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Mormon Hacks: Preschool Edition

Thanks to Common Core and other cultural problems—you know, like legal mandates that allow boys to use the girls’ dressing room if they feel strongly enough about it—we’ve had a massive onslaught of new homeschoolers coming down the pike. As with most experienced homeschoolers (we are finishing up our 22nd year), I am getting endless questions about how to start, where to begin, what to do. (I do homeschool consulting at the same rate as blog consulting, if you’re interested.) From personal experience I know it can seem overwhelming to think you will direct the education of your own children when you have only known the government school paradigm, as I did.

Mormon Hacks: Preschool Edition

All the discussion has me distracted from my real life (where my “baby” is 12 years old) to thinking about early education and foundational philosophies. If you’re thinking about enrolling your little tyke in preschool or otherwise getting formal about schooling your little ones, please read on! 

The Best (and Mostly Free) Homeschool Kindergarten Curriculum Ever Created

One of the most dismaying questions I repeatedly hear is, “What is the best kindergarten curriculum?” It coerces me to alternately cry and bang my head against the wall.

Kindergartners do not need a curriculum at all. And—in case there is some misunderstanding—preschoolers need one even less. With the under-fives we’re in the territory of negative numbers on the need-to-do number line.

In response to all the questions about what dubious boxed program or online list of must-dos for the freaked out new homeschooler or eager beaver preschool parent, I created this amazingly awesome youngster “curriculum.” Your kids will enjoy it—and still be prepared for academics to come later.

The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids

Are any of you young enough to remember when kindergarten was the transition from home to school? Do you remember way back in the day when it was the play-a-little-sit-a-little-play-a-little-listen-a-little-have-a-nap-and-eat-a-snack easy-going half-day adventure with the kindly grandma figure?

Over the years kindergarten became “real school” and so, of course, preschool became the preparation for academic rigor to be imposed at age five.

I’ve read myriad parenting boards with well-meaning folks deriding “selfish” parents who won’t send their kids to preschool while bragging mightily about how their own child started full-time at two years old.

Well, maybe it’s not such a grand idea.

The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues

I’m old. I’m really, really old. But when I was young and kids got restless, the adults figured there was a need to “work out the wiggles.” So we’d get up, stretch, jump, dance, or run around. Somehow the adults recognized that kids have this weird need to move and explore rather than to complete worksheets after listening to a lecture. Go figure.

A few years ago, a reader noted that her child’s school had gotten rid of regular recess because it was too chaotic and burdensome to teachers. Instead, the children were allowed (oh! the freedom!) to go outside and walk (no running on deck!) around and around the playground in a wide circle. (Playground, of course, being an utter misnomer meaning track of torture and mindless boredom.)

I remember looking forward to recess. This, not so much.

The Early Education Racket

I’m not a huge fan of this article, due to it’s über liberal slantiness. For example, the author’s world-bubble tells her:

Children who don’t go to preschool are usually from more disadvantaged families, which means they watch lots of TV and are yelled at more than they are praised, which some researchers believe can stunt cognitive development.

Yes, those poor kiddos who hang out at home with a parent or two—playing, cooking, reading, coloring, singing, running around outside—rather than in a “structured enrichment environment.” Sucks to be them.

In the world I come from, the kids most likely to attend preschool are those whose parents are desperate for time without all the “burdens” of parenting young children. (As Wendy Wisner put it: “…a nice break for their parents.”) So, there you go. Because, really, I don’t think I’ve ever met a single parent on earth who didn’t think they had the cognitive ability to provide preschool level “enrichment”—they just didn’t have the desire.

The subtitle of the piece is equally self-serving or insulting or something, “If you are reading this article, your kid probably doesn’t need preschool.” Because, you know, Slate readers are pretty much the upper echelons of personal awesomeness.

Still there is one cogent takeaway:

Research suggests that preschool only benefits children from these disadvantaged families (in particular, families that are below the poverty line, whose mothers are uneducated, or who are racial minorities).

Frankly, I’d put all three of those qualifiers in as cultural problems rather than intrinsic barriers.

