What does your child’s preschool look like? Are the kids lined up neatly in rows behind desks, diligently learning the three R’s? If it is, you might want to read further, as too much structure too early in a child's life may do more harm than good. Now, that is not to say that all structure in a preschool setting is bad. Without some structure, a play-based preschool can quickly turn into a free-for-all. Children thrive on routines, and they need routine in their preschool.
Choosing a preschool that offers the right balance between structured and unstructured time is important because what most children need at this age is play and routine rolled into one. Instead of the desks and worksheets, they need the chance to explore and play, under watchful supervision. Circle and story time can add structure to the day without too much of an emphasis on academics.
Preschoolers Are Developing Social Skills
The preschool years are a time when children are figuring out how to interact with other children. They are learning what is or is not socially acceptable. The only way to do this is through play, and lots of it. Structured learning time all day long is going to rob them of the chance to learn these crucial life skills.
Normal Child Development Can't Be Rushed
In an adult’s mind, it makes sense to push children into academics earlier in order to pave the road for academic success. Yet researchers recently published a study in the Harvard Letter that showed, in spite of the significant shift in modern education toward earlier and earlier structured learning, children are the same today as they were in the 1920s when few even knew what a preschool was. Specific cognitive milestones, such as being able to draw a circle or identify numbers, are reached at specific ages, no matter how early they are introduced.
Too Much Structure Increases Stress and Embarrassment
Children who struggle academically in elementary and middle school often feel a profound sense of shame about this fact. Why are we in a rush to introduce that shame earlier? Often, children who “struggle” in preschool simply are not ready for these cognitive activities, and they should not be made to feel embarrassed or stressed about it.
The truth is, children do not need a large amount of academic knowledge to be ready for kindergarten. They need self-confidence. Self-confidence comes with the chance to explore and play in a less structured environment, without the stress that the answer they provide to a teacher's question may be “wrong.”
So if you walk into a preschool and see the kids playing freely without much structure, rejoice. You have found a great preschool that puts the needs of the kids and their developmental abilities first. Too much structure too early is bad for your child’s development, so look for a preschool that offers the freedom to be a kid.
David Reeves works for Grounds For Play in Carrollton, GA. The company designs play structures and environments for specific age groups to mentally and physically challenge children. These play structures are used in day care centers, schools and housing complexes.