Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Importance of Preschool

I have lines out to several more folks for Q&As in our Facets of Gifted Education series, but today I thought we'd look at a different topic. Parents of gifted children often know there is something different about their child by age 3 or 4 or even earlier, even if most aren't officially identified until kindergarten or 3rd grade. If you find yourself with such a child, what should you do? And how young can children start learning a more formal academic curriculum?

As some of you know, I have a toddler, Jasper, who is almost 2. Since I work at home, we chose to put him in a daycare center about two blocks from our house. For the first year or so, it was pretty much just straight up childcare. But when he was about 15 months old, he moved to the "young toddlers" class, and now is in the "toddlers" class, and they've really stepped up the educational game. He learned to identify shapes including squares, ovals and octagons (granted, he loves yelling "octagon" and octagon for him means any shape with n sides where n>6, but still...) He pointed out the letter B to me on one of his blocks the other day, and counts his puzzles. It's pretty much pure memorization at this point -- he'll often count up to four or five, even if there are only three puzzles -- but if he had been home with me during the days, I doubt it would have occurred to me to teach him to identify octagons. And he loves learning all these things (in addition to hanging out with his friends).

While I know Jasper is a smart kid, I don't think he is profoundly gifted. Nonetheless, my experience with him has made me wonder about how parents can expose extremely gifted preschool aged children to a level of learning that keeps them challenged. One of the good things about preschool (good ones, that is) is that they tend to have more discovery-based curricula -- the point is to play and learn things, not necessarily all learn the same things at the same time. Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I think that it's not a bad idea to get children into high quality preschools as soon as possible. Most "normal" preschools start for children around ages 2 or 3, but younger children -- like Jasper -- can definitely still be interested in these things. He would not be exposed to them nearly as regularly otherwise.

I am aware that this is probably a controversial statement, so I've been trying to find some research that talks about this issue. There is certainly research about the benefits of preschool; I found this article from Parents about Why Preschool Matters, and this old article about challenging gifted young children in preschool from Children Today, but these are mainly about programs for 3- and 4-year-olds. Most of the research on "childcare" programs (which can be for younger children) focuses on their effect on at-risk children, particularly low-income children. High quality programs have been shown to help such children, though the jury is out for kids from other backgrounds. It may be a wash.

I'm curious what Gifted Exchange readers have found. Did you put your gifted children in childcare or preschool programs when they were toddlers? Did they enjoy them? Did it stimulate their little brains, or make the transition to school easier?


Kevin said...

We started our son in part-time daycare at about 6 months. At 18 months we moved him to a program that spanned from 18 months to kindergarten. He thrived there. Their program was not academic, but developmental, so he got a lot of the skills he needed, without wasting time on rote memorization. He even got to help create the script for a video that the teacher filmed, and played the eponymous role. (He has since been in about 30 children's theater productions, though his main interest are math and science.)

The Princess Mom said...

#1 son was in full time daycare from the age of five weeks. From 2-4, he went to a full-time Montessori preschool, then a "British-style infant school" from 4-6 (he has an October birthday so was almost 6 when he started public K).

Kindergarten was a huge mistake. Moving from full time pre-K to part-time K was a mistake. And putting him in a public school with a gifted-unfriendly teacher was the worst mistake at all.

#2 son started a couple hours at the British-style infant school at 2.5, then to a part-time parochial school pre-K at 4 and full-time public K at 5.5

#3 son was home until he started part-time pre-K at 4, then full-time public K at 5.5.

They learned more at home with me than they did at any of these schools. They were great schools, safe places for them to hang out with friends with great caregivers, but it was primarily childcare. My best pre-K teacher was my mother-in-law, who did the toddler care for Boy #2.

LK said...

We started gifted first child part time at 2, full time at three, then to the school's pre-k at four. The school was a JCC and had very qualified teachers. Most had college degrees. The activities teacher had a masters in PE. Most teachers had been there for years. The school was also considered therapeutic and many kids with developmental disabilities attended with aides. It was a wonderful school. There was always a huge waiting list to get it.

My son's abilities were noted right away. He was quite advanced. The teacher also noticed that his development was uneven with academics being much more advanced then social so they worked very hard on social skills. This was their priority and it made a difference. While they had a pre-reading program in pre-k it was low key and was not as important as other developmental aspects of the program.

Kid # 2 started even younger with Mommy and me classes from birth until age 2. Mommy and me is run by a masters degree level teacher who obviously loves being there. He then started preschool and went to the school's pre-k at 4. Number two is very learning disabled and they picked up on it right away and started working with him. Still, their attitude is that it is preschool and not school and socialization and developmental milestones are more important then academic at that time.

When #2 started school his teacher told me that the kids from our JCC did noticeably better then other new kindergartners. They had the ability to transition from one activity to another, they had an easier time during morning circle time, they just were prepared. Not ahead, prepared to spend a full day at school and to learn. That is what pre-k is about.

Our experience was outstanding and my kids were much better for it.

Catherine said...

We started our son in full time daycare at 18 months old. When he started reading at 2 1/2, I knew that we were in for a ride. His school has a very good curriculum and this year in his 3 and 4 yo class, the day has taken on a "pre-school" structure with centers and a schedule, etc.

He doesn't need the academic stuff, but he absolutely needs the gross and fine motor skills that come with this play/work. He needs to learn to cut with scissors, write his letters and develop his coordination. He also needs to learn to get along with other kids, share, deal with his emotions when he doesn't get his way or gets angry, etc.

So in that regard, pre-school (and even earlier daycare) has been of tremendous benefit. His teachers know he's different in some ways, but in others he is every bit a 3 year old boy.

I am following my gut here with his schooling. He loves pre-school and the "boredom" thing hasn't been an issue for us at all. But I am watching behavior closely and constantly talking to his teacher about his behavior. At the first inkling that boredom would be making him act out, or sad, or not his happy little self, then we'll come up with a Plan B.

So pre-school has been an easy decision for us. I fear the Kindergarten year.

Edwin said...

I am not a big fan of pre-school, when it is used as a substitute for parenting. Too many parents abdicate their responsability in raising their children to others. Pre-school as a day care is a poor sustitute for a involved loving parent. In todays highly competive enviroment, kindergarten has become more about academics rather then learning how to get along with others and learn how to work within a school environment. (Please excuse my spelling and grammer) Part time Pre-school for a 4 year old can be good for a pre-start to Kindergarten. I do not mean to insult parents that have made a choice to send thier children to day care / pre-school, I just strongly belive many partens have abdicated thier responsability to the state. Who best to teach our children then ourselves? Gifted, Highly gifted, or not gifted, the best first teacher is an involved parent.

Anonymous said...

Our son is in his second year of part-time preschool. In retrospect, I would have skipped the 3-4 year old preschool and only put him in the 4-5 year old class. Since our son turned out to be HG+, 2 years of nonaccelerated preschool, even though part-time and mostly play-based, is proving to be 1 year too long. One year would have been plenty to learn how to listen and stand in line and get along with the other kids. This second year is turning our kid into someone who doesn't like school. I'm thinking a lot of his issues are due to the fact that he really doesn't have peers to relate with. Most of what he learns is at home, so basically, preschool has been about him learning how to act in a class, (which he learned last year) and about giving me a break. And giving parents of HG+ kids a break for a few hours a week is wonderful for recharging.

Anonymous said...

Preschool was absolutely exhausting for our child starting at three and a half years old. I can only imagine how big of a disaster it would have been if we'd started younger. Childcare and preschool can be hard on introverted and sensory sensitive kids who need a lot of downtime.

The reality is that MOST families need childcare and it should be a bigger societal priority to make it as high quality as possible. I would caution against the leap from this reality to the generalization that children are missing out on something if they aren't in preschool. Many kids don't go to preschool, or school for that matter, and do just fine.

As far as the gifted part of it, we chose a developmental preschool that didn't focus on rote memorization of shapes, letters, etc. Our PG kid was comfortable in this environment. His giftedness was acknowledged and accepted. No big deal in a way that it would not have been if the curriculum was more academic in focus.

donkablogger said...

My son did go to pre-school and there the teacher labelled him as highly gifted. I already knew it, but as a first time parent didn't know what to do. After 13 years of parenting this boy, I do - sort of. For starters, if I could do it over, I would never put him in school at all. There's no reason. Homeschooling keeps kids curious and excited to learn. They can learn at their own pace and learn what they want. We are finally on track during this, our second year of homeschooling.

Anonymous said...

preschool was pretty lousy for our 2e son (adhd/dysgraphia/hg in math/g in language). I thought the 3-4 mixed class would be good for him to start in since he knew all of the 3's 'curriculum' so he'd learn with the 4's. and that is how they grouped him. Worked well until he was 4 and they once again grouped him with 4's when he was ready to read and teaching himself multiple digit addition and subtraction with borrowing and carrying (all by mental math--couldn't write his numbers). frustration with not being able to sit still, not nap, and not understanding why he had to practice counting led to many challenging times. That and teachers who would begin spending time working with him on reading then tell him they no longer had time. Many many phone calls would begin 'your son is sooo bright, but....) In an ideal world, if I could do it over, I'd have kept him home and home schooled. too many learning differences for group learning and public school.

Anonymous said...

My son started a home-based daycare at three months. I had not planned to put him in pre-school til at least 3, but when he turned 2, the other toddlers at his daycare had aged out, so it was Ben and four newborns. We put him in our church's preschool two mornings a week. He LOVED it.

He stayed there four years. He did two-day preschool again at age 3, and three-day preschool at 4. When he turned 5, we chose to put him in 5-day preschool rather than K. He'd known his letters etc. for two years, but his fine motor skills were a little behind. Also, he was quite small for his age and tended to stay on the sidelines so as not to get run over. By the time he started kindergarten at 6, he was outgoing and confident.

It was not til spring of second grade that he actually started learning things he didn't already know. That was hard at first; he didn't want to work. Then we were OK until this year (fourth grade).

It's now clear he needs to skip next year. The school (quite supportive) is working on how to get permission to let him skip 5th grade despite NCLB's requirement that you pass the 5th grade test before going on to 6th grade (but you have to be registered in 5th grade to take the 5th grade test!).
Sigh. . . .

Anyhow, good preschool that focuses on physical and social development as much or more than memorizing information is a very good thing.


Amy from Occupation: Mommy said...

We sent our oldest daughter to one year of preschool for her PreK year. We chose our church nursery school because it is almost totally non-academic and she was already, at 4, reading beginning chapter books. She loved it, but never really clicked with the other kids. In retrospect, she didn't have much in common with them. Now she is in second grade after skipping first and thriving socially. We sent our middle daughter for two years, and she loves it (now PreK). She is much happier socially than our oldest, perhaps because there are a couple other extremely bright children in her class. Our third, 23 months, is too young for preschool. Right now I am doing Montessori homeschooling with her and she loves it. I think we might wait until PreK to send her to preschool. I think a preschool that is focused on play can be a great fit for gifted young children. An academic program is likely to be extremely frustrating.

Forte said...

Our child was in preschool from 2yrs old until 5, part time. If I had anything to do over, it would be to reverse that decision. She was terrorized, bullied, didn't understand the basal motivations of the other children and hated being away from home at that age. She learned absolutely nothing. At 2, when I broght her in, I brought 2 100 piece puzzles that she liked doing, and was told that she needed to learn to complete an entire 3 piece peg puzzle, start to finish, which she refused to show them ( as she had done that as an 11 month-old...), first.
We moved her to YMCA whn she was nearly 4. We had her tested at the end of the academic year and she came up PG. I taked with the teachers about placement for the following year, and they looked at me like deer-in-headlights, because "she likes to play by herself and doesn't know how to get along with teh other children. *Bully* has tried to "include" her in games ( with HER RULES and bully tactics) all year, and your daughter just doesn't know how to play. We think that she needs to go to kindergarten to learn this. "
Yeah. Whatever...;)
She's been homeschooled since then, and gets along just fine with the children TWICE HER AGE that she plays with. *Sigh*
They call themselves "educators".

J. said...

Forte, I thank you. You made my day. You're sure you're talking about your kid? Because, heck, you described my daughter and that situation to a T.

I have a lot to say about this subject but I have to get back to work on an overdue deadline.I'll be back.

Oh, but I can't help myself. Here's a nutshell: When my daughter was in K, we brought in a professional to observe daughter in class. It was a private school. My little girl loved assembling puzzles and building structures. She crossed over to the other K to retrieve some more blocks. While gone, two girls maliciously destroyed a very elaborate display my daughter was erecting (she's visual spatial PG 2e).

Wen my daughter returned, she saw with deep chagrin that her creation lay in ruins. Timidly, she asked the girls if they had disassembled it. Both played poker face and denied any wrongdoing, then snickered behind her back.

My daughter next went to the teacher and quietly spoke of her suspicions. She was sharply rebuked for her "accusations" and was pretty much told to just get over it and start all over. She came home that afternoon and sadly relayed this entire incident. It happened often.

Except that day, a professional was in the room. She'd witnessed the entire episode. Her recollection matched my five year old's word for word.

I asked this psychologist, you think I should homeschool? The professional gazed at me as if I'd just sprouted horns and recoiled, "WHAT? And miss the socialization?"

That comment would be hilarious if it weren't so sad. We spent years undoing the damage of those early years. The trouble began in her third and final year of preschool. She was quiet, played by herself, built structures, and read incessantly.

The director was actually lovely. But we are seeing the flip of what I experienced in grade school. We are so over-prepared. The director was very worried about my daughter. Does not play with the other children, does not transition well, builds, reads all our books, studies plants on the playground, makes up her own rules. Oh, the "making up her own rules" was a biggie.

I shouldn't have sent her. My daughter is a fascinating kid. I now know we would have found other homeschoolers. We did find them, years later. I never regret I homeschooled, only that I didn't start much sooner.

