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Parents expect too much from their preschoolers!
Q: I teach preschool and feel parents’ expectations are above and beyond what is realistic. They want their 3- and 4-year-olds to sit at the table and do school work, spell their names, draw numbers, know the alphabet, etc. I believe children this age learn mostly through play, story time, songs and role modeling. I believe this is a time preschoolers learn to follow directions and learn to keep attention focused for a few minutes. Would you please enlighten parents as to what happens in a typical preschool day?
A: Thank you for writing this. If you will read my article on this web site entitled “Kindergarten Then and Now,” you will learn about my passion for this subject. And I am one who worried years ago that many early childhood programs didn’t have enough structure and focus! But we have gone too far in the other direction. I consider it a good thing that we have become more aware of the need for an appropriate curriculum for young children, and that we no longer assume that “anything goes.” But I lament the fact that we seem to have gone overboard in attempts to get children “ready” for first grade. For many this seems to mean having children learn things before starting kindergarten that one should reasonably expect them to learn during kindergarten.

During the preschool years children most assuredly need the kinds of experiences you mention: play, listening to stories, singing songs, and role modeling. In addition, they need opportunities to act out their own fantasies through play with others and with toys that are challenging and fun. They can handle brief periods of sitting at a table (no more than 15 to 20 minutes) and doing an activity (art, puzzles, form boards, lotto-type games) introduced by the teacher. But if that is all they get, they are not attending a quality program, and they are being cheated.