My Ideal Preschool Program

Reading Too Soon- 


There is a widely held belief in this country (and many others) that if we start teaching children to read, write, and spell in preschool and kindergarten that they will be ahead of the game (and their peers) by first grade. We think that pushing our kids to start early will make them better and give them the edge.

But it doesn’t work that way, in fact it can be detrimental. 

Here’s why…

Children’s neurological pathways for reading, writing, and spelling are not formed yet at these young ages, therefore they are not equipped. In child development you can not miss, shortcut, or rush steps, it just doesn’t work.

Between 3 and 7 years old, predominantly the right side of the brain is developing. The right side of the brain is not where word reading takes place. The right side sees pictures and shapes and uses mental imagery to create the movie in their mind to understand the story.  The left side of the brain is where we read words, it is responsible for decoding words into letters and phonetically sounding them out. This is true word reading. It is not until about age 7 that the corpus callosum fully connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain to make reading complete for kids.”

Please read it all.


I have written a lot on the importance of free play (and outside play, especially) for little kids, and less formal learning of things that don’t matter to them yet- abcs, how to hold a pencil, and so on.

They are building an important framework for later conceptual understanding. The kid who understands the scientific concept of erosion best at 10 is the kid who at four was building sand castles and watching the waves knock them down, who was making holes in the yard while playing with the hose, who was digging out streams and making dams on stream banks and again with the hose in the backyard. The kid who has the deepest conceptual understanding of geography later is the kid who from 1-6 was outside in the mud creating mini-geographical worlds- lakes, islands, inlets, peninsulas, streams, rivers, seas- who was digging out cities and villages in the sandbox or the driveway. The kid with the strongest working concepts of pulleys and levers and friction is the kid who spent his preschool years not doing worksheets, but instead was actually discovering friction by pushing wheeled and nonwheeled toys on sidewalks, grassy yards, gravel drives, carpet, tile floors, who learned about levers by playing on see-saws and using sticks to pry rocks out of the dirt and flip them over to look for bugs, who figured out how to lift objects (or siblings) by tossing a rope over a tree branch and so on.

There is actually a ton of research supporting this, as well as real life experiences. I talked to a science teacher here in the Philippines whose students used to come from homes with no or little electricity, whose play involved a lot of sticks, stones, mud, water, games with their slippers as tokens, cans and bottles, puddles and trees- but they came to school and quickly grasped the science concepts she taught because they only gave formal names to real world forces and functions that the children already know and understood first hand. She said now her students spend their days playing educational games on screens, watching educational television, doing worksheets- and they come to school and they can parrot facts, but they have no idea how to apply them, they don’t really mean anything to them at all except as a sort of pen and paper guessing game.

Researchers in England found that on average school children are reaching Piaget’s stages of cognitive development 3 years later than kids of 30 years ago were, and their guess is it is the lack of free play and the freedom to muck about and make messes and get dirty and have free time and empty space in their days for thinking, dreaming, wondering, and processing their experiences.

It is more than a bit of a hobby horse of mine, and it really frustrates me and breaks my heart for the kids who are being given stones for bread. This kind of free play, including the risks of bumps, scrapes, bruises, falls and scraped knees, is their birthright. It can’t be replaced. If you don’t learn the alphabet at 2, it won’t make a lick of difference if you learn it at six or eight. You will have lost nothing. If you don’t get plenty of free time, making messes, getting dirty, experimenting with the real world, singing the songs of childhood, listening to oral stories (this builds the child’s ability to picture things in his mind based on words, which is vitally important for real progress in understanding reading later), etc, before 6, you’ve lost a lot of the important opportunities to build that foundation.

We’re trying to build walls and put in the carpeting without taking the time to build the foundation, floors, and framework. We’re all about instant food for the mind, pellets of factoids that kids just recite without knowing what they are talking about, instead of nourishing food for the brain, which requires slow steeping, marinating, simmering, time to digest, and more.

My ideal preschool/kindergarten:

LOTS of free play outside and the freedom to get absolutely covered in dirt and mud from head to toe. Running, jumping, climbing, rolling, skipping, kicking, hopping, crawing, swimming, splashing, marching, 

LOTS of oral story telling- Bible stories, basic folk tales, fairy tales, and fables. Stories of when Mom and Dad or Grandparents were little.

Mother Goose- 

Singing- hymns and folk songs. Pop songs not so much. Singing- not listening, not watching, but singing.  You can sit down for five or ten minutes a day when everybody is tired or grouchy and sing.You can also sing while working, playing, washing dishes, digging holes, driving places. 

Traditional games- most of my kids learned to count playing hide ‘n seek. Tag, hide the thimble, hopscotch, throwing things at targets (this one apparently is connected to developing good executive function), hopping, skipping, Mother May I and Simon Says type games.  Throwing balls and beanbags. Playing catch.

Trips to the grocery store, the park, the pond, church, the departmeent store, to the courthouse to pay taxes to the bank to make deposits, to the DMV to renew a license and to the library, talking about where you’re going, what the people who work there do and why, and how to behave in public. At the grocery store,  helping to fill the bags of fruits and vegetables, counting apples, finding red things, yellow things, looking for the letter c, weighing the carrots. 

A few chores- mine mostly also learned colours two ways- helping with laundry folding, and being bribed with gummy bears when they were toilet training.  Having a pet is a wonderful way to combine responsibility with nature study and compassion lessons in real life.

Self-care- tidiness, clean face, teeth brushing, hair brushing, clean nails, healthy eating, regular rest

Some basic habit building- the most important being respect for parental authority, putting things away, and make all the messes you want but you have to help clean it up afterward. Respect for property- yours and others.  Consideration- don’t make other people’s lives more difficult and unpleasant than they need to be.

A few free style art projects- painting, playdough, helping to knead bread dough and make it into shapes, finger paint, maybe weaving, corking, lap looms, stringing beads. Not so much time on kits. 

Collecting things like rocks, seashells, stones, acorns, pine-cones, leaves- sorting them (the best kind of early science)

A few favourite classic picture books, but far more oral story telling

Daily Bible stories


Traditional preschool topics- counting, shapes, colours should be learned naturally in your home as you go along- square sandwiches, round carrot slices, red socks, blue socks, six raisins on a celery peanut butter log, triangle slices of cheese, star shaped cookies or decorations for a Christmas tree, playing with parquetry blocks. Playing cards and matching them.  blocks of different shapes and colours and natural conversations.

Toys: Open-ended, blocks, dolls, dishes, balls, a few smallish toy animals,

Plenty of hugs and kisses and snuggles.

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