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Debate Club: Do Kids Need to Attend Preschool?


What kids learn at preschool that they cant learn at home

by Jackie Semmens

“Do you want to stay home from preschool tomorrow, honey?” I asked my son. ”Grandma is here, and we can spend the morning playing with her instead.”

“No!” he answered emphatically. “I have too many important things to learn!”

I chuckled. It takes a lot to convince my son to miss a morning spent with a grandparent, but if anything can, it’s preschool.

A few months ago, I had been wavering on whether or not to send my oldest son to preschool. What was he going to learn that I couldn’t teach him at home? He knew most of his letters and numbers, and I figured he would pretty easily pick up the rest by the time he reached kindergarten. I exposed him to a wide variety of activities – hiking, music hour, trips to the science museum, art, and of course, reading plenty of books.

Ultimately we decided to enroll him in a small, affordable preschool close to our house. “If he doesn’t like it, we can always take him out,” my husband reminded me.

So what can a children learn at preschool that they can’t learn at home? And is it really so important that they learn it before kindergarten? I decided to start looking into the matter, and as it turns out, children can gain a lot from a quality preschool experience. It’s also critical that the learning happens early.

As parents, we tend to be concrete thinkers, looking for measurable benefits. When I asked my husband what our son could learn at preschool that I couldn’t teach him myself, I had been focusing primarily on the academic side of the matter.

The academic benefits for attending preschool are certainly numerous. Preschool programs geared towards disadvantaged children have been shown to increase the intelligence quotient (IQ) by an average of eight points. Preschool also prepares children better for kindergarten than their peers who did not attend.

Preschool is about more than playing with blocks; it’s about gaining the building blocks needed for academic success down the road. A multi-state study of children who attended a state preschool found that kids in preschool programs had stronger vocabularies, improved math abilities, and better print awareness, setting them up for success in elementary school.

But that still wasn’t enough to convince me. I had heard critics of preschool point out that the early academic boosts wear off by mid-elementary school. Looking into the matter, I discovered that, while some studies suggest that boosts to IQ fade out by third grade, many of those studies were methodologically unsound and could also be attributed to teachers having to play “catch-up” with children who didn’t attend preschool.

But the real benefit to preschool lies in the “soft skills” that children develop, in addition to the academic ones. Our brains are at their most malleable and impressionable in early childhood, and by developing social abilities at this age, children gain skills that will follow them for the rest of their lives. By interacting with other children outside of their typical home environment, preschoolers learn to socialize with other children their age, manage stress, and problem solve.

Learning how to “play nicely with your friends” is perhaps the most important skill that preschoolers develop and the one I have the hardest time teaching at home. While my son has a younger brother and we play with other children frequently, I couldn’t provide him with an environment where he would have to independently learn to share, compromise, and follow directions from people who weren’t his parents.

These soft skills are best learned in preschool, and translate to success in the workforce down the road, according to Noble Prize-winning economist James Heckman. Decades after attending a preschool program 1960s, the kids in the study were employed more, had higher salaries, got sick less often, and also went to jail less often than those who didn’t attend preschool. The earlier kids learn to cooperate and resolve conflicts with each other, the better.

These benefits were all starting to sound pretty enticing. But a part of me was still skeptical. Most studies about the benefits of preschool focused on inner city, low-income children. We are college-educated, middle class, and live in a small town.

I had read headlines proclaiming, “If you are reading this article, your kid probably doesn’t need preschool” (an argument that assumed disadvantaged families weren’t even bothering to research preschool, which sounded a bit presumptive to me). But I was curious if a middle class child like mine would actually gain anything from attending.

While low-income children see the most progress from attending preschool, middle class children benefit as well. These children, just like low income children, gain pre-reading skills, social-emotional skills, and even see an increase in lifetime earnings. Perhaps most interestingly, a multi-state study showed that all children gained increased listening and comprehension skills when they were in a classroom with greater income diversity. Treating preschool as if it was something only for disadvantaged kids means that everyone misses out.

