Can Sending Your Child to Preschool Be Harmful?

Our vision of an ideal preschool – children painting at easels, playing dress up, riding tricycles, and digging for dinosaur fossils in a sandbox – is slowly fading away. The government, convinced it knows how to do early education best, has seized control – causing experienced teachers to step away in disgust. The precious preschool experience – once sacrosanct – is becoming nothing more than the starting point in the long educational procession that includes too much standardized testing, rote learning, and technology and too little play, exploration, creativity, and hands-on learning. The humanity in early childhood education is disappearing as the bureaucracy grows. Unfortunately, in today's educational climate, it's far too easy to list 5 reasons for NOT sending your youngster to preschool.

More government influence in education makes preschoolers subject to experimentation, not time-tested practices that have been proven successful.
More government influence in education makes preschoolers subject to experimentation, not time-tested practices that have been proven successful. | Source

1) Decades of research in early childhood education fall to the wayside as the government demands rigorous instruction.

In addition to being the mother of actor, Matt Damon, Nancy Carlsson-Paige is a professor of eduction, author, and public speaker who characterizes our current situation as a “dark time” for learning. Like so many of her esteemed colleagues, Professor Carlsson-Paige feels compelled to speak out against standardized testing, rote learning, and so-called academic rigor (practices once reserved for older students) as they're now being thrust upon our youngest learners. While recently accepting an award, Professor Carlsson-Paige spoke about the sad state of affairs in early childhood education:

I have loved my life's work...So never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen the situation we find ourselves in today. Where education policies that do not reflect what we know about how young children learn could be mandated and followed. We have decades of research in child development and neuroscience that tell us that young children learn actively – they have to move, use their senses, get their hands on things, interact with other kids and teachers, create, invent. But in this twisted time, young children starting public Pre-K at the age of four are expected to learn through 'rigorous instruction.'”

2) Scholars in early childhood education have formed a coalition to protest the federal government's policies.

Nancy Carlsson-Paige is not alone in criticizing the federal government's policies. Recognizing this crisis in early education, experts in the field have formed a coalition called Defending the Early Years. Their goal is to advocate for practices proven beneficial to young children – experiences that promote creativity, thinking, and problem solving.

Sadly, the federal government largely ignores these experts and lets bureaucrats – most of whom have never taught anything to anyone – set educational policy. Bureaucrats – with their extremely limited knowledge and experience – reduce early childhood education to one simple question: How can we get these munchkins to learn more and more at earlier and earlier ages? The Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, renown for studying the cognitive stages of childhood, saw this obsession with speeding up learning as uniqely American. Unlike other countries that honor children's developmental stages, America stands alone in wanting to dismiss them.

Other countries celebrate a child's need for discovery. In the US we like to force-feed information.
Other countries celebrate a child's need for discovery. In the US we like to force-feed information. | Source

3) Escalated learning is harmful to children.

America's preoccupation with speeding up learning has resulted in an escalated curriculum, meaning activities once reserved for older students are now used with younger ones – reading groups, structured lessons, standardized testing and, of course, the newly adopted Common Core. The overall development of a youngster – emotional, social, and physical -- gets overlooked in favor of an absurdly long checklist of discrete skills – count to 10, identify numbers, duplicate a pattern, recognize letters, and so on and so on. The art of teaching becomes a thing of the past, swallowed up by an endless series of assessments and documentations. In the process, the scope of teaching and learning becomes ridiculously narrow. The most gifted teachers become bored and frustrated, leave the profession, and get replaced by those who don't know any better or simply don't care.

There is no research that supports an escalated curriculum. In fact, children who learn to read at age 5 don't do any better in the long run than those who learn at 6 or 7. Yet, it has been documented that those children taught to read at an early age are less likely to read for pleasure as they get older than their peers who learned to read later.

The negative effects of an escalated curriculum, however, have been documented: increased stress levels, higher incidences of aggressive behavior, acting out, and a particularly disturbing phenomenon, the expulsion of little children from preschool. An escalated curriculum asks young children to behave in ways that are unreasonable at their tender ages. When they're unable to do so -- getting frustrated, acting defiant, refusing to participant -- they're labeled troublemakers, hyperactive, and socially immature. In fact, three and four-year olds in state-financed preschools are expelled at three times the national rate for K-12 students (boys much more so than girls, blacks more so than whites). Instead of asking: What's wrong with these little kids? The proper question to pose is: What's wrong with the preschool environment? Lilian G. Katz, Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois writes:

"While early formal instruction may appear to show good test results at first, in the long term, in follow-up studies, such children have had no advantage. On the contrary, especially in the case of boys, subjection to early formal instruction increases their tendency to distance themselves from the goals of schools, and to drop out of it, either mentally or physically."

Finland respects its teachers as true professionals. In the US, we're taken away their autonomy and creativity -- leaving them with assessments and documentation.
Finland respects its teachers as true professionals. In the US, we're taken away their autonomy and creativity -- leaving them with assessments and documentation. | Source

4) Instead of learning from Finland's success in early childhood education, the US is doing the opposite.

