Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Preschool and Routines?

The Question:

Dear Jane,

I really enjoyed your first "Letter" about discipline, and can't wait for your input on caring for babies. I've also been curious about your opinion on pre-school, as you once mentioned you had some specific feelings about it. I would love for you to elaborate on that. I'm also just curious about what a typical daily/weekly routine would look like for you with small children at home. I have a 3 year old and a 16 month old and I often wonder if I'm striking the "right" balance between housework, playing, teaching, going to playgroups, and finding "me" time. Did you tend to have a predictable weekly routine with specific activities specific days (and daily routines as well) or did you plan as you went along depending on what you felt like that day/week?

I am a very social person, and tend to be involved in 2 playgroups outside the home during the week, and sometimes have friends over here an additional day - this keeps me thriving but I also sometimes wonder if it's more important that we create activities and routines at home with just us. I have also considered working some formal "preschool" time into our routine with my 3 year old, but am not entirely sure how or where to start. Anyway, I welcome your thoughts and experiences!


The Answer:

Dear Jeanine,

Thank you so much for your great question. I can remember very well my early years with children. There always seems to be that nagging question lurking in the back of our minds, "Am I doing this right? Should I be doing more to prepare my children for school? Shouldn't there be more structure?"

The most wonderful, freeing realization you can have as a mother, is that you are creating a world for your children. When you tune in to their needs and key off of them, instead of what your friends and neighbors are doing, or even what the experts are saying, you will experience a new level of pleasure and confidence as a mother. I hate to say too much about it because, it's really up to you!

Some of my children loved drawing and crafts. When I noticed this interest, I would set up a little table for them and provide simple supplies and piles of paper. I made a shoe box for their best work and was amazed at the hours they would spend drawing, coloring and cutting things out to put in their box. Other children were not at all interested in crafts. They might enjoy digging or building with legos. One of my children loved animals. I couldn't get animal library books fast enough and we gradually built a collection of plastic animals. I've always had a chest full of dress-up clothes and I love puppets. Nothing needs to be fancy or expensive. But little children thrive when we feed their interests. I've always steered away from commercial fads--like action figures. I like to keep things simple, real and creative.

When it comes to preschool, I think it's completely unnecessary. I know it seems that if everyone else is sending their children to preschool, yours will be socially and academically stunted if you don't get on board. But these are precious, wonderful years. Those little three and four year olds are sponges like they'll never be again. Their ABC's are nothing. You are teaching them real life lessons--always in a context of faith. Listen to these inspired words:

"We become enamored with men’s theories such as the idea of preschool training outside the home for young children. Not only does this put added pressure on the budget, but it places young children in an environment away from mother’s influence. It is mother’s influence during the crucial formative years that forms a child’s basic character. Home is the place where a child learns faith, feels love, and thereby learns from mother’s loving example to choose righteousness. How vital are mother’s influence and teaching in the home—and how apparent when neglected!" - Ezra Taft Benson

I have participated in play groups and cooperative "Joy Schools" over the years, but nothing academic. Each child has loved kindergarten and has been very successful. I knew that some of their classmates could read before they started, but I didn't care about that--unless my child showed great interest in letters and reading. Then I supplied little workbooks.

Besides their individual gifts and interests, your children will almost certainly share yours! If you love music, so will they. If you're a naturalist or an animal lover, your children will pick up on those interests. I majored in English and love poetry and books. Each one of my children share that love and are gifted writers. That bond has brought me great joy over the years. In the world you create for your children, you will discover the unique gifts your children come with and the talents that you all share. You don't have to follow lesson plans or color visual aids to make this happen. And you certainly don't have to drop them off somewhere. Just love them, enjoy them, and let them emerge in their own way.

Rather than structure and schedule the whole day, choose a few daily routines that you stick to. I loved the way my sister Susan would get all of her children ready for their day right after breakfast. After they were dressed, she would comb their hair, wash their faces and put a little vaseline on their cheeks. They just looked shiny clean. I always shot for that lofty goal and occasionally, I made it! Every day after lunch and before naps, my friend Lisl, chooses a picture from the gospel art kit and teaches the story to her preschoolers. She loves that time with them. These daily rituals establish order and build security. You can prayerfully decide what things are important enough that you will do them every day.