In the end, we decided to send our son after seeing how bored he got on the days that we were stuck in the house catching up on chores. I figured my younger son would benefit from a little one-on-one time with mom as well. The best part has been seeing how much he enjoys preschool, spending time with his friends, and seeing his teacher.

Like he says, he doesn’t want to miss out because there are too many important things for him to learn. Having done my research, I know he is right.

Preschool can happen at home, with great results

by Kathryn Trudeau

Blink once. That’s about the time it takes for your newborn baby to be picking out his back to school shoes and a Paw Patrol backpack for preschool. Preschool is a big milestone for any three- or four-year-old, but in some places the hyper focus on preschool does actually begin in infancy.

Some preschools in big cities such as New York City have cutthroat application processes, wait lists, and tuitions as high as college tuition. It may seem silly to fight so hard for a spot in a preschool, but there is an underlying truth. Kindergarten readiness is important.

Little children are sponges in what they can absorb. What children learn at this age affects them on many levels: academically, socially, emotionally, and physically. But despite the sheer importance of preschool, a good preschool education does not need to be stressful, expensive, or elusive.

In fact, you don’t even have to leave your home! If you have a little one nearing preschool age, keep in mind these four benefits of preschooling at home.

You’re in control

Even if you don’t plan on homeschooling your child throughout elementary school, choosing to do preschool at home has one huge advantage: you’re in control. As the teacher, you plan your child’s day, what your child eats, and what technology she is (or isn’t) exposed to. Being in control also means you’re in control of what your child doesn’t do.

My son regularly requests to work in his math workbook. I never try to force it on him. Rather, I let him lead. I doubt he would get such a personalized, one-on-one approach with this specific interest in a traditional preschool. Being in control means I can focus specifically on my son, his interests, passions, and unique skill sets.

Sibling bond

One morning, as I sat at our school table, I watched my preschooler as he colored a picture of different plant parts. I was explaining to him how plants grow, their need for water, and how sunlight helps them to grow. My toddler took a green crayon and said, “Help brother. Me help brother.”

At the moment, I thought it was sweet and how great it was that he was sitting so nicely. Then it really hit me. When we “do school” we have routines, and one habit is that my two boys always sit next to each other. My toddler doesn’t have to sit there; he has a whole room of toys to play with, yet he chooses to sit next to his brother.

As we venture into homeschooling, I am continually made aware of just how much their bond is strengthening. They are friends, companions, buddies…and sometimes partners in crime. You know how much a toddler loves someone if they are the first name called upon waking up. How lucky I am to help my boys learn how to love each other! Even if you end your homeschooling journey after preschool, that extra year of sibling bonding will take them far into their lives.

It’s easy – no rocket science degree required

I’ll be the first person to admit that when my husband and I committed to homeschooling, I panicked. The question “How could I teach a child to read?” quickly turned into

“How will I be able to teach Advanced Algebra IV?” Clearly, I was in panic mode.

The thing is this: teaching preschool is easy. It’s an extension of what you’re already doing as parents. Parents teach colors, shapes, animals, manners, and preschool is no different.  Preschool is about “kindergarten readiness,” not learning to read chapter books or multiplying fractions by age five. 

In fact, some studies indicate that such rigorous “academic” studies do not really benefit the littlest learners. Interestingly, the age of compulsory attendance in Finland is seven. Prior to that, their preschool is all play-based. Play-based learning is easy on mom and amazing for the kids. Without strict expectations to learn to read by age five, children have the freedom to explore their world and learn through creativity.

This type of learning fosters a rich way for children to focus on their own personal and social development. Reading books to your child, playing imagination-based games, and teaching basic life skills (things like eye contact or greeting someone when they come over) are all easy things to do. 

It’s important to remember that just because an experience is categorized as play doesn’t mean it’s not an educational experience. A walk through the zoo is fun and opens up a whole new world to children. Making play dough cars can quickly become a counting game. I learned through experience not to overthink or overcomplicate preschool.

