon said...

Sumana - when were you in Chicago? All of you seem to be folks who returned back to India. Lucky! :)
I did not understand about preschool/is it important etc until I went through it with KB. When I was pregnant itself people told me to go put his name in the top Montessori schools in the area. I got a call from one of them when he was 3.5! But by then he had tried one (play) school, cried for a whole month there and then moved to this preschool program. There was no way I was going to put him in a full day Montessori at that point. He saved me a lot of money I should say! :) Only after he finished Kindergarten I understood that preschool is not a must if the parent is at home and can teach the child a few things...and that three or five half days is more than enough.

Aparna - I have to write about my homeschooling thoughts. I too admire people who can do it well. I would have done it if I had a million dollars in the bank! I need to feel secure money wise for them! :) Strange logic! Need tons of money for free schooling at home! Course - it was a dry boring course to branch off from my science background - thank God the school change for KG happened before the drop date for the course. I would have done it just so I don't lose the money but with so little time it would have been so stressful.

noon said...

Gayatri - I find it interesting how even in the cyber world - birds of a feather flock together! :) We all seem to have similar thoughts when it comes to the way we raise our children...I too toured so many schools for KB. I still have not found that perfect one. But I am happy to say that I found the perfect teacher for KB. She was just so perfect and so loving and so good at teaching...I still keep in touch with her. But his school did not have a outdoor playground which kind of made me sad. But I went with the teacher being more important because I took him to the park nearly every day then. Oh man those days! Kids grow up too fast!

ranjani.sathish said...

Hey Noon
It was great to read this post and your thoughts. I am so glad that you went with your instincts. More often than not, we are right about what we feel for our kids.

Your logic about what is actually needed for a child at this small age is perfect. You don't need overly qualified people to teach the alphabets, but warm friendly teachers who make the days so wonderful for the children. I remember when Shraddha completed her PRE KG, on the last day I said almost the same thing to her wonderful class teachers " You people made the year very special for my daughter and for that I really thank you".

It is so nice that you get to spend time with KG and you are doing so much with her. Be assured that you are doing a wonderful job with your kids !

noon said...

Ranj - thanks for your comment. You do a lot with the kids too. Every one here (in our blog circle) does. We are all trying in our own ways to give them a good childhood. I hope it pays off...I often wonder what end product will make us feel like OK we did a good job as parents. All these are jumbled thoughts and I think of writing these as posts but never get to it.
You are right - you don't need a Ph.D to be a good preschool teacher. Anyway I think here they just look for early ed credits. But you need people who love being around children and being nice and patient with them. It is amazing to me that some teachers (all the way up to say 5th grade) don't think they need to be kind/encouraging - they think it is enough to drill academics. You need that but not in a harsh and cold environment.

Anything & Everything said...

even I agree with u totally, i use to get the same feeling when i put my son in preschool so when my daughter was born i actully missed out the playschool & directly put her in nur.even i had started believing that its too much of rules & regulation at such a tender age.i provided her with many interesting toys & online educative programs, & ofcourse there was my elder son to give time to her as well besides me. You r so truly right , even i believe no matter how big the school is its ultimately the teacher that makes the school apt or not 4 u

noon said...

A&E - Being a teacher even at the preschool level is not an easy job esp if the person is serious about it and is not just doing it for a job/money. THese children totally look up to the teacher - some are just naturals - they know how to control them w/out threatening them or screaming at them...and also they know how to make the child feel loved. I am very happy with KG's current teacher. She is calm and gentle so far...
Just you and her brother being around will contribute to her "education" in a big way!

Bindhu!! said...

Noon - Thanks for the post!! I should be searching for a pre-school next year this time I guess and I will keep in mind points that you have mentioned.

And spot on about having good teachers! But really how to find them. Does a good school guarantee that? Ok... I am confused. :)

noon said...

Bindhu - good luck! No a good school definitely does not guarantee a good teacher. You just have to meet the teacher, stay for a bit and observe your child in class (if they allow it) and see if the teacher is nice to the kids. You can tell usually in small ways how they react. And ask the parents. I did all of that - I did have an uneasy feeling about school M's teachers - they are good people - but just not warm enough for me with the kids. And the assistant teacher was horrible with kids. I did not even see her when I toured because she only worked part-time. Since you are working, you should really feel sure because you should feel at ease when you are at work for the full day. I don't know how hard it is to secure admission in good preschools there - if it is easy to change schools if you don't like it...