Finland is known across the globe for its outstanding educational system. Other countries travel there to study and duplicate their success. Unfortunately, the United States has learned nothing from Finland when it comes to early childhood education. Instead, we stubbornly insist on doing the opposite:

  • Finland is a small nation (the size of Minnesota) where teachers are revered as competent professionals who've earned respect and autonomy. They have an unusual amount of control over the curriculum (they may even choose their own textbooks) and how they run their classrooms. The United States, on the other hand, has established a massive bureaucracy called Common Core that strips power from teachers in the name of nation-wide uniformity.
  • Children in Finland don't receive formal instruction until 7. Conversely, the United States now gives structured lessons and assessments to 4 and 5-year-olds.
  • Teachers are esteemed in Finland but not in the US. Educators here have low status and low pay. They face ever-increasing responsibilities, the burden of excessive standardized testing, little or no support from administrators, disrespectful students, and uninvolved parents.
  • Eeva Penttila, head of international relations for Helsinki's educational department, says this about Finland's early education: "The to 'learn how to learn.' Instead of formal instruction in reading and math, there are lessons on nature, animals, and the 'circle of life' and a focus on materials-based learning." The US, sadly, has taken the exact opposite approach with Common Core, focusing on teaching narrow skills rather than developing the whole child -- body, mind, and spirit.

Americans are enamored with speeding up learning. But earlier doesn't mean better.
Americans are enamored with speeding up learning. But earlier doesn't mean better. | Source

5) Preschools are now doing more harm than good.

Unfortunately, the US can no longer guarantee the bare minimum in early childhood education: Do no harm! Preschools are now doing lots of things that hurt children's love of learning, squash their innate desire to explore, and stunt their budding creativity. When experienced teachers walk away and inexperienced teachers take their places, little kids are stuck -- the unwitting victims of an educational bureaucracy based on politics, not sound practices. There's no doubt children in poor socio-economic circumstances are hurt more profoundly by our country's obsession with academic rigor than those in wealthier areas. Nancy Carlsson- Paige writes:

"Sadly, the worst of the restrictive, standardized, drill-based education is happening in our poorest communities. More often the teachers in these underfunded schools have less training. They are more dependent on the standardized tests and scripted curricula and more willing to impose them. These teachers haven’t learned what they could do instead of the drills and tests, and they haven’t learned how harmful these approaches are for kids.

I wish you could see the faces of kids in the low-income communities I visited this year. They are scared, sad and alienated. I see on them an expression that says, "School is not fun, and it is not for me. I want out of here."

Why do you think Americans want to speed up the developmental process?

  • ignorance about child development
  • intense pressure for children to succeed academically
  • brainwashed by the government's campaign for academic rigor
See results without voting

Final Thoughts

Sadly, it has become too easy to list 5 reasons for NOT sending your youngster to preschool. Whether a child attends public preschool or private, the long arm of the federal government has grabbed control of the curriculum and, in the process, lessened teacher autonomy. When it comes to early childhood education, we've silenced those who've spent a lifetime working with and studying young children. We've pushed common sense to the side and replaced it with fear -- fear our children won't be smart enough, fear they won't succeed at school, fear they won't get good playing jobs. We've let these fears conquer us, preventing us from doing what's best for our youngest, most vulnerable learners.

More by this Author


letstalkabouteduc profile image

letstalkabouteduc 3 months ago from Bend, OR Author

That's a powerful story, Jennifer, and so fitting. Here in Oregon we have one of the biggest high school dropout rates in the country (in 2013 only 69% graduated), but you never hear about it. Instead, Oregon started all- day kindergarten, added pre-k at many schools, and offered more free preschool experiences. We keep adding more of the same, not making it better. We're just giving more and more sawdust to the horse!

Jennifer Mugrage 3 months ago

This reminds me of a story. A man thought he could train his horse to eat sawdust instead of oats, and so save some money. He began gradually to replace the horse's feed with higher and higher proportions of sawdust. Just around the time he had trained it to eat nothing but sawdust, the worthless animal up and died!

letstalkabouteduc profile image

letstalkabouteduc 7 months ago from Bend, OR Author

I so appreciate your comments, Kylyssa. You're so right. Now they even have reading groups -- based on ability -- in kindergarten so kids are already saying : "I'm in the top group" or "I'm in the bottom group." Parents are led to believe that there is a problem with their child if he's not reading in kindergarten, if he needs to move around, if he can't sit still for long periods. There's little acceptance for the truth that youngsters develop at different times and different rates. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughtful comments!

Kylyssa profile image

Kylyssa 7 months ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

You mentioned that other countries that do not follow the same types of programs see better results. There's a reason for both major elements of that assertion; most other countries have completely different end goals compared to the US.

The end goal for education in most other countries is to produce happy people who are good citizens because they understand that such people are far more productive, better educated, healthier, and far, far less prone to commit crimes. Until the US culture comes to accept those truths, it's doubtful progress can be made. The US must come to view children as cherished people, rather than as a consumable resource to fuel capitalism.