Socializing is on your schedule

When I tell someone we homeschool, you can bet they will make some comment about socializing. Socializing with peers is important for any human in any age group. Humans are social animals. It’s why moms join mom groups, why men attend poker nights, and why Grandma never misses Bingo. Likewise, our kids need socialization, too. But there’s no rule that says it has to happen at school.

My son has regular play dates with friends and attends a weekly gymnastics class. He also regularly sees extended family. He is one of the most social people I know, and he is definitely more social than many adults. Chatty Cathy (as I sometimes call him) does not lack socialization because he preschools at home.

The educational decisions we make on behalf of our children are not to be taken lightly. No matter which route you choose, there’s nothing quite as rewarding as feeling validated in the choice you do make. For me, it’s hearing my preschooler excitedly say three little words, “Let’s do school!”

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My favorite part of every weekday is when I get home from work. As soon as I walk in the door, I hear a tiny voice scream, "Mommy, you're home!" Then my 3-year-old gives me the most amazing hug. Then a kiss. Then she grabs my hand and shows me whatever project she did in school. I always say, "I missed you today."

It's so different from my childhood.

My single Korean mother didn't get home from work until after 6 pm, so by the time she walked in the door, I was either doing homework in my room or out playing. If I was home, I'd yell a "Hi Mom!" and she would go into the kitchen to cook dinner. I knew she was tired, so I never bothered her. She rarely said a word.

I love being a mom, but it's profoundly difficult for me. I had to learn it was okay to openly express affection with my daughter. I have never felt like I deserve the overwhelming love she has for me, because I wasn't raised that way.

I love that my mother showed me how to be independent and instilled in me the value of hard work. But she was so focused on being strong that I often felt neglected. I just wanted to be loved by her.

Now that I'm a mother, I often think about how I'll raise my daughter differently than my mother raised me. It's not because I think she was a bad parent. I respect her more than anyone else in the world. I just want to make sure my daughter always feels loved.

1. I want my daughter to know it's okay to say, "I love you."

I don't ever remember my mother saying, "I love you" without me saying it first. I would hear the phrase in my friends' homes in daily conversation, and I thought it was strange.

In Jody Phan's 2016 article "Different Ways Asian Parents Show Their Love," she said her Asian parents never said it to her either. Soon, it became part of who she was, and it wasn't unnatural to not hear it.

I can say the same for me.

I tell my daughter I love her every day. Maybe it's selfish of me because I'm making up for lost "I love you's" my mother never gave me, but I like to think it makes her feel special.

2. I want my daughter to know it's okay to give hugs if she wants to.

The first time I met my best friend's family, everyone gave me a hug. When I tried to let go, they squeezed harder.

I never got random hugs from my mother. We didn't show physical affection.

In Mabel Kwong's 2014 post "When to Hug Someone. And Why Asians Don't Hug," she shares why it's a cultural thing. "In Asian cultures, getting touchy-feely with each other is frowned upon." For some Asians, it's also a way of getting dirty or catching germs, while others are just super aware of personal space.

I give my daughter massive bear hugs. The feeling of her tiny arms wrapped around my neck is something I never want to give up.

3. I want my daughter to know it's okay to have a sense of humor.

When I was younger, I remember sitting on the couch, shaking my leg. My mom said, "In Korea, they say if you shake your leg, you will shake all the luck out of your body."

She laughed loudly, and she never laughed when my brother and I told funny jokes. She was always so serious. In Elena Ruchko's article "Chinese Humor vs American Humor, and How to be Sarcastic," she says it's hard for non-Chinese people to understand Chinese humor because it's deep-rooted in cultural references that can't be translated effectively.

I see how I may not have understood her joke. I'm sure American humor, since English is not her native language, is just as confusing to her.

I make sure my daughter has deep-rooted belly laughs. It's usually when I'm dancing to the Trolls soundtrack. I want her to know laughter is the best medicine.

4. I want my daughter to know it's okay to cry.

The only time I saw my mother cry was by accident. I had walked into her room and she was sitting on the floor, weeping softly into her hands. When she heard me, she sat up and pretended nothing was wrong.

I didn't know how to react, so I walked away. I never brought that moment up because I know she would either deny it or feel embarrassed.

Was refusing to cry part of Asian culture? In Tia Gao's Medium article, "Why Chinese People Don't Cry," she says that for her parents, it was important for immigrants to maintain a positive outlook because "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." And whenever she started to cry, her parents would brush it aside because they had suffered so much in the past.

I think my mother can relate. She had lived through the Korean War. She endured starvation. Both of her parents died when she was young. She married my father and moved to an unfamiliar country, only to raise two children alone.

She didn't have time to cry.

I tell my daughter it's okay to cry. Instead of bottling emotions deep inside, I let her know it takes more strength to let them out.

5. Finally, I want my daughter to know it's okay to talk about mental health.

Years ago, I had what I called my "early-life crisis." I went into a deep depression, was put on medication and started therapy.

I was terrified to tell my mother.

When I finally told her, she reacted how I expected: She refused to believe me. I needed "to get over it." And I felt as if I failed her. She had always been so strong and here I was, so weak. So, I hid my bouts of depression from everyone for years.

But I eventually learned not to be ashamed of my mental health. I also learned I'm not alone.

There's an insightful article by Ryan Tanap titled "Why Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders Don't Go to Therapy." It helped me see my mother's point of view: "There's an underlying fear among the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community that getting mental health treatment means you're 'crazy.' If you admit you need help for your mental health, parents and other family members might experience fear and shame. They may assume that your condition is a result of their poor parenting or a hereditary flaw, and that you're broken because of them."

I don't blame my mother for refusing to believe I needed help. She had always denied her own need for help. But I want my daughter to know there is nothing weak about needing help, and there is immense strength when you finally ask for it.

There is nothing more beautiful or frustrating than being a mom. As much as I say I'm not like my mother, deep down I know I am. So I will take to heart everything I learned from her and try to be a good parent.

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Trigger warning: This essay describes a woman's emotional journey with losing a baby.

I'm used to being called names. I'm used to negative comments calling me fat, ugly and every name in between. That's life as a television news anchor—not everyone is going to like you. And that's okay. While I am good at brushing off the mean comments, when someone attacks my parenting, that's NOT okay.

I received a message that was not only hurtful, it brought me to tears, as my entire body began shaking. To the woman who called me sick because I talk about my children who died, my heart hurts for you.

As a mother who has experienced child loss, premature birth and infertility, I put my life out on full display. I write and share my family's story as a way to help others, all while getting the chance to share stories about all three of my triplets, even though two are no longer alive. Yes, the Internet can be filled with insensitivity, especially when I discuss topics that, even in 2019, are considered taboo. Most times, I can take the high road, but not today.

The woman called me "sick" for talking about my two children who passed. She told me to lay them to rest and move on, mentioning that I am dragging my husband and child through my "sick state of mind."

It's been five-and-a-half years since my triplets were born, and in all that time, never has a comment made me sick to my stomach. In the minutes after reading this message, so many emotions took over me. I wanted to yell at this woman. I wanted her to know how much words can hurt. And I wanted to know if she has ever lost a child. I tried to calm down, but that message kept coming back to me. I found myself awake throughout the night, quietly sobbing while my heart was racing and hurting at the same time.

I put my life out there on the Internet, so I have to realize that people are entitled to their opinion, even if it's negative. But here's the thing—If you've followed my family and our story for years, you would know that my life is not surrounded by grief and loss.

