Dear Parents: Your Pre-Schoolers Have a Bad Attitude and Keep Squirming. This Must Stop

Kudos to the ScaryMommy blog for scaring up this innbdnnyhz
truly bloodchilling memo
from a pre-k. While cheerily (or perhaps dutifully) noting “Autumn is officially here and so is our second month of school,” it then launches into the real meat of the matter: Your kids stink and it’s all your fault.

“We made it through a really tough first month with tears, attitudes, unwillingness, not listening, not obeying the rules and especially, too much talking and not enough sitting in seats when asked to. We work on this every day at school, but we need help from home, too. We realize kids don’t want to sit and would rather talk and play when they want to; but that’s not how school works.

Um…not even preschool? No, not even preschool. You see:

Preschool is preparation to go on to “big” school and these things are important there, too. We simply can’t say that our kids don’t like coloring and sitting still because Kindergarten and first grade have a lot of coloring. Please, work five or ten minutes each day with your child on this and you’ll see improvement. We have seen improvement with several kids already. We realize it’s a fast paced world and parents work, but the adults in the house have to be in charge and help the kids to understand this. Please, talk to your child about the importance of sharing, not fighting, keeping their hands to themselves, and learning to get along with each other. Remind them that once we pick up the toys that we don’t get them back out again, because we are done playing and going on to learning fun things.”

Because if your kid learns nothing else this year, at least they should get it through their thick pre-k skulls: LEARNING and PLAYING are diametrically opposed. The sooner your kids die a little each day, the better off they’ll be.

I’m guessing that that pre-k hasn’t read this study, discussed in Peter Gray’s Psychology Today blog:

…in the 1970s, the German government sponsored a large-scale comparison in which the graduates of 50 play-based kindergartens were compared, over time, with the graduates of 50 academic direct-instruction-based kindergartens.[2]  Despite the initial academic gains of direct instruction, by grade four the children from the direct-instruction kindergartens performed significantly worse than those from the play-based kindergartens on every measure that was used.  In particular, they were less advanced in reading and mathematics and less well adjusted socially and emotionally. At the time of the study, Germany was gradually making a switch from traditional play-based kindergartens to academic ones.  At least partly as a result of the study, Germany reversed that trend; they went back to play-based kindergartens.  Apparently, German educational authorities, at least at that time, unlike American authorities today, actually paid attention to educational research and used it to inform educational practice.

Gray goes on to talk about an even longer study, tracking students from pre-k through their 20s. The ones with less free play were less likely to be married and more likely to have committed a crime.

So if your pre-schoolers are learning to live under prison-like conditions, that just might come in handy. – L


I will not squirm, I will not squirm, I will not…


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59 Responses to Dear Parents: Your Pre-Schoolers Have a Bad Attitude and Keep Squirming. This Must Stop

  1. Theresa Hall September 27, 2017 at 11:54 am #

    The fact is the idiots in charge think if they cram as info in before they get to college they will be much smarter than other countries kids. Then the USA will number one in brains and doing all that smart stuff for work. Even though experts will tell anyone who listen that play and sit and think time should be equal I don’t think they want to hear it.
    Maybe one day they will get it.

  2. MonicaP September 27, 2017 at 11:54 am #

    My daughter’s pre-school is one of the highest-rated schools in my state. Whenever I ask her what she does in school, the only thing she talks about is “rules” — all the rules that they have to follow. I’m depressed just listening to her.

  3. Kerry September 27, 2017 at 12:02 pm #

    I thought we sent kids to preschool to learn about “the importance of sharing, not fighting, keeping their hands to themselves, and learning to get along with each other”? Doesn’t it defeat the purpose if they’re expected to know these things by the time they get there?

  4. Dave Rudolph September 27, 2017 at 12:09 pm #

    …I’m usually with you but this feels like it’s being misinterpreted. A time for free play and time for structured activity is healthy and appropriate fro pre-k, and it looks like the teacher is trying to combat some problems that come from a lack of clear parenting expectations at home.

  5. Susan September 27, 2017 at 12:12 pm #

    I don’t see any problem with preschool kids learning to share & follow the teacher’s directions. If the kids were taught this at home, Kindergarten would be a breeze. Apparently many parents don’t teach their kids to follow directions…so the preschool must do it for them.

  6. Mandy September 27, 2017 at 12:14 pm #

    Some years ago, my son’s pre school asked me to go in for a meeting. I was told he needed testing because ‘something was obviously wrong with him’ as he didn’t want to learn his letters and he was always the last one to sit down after play. I knew there was nothing wrong with him but to prove a point I took him to be assessed. The lovely woman told me she would be laughed at if she referred my son on as there is absolutely nothing wrong with him. He was a normal 4 year old who just wanted to play. I took that report to the school and told them what they could do with their thoughts! My son is now doing advanced placement classes for 4 subjects and getting ready to go to high school next year. Yeah – there’s obviously something wrong with him.
    I’m really tired of the continual pushing of formal education on our children earlier and earlier – it doesn’t work educators. Please realize this and change the curriculum. Also bring back playtime during the school day. Kids, especially boys, need to blow off steam to be able to focus on academic classes. You’re making it hard for them.