I love this role. I get to paint my walls and schedule my days and decide what matters. And while I can get ideas and inspiration from others, I love that ultimately, it's up to me. Is there really any greater opportunity for creative expression? I hope we can each fully appreciate and take advantage of this great trust and blessing.

All my love,


  1. Jane, I really, really love you. Thanks for giving me permission to NOT send my kids to preschool. I have been dreading it. Now I think I won't! :)

  2. Jane! You are a blessing in my life. We live in NYC and parents are obsessed OBSESSED with preschool and pre-K and doing everything they can do to get their little ones into an ivy league school. It's insanity - so stressful, and not my style at all. I have decided not to send my 4yo son to preschool, but, of course, questioned the choice constantly because all of his little buddies are in preschool. This post spoke to me. We do weekly co-ops and playgroups and lots of socializing, but everyday we have our quiet time when I can teach him (and his baby sister) about things they are interested in. Thank you for that Benson quote. In my heart of hearts I knew I was making the right decision, but this adds to my confidence.

  3. This is exactly what I have felt in my heart but never could piece together in an explanation. I love the quote you shared and I love the special feelings you have about those early years together at home. Thank you for another wonderful post.

  4. Thank you so much for this post. I decided not to send my little guy to preschool, mostly for monetary reasons & I feel like I'm the only one who doesn't have my child in preschool. He's a smart little guy who asks lots of questions & he can read a little.
    For you mom's out there who have a child that is preschool aged that is interested in reading, there is a book called, "How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons". The theory of it is basically you teach the kids the sound the letters make so they can read. It's worked great for my little guy. The lessons are about 20 minutes long & it tells you as a parent how to teach your child. It was nice to have 1 on 1 time with him while we he was learning. I did it after dinner when dad was home to spend time with our other son & it made for some good bonding time for the 2 of us.
    Even after doing all of this, I still had a friend, who does not have any children, but her education background is in childhood development, comment & say, "does he really know his letters? If he can't say his alphabet backwards, he doesn't know his letters & they won't let him go to kindergarten." This obviously aggravated me & I responded with, "I don't even know my alphabet backwards & I hold a college degree."
    It's so hard when there are so many people out there who know better, and I appreciate your down to earth reminder of the simple things in life & what's really important.

  5. I love having my little ones home with me. I think I'm about the only one in my neighborhood who doesn't have my son in preschool. We love the library and finding books on topics that interest my boys. We haven't really done much to push academics, just teach letters, numbers, shapes, etc. in a natural way when they are interested.

    A book I'm currently reading is "teaching children joy" (from the founders of "joy school" Linda and Richard Eyre) and I'm really liking it. It gives some good ideas about how to enhance the way you interact with your children during these years. One thing it said that I loved was:

    "As is obvious to the reader by now, the whole direction of this book is...against using these incredible impressionable years in teaching something as ordinary as the academic skills that they will spend the next 12 years learning anyway."

    It does go on to tell the basic things a child should know that you can focus on in the months immediately preceding school.

    It is an older book, but I've enjoyed some of the insights.

  6. I love this concept and the way you put it, Jane. And I wholeheartedly agree. When my first went off to school, I realized how very short those pre-school years really are and vowed to make the most of them.

    A great book to read is "Piggyback Rides and Slippery Slides" by Lynnae W. Allred. It's all about how young children learn through play and how you can also have them work alongside you in your daily tasks and how much they learn about life through that as well.

    I love spending time with my young children all week long and we do a lot of fun activities that are chock full of real learning. My oldest could read when he started school and my 2nd will start school this next year but has no interest in the ABC's but I'm not worried. He has so many strengths and interests that he is quite knowledgeable about already and reading will come when he is ready.

    Thanks for your answer, Jane. So well-thought out.

