Parents have the best of intentions when they send their kids off to preschool. For the most part, they also have certain expectations — that their kids will learn the "important" skills necessary to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. And that's why so many preschools today focus on academically minded activities, like prereading and the practice of sorting, counting, and coloring.
And that type of environment is likely to yield students who test above average in writing and math. The only thing is, it's the wrong approach . . . and it's setting our children up for failure.
Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, believes children — her daughter included — are struggling with social and sensory issues at an increasingly young age and sees it as "a growing epidemic" that will only get worse the more we as parents and educators push for academic readiness too early.
Some signs of these issues? She interviewed a respected preschool director who listed them:
- They are more easily frustrated, often crying at the drop of a hat
- They frequently fall out of their seats several times a day
- They are less attentive
- They run into each other and even the walls
- They have difficulty paying attention
- They can't control their emotions and use poor problem-solving methods
- They have a hard time with basic social interactions
"It is so strange," the director noted. "You never saw these issues in the past."
But now they are rampant, and although research points directly at the reason — that "young children learn best through meaningful play experiences" — preschools are still transitioning from play-based learning to becoming more focused on academic achievement.
"As parents and teachers strive to provide increasingly organized learning experiences for children, as I had once done, the opportunities for free play — especially outdoors is becoming less of a priority," Hanscom wrote in the Washington Post. "Ironically, it is through active free play outdoors where children start to build many of the foundational life skills they need in order to be successful for years to come."
And instead of letting these children engage in whole-body sensory experiences on a daily basis, they are seated at rows of desks and tasked with assignments involving pencil and paper.
As Hanscom points out, we can teach academics at any time, but once children reach the age of 7, it's nearly impossible to course-correct sensory, motor, and cognitive development — skills that shouldn't have to be taught at all.
Her recommendation is simple: "Children just need the time, the space, and the permission to be kids. Let the adult-directed learning experiences come later. Preschool children need to play!"
Simple, yes, but will parents and preschools come together to do something about it?