Ask the grumpies: Preschool play vs academics

Mom2boy asks:

Why can’t I find a montessori school that has a lot of playground time during the day? In the alternative, will spending the summer at the preschool with a lot of playground time but no counting chains (or any counting really) stunt my addition obsessed child’s development?

Perhaps it’s what the parents demand in your area– they want their preschool time to be academic… that’s pretty common with preschools with part-time options. The playing part is extra on top of the academic, before or after regular preschool hours. Our Montessori was only full-time, so had playground and nap-time built in, but the other two in town are more geared towards SAHM and part-time moms who want the academic prep before K, so the playtime is before part-time dropoff and after part-time pick-up.  Presumably those moms don’t want to pay for something they provide themselves.

In terms of academics, unless your child is coming from a deprived background, which seems unlikely, no, not only will a non-academic preschool not stunt your child’s development, but no preschool work at all would not stunt development.  There’s still a lot of stuff to be learned across many spectrums ages 0-5 even without standard academics.  And your child may pick up academics (colors, numbers, letters, etc.) without any formal learning just from being around.

However, your child may be happier (and in our case, better behaved) with some academics.  A lot of mommy forums have people who say that teaching academics (before, say, age 7) is horrible and will destroy your Rousseau dream-child.  That’s not true either.  Academics won’t do any harm and they’re FUN for almost all kids until around 5th grade, give or take.  (And some no-pressure exposure before they’re needed may help with stress later on for many kids.)  By all means, indulge that love of numbers– love of math is worth encouraging!  It may be a matter of if you’d rather do the academics at home or go to the playground at home, if there aren’t schools that offer both.

Btw, what can you do with preschool math?  We loved playing with manipulables.  The ones we had initially were stackable generic game pieces that DH picked up at a craft store when one of his hobbies was creating board games.  Later we replaced them with pixel blocks.  These are great because you can just explore putting groups of numbers together, to get a real feel for how counting and addition are related.  You can do either guided exploration or just let DC play.  (3 red pieces + 2 blue pieces = 5 pieces.)  Fingers are great when you’re out and about, but prepare for nasty looks from other folks who think you’re pushing or showing off (not realizing they’d be giving nasty looks of a different kind if you weren’t keeping your child occupied).

Grumpy Nation, any explanations or suggestions for Mom2boy?

24 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Preschool play vs academics”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    No additional constructive things to add..just a little vent. I’m SO frustrated that in my area, the idea of “full day summer camp” is considered 9-3. There are all these awesome camps that I can’t sent my kid to because they are geared to SAHM’s. Who the heck works from 9-3? Sorry for the vent.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We totally understand! We’re in a university town, so that’s somewhat more doable (most people have modified schedules during the summer), still…

      The camp we’re using has before- and after- school care at something like $8/hr. We’re paying it!

    • Anandi Raman Creath (@anandi) Says:

      Our “full day” preschool is 9-4, but at least they offer aftercare for those who need it. But it did take a lot of juggling when both hubby and I were working. Now he’s a SAHD and I am grateful :)

    • Leah Says:

      Frustrating! I used to teach summer camp, and I sometimes had this argument with the folks I worked for. We did offer after/before care at one place (7.30 am to 6 pm), which helped a lot. but the other places would say “we can’t afford the staffing” and then wonder why we had low enrollment. So I am with you!

  2. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    Why can’t I find a montessori school that has a lot of playground time during the day?

    Because Montessori pre-school education is focused on academic development and not athletic development. This question makes as much sense as asking why there isn’t more quiet reading time at Kutcher’s Sports Academy.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s not actually true. Montessori education at its base is focused on *practical living,* not academics. Academics are included, but as part and parcel of an entire package that includes household skills. It was originally developed for kids in orphanages and focuses a lot on child independence and skills building.

      Most modern Montessoris reject some of the more extreme tenets of Maria Montessori’s original philosophy– for example, you may see dress-up and play kitchens in today’s Montessori classrooms (she believed that fantasy had no place in these children’s lives– they should be working in real kitchens, not pretend). There’s also been a lot of good research on childhood development since then and many good Montessoris will incorporate that new research while keeping the basics of the curriculum (independent learning) still in tact. And free-play and fantasy and playground time have a place in all but the strictest Montessori classrooms these days.

      The truth is, if you have kids age 3-6 for a full day, they’re gonna need exercise or they’re gonna go crazy. It’s just a matter of how that’s incorporated into the curriculum.

  3. Perpetua Says:

    Our Montessori has an average amount of outdoor play time (though they have an “outdoor environment” during the normal “inside” cycle that children can choose. I’m not sure what work they do in the outdoor environment, but it’s available to them. But the school isn’t year-round – in the summer they have a camp, which is not Montessori but Montessori inflected, and it has an ecology emphasis, so basically they spend all their time outside. I don’t worry about the playground stuff with Montessori. I disliked that element of daycare, partially because there were so many kids crammed into an unstimulating room, but my (very active) son gets plenty of energy out at his school, and has lots of outdoor time when he gets home.

    Mom2boy can also buy Montessori materials from a variety of official online stores for home use if she want to give her kid access to them during the summer. I’m sure you can get counting beads, racks and tubes, etc. Helping Hands is one of the companies, though it might be geared toward the littler crowd. I find the materials in small quantities generally inexpensive. (In comparison to a $150 Waldorf doll)

    @First Gen: Word. I’m super annoyed by how much of the preschool action in my town is operated as though every one in the world is a stay at home mom. Even our Montessori used to refuse to provide after care for the toddlers, so I had to hire someone to pick up my kids by 3:30. So annoying! And WHY is aftercare so ridiculously expensive? I could pay an awesome nanny for the amount that they charge for the two kids. ($8/hr per child! Outrageous.)

  4. Cloud Says:

    I say pick whichever preschool makes your kid happiest and add what is missing after work. Our day care/preschool is a nice mix of play and academics, but even so we have found ourselves supplementing at home. Sometimes, it seems like the kid needs some more play time, so we focus on outdoor time after dinner. Sometimes, it seems like she needs more mental work, so we pull out the workbooks (Pumpkin loves those Kumon books) or puzzles or other “brain stretchers”.

    Alternatively, pick the school that does best with the thing you’d have the hardest time adding- e.g, if after work play time isn’t possible, go with the play heavy one and do counting during dinner or something.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We got a Kumon workbook as a present and DC hated it with a violent passion (unusual in our generally chill kid). Ze much preferred conceptualizing things with 3-d objects (and really, you can use anything… my first grade teacher was really into goldfish and mnms…nom!).

      Ze also liked the BrainQuest workbooks a lot (not sure why ze liked them so much more than Kumon, but they’re definitely not as repetitive). Now that ze is older we’re having a lot of fun with Singapore math which is really great about giving a number sense.

      Hm… I think there might be a post in the queue that I never finished about the different “homework books” we tried and what we liked and disliked about them. Maybe now that it’s summer I can dig that up and finish it one of these weekends.

      • Cloud Says:

        We got the first Kumon one as a gift, too, and bought more when she really liked the first one. We figured she liked it because it builds up slowly- so she didn’t get stressed by not knowing how to do something. But maybe she just likes workbooks. Who knows. We’ll see what happens as Petunia gets older. She has been doing an excellent job of turning what I think I learned about parenting upside down…

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We were surprised at how much DC liked workbooks. We weren’t going to get any (our Montessori director who we generally trust on childhood development stuff is anti-) until ze was older, but the in-laws had other ideas and ze loved them (mostly), so we got more. Anything for sweet quiet time.

        Then as ze got older, we started needing to do something academic requiring thinking in order to keep DC from bouncing off the walls, so they became more routine and less voluntary. Thankfully with K we only need to do them on weekends (and now only one rather than a full set) rather than every day like that last semester and summer of preschool.

  5. Anandi Raman Creath (@anandi) Says:

    Thanks for posting this. As you know I had some angst about this after reading all those forums. To make it worse, at work the other parents are all about “more academics” – at our Montessori, they give out worksheets to do as “homework” because parents requested it. (They don’t have to be returned, thank god.) I can’t seem to find my “happy medium” peeps.

    At our Montessori, the kids get to go outside once a day, I think, but they taught my kid how to ride a tricycle so that made me feel better :D compared to daycare where they went out 2-3 times a day. After debating a bit, we decided to send her to “school” during the summer as well, to keep her routine going. She does love it and is learning so much, it’s ridiculous. So despite my nervousness about her being the youngest in an “academic” preschool, as long as she is loving it, I’m ok with it.

    I got some very cool Montessori materials at and they’re not terribly expensive. Though I despise encouraging them, Oriental Trading Co has a lot of manipulatives for a lot cheaper than “learning” places. They also have cool trays you can use for a Montessori set up (look at the photo):

    Since she gets enough academics at school, at home I’m focusing on art projects. She does a little coloring at school each day, and on one of her 3 days they do a bigger art project with a special art teacher, but my girl looooves art. So we do messy painting, stamping, whatnot at home.

    We also take her to Little Gym once a week and try to get her out to the park, since she’s inclined to be less active. (So are we – we all need to work on that!) So I agree with the idea that you can balance whatever s/he is getting at school.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yup. There are infinite ways of learning and having a happy and great kid. No matter what the forums or (research-lite) books say. (The research-heavy books tend to say… there are infinite ways of things turning out just fine. Because there are!)

  6. bogart Says:

    No particular words of wisdom, but I will note that we’ve found dominoes to be a fun, affordable, portable and multi-purpose toy that lends itself to mathiness.

  7. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Que Sera has a great post today on her preschool preferences:

    • QueSera Says:

      Thanks for the link! I can definitely sympathize with Mom2boy. Interestingly I haven’t found any preschools that claim to be Montessori that are right in my area.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The teachers and the environment are more important than the philosophy!

        Ours is actually a modified Montessori– they have some Discovery elements as well, and they do traditional preschool things like circle time. (Though lots of Montessoris do and have done circle time.)

        We did a year in an “academic” preschool too and it was also great. It had some Montessori elements, cuddly teachers who had been there forever, and a great playground.

  8. mom2boy Says:

    Thanks everyone for the ideas and perspectives!
    Tate has and likes workbooks and dominoes. I’ve thought about getting the montessori type manipulatives for at home but part of what he loved was not just doing the work himself but being able to see older kids working on more advanced levels and tracking his own progress to get there, too. I’m just frustrated that there’s nowhere he can go to get both the challenging academic environment and the be a kid in a sandbox environment, too (not athletic development just more social/emotional play time – they never played games outside and anything remotely resembling competition play was actively discouraged.) Perhaps there’s just not a big need for both for most kids?
    However, he loves his new pre-school and I’m going with at 4, that’s what matters most.

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