  7. Michelle September 27, 2017 at 12:15 pm #

    Why do we keep lowering the age that kids need to start school? When my mom was a kid, most of her friends didn’t go to kindergarten. It was an optional year to help kids get ready for starting real school the next year. When I was a kid, most everybody went to Kindergarten, but it was only half-day. Then everybody started going to pre-K to get “ready” for kindergarten. Now they’re going younger and younger. I know homeschoolers who are worried about doing “enough” with their 3yos.

    Meanwhile, for the past 15 years of homeschooling my kids, we have been putting off formal schooling until each child turned 8 or so. Before that, they’ve only done as much “sit-down school” as they asked for and were having fun with. Guess what? Most of those school skills that we spend so much effort trying to teach our 3yos? If you just wait a few years, they learn it either without trying, or with much less effort.

  8. Meredithwiggle September 27, 2017 at 12:30 pm #

    I was homeschooled. When I was preschool age, my mom went right on doing what we’d always done- she read out loud to me every day, I played outside a ton with my siblings, and plenty of unsupervised imaginative play inside too. I think I learned how to read at age 5- I don’t honestly remember, but it doesn’t really matter, since I became (and remain) an avid reader. At 6 I remember doing a few worksheets with my mom- mainly math and writing. And of course we still read out loud. I think I was 8 before “school” took up more than an hour or two each day. And I always had time for breaks, for running around outside, for play.

    I graduated from college, but what I see as far more important, I love learning. I think the greatest gift my mom gave me in homeschooling me was in cultivating an inquiring mind in me, and giving me the tools to know how to go about learning whatever I am interested in. It’s a gift I want to pass onto my son. He’s only 2. Next year, when he’s 3, I’ll go right on reading aloud to him, giving him plenty of outside time, and (hopefully) very limited screen time. I refuse to penalize my son for being an energetic little boy who has no interest in sitting still for more than 45 seconds (unless I am reading to him; he will sit next to me and listen to picture books for 10-15 minutes at a time.) The last thing I want is for him, at such an early age, to associate “learning” with being bored, or worse, being in trouble.

  9. Gina September 27, 2017 at 12:31 pm #

    Michellle: I’m with you. Kids learn when they are interested, not when we force them. If I had it to do over, I’d keep mine out of school until they were 8 or 9 at the very least.
    We are turning children into stressed-out, anxious, depressed robots. YUCK!

  10. Khawk September 27, 2017 at 12:37 pm #

    It sounds like the teacher has wildly unrealistic expectations of how 4 year olds develop and how they should behave. If you can’t handle toddler BS, then please don’t teach preschool. I have three kids, and sometimes toddlers give you nothing but BS from sunup to sundown. Bless their little hearts.

  11. Kenny Felder September 27, 2017 at 12:40 pm #

    Everyone who is reading this–everyone who read Lenore’s blog and thought “These people have absolutely no understanding of 4-year-old children–please take a moment to see if there is a Waldorf school near you.

    I do not work for the Waldorf schools. I do not make money or anything else if you choose a Waldorf school. What I am is a parent who sent all four of my kids to our local Waldorf school, and who is eternally grateful that they did not raise my children like *those* people. They understand what 5-year-olds are like and they treat them like 5-year-old. And then 6-year-olds, and so on up. It’s a beautiful education in a world that is running as fast as possible in the other direction.

    Here’s something I wrote years back about my own experience:

  12. Rae Pica September 27, 2017 at 12:42 pm #

    OK, I have no words. And you know how unusual that is, Lenore. Oh, wait; here’s one: sickening.

  13. Dienne September 27, 2017 at 12:43 pm #

    Anyone who refers to a preschooler having an “attitude” has no business working with children. Hell, no business working with people, period.

  14. Dean Whinery September 27, 2017 at 12:48 pm #

    He wasn’t a pre-scooler, but a third grader. We were called in to a conference with the teacher, principal and a psychologist who wanted him “tranquilized” because this eight-year-old >ready for this?< wiggled.

  15. Alanna Mozzer September 27, 2017 at 12:54 pm #

    Since I left full time teaching (I taught mostly secondary classes.) I have had the experience of being a substitute teacher. I have subbed in pre-school and kindergarten, and I see that some teachers are really good at making these little kids think they are playing! Part of it involves having the right materials. At one preschool, a little boy reached into a bunch of shapes, held one up and excitedly said, “Look! An L!” At another school I found myself working with a bunch of youngsters who were “playing” with clay. They were challenged to shape the clay to fit onto the shapes on a mat in front of them. Of course, the shapes were letters. At still another school children were using a plastic play house to learn how to approach a door, ring the doorbell or knock on the door, talk to the person who answered the door (Usually one of the teachers or paraprofessional) and say “Thank you!” The children thought they were playing “Trick or Treat.”

