If you're at all like me nothing could dissuade you more from reading an article than one that starts with "Back when I was a child . . .". It seems that we all have memories of how things used to be -- simpler, better, easier. I wonder if this is truly reflective of reality or just the natural distortion that comes with the passing of time. In any case, I hope you'll not be deflected by the beginning of this article and keep reading!
Back when I was a child, (more than five decades ago), hardly anyone in our middle-class post WWII suburban community attended preschool (they were called "nursery schools" back than). I suppose few parents saw the necessity of paying for such a service. What about a nursery school was essential or even desirable? Most mothers stayed home with their child(ren), and the neighborhood was bustling with other stay-at-home moms and lots of children of all ages. There was no shortage of opportunities for friendships (today we call them "peer interactions") and no child ever seemed to get bored. There was lots to do and plenty to discover, without much in the way of commercially made toys or play equipment.
For most children school started at kindergarten -- and even that was optional and not universally available.
Were young children back then deprived of all the rich learning opportunities available in our modern-day preschools? Or were a child's developmental needs simply met in other ways and through different kinds of experiences?
I've now spent thirty-five years of my life as an early childhood educator. I love what preschools do and the opportunities available to young children in ECE settings. But I also know that children grew and developed just fine long before there was any notion of an institutional preschool, and long before there were theories of early childhood development. Children are hard wired to grow and change in what we now know to be certain predictable ways. If provided with even the very basics in atmosphere, environment and opportunities, every child will learn, grow and flourish.
This should certainly not be construed as an argument for the elimination of preschools! Instead it is intended as a reminder that children are innately curious and eager learners, and that children can and do meet all their needs in a wide variety of settings and environments. Lots of fancy equipment and intentional learning tools are not required, nor do most children require the support of adults trained and knowledgeable in child development. In an environment that is sufficiently stimulating and diverse, it is almost certain that your child's development will progress just fine, and in highly predictable and measurable ways.
So the message is to relax! Just the fact you're reading this article is a strong indication that you love your child and you're curious about how he learns and grows. I would suggest that you then possess the most essential elements that will almost guarantee your child's successful development and growth -- the commitment and curious attention of a loving parent. Without this nothing else matters much, and with this everything else matters a whole lot less.
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