Is Universal Preschool a Good Idea?
This is a topic I keep hearing about. The most recent was over at Blogging Baby, where there is a post about Oklahoma considering making universal preschool available for three year olds.
I went and read the New York Times article about it. It’s a pretty interesting idea. You may have been reading this blog long enough to know that Ariel has been in preschool since age 3, but not an every day program. Just 3 hours a day, two days a week at age 3, and now 3 days a week. She loves it. She is learning things there that she refused to learn from me.
Yes, refused. With me she had no interest in learning to write. She’s still resisting trying to write neatly, but she can write her name now, as well as other letters.
She also has lots of fun with the other kids.
I’ve found this to be good for Gage too, even though he doesn’t attend. Still not talking much, but he has become more comfortable with other children just from seeing them for a while before and after each class.
The program in Oklahoma at least appears to be well run. Limited class sizes, bachelor’s degree required for the teacher, one teacher for every 10 kids. And the kids definitely do better in kindergarten.
In a lot of ways, I do like preschool being more generally available. So much of the difference between low income children and higher income children stems from what they learn before kindergarten. If this can help close the gap, it’s probably a good idea. The difference may only last a few years in most cases, but it’s a start.
So what about the nanny state? Honestly, I’m not terribly worried about that so long as preschool is voluntary. Voluntary universal preschool can be a resource that gives parents more flexibility to work without spending excessive money on daycare, which for many is the only other option.
And then there are the concerns that you’re pushing children too hard, too young. This could definitely become a problem. My daughter’s preschool teacher describes current preschool as being what kindergarten used to be, and kindergarten being more like first grade used to be. Children are definitely being pushed much harder. But that’s an issue that covers all grade levels, not just preschool.
I can tell you from my experience that my daughter’s preschool is generally appropriate to her age. There is some sit down and learn time, mostly writing practice, but much of what they do is not so different from what she’d be doing at home, just a little more directed. Arts, crafts, games, that kind of thing. Lots of playtime, and once projects are done, the freedom to decide what to do next. We have a good program.
Things like that are what will determine if offering universal preschool is a good idea or not. It could become a problem if it goes much more academic than what my daughter deals with. But there are also some wonderful advantages.