You don't preschool for your gifted child. I'm a rabid feminist. I believe women have to work, should work. I was laid off so I would have had that time. But, if both parents work, let's be honest. Call it daycare. That's what it is. You don't need all that souped up curriculum to justify sending your child there.

Because you know what happens next. Homework. And you don't want to be having homework battles with a four year old.

Life is short. Childhood is even shorter. Enjoy every minute of it. Gifted kids are so interesting and fascinating. They don't need all that formal curriculum. My daughter made me take her to a neighboring construction site every single day when she was one. I kid you not. She begged until I gave in. We walked over and she wouldn't leave, so filled was she with questions. And I don't have a master's in construction!

I agree with Princess Mom. The best education my daughter ever got was right at home. Years later, I overheard her saying, "all the history I've ever learned, I learned from my dad."

Lauren said...

I think in some cases there is a difference between childcare and preschool. Most preschools in my area aren't full time, so if you work full time you're stuck with childcare, which focus less on academics.

My son started at a day care when he was 14 months old. He was a late talker and we didn't suspect he was gifted until maybe 2 1/2 or 3. He loved his day care, even though he didn't learn much there. It was more play time and when he was home he was hungry to actually learn.

Issues didn't really come up until he was close to 4, reading fluently and they were still teaching the alphabet to everyone. They wouldn't let him have circle time with the older kids and always wrote his name on his projects even though he could do it himself.

I spoke to them about doing simple things to challenge him (like letting him read to the other kids or writing his name), but they'd avoid following through most of the time. When the older kids left for kindergarten, my son was miserable and asked to go to kindergarten too.

I think keeping him there after he was unhappy would have been a mistake, but don't regret the earlier years when he enjoyed it - even though we had to do all the academic stuff at home. I don't think he would have been so successful in kindergarten early if he didn't have the experience with a group environment.

Catherine said...

I found this by googling gifted preschool. I'm having issues with my used to be very social, friendly 4.5 yr old boy that taught himself to read, but can't play with kids in his preschool class. The teacher has singled him out as having behavioral problems and is strongly encouraging me to hold him back instead of early testing for kindergarten. I think my 4.5 yr old is bored and not challenged and it's strange to me that he plays fine with kids a yr or 2 older, but not kids that are younger and don't seem to be able to relate to him.
I wouldn't classify my son as highly gifted, but I never did myself and I have an IQ in the top 2% of the population. I'm not sure how to gauge him then since he seems every bit as clever, manipulative, and argumentative as well as people pleasing and self educating as I was at that age.
My worst fear is home schooling, but I think I'm headed in that direction.

Crimson Wife said...

My oldest was in daycare part-time from 9-20 mos and then full-time until shortly after her 3rd birthday when I had my 2nd child. The center recognized that she did better when placed with somewhat older toddlers so they would have her "visit" the next age group up (though she was nominally still enrolled in the state-mandated group for her age).

She then attended a co-op preschool run by the wives' club at my DH's Ivy League grad school for 6 months. Almost all the other kids in that one were somewhere along the gifted scale so that was great.

After he graduated, we moved and could not find any pre-k slots anywhere. So I started homeschooling and looking around for a kindergarten. I didn't like any of our options and homeschooling was going well, so we decided to continue. Now I'm completely sold on the benefits of homeschooling.

early childhood programs said...

The chance to interact with other children is the benefit of preschool in a nutshell but it is far more than what those few words say. You are so wise to pursue more information when you feel that the obvious may not be all there is to know.

Interacting with other children means learning how to wait, how to take turns, and how to listen. Young children learn social skills when they interact with other children. These social skills are critical to a developing personality and I would not dismiss them lightly.

There are other advantages to preschools -- primarily that they are the foundations for academic learning. In preschool your child will listen to poetry and songs -- building blocks needed to grasp phonics and reading skills when it is developmentally appropriate. The play that takes place with water, sand, and containers form the foundation for understanding some basic math concepts. Matching, sequencing, one-to-one correspondence are all activities that are done over and over in preschool settings and help children get ready to learn academics. Watching other children pursue a challenging task is also helpful. The presence of other children and a wide variety of materials are two big reasons why a preschool is a good thing.

I believe preschool is beneficial and can do many things that will help children be successful when formal school begins. I also feel that there are many schools that are advertised as preschools that are not beneficial, and it requires a concerned parent to interview and observe before placing their child.

Kelsey Higgins said...

My sister-in-law has put all of her children through a preschool program. Like you, she enjoys the discovery based learning there. All of her children have really seemed to enjoy going to preschool and I'd imagine it helps them be better prepared for entering elementary school.