Anonymous said...

Hi noon,
I enjoyed reading your post. I totally agree that preschool is not necessary if one parent is at home. You can just join Las Madres or a similar moms' club in your neighborhood for socializing. As far as home schooling, I feel school is fun for kids just for the social experience. You can still supplement what they learn at school by teaching them at home. This is what we've been doing.

cantaloupe's amma (CA) said...

Hi Noon,

Interesting post indeed !!

Pre-school for me is for kids to learn to be independant and socialize with other similar aged kids. The place where we live, kids hardly come out to play (like in India) ... its either arranged play dates or walk to park / library where kids can interact with other kids. I also feel, kids learn things when they are around other kids ... just by observing.
Regarding KG experience in school M, its sad. Cantaloupe had a similar experience. After much looking, we had narrowed on a homely pre-school and the director was very warm and friendly. 2 weeks into the school, my cheerful little girl who was always looking forward to going out started begging me to not take her to school. When I went to pick her up, I would see her quietly sitting in one corner... as soon as she spot me, she would run and hug me and start sobbing as if questioning me why she was left there in the first place. She was only 2.5yrs then. It killed me to see her that way. We decided that we had to get her out of the program immediately ... even if it meant, us losing some money. (make that quite a lot of money). She changed schools and we were very very glad to have found lovely teachers for her in the new school. This meant longer commute for us ... but we took the hit. She got adjusted to the new school within 2 days ... but continued to cry when we picked her up. This time though it was because she wanted to spend more time with her teacher and friends :)

Neera said...

I am sorry that you and KG had a rough experience at preschool M but am so glad she is enjoying it now. To be honest, I think about it so much after reading ur posts. My FIL somehow stressed the closeness of the school of a young child (its advantages) so much, that it kind of became one of the primary factors for choosing a preschool for J in India and here. Definitely it made life very easy esp when u have kids like mine who can never get enough sleep :D and now after reading everyone's experiences, I think I was plain lucky to have got loving teachers for her. They even hugged and kissed her in India. She loved them and here too on the first parents' night itself, her present teacher said some things which I was so glad about including her openness about parents staying/dropping in any time they wish to do so without any notice. Till now she loves going to school - I am totally with u on it being necessary, esp for the 2nd child, just for the social interaction - the academics part is totally taken care of by the elder sibling who asks her to just learn addition, the short cut way and to ignore mom when she asks her to use her fingers ;)

Sorry for the long comment noonoo but there's more - a concern I need ur advice on.

While J loves being in her school and even really likes some of the kids in her school and calls them her friend, she is very very slow in talking or playing with them. Its like even saying one word to any of her classmates is like a big event for her - like u know "Today M asked me - will u play with me and I said Yes!" or when they are asked to work in pairs for an activity, she is proud of the fact that she worked with someone. I tell her that if it makes her so happy, she could take initiative and ask someone herself to play with her but she refuses. She is such a different person when V is around - she plays with gay abandon with even his friends but by herself, not at all. Her preschool teacher in India, where she went for about a year used to tell us that J started speaking to her only after about 9-10 months by which time it was almost time for us to move. Before that, she didn't even used to tell her teacher to open her snack box if by chance the teacher overlooked that. Now the same thing is happening here. Though she loves going to school and talking abt it, she doesn't talk there at all. And by the time she'll probably start speaking, it would be end of session and I am afraid the story would repeat itself in Kindergarten.

Sorry for the long rant :(

noon said...

NW - thanks for your comment. How do you supplement? I know sort of "how" to but I don't know how to do it in terms of making time for it. Not for me but for KB. Without making him feel like every minute of his time is accounted for! His school gets over at 2.30 p.m.. The play for 5 - 1 min and he gets home soon after. But both kids watch some PBS shows for sometime and eat their lunch/milk etc and play for some 5 - 10 min. Mondays goes in home work. Tues/Wed/Thurs he has some class or the other. Friday I take him to the park. He has to do piano practice as well. And do reading for his school reading. As of now it is not stressful or too packed but it is not like there is a ton of time for supplemental work. Weekend may be - I try to do it - but weekend is another story. People visit, we go out, they have bal vihar, sometimes we go roller skating. Am telling you all this to see what I am doing wrong. How do people make time for supplemental learning?

CA, Neera - will respond soon. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi noon,
We have a similar schedule as well. You don't need a lot of extra time to supplement learning at home. You just need about 15-20 min on weekdays and an hour or two on weekends. My 1st grader just does a few pages from her Math workbook every day. Then on weekends in addition to the Math, I may set her a writing project -- for example, answer some questions about the book she most recently read. Or I will give her a Boggle set of letters to make as many words as she can. We also make time for family games every weekend -- Chess, Scrabble, Sudoku, Blockus, Qwirkle etc. Also while cooking/baking, you can introduce fractions and measurement concepts. They still have plenty of time for free play and art/crafts. I have to say we don't have too many social commitments and the kids watch very little TV. Anyway, every little bit you do at home counts.
Take care

Aparna said...

@noon: Agree with anon. You just need a few minutes a day. I should qualify this by saying I myself don't have time for this except on weekends. Ads has a very long day - he leaves at 7.45 am and gets back by 3.15 (4.15 on fridays) so there is not much time for anything. Kids don't watch any TV (except for 1 hr on fridays which is their weekly quota) so that frees up some time. This is the reason I have not sent him for any classes except tennis. The good thing is that becos we live in a large complex, he plays for a minimum of 1.5 hrs everyday. Kids need time to do nothing!

noon said...

CA - thanks for your comment. I too feel preschool is good for the kids - to learn to be by themselves away from parents, learn to deal with new kids/make friends etc. But I think if one parent is home, at least from my experience an exposure to that with say three half days of preschool is enough. And they go to some local city classes like swimming/tap dancing etc - all that counts for being exposed to things outside of home. Surprisingly though I don't feel like preschool is giving them enough time to socialize. Esp in the Montessori that KG went to for a month - she barely would say a word - teachers were so stern the kids would not talk much and they had about 45 min play outside - that's all the time they got to talk to each other. In the first preschool she went to, the kids got so much time to socialize. Talk/play/work together. I find that these organized play dates while annoying in concept actually gives more room for socializing with each other.
Am so glad preschool worked out for CA. Why aren't you writing any posts?!! Do so soon!

noon said...

Neera - I agree with your FIL. Proximity to where you live really really helps. KB went to a one month prog at a school which was 13 min on a highway...I was so done with the drive by the end of the month. At such a young age I felt like it was not necessary.
And what you wrote about J is so exactly the same for KG here. I have now let it be. KG too talks non stop at home and plays so easily with KB's friends. When he is there she is happy. If he is not there then she is totally fine but at school she plays with every one but she will not "talk" to them. I have now observed in many families like yours and mine - if the older sibling is a talkative one then the younger one does not talk as much. KG is very assertive compared to KB but she still will not talk a lot. At home I physically have to shut his mouth with my hands sometimes to make sure he does not answer for her when I ask her a question. He finds it funny but half the time he does the tlaking. And he keeps correcting her grammar and what not. "KG, there is no word called beautifuler" etc etc. But you know they change so much as they grow. My niece was so garrulous growing up and her brother was the quiet one. Now it is the total opposite. Just as long as they talk in some kind of situation there is nothing to worry. Of course I too keep encouraging her to talk. One thing I have not been doing is going out of my way to find friends her age and set up play dates. All my time goes in KB's stuff. Kind of sad. She too wants to hang out with his friends more than her own friends. If I give her a choice she picks that...

noon said...

NW - I totally agree - I also tell my friends that you don't need a ton of time for extra work. I was able to do it when KB was in Kindergarten and he used to be home an hour earlier. Around 3.15 or so he would sit with some extra work. He also didn't have swimming or basketball then. Now with all that added and longer days somehow we are not being disciplined about it. Also the other issue is he is going in some other track in Math at home and at school they do such simple makes it harder to motivate him or myself. He gets soo bored at school. I felt like I should just slow down. At the same time it upsets me that I am willingly slowing him down.

Aparna - yes, I agree too. It is a matter of being more disciplined esp when we have less and less time these days. What your kids are able to do with their group playing downstairs is not something we can do it sadly. But KB and kG have a lot of fun playing with each other and when a couple of their friends visit us. We usually end up going ot the park. TV time is more here because of indoor time after it gets cold/dark. Summers it is better. But KB watches programs like wild kratts which he loves so much and learns so much from it. I just let him watch it. I would rather they don't watch but somehow I am just letting it be. I am told when they get to second grade they have less and less time that they themselves stop watching TV as much.

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