When my two oldest were born, my husband was still in graduate school and I had chosen to stay home with them rather than work outside the home. We were dirt poor, but the kids didn’t suffer from lack of stimulation or enrichment. Most of the things in my “kindergarten curriculum” (see above) were free and we engaged in them liberally—without money to spare at all. As for race, there are definite cultural impediments to preparing for adult success, but they aren’t forced on anyone based on skin color or ethnicity. Even uneducated people generally have the wherewithal to see and understand basic benefits to children. Some of the least educated people have prepared their children for great academic success.

In other words, preschools most benefit kids who have uninterested, unengaged, uninvolved parents. The rest don’t really need it at all.

Adults Need Downtime—Obviously Kids Do, Too

Adults almost always recognize their own need for R&R. They work a full day and then crash. They lie down, watch TV, nap, or otherwise zone out, if they can. We are inundated with evidence that adults are healthier and happier with some measure of work/life balance. For example:

Those same adults (parents, teachers, administrators, etc.) will often insist that children—children—should go to an institution for seven hours and then come home to do still more homework. (As a homeschooler I have to wonder why in the world they can’t get the work done in seven freaking hours…) Then they might have chores or music practice or athletics or something else on top of it all.

Why do we expect more work out of children than we want for ourselves?

Seriously, if adults need time to chill out, how much more do children need this? And if children need this, how much more do toddlers need this? For the love of all that is holy, people, let these kiddos play!


Addendum:

As I come across new information, I’ll add links here.

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Holly January 17, 2016, 10:10 pm

    This is SO true!

    I love having my kids home with me at preschool age because I think they are hilarious and incredibly creative at that age. I don’t want to miss a moment!

    As a homeschooler I have taught my kids some things before Kindergarten age, but I’m really easy going. My Kindergarten age son can read pretty well and is in first grade math, but that’s after spending maybe 1 hour total in a day working with him on any and all “school” work. And it’s not all at once either. We learn a math concept, then he wanders off. We read for 15 min., then he goes to his trains. He copies one sentence, then has a snack and goes out to the swing set.

    My experience with an all-day public Kindergarten was that they spent half the day watching TV or movies! I think most of the rest of the time they were lining up, passing papers, waiting their turn for all the other kids to be helped, etc. Mind numbing. And my poor kid came home dead tired and ornery after such a long day at school. It was heartbreaking and we’ve never gone back.

  • Holly January 17, 2016, 10:13 pm

    Oh, and what kinds of things can you teach people with your homeschool consulting? I’m concerned about teaching my kids as they get older- the junior high and high school age stuff. I’m also wanting to find the best way to teach math. I know you hate Saxon math and have strong opinions on how math should be taught, so I’ve always wondered how you teach math and if there’s a curriculum you use. Is that the kind of thing I could find out if I paid you for a consultation?

  • IdRatherNotSay January 18, 2016, 12:15 am

    I loved reading this; thank you. We chose to homeschool long ago (before having children). We chose to have children later in life so we are older first-time parents. Our first and only child (so far) is just over a year old. I have been preparing to homeschool her and reading this post helped me to relax quite a bit. I took a course in graduate school that covered in depth the importance of play, so I agree very much with what you said. I agree with all of it, actually.

    My two main concerns about homeschooling are being able to effectively socialize my children and dealing bullies at church who may feel compelled to mock my kids for not attending traditional public schools. Thankfully, homeschool is becoming a trend (I’m sure for the reasons you stated) so hopefully, homeschooled children will not be seen as strange. However, socializing my children remains a challenge. I plan to encourage lessons and church activities where they can be with others. I’d also like to find a homeschooling group of mothers in my area who would be willing to get together with our kids.

    Thank you for this post! I’m also interested to know what your consulting services would include!

    P.S. 50 is not old! As my old dance teacher used to say, you aren’t old until you’re 80!

  • Alison Moore Smith January 18, 2016, 11:52 am

    Holly, I finally got smart enough with Caleb—baby #6 and final—to write down the funny things he said when he said them. Lots of them have ended up here (along with some from my older kids) in the Yea Big column. Glad I was around to hear them!