    I can conclusively say that the key to keeping little kids focused in school is to make them think they are playing.

  16. Sayford September 27, 2017 at 1:03 pm #

    ” because we are done playing and going on to learning fun things.1984 by George Orwell

  17. Miriam September 27, 2017 at 1:09 pm #

    I really support free unstructured play. I grew up in Israel, where kids start reading only at grade 1 (even nowadays), and spend most of their time in preschool (including kindergaren) getting dirty (hours outside in the sandbox, painting all the time without smocks), hitting each other and hardly any “circle” time.
    I now raise a child in Canada, where it’s similar to the US (although usually not as “bad”).

    It’s not a research, but my personal observations, and it’s a generalization. But. I must say that while I see that Israeli kids are a lot more independent, original, take initiatives, etc – they are also ‘not well behaved’. Not polite. And it doesn’t pass, this is for life. Kids are little monsters, hitting their teachers. Teachers yell all the time, that’s the norm. A teacher who doesn’t yell may be 1 out of 100, one of those extra gifted teachers who know how to keep kids interested and fascinated. And adults are impolite. Push in lines. Very passionate. Argue loudly. I will go as far as saying that maybe the political situation in Israel would have been better if kids had been more relaxed in schools, and were given some structure during the pre-school years.

    My daughter is a lot more polite. Not thanks to my upbringing, but the schools, who teach her to wait her turn and walk in a line. I was shocked (it looked like prison to me). But it’s nice that she’s brainwashed with positive slogans, and she’s used to it and doesn’t seem to mind. So maybe some “listening” IS a skill that can be taught young. Just make sute its not too long. Some listening. They asked for just 5 minutes a day. That’s not much. Maybe these kids were not allowing any activity (like eating or getting dressed to go outside), because they were too ‘wild’. Some of it IS a cultural thing, and being polite can serve them in the future. Getting along with coworkers etc.

    While I do see your point, it doesn’t mean that this preschool is 100% academic necessarily. They are probably understaffed, and exhausted, and it’s OK to ask parents to tell kids to listen. They are also supposed to know not to stick their fingers in the electrical outlets, even though they are preschoolers. Balance is the key, and accepting differences…

  18. Anna September 27, 2017 at 1:23 pm #

    “We simply can’t say that our kids don’t like coloring and sitting still because Kindergarten and first grade have a lot of coloring.”

    Gotta love this reasoning! Pre-K kids should do X, Y, or Z because those are the things they’ll do in K or 1st Grade, so they’ve got to prepare. Of course, the logical extension of it is that they should actually be doing 2nd Grade work to prepare, or no, wait a minute, actually 3rd. . 4th. . .5th. . . 6th grade work, high school work? college work? After all, they need to prepare for those. Heck, let’s just put them all in cubicles under flourescent lighting straight away and they can prepare for office jobs in adult life.

  19. Backroads September 27, 2017 at 1:35 pm #

    Eh, I didn’t even look at the ratings. My daughter attended a week-long day camp this past summer at a local preschool and had so much fun we decided to enroll her in the preschool program. Other parents said they liked it, the teachers seem nice, and while the babysitter usually picks her up, whenever I do pick her up I find the kiddos running around the playground screaming and climbing on stuff.

    Seems good to me!

  20. Backroads September 27, 2017 at 1:39 pm #

    I have no problem with the notion kids should be listening to their teachers, but at the same time, it is preschool.

    I teach 2nd grade and reviewing behaviors and expectations is still a huge and accepted part of the program. How much more in preschool! Don’t complain to the parents, just take a deep breath, smile, and teach/review age appropriate behaviors. Key word: age appropriate.

  21. Backroads September 27, 2017 at 1:42 pm #

    Further more (clearly I have a lot of thoughts): I apply the stupid “preparedness” thing to homework.

    I finally managed to get rid, completley, of homework this year. I figure, they’re in 2nd grade, they don’t need it, I will just talk up reading and call it a day.

    Some other teachers argue starting homework early “prepares them” for homework later.


    A friend of mine has a daughter who recently went from zero homework from kindergarten to 6th to a fair amount of homework in 7th grade. Guess what? She’s fine. She has accepted the homework as simply another part of moving on to jr. high. She didn’t need 7years of homework to “prepare her” for this.

  22. SKL September 27, 2017 at 1:55 pm #

    Oh I thought it was the teachers who had the bad attitudes and such.

  23. SKL September 27, 2017 at 1:56 pm #

    For the record, the academic preschool my kids attended was not like this at all. 😛

  24. Theresa Hall September 27, 2017 at 2:06 pm #

    Nothing wrong with teaching some basic things like manners. Just remember that these are little kids and their instincts are saying playtime. This instinct is normal for all little ones no matter the species . It how their bodies learn and grow. Denying playtime just make things harder in the long run.

  25. Fiamma September 27, 2017 at 2:11 pm #

    We went to a coop. My son learned a lot of things and they even accommodated children who liked to “squirm”, which is most kids. That memo would have pissed me off because it sounds like they are annoyed these “childish behaviors’ had not instantly morphed into adult behavior. Children cry and squirm and have “attitude” because they are young and learning. Don’t penalize them for that!

  26. Claudia September 27, 2017 at 2:16 pm #

    It’s crazy enough that here in the UK we start school at age 4 (and my son only just four when he started, as he’s born in August), but at least even the first year or two schools take it fairly easy, far easier than that kindergarten. And no, little kids shouldn’t be made to colour if they don’t want to and would rather run around or pretend to be a spiderman-fairy-explorer-dinosaur.

  27. SKL September 27, 2017 at 2:17 pm #

    On one hand, I agree that this letter indicates a lack of understanding of preschooler-aged children. Though we don’t know how much time the teacher is actually asking them to sit at a table, it sounds like her school is a major buzz kill. 😛 I wonder if she was trained in the US within recent decades, or comes from an older or culturally different mindset. (Or just not trained at all.)

    On the other hand, I would not go as far as some of the comments above.

    The trend toward having kids start KG/1st older and older means that there are more kids in preschool who are developmentally ready to sit at a table and color. (Which honestly is not that hard. My kids and their classmates had no problem doing it at age 2.) They are ready for a gentle introduction to some of the structures of group learning. I wonder what the parents were telling the teacher / administrator to prompt some of the reaction in the latter. Were they saying kids should not be expected to share or take turns? I mean parents also have to be realistic about what group education is.

    We as parents decide what kind of education / experience is best for our kids prior to age 6 or 7. (And after that too, but the law does have some say at “school age.”) We can choose no “preschool” at all, or preschool lite for just a few hours a week, or standard daycare/preschool, or rigorous academic preschool. If parents put their kids in an academic preschool and then find it too academic, they can remove their kids and find a different solution. Some kids are ready for structured academics at that age, and I don’t see why it should not be available at all.

  28. CK September 27, 2017 at 2:20 pm #

    I agree with Peter Gray. Only problem is, if you’re planning on sending your preschooler to public school Kindergarten, it is assumed that they not only identify can their letters, but also that they can write all of them! (I have heard that a neighboring county has stopped teaching handwriting altogether.) This sets kids up for failure in the public schools. I know because this happened to my kids. They had some awesome preschool years with lots of play, fresh air and good books. They did miserably in school. I’m homeschooling them now and they are thriving.

  29. CK September 27, 2017 at 2:21 pm #

    Incidentally, while they floundered in their academics, people always commented on how socially and emotionally mature they were.

  30. Liz September 27, 2017 at 2:26 pm #

    My son gets occupational therapy for being developmentally delayed due to his premature birth (It really pisses me off that the state makes professionals use the date of birth instead of the adjusted age to account for the time they’re behaving and growing like they’re in the womb, but then there’d be no money). They pushed HARD for him to go to the town’s Head Start program this fall, which is full-time and academic, when he doesn’t even turn 3 until the end of November. I told them no, and had to fill out a form stating that I was giving up his seat, but “you can change your mind and get it back if you want!” What child should start a full day of academic education at the age of 2.75?
    When is their childhood? Weekends and vacations? My sister-in-law put both of my nieces in the Head Start where she works, which is not only a full-day, 5-day a week academic program, but they have to wear uniforms every day to boot. They were 3 when she sent them to this. They went with her in the morning, so got to school when the teachers did, and went home at 5pm, which is already dark in the winter. They will be in school at least until they’re 18, then possibly college, then most likely work. They were put in the machine as toddlers. She also pushed for me to put my son in Head Start, and when I said no, she listed off the Teacher’s Union’s reasons why it’s so important that toddlers go to academic programs, because “their educational outcomes are bigger than play-school programs, and much greater than those who have no preschool at all!” When I started to tell her that studies deny this, that kids lose any advantage by middle school, and that by high school all kids have equal outcomes regardless of whatever pre-k they did or did not go to, she walked away in a huff. She also started saying to my son that he “is going to preschool in the fall, won’t that be fun?!” like I’m going to let the 2-year-old make that choice.
    We need this machine to stop, but it won’t, because that’s where the money is. The more academic pre-k the public schools can offer, the money funding they get from the government, and the more students they’ll get in public kindergarten. And some parents are more than happy to just hand the kid over as “free” daycare. Not in this house. My son is playing with his toys as we speak.

  31. Lalli September 27, 2017 at 2:31 pm #

    The problem isn’t just schools. It’s parents. My friend teaches at a well-rated academic preschool and in the previous school year they tried to implement an hour of outdoor free play at the beginning of the day. Despite assurances from teachers that it was creating better focus in class and numerous printed resources about the importance of play, parents pushed back so hard on the idea, including not bringing kids to the free play and instead bringing them when ‘the learning started’ or threatening to pull them from school because they didn’t feel free play got their money’s worth that the school had to drop the idea.

    I’ve heard the same thing from a friend who ran a non-competitive dance studio. It was no longer financially sustainable because parents didn’t want to spend money on classes if there wasn’t regular competitions. Leading, obviously, to the insane sports schedules we all witness today.

    That’s the great thing about free range kids – it’s changing the parents minds, which changes where money goes, which changes schools and activities.

  32. Theresa Hall September 27, 2017 at 3:32 pm #

    I agree that some parents are idiots who think if they cram into in the kids heads from day one then ivy league college here we come and ivy league job with fat paychecks are next. Hopefully one day real playtime will be allowed. And not like when they give some kids lunch they count the time to get to the cafeteria and get the food against them so they are lucky to finish eating.

  33. Melissa September 27, 2017 at 3:54 pm #

    This simply shows that the child is not attending a play-based preschool… which is the type of school where kids learn the most, through countless studies. Butt-in-your-seat preschool is not developmentally appropriate for children before at least age 7.

  34. Anna September 27, 2017 at 4:27 pm #

    @Lalli: “The problem isn’t just schools. It’s parents.”

    Sadly, this is true, and not only at the preschool level. In my first teaching job – a private school that definitely gave too much homework – half the parents came in to parent-teacher interviews saying their kid had too much homework. . . but the other half came in saying “Why aren’t you giving my kid more homework? How is she going to get ahead at this rate?” Most schools and teachers aren’t looking for friction with parents, which is part of why they tend to try to split the difference with a “middle ground” policy like 10 minutes per grade per night.

  35. AC September 27, 2017 at 5:23 pm #

    CK, it must depend a lot on where you are. My kid could recognize most letters and write his own name but not really any other letters when he started kindergarten. The school thought that was a good starting point, maybe even a bit ahead of the curve. Some of the activities in the first days of kindergarten were tracing their names, etc. They do push reading earlier than when I was a kid, but they don’t expect kids to come in reading. We live in a mostly-wealthy area where free range thinking is, if not the norm, at least not uncommon.

  36. Papilio September 27, 2017 at 5:26 pm #

    Just a thought…

    In these 30-odd comments I read (paraphrasing) ‘Well I homeschool’ and ‘You should look for a Waldorf school’ and ‘play-based preschools are better’. All these escape routes.
    A few years back, someone here summed up a number of other countries with their (in her eyes) most important downside, and she wrote off Germany because you can’t homeschool there. So: no escape route. What does that mean?
    I think it means the (grand)children of the people in power don’t have escape routes either. So if the public school system is rotten, they have some motivation to make it better.
    I’m not blaming any individuals because anyone who could, would do the same, but isn’t the possibility of putting your kids in a Waldorf school, or private school, or homeschool them in a certain way part of the problem?
    This preschool isn’t good for any small child. It’s not like some kids just need special education or a different approach or whatever, whereas the rest does fine in this system.
    It’s rotten, but if all the privileged parents can take their kid elsewhere (and probably will be told to do so if they protest…), who’s left to try and change it?

  37. Puzzled September 27, 2017 at 7:08 pm #

    When I first started teaching, a student came to me (I taught in a private school where classes were 1-1) and told me he would be taking Calculus the following year, having taken his placement exam for his college. He then looked at me expectantly, so I said that sounded great and asked what he was wondering. He said “well, shouldn’t we do some calculus to prepare?” I pointed out, first, that the class he was taking was literally called Precalculus, so the preparation issue seemed well in-hand. Furthermore, I explained that one does not prepare to do something by doing it.

    “Preparation” has become a dangerous phrase in education, because it now functions as a catch-all excuse to slide material down to younger ages without acknowledging doing so. If the schools had to acknowledge what they were doing, they’d need to explain why it is a good idea. If you don’t admit what you’re doing, and instead say ‘we’re preparing,” no one questions.

    So we see here: we are sitting at desks, not playing, because in the future, you must sit at a desk, and not play. (Presumably, they do so in high school because some jobs require it, do so in middle school because high school requires it, do so in elementary school because middle school requires it…) This is insanity. We do not prepare for things by doing them. We prepare for them by building the necessary skills to do them later.

  38. John S Green September 27, 2017 at 7:09 pm #

    Play based Learning is the best method for preschool. The problem is not the children—that we know. The issue is the uninformed parents and teachers.

    Many thanks to Teacher Tom, Rae Pica, Laura Grace Weldon, Alfie Kohn, Peter Gray, among many others who keep making a difference, one school, one family, one parent, one teacher, one child at a time.

  39. pentamom September 27, 2017 at 7:13 pm #

    I don’t see a problem with kids that age learning, bit by bit, to sit still at some times, and be active at others.

    What escapes me is why this isn’t part of what they’re teaching — why the school can’t “work on that” in the several hours a day they have the kids, but that extra “five or ten minutes” parents have to do it in is crucial.

    That’s the tell that they’re pushing them too hard. Not that they’re expecting them to learn routine, but that they can’t spare the time to help them learn it as they’re motoring through all the other stuff they’re piling on them.

  40. pentamom September 27, 2017 at 7:17 pm #

    Papilio, just a note: for some of us, homeschooling isn’t an “escape” from anything. It’s the freely chosen, best (in our judgment) option way to teach our kids, at least those of us for whom it is a real option.

    However, there are those who regard it as the “way out” of things they fear or otherwise don’t wish to deal with, and I appreciate the points you’ve made on that. But it was never that for my family. It was positively the way we wanted to educate our kids up to a certain point.

  41. AmandaM September 27, 2017 at 11:25 pm #

    Another Waldorf family here — I can’t praise this philosophy enough. We started home schooling our almost 6-year-old about a year and a half ago, and our whole family benefited. I realize home schooling isn’t a possibility for a lot of people, but if you can do it, do it! And I know a dozen Waldorf families, with kids from 5-15 and they are just as smart and wonderful as kids who came through the public school system, only they seem happier, and the families seem more unified, if that makes sense. The family learns and does activities together. Waldorf style was wonderful for our kiddo and our marriage, frankly. But anyway…

    My son is a squirmer. He absolutely cannot sit “still” and he talks through any problem he encounters. He isn’t the kind of kid who can just sit at a desk and do worksheets. We still teach manners and he has learned how to be patient and wait his turn, but it was a struggle. He’s part of an organization that teaches earth stewardship and how to be a global citizen, so he’s learning what it’s like to play with people who don’t agree with you, or who don’t share your language or culture. He’s learning this through play — and to some degree through books, but mostly through play and interacting with other kids and having to problem-solve on their own, without a hovering adult. “Squirmy” students often make the best teachers, and I’ve seen this with my son’s peer group. The squirmers can be incredibly focused when they’re teaching a friend how to do something.

    I think the problem with this academic focus in the early years that it’s based on a model that some kids fit but not all. Some kids are fairly calm and prefer to be “taught to.” Some kids are more active and prefer to discover things for themselves. Eventually this evens out, and both kids can be taught different learning styles as they mature (I taught dance for decades and saw this play out with a few hundred kids.) PLAY is something I had to actually teach to adults — how to PLAY in music and dance, without any expectations. Can you imagine? Those (adult) students took a lot longer to progress than the adult students who just played with the music and dance, and who had to have the “rough edges” smoothed out.

    (For what it’s worth, my son is learning Swahili on his own — for reasons known only to him — and at 6 is reading on a third grade level. We have only ever presented him with books, videos, and real-life experiences. No worksheets, no tests, no homework. He uses a chef’s knife in the kitchen, knows enough Spanish to communicate with his friends (again, something he learned on his own) and figured out fractions from running on the treadmill and cooking. All without any kind of “formal” education or a set schedule.) Not bragging; just pointing out that “preschool” doesn’t have to look like high school Latin class in small chairs.

  42. Beanie September 27, 2017 at 11:30 pm #

    Papilio, I used to believe that it was my responsibility to make the public schools better. I taught in them, I sent my kids there, I was the PTA president. I attended school board meetings and used my three minutes of public comment for the month to point out how the superintendent was using untruths to sway the board on spending millions of public dollars. I only saw things getting worse, and last year decided to put my kid first. You bet we escaped, and he is so relaxed and happy now, I’m ashamed I let my idealism trump his needs. I wish others could have the freedom to do what I did, but I also didn’t see them at any board meetings or doing anything but saying, Please sir may I have another? I totally see the exodus to private, charter, and homeschooling, and it’s sad. It’s not what I had envisioned. But I’m looking for an education for my kids, not a babysitting service, and they’re not going to school just to make someone in an office in a kid-free building look good on paper.

  43. Andrea Drummond September 27, 2017 at 11:50 pm #

    Mandy, I would posit that needing to blow off steam has nothing to do with gender. My daughter is very active and I can’t imagine her being forced to sit for long times yet (she’s six). Fortunately, her preschool was largely play-based. She just started public kindergarten this year and hasn’t complained about anything except that recess is too short.

  44. Nicole R. September 28, 2017 at 6:43 am #

    I agree with this:

    “Meanwhile, for the past 15 years of homeschooling my kids, we have been putting off formal schooling until each child turned 8 or so. Before that, they’ve only done as much “sit-down school” as they asked for and were having fun with. Guess what? Most of those school skills that we spend so much effort trying to teach our 3yos? If you just wait a few years, they learn it either without trying, or with much less effort.”

    and this:

    “Some other teachers argue starting homework early “prepares them” for homework later. – Really? – A friend of mine has a daughter who recently went from zero homework from kindergarten to 6th to a fair amount of homework in 7th grade. Guess what? She’s fine. She has accepted the homework as simply another part of moving on to jr. high. She didn’t need 7years of homework to “prepare her” for this.”

    so much!!

    Kids grow by doing the right things at the right ages. Pushing everything down is backfiring in SO many ways!