  7. Amen! The pressure is real and its so easy to forget how precious that time is and how quickly it goes.

  8. I don't think preschool is such a bad thing. I also think there are positive examples of LDS leaders who like preschool. The biggest one that comes to mind is Cheryl Lant, the recently released Primary president. She is one of the owners of a highly regarded preschool in Orem, Learning Dynamics. As with so many other things, it's good to pray and evaluate each child and each situation to see what would be best for that child. I believe that avoiding preschool on principle could be negative in the same way that automatically sending your child just because everyone is doing it could be.

    We sent my oldest two kids to an academic preschool two days a week and we were thrilled with their experience. Both of them loved the learning atmosphere and the fun activities, which I did not have the energy or inventiveness to duplicate. Two days a week was enough for them to have a great experience but not excessive time away from me. Because of preschool readers sent home, both my children began kindergarten reading a grade ahead. It helped their reading immensely to have the things I taught at home reinforced in a school environment. This gave them confidence. Even better, they have been active participants in our scripture study from a young age.

    My youngest does not have the same temperament, so I've sent him to a smaller school, run by an amazing woman who he idolizes. He has a fantastic time, has a chance to make friends and learn his letters, and looks forward to his two days a week on all the other days of the week.

    I respect the decision to keep a child at home. I also think that preschool can be a fun and rewarding experience. It's certainly not worth breaking the bank over, or stressing over. But it can be a great thing, and I don't regret sending my kids at all.

  9. wow. How refreshing to hear that I am not alone! There is so much pressure in our world to compete and "accomplish". I am grateful for the time that I have just let my little ones "be" and absorb. I worry about people keeping them so busy, just for the sake of being busy, that they can't learn what is really important. In our home, we provide multitudes of opportunities for learning and development and like you I let them go at their own pace even if that means that the two year old runs around in pj's all day (I do encourage her to get dressed in real clothes, but she is two and has a mind of her own. I enjoy her independence.)
    Thank you for such sound doctrinally based counsel.

  10. Thank you so much for validating a philosophy I have lived by for years with each of my children. I have stood alone on this topic for years among friends and family and have often wondered if I was really doing the right thing by keeping them out of preschool. My kids have all done well in kindergarten as well. I just was not willing to force them into academics to early and I just wanted them to be home with me and be children.

    Thank you so much for sharing that quote from a Latter Day Prophet. You do not know the feelings of doubt you have lifted from my mind. So great to be validated!

    Thanks for your blog. What a blessing!

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  12. I have really enjoyed reading all of your post. I always leave feeling inspired and wanting to be a better mom, and for that I thank you!!! It's so interesting to me a lot of the things you say I've heard my Mom say. I told my grandma(ruth) about your blog and she said "that sounds like Jane, and she has such a gift with writing". Keep the advice coming your helping lot's of young Moms!

  13. I have decided also for my daughter not to attend preschool. Two reasons - around here, a good one is sooooo expensive, and second I don't feel that it is necessary (although I have taken a TON of flack for that view as well). We have found a little dance school around the corner from our house that offers 3-4 yrs ballet for 30 minutes once a week for a little over $30/mo. She l-o-v-e-s dancing (esp. Angelina Ballerina) so I really think she will enjoy it. I am also going to start some preschool-like stuff at home. Have you looked at www.letteroftheweek.com. I really like it and I'm going to use her ideas to create reading skills (her other love). It is totally free - you just have to put in the leg work. I am at this point planning to home school, so for me I want a good start at reading. Plus she likes it. Oh also www.starfall.com is really great and they are learning while they play!

  14. Thank you thank you Jane. I heard about your blog from Janel, and I'm so thankful for loving Christian moms who are willing to share their wisdom! I wholeheartedly agree that preschool is unneccesary. It has many good things, but I feel it is more important to be involved in their leraning and socializing as the mother. It truly hurt my heart the other day when a friend described the difficulties that her son had had in a "toddler lab" on a college campus, but then continuued to say how she would be signing him up for preschool this fall! I was shocked! Why do moms feel the pressure so greatly to adhere to social norms of parenting? I'm glad there are women that stand up for their beliefs- regardless of how out of place they are with their neighbors or friends. I know there will be MANY other instances where I disagree with my fellow moms on issues of parenting, and I am standing firm on this one!


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