    The beauty of “home preschool,” if you will, is that (per the rest of homeschooling), it’s very individual. I had one child teach himself to read at two—something I swore was a fabricated thing made up by braggadocios parents. 🙂 The latest fluent reader was seven, who much preferred building things to sitting on a couch with Hooked on Phonics (but then again, who wouldn’t…). The rest were in between, some latching onto reading like a beloved long lost playmate right away and some only much later when a particular book caught their imaginations. (For me, it was Little Women when I was in 5th grade. Of course, when I wrote the book report the teacher was incredulous that I actually read the original, rather than an abridged version, and her scrutinizing and interrogating kinds of squashed the experience, but that’s another story.)

    Giving kids some room to pursue their interests without a general scope and sequence is not only liberating, but much more enjoyable all around.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Mormon Hacks: Preschool EditionMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith January 18, 2016, 11:55 am

    Yes. It’s simply an hourly consulting time for whatever the client wishes to discuss. I can share experiences on the topic of interest, give resources, etc. It’s completely lead by the client. I talk to people all the time and teach at conferences, but it can get overwhelming with all the time needed, so I found it better to simply consult. 🙂
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Simple FHE Ideas: Real HeroesMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith January 18, 2016, 12:06 pm

    P.S. Holly, because I now have four adult kids and two at home (ages 15 and 12), I do get a ton of questions about how to homeschool junior high and high school, how to “get kids into college,” how to plan high school courses, etc. (My oldest just got her master’s in information technology, my next will finish her coursework for a BS in landscape management this April, the third is majoring in Music Dance Theater and will finish her degree next December, the fourth just graduated from high school and attended college last summer and has been filming all year. She may go back this spring or fall, depending on her performing schedule. (All the kids have been at BYU. Go cougars!))
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Mormon Hacks: New Year’s 2016 EditionMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith January 18, 2016, 12:33 pm

    IdRatherNotSay, I’m glad you were able to relax a bit. Sincerely I remember the anxiety, because I just had no real model for what homeschooling was supposed to be—as if it was supposed to be anything in particular at all. But you needn’t worry. There are so many resources now that one of the most difficult aspects is sorting through them! It’s not rocket science. It’s elementary. 🙂

    I’ll deal with the socialization and bullying separately, even though there is a ton of overlap there, as you know:

    #1 Socialization is one of the most interesting objections to homeschooling because it presumes that putting a child in a room with many peers and few (actually civilized) adults for most of their waking hours is actually a logical way to teach children to be civil. You can probably guess that I don’t think it is. 🙂

    That said, here is a post I wrote a while back about the issue. Please read it and feel free to comment there or here about anything that is said.

    What About Socialization? The Perpetual (and Inane) Homeschooling Question

    #2 This is the first time anyone has asked me about bullying because of homeschooling! So they aren’t getting bullied at school, but you’re concerned kids at church will bully them because of homeschool.

    First, I’d say that if you have a kid who is targeted by bullies at church, they would likely be targeted no matter where they attended school. (Just like awkward kids are awkward without regard to school location.) So letting nasty kids determine how you educated your kids based on how they will react isn’t going to make the issue go away. (But homeschooling could, actually, minimize the impact.)

    Second, letting nasty kids determine how you educate your kids is probably a bad philosophical point no matter what the reason. Would you say, “Oh, I would never send my kids to private school because they public school kids will make fun of them!”?

    Third, the idea that being around bullies more makes you more adept at dealing with them isn’t something I’d say is true, at least not from my personal experience. I spend years and years trying to regain the confidence and positive outlook I had before I began attending school after it was beaten out of me day after day, year after year. I actually never learned to deal with it, but only learned to resolve it as an adult.

    Fourth, this could happen, but I actually don’t think this is a major concern. I was bullied relentlessly at church, but I was a public school kid. Some of my kids have been bullied, but none were really bullied about homeschooling in particular. You can read some of our long and sordid history about church bullying from this old post.

    Fifth, it’s pretty easy to turn the tables on public school kids for that kind of mocking. For example, “Yes, we were at Disney World last week while you sat in chemistry class with the cheerleading coach as your teacher. It’s so horrid to be homeschooled.” (But, of course, you’ll have to decide if this is a tack you want to employ…)

    Sixth, given that children are legally mandated to be in school and have little choice about school/class/grade/group they will be assigned to, etc., it seems obvious that most bullying occurs at school and/or as a result of forced associations from those at school, so homