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The Birmingham News (June 2003)

Preschool: Not boot camp for kindergarten

The Birmingham News
By Susan Prince

Recently, a woman came by to inquire about our preschool program. Her 4-year-old daughter, Olivia, is currently enrolled in another preschool, but the woman was shopping for an alternative.

“Olivia’s already mastered all the really important skills,” the woman said. “She can read on a second-grade level, walk in a straight line and sit quietly for hours. If she attends your program, what goals will you set for her and how will you measure her accomplishments?”

As I shared our school’s philosophy with her, I observed a look of disapproval cross her face. When she left, I knew that the chances of seeing her again were slim, and I was filled with sadness for Olivia.

As impressive as it is that Olivia can read on a second-grade level, I can’t help but wonder if she can paint a picture she thinks is beautiful. Does she know any silly songs that make her laugh? Can she hop on one foot or bounce a ball? When she has the chance to look at a spider, does she wonder why God gave it eight legs?

Most of the children in our program will not leave reading on a second-grade level, but I know they are on their way to becoming readers. They will even eventually learn to walk in straight lines. Their accomplishments are no less amazing than Olivia’s. Five-year-old Lucas often arrives at school tired and is easily frustrated, resulting in an angry, screaming tantrum. When this happens, he knows he is welcome in my office. I have kid-sized chairs, puzzles, stuffed animals and real frogs that he can watch while he has the chance to calm down and rest a while. He’s learning self-control, a skill that will be especially useful as he becomes a teenager.

Maria is a very sweet, shy 3-year-old, and this is her first time to be away from her mother. She usually stands back and watches for a while before she joins in, and she doesn’t like to be the center of attention. Maria is encouraged with lots of smiles and hugs, but is allowed to move at her own pace. Two weeks ago, for the first time, she dictated a story she made up. It means a lot to me that she trusts us enough to share her story. She’s learning to be independent and to trust others.

Four-year-old Christopher loves to build with blocks. As he pulled out a basket of blocks, he announced he was going to build a skyscraper. He began to randomly stack the blacks, which fell over at about waist level. After the third try, he stomped his foot and shouted, “Stupid blocks!” Philip came over and patiently showed him he needed to stack the largest, heaviest blocks on the bottom and then add the smaller, oddly shaped blocks. After a little trial and error, they built a wonderful skyscraper.

Christopher is learning to fail at something and then try again. He’s learning about communication, teamwork and perseverance. He’s getting ready to take on the world.

Lisa Murphy, president of Ooey Gooey, Inc., says, “A truly child-centered place will provide long periods of free time that enable children to become engaged, to wallow in experiences and to repeat behaviors. This helps children master developmental skills and deve3lop a passion for discovery.”

Contrary to the belief of many parents today, including Olivia’s, preschool should not be boot camp for kindergarten. But Olivia has already been drafted and is serving her time. I can only she survives with her spirit intact.

Susan Prince of Hoover is director of the Cahaba Valley Church Preschool, a board member of the Alabama Association for Young Children, a frequent workshop leader and, most important, the mother of two. Her email address is sprince123@aol.com.

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