The end goal for US education is to train people to fit into capitalism as practiced in our culture. Children are taught to sit still for long hours while doing repetitive, boring, frustrating, and often pointless tasks in very specific ways and without questioning authority. In higher grades, children are even taught to do work far, far below their capabilities for hours on end to hone their ability to do what they are told without complaint and at speed even if it's stupid, boring, and pointless.

letstalkabouteduc profile image

letstalkabouteduc 9 months ago from Bend, OR Author

Kathryn -- I love your passion for early childhood education and your respect for the stages of development. It's so sad that some people want kids rushed through these important stages instead of celebrating them.

Mercedes -- Your comments are echoed in the excellent documentary, "Race to Nowhere," about the incredible pressures students are facing today. I have a son in high school and I try my best to get him to focus on learning, not grades, but it's nearly impossible. I see young people who worked so hard to get into college, graduated with a degree, and now are working at Starbucks or some other job unrelated to their field. But, most definitely, the solution to this is NOT to burden our young children with accelerated learning and unrealistic expectations. Thanks for reading and good luck in your future!

Mercedesmedlin profile image

Mercedesmedlin 9 months ago

I completely agree. My mom is a first grade teacher at the elementary school I went to and back then ( about 12 years ago) we never had to do any kind of standard testing stuff. Now, they are required to and I see kindergarteners already learning how to write. It's insane how much pressure is put on kids today, including myself. It's mentally draining. I'm a senior in high school and besides all the standardized testing I had to do in previous years, now I have to apply for college. But in order to get into a "good" college you have to have high academic success, a good score on your SAT/ACT, be involved in clubs/sports, and now they have raised the standards because maybe a college that had only required 3 years of math in high school now requires 4. College is also very expensive. There are so many stressed out kids, and some that will even cry if they get a B because now a days B's are just the average. There are some kids out there that even go as far as committing suicide because they can't take it anymore. The education system definitely needs a change!

Kathryn L Hill profile image

Kathryn L Hill 9 months ago from LA

The child is in a second embryonic state from 0 to 6 years. It is a long period of formation and includes universal stages of development. All children go through these stages and need to go through them as a butterfly needs to develop according to nature within it's cocoon. We need to know on a conscious level what is taking place. For one thing it is nature at work. we do not tell the feet in the womb how many toes to grow. We need to respect the process of nature within each child as it forms his psyche / the foundation of the operation of the mind.

And here is the key:

The psyche is forming itself based on what it absorbs in its environment.

It must freely absorb through the senses while interacting with the environment.

There is also the aspect of the sense of order / reality which becomes indelible. Whatever the child absorbs into his psyche via the mind and brain it becomes permanent.

This powerful ability to absorb can be utilized for positive benefit by creating a conducive environment. But The child ABSOLUTELY needs freedom within it. Boundaries help to create the freedom. This is the basis for the Montessori method.

Secret of Childhood

The Absorbent Mind

Both books by Maria Montessori, a Doctor of Italy in the early 1900's. She saw children in the light of a doctor and scientist and has helped many with her schools she established. She and others light the true way and must be researched by parents and teachers of today to stay and create the appropriate track for our babies, toddlers and preschoolers.

letstalkabouteduc profile image

letstalkabouteduc 9 months ago from Bend, OR Author

Yes, you're probably right. I see a future where babies are born and immediately placed in "school." They'll be assessed for crawling, crying, and spitting up. Of course, it will all get documented in triplicate. Parents will send their babies to tutors if they're below the mark in any of their skills. The babies will have full access to technology. They'll be told what to think and believe. If they don't conform, they'll be given drugs to keep them in line.

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 9 months ago from the short journey

Thanks for this discussion. It's important to highlight the topic and you've done a straightforward job of it. The government's intrusion into the educational system is more about control than anything to do with helping children grow and learn. A hub could be written about why the government does not want children to "learn how to learn" but the author would likely be called a conspiracy theorist. :)

letstalkabouteduc profile image

letstalkabouteduc 10 months ago from Bend, OR Author

Yes, adults are easily impressed when their kids are given technology at school. One mom said to me recently in regards to I-pads at school: "The earlier, the better!" I don't know where parents are getting this misinformation -- surely not from scholars in early learning! Perhaps, the tech companies , who profit from tech at schools, are spreading these untruths. Any way, little children are suffering because of it with poor gross and fine motor skills, limited social skills and vocabularies, and more obesity. Thanks for reading and sharing your experience!

Kathryn L Hill profile image

Kathryn L Hill 10 months ago from LA


Many may not believe all you write, " … too much standardized testing, rote learning, and technology…" for preschoolers! But, I have seen it first hand: In public before / after school (pre-school) day cares where I often sub as head teacher, I say, "These children should not be allowed so much computer time!" the aides look at me like I am out of my mind.

letstalkabouteduc profile image

letstalkabouteduc 10 months ago from Bend, OR Author

I know! That's why I'm not teaching now. To teach preschool and kindergarten these days, you must remain woefully ignorant of developmentally appropriate practices, common sense, and what's happening in politics.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 10 months ago from Olympia, WA

What you are suggesting, of course, goes against traditional thinking and training...exactly what this country needs. :)

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