On Psychology

Jewish World Review April 30, 2001 / 7 Iyar, 5761

Pressured to send
to pre-school

By Dr. Wade F. Horn

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- Q: I have two children, a 4-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son. They spend a lot of time playing together or by themselves but side-by-side. Sometimes, for example, they will play dress-up with each other. Other times, my daughter might be playing with her dollhouse while my son is playing with a truck, but in the same room.

I'm home with them full-time. So far, I have not enrolled them in preschool, although my daughter does take a weekly 45-minute dance class, and I take them to the library once or twice a week for story time. In addition, we go to the park almost every day, and there they play by themselves, with each other or with other children who happen to be there.

My question is this: Is it OK that my children just play? Some of my friends think it's strange that I allow them to spend their time playing. I have been told my children need more organized activities, such as those offered in many preschools. What do you think?

A: Somewhere along the line, a rumor got started that preschool is necessary for healthy child development, especially if you want your child to have a successful academic career. The problem with this rumor is that it just ain't so.

Don't get me wrong. Preschools can be wonderful places for children. High-quality preschools offer stimulating environments for children to develop good language and pre-literacy skills. Preschools also can offer opportunities for children to learn how to get along with their peers, follow directions and sustain attention to a task. I have nothing against preschools. In fact, both my children attended preschools when they were younger.

Acknowledging that preschools can be stimulating environments for children, however, is not the same as saying children have to attend a preschool if they are to arrive at kindergarten or first grade healthy and ready to learn. Everything high-quality preschools offer also can be offered in the home by an active, involved and loving parent.

One consequence of the "preschool is necessary" rumor is that many parents come to believe they are not capable of providing their children with the experiences necessary for their children to develop well. Instead, this rumor insists, children require a preschool experience if they are to be successful at school. As a result, parents come to feel inadequate to the task of rearing their own children and instead believe they must rely on others - the professionals - to do their work for them.

Simply attending preschool, however, will not ensure that children will be healthy and ready to learn when they turn 5 or 6 years old. Whether or not their child attends a preschool, parents still need to do their part by conversing with the child, reading stories, taking the child for walks in the park, teaching manners and, above all, allowing the child to play.

Yes, I said play. It is through playing with objects of different sizes, shapes, colors and textures that young children learn about the physical world surrounding them. It also is through play that children build an understanding of social relationships, which helps them learn how to cooperate, share and communicate with peers. Play also is an outlet for children's energies and serves as a source of enjoyment. In short, play is the work of childhood.

So, tell your busybody friends to mind their own business. Your children seem to be doing just fine.

By talking, reading and listening to them, you are helping them develop good language skills. By allowing them to play together and with other children, you are giving them opportunities to develop interpersonal skills. And by insisting they follow your instructions and household rules, you are teaching them self-discipline.

In so doing, you are helping your children develop the skills they will need to be successful in school and in life. You are doing everything the highest quality preschool could do for your children - and more, for you are giving them the one thing that no preschool can, no matter how high its quality: You are giving your children the love of a parent. When it comes down to it, that may be what children need most of all.

JWR contributor Dr. Wade F. Horn is President of the National Fatherhood Initiative and co-author of, among others, New Teen Book and The Better Homes and Gardens New Father Book. Send your question about dads, children or fatherhood to him C/O JWR


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© 2000, Dr. Wade F. Horn