Social media is not an accurate view of a person's life. You only see snippets on Facebook and Instagram, and oftentimes, you only see the most glamorous, happy moments. I choose to show reality, and it's not always pretty. I share the heartbreaking moments of parenting children in both heaven and earth. Yet, I also show the wonderful moments of raising a daughter who is truly remarkable. If you've followed my story, you would know that I'm the happiest I've been in years. Yes, it's possible to find life after loss and it's possible for grief and happiness to coexist. My life doesn't revolve around grief, and no, I don't dwell over my losses every day.

My daughter is her own person, a unique individual full of joy and spunk. She will always know how special she is and we are constantly finding ways to celebrate her, along with remembering her brother and sister. Yes, my daughter is here. She's alive and present. But, I'm not going to forget that she was a triplet and I'm not going to hide the fact that I'm a mother to two angels above.

I woke up today, exhausted from a lack of sleep and worn out from the emotional toll of this cruel message I received. But, the more I think about it, the more I want to share. I have a unique platform through television and writing where I can be a voice for others. I can share the ups and downs of life and know that I am making a difference. If at least one person reads my words and feels like they are not alone, then it's worth it. For every one negative message I receive, I know that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people around the world that can relate to my life.

Life has been difficult for my family at times, but we choose to look at the positive. The loss of two of my children is not a burden, I now choose to see it as a blessing. I would give anything to have them here today, but I've learned to find the good in our tragic situation. All three of my children have shaped who I am today. My children have taught me compassion, grace and kindness, all traits this cruel woman could learn from. It's tricky being a parent of child loss, but I'm doing the best that I can and I know all three of my children are proud of me.

Originally posted on Stacey Skrysak.

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Perinatal depression (defined as depression during pregnancy and the immediate postpartum period) happens to so many mothers, 1 in 7 of us, in fact. It can make pregnancy and early motherhood even harder than it needs to be and rob new mothers of a joyful time they were looking forward to.

And now, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) says there is a way to prevent perinatal depression in the moms who are most at risk. This week the USPSTF published guidelines calling on health care providers to identify at-risk women and connect them with cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy.

These counseling interventions are effective in preventing perinatal depression, the USPSTF found, and, as The New York Times reports, the new guidelines mean the kinds of therapies that can prevent moms from becoming depressed with be covered under the Affordable Care Act.

Therapy can change and save lives, but it's often unaffordable. Now, more mothers will have access to it when they need it most.

👏👏👏

Any mom can develop perinatal depression, but certain women are more at risk. Those with a personal or family history of depression and those dealing with stressful circumstances like poverty, divorce, young or solo motherhood are at an increased risk. Past abuse or trauma, gestational diabetes, and experiencing an unplanned or complicated pregnancy also increase a mother's risk for depression during and after pregnancy.

Untreated, perinatal depression can have terrible outcomes for women, babies and families. A proactive approach—getting at-risk moms into therapy before depression hits—could actually prevent the disease and its personal and social consequences.

"We can prevent this devastating illness and it's about time that we did," Karina Davidson, a clinical psychologist and researcher who helped write the recommendations told NPR.

But it won't be easy to do that, says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Marlene P. Freeman. In an editorial published alongside the USPSTF recommendations, Freeman points out that proactive intervention is a challenging task for the current health system. "Clinicians who provide obstetrical care may not have the expertise or time during clinical visits to perform assessments and tailor referrals to women who are identified," Freeman writes. "Availability and access to care present potential hurdles, and stigma presents another potential barrier for some women to seek and accept mental health care," she continues.

The system and our society are not currently set up to help get moms into cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy, but maybe the adoption of these guidelines can change that over time.

Perinatal depression often goes untreated because mothers don't know how or when to ask for help. According to a 2017 study published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal, one in five new moms experiencing postpartum mood disorders doesn't disclose her symptoms to healthcare providers.

That's why the American Academy of Pediatrics released its own depression guidelines in late 2018, urging pediatricians "incorporate recognition and management of perinatal depression into pediatric practice."

If health care providers do what both the USPSTF and the AAP suggest, American mothers could have doctors looking out for their mental health at every stage of the perinatal journey.

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