  45. Lyndsay September 28, 2017 at 8:14 am #

    If we are taking the attitude that preschool is preparation for kindergarten and listening to the teacher and sitting still are skills that we expect kids to have in kindergarten, then this letter might be more appropriate at the end of the school year (like April or May). The first month of preschool, why would we expect them to already know the skills that most parents are sending their kids to preschool to gain. My children were all in day care from infancy. They start introducing some structure with the toddlers (simple things like cleaning up the toys when it’s time to move on to something else and everyone sitting on the carpet when it’s time to have a drink). But no one expects perfect behavior or even much in the way of sitting still until they are much closer to four. To expect four year olds in their first month of pre-school to already have those skills is just completely out of line with their developmental abilities. Also, the tone of this letter is really grating to me.

  46. SKL September 28, 2017 at 8:15 am #

    Another point about why parents allow / encourage this “pushing down” of the next year’s developmental goals:

    They now test kids for KG entry, and if your kid does not meet all their (somewhat arbitrary) criteria, you will be pressured or required to redshirt your kid. Personally I don’t believe in holding back kids unless they have significant delays, so if it’s someone else’s say-so, I’m going to make sure my kids pass that test.

  47. Puzzled September 28, 2017 at 8:20 am #

    >they now test kids for KG entry, <

    Just when you think it can't get more absurd…

  48. James September 28, 2017 at 8:21 am #

    This letter shows that these teachers know nothing about how humans work. Throughout history EVERY educator has complained about kids doing exactly this sort of thing–from the Greeks to the Romans to the Middle Ages to America. Little kids squirm and talk and goof off. That’s how they work. Complaining about that is like complaining that the Sun is bright. If you can’t handle squirming and talking and fighting, you can’t handle little kids and you need to find other employment.

    Here’s the thing: These kids are learning things like sitting still, manners, and keeping things in order. They’re just starting. Which means, inevitably, they’re going to be horrible at it. That’s the way learning a new skill works. If you were good at it, you wouldn’t need to learn it! Expecting a bunch of pre-schoolers to know social skills is simply stupid. I’ll agree that parents need to teach their kids these skills, but these take years to master. A lot of people never do. Allowances must be given for this.

  49. Crazy Cat Lady September 28, 2017 at 9:51 am #

    Gray goes on to talk about an even longer study, tracking students from pre-k through their 20s. The ones with less free play were less likely to be married and more likely to have committed a crime.

    Oh, that is interesting. When my kids were toddlers, we lived in CA. They were running an ad campaign on TV that basically said that if your kid didn’t go to preschool they would end up in jail. Said by two “police officers” in the ad. As a result, when people saw my kids and said they were “so well behaved, where do they go to preschool?” and I said “They don’t. They stay home.”, parents actually moved away from me like I had a disease. I changed that to say “I homeschool preschool,” and then people were okay.

    But….I wonder if the difference is….preschool kids who sit at home in front of a tv and don’t get to play with others, versus preschool kids who have parents who take them to the park and let them play with others. And hopefully, at preschool, get time to play with other kids and do it in an age appropriate manner. Learning is NOT just happening when one has a paper and crayon in front of you. It also happens when doing fun activities…..learn the alphabet by rolling a ball across the circle to your friends while saying the letters. Or jumping up and down if nothing else. These people teaching need to go back to school and redo their early childhood education classes before “teaching” these kids.

  50. Craig September 28, 2017 at 11:38 am #

    The mind control starts early. How dare your child resist it. Resistance is futile, lol..

  51. Emily September 28, 2017 at 2:00 pm #

    I’d love to see a “reverse” memo from the kids to the adults, telling them how they’re not following the “rules” of engaging with three-and-four-year-olds.

  52. James September 29, 2017 at 10:31 am #

    “Gray goes on to talk about an even longer study, tracking students from pre-k through their 20s. The ones with less free play were less likely to be married and more likely to have committed a crime.”

    Makes sense, Crazy Cat Lady. Play is how humans learn the rules for behaving in society–it’s how we learn to interact with each other, how to handle the inevitable problems that arise in relationships, etc. Without that, you don’t know how to interact with people, which makes you less attractive to others (and less inclined to put effort into a relationship). As for crime, violating the rules of society is the definition of crime–we don’t charge a child for assault because we know they don’t know any better, but an adult slugging someone would be.

    You can’t learn this in a classroom. You learn it by interacting with people. Removing that interaction–and “structured” time doesn’t count–kills that time to learn these interactions.

    What we’re doing by killing free play time is the equivalent of not allowing kids to learn math, then demanding they all become accountants. Or refusing to let kids into the water, then demanding they swim in the Olympics. Or punishing a child whenever they touch a musical instrument, then putting them in a concert and demanding they play. Social skills require practice, like any other; we need to allow time to practice them. AND understand that practice means screwing up, and that we need to tolerate a certain failure rate.

  53. lightbright September 29, 2017 at 12:02 pm #

    I find the comments here heartening and among the best that I’ve seen on this blog.

    What I found *dis*heartening was the “readiness” message that we see in this parent-shaming letter.

    My culture inculcated the same message into me, although with the younger generation it’s picked up in intensity. “Oh no! My child isn’t ready for Kindergarten!” You need to get ready for fourth grade!” “You’ll never be ready for middle school if you don’t keep up with your homework.” “High school is going to be a lot harder.” “We need college and career-ready kids!” “College is going to be a lot harder.” “Just wait until you’re in the Real World!”

    I remember getting my first job out of college. “Armed” with my useless, magna cum laude history degree and a handful of academic awards, I finally found a low-paying administrative position at a beer and wine distributor. I remember spending days crunching numbers, filing papers, and putting up with multiple belligerent bosses, all the while thinking, “This is it? This is the End of the Line? This is what I was supposed to get ‘ready’ for?” Depressing doesn’t begin to describe it.

    When I was growing up, preschool and Kindergarten were the two schooling years when a child could actually live in the *present.* We’ve taken even that away from them now. 🙁 These days, state bureaucrats are breathing into their panic bags because not enough 5-year-olds are passing their Kindergarten “readiness” exams. Meanwhile, their older peers are graduating from college with 100K in debt and making $10.00/hour. But gee, at least they were “ready.”

  54. Stephanie Heyens September 29, 2017 at 5:06 pm #

    I am on the fence about this. I agree that at the JK stage *expecting* a 4 yr old to sit still for more than 5-10 minutes is ridiculous. *But* it is true that kids who learn to sit still:
    1. are able to focus on tasks and therefore to learn in later grades and
    2. are welcome in more social situations with family & friends and benefit in *many* ways from exposure to new people and places

    I trained my kids to sit still at 4ish yrs. My youngest will always find it difficult but he still tries and has a good attitude about it. I see many of their classmates now 8+ yrs old who cannot sit still at a dinner table and who give me attitude when I ask it of them in my home.

    Kids *do* need to be *trained*. People who think this is draconian either have easy(er) kids or unrealistic beliefs about humanity.

  55. Papilio September 29, 2017 at 7:13 pm #

    @Pentamom: Note appreciated 🙂

    @Beanie: Yes… that’s what I tried to say when I wrote that I don’t blame individuals. I think this is something that needs to go top-down, but I don’t know how that could be achieved. I was basically just thinking out loud…

  56. Donna September 30, 2017 at 9:59 am #

    “Gray goes on to talk about an even longer study, tracking students from pre-k through their 20s. The ones with less free play were less likely to be married and more likely to have committed a crime.”

    I find this study extremely questionable. I have spent many of my waking hours with criminals, most never married despite having large numbers of children, for many years and not a single one of them have regaled me with stories of their demanding education, over-abundance of extracurricular activities and lack of free play. In fact, the vast majority of them did not attend preschool, casually attended school for most of their educational life (which almost never includes completion of 12th grade), never engaged in a single extracurricular activity and instead lived childhoods awash with almost nothing other than free play.

    Yes, I imagine that there is a tipping point where structured learning and activities becomes harmful, but there is also a tipping point where too much free play and lack of structure is harmful. Where that line is will vary from child-to-child, family-to-family and community-to-community.

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  58. Cassie October 8, 2017 at 10:27 pm #

    (spot the homeschooler warning… sorry).

    My daughter did a year of kindergarten (when she was 5). The other day (she is now 7) she told me about a time in kindergarten when she had to draw a picture. She was happy with it and wanted to draw another, but the teacher told her she hadn’t finished because there was still white visible. She told me it was soooo boring having to colour it all in so neatly. She made an excellent point I thought…. What is the world coming to when we can’t give a 5yo a second sheet of blank paper to draw on (because of some perceived delayed benefit to having them colour in all the white).

  59. Emily October 10, 2017 at 7:54 am #

    >>(spot the homeschooler warning… sorry).

    My daughter did a year of kindergarten (when she was 5). The other day (she is now 7) she told me about a time in kindergarten when she had to draw a picture. She was happy with it and wanted to draw another, but the teacher told her she hadn’t finished because there was still white visible. She told me it was soooo boring having to colour it all in so neatly. She made an excellent point I thought…. What is the world coming to when we can’t give a 5yo a second sheet of blank paper to draw on (because of some perceived delayed benefit to having them colour in all the white).<<

    I had a similar incident in grade ten English class. We were studying Twelfth Night, and we were given several options on what to do for our projects for that unit. One of the options was to do a collage, and I chose that. I cut a broken heart out of red poster board, and then added cut-out pictures from magazines that resembled characters from the play, labelled them as such, and added quotes. The end result was an attractive collage that showed that I understood what the play was about…..but my teacher wasn't happy, because I hadn't covered every square millimetre of the poster-board heart with STUFF. She said, "even though that's red, I'm still going to count it as white space." So, I added some fake roses (left over from another project), and managed an 80%, which wasn't terrible, but I still kind of feel like my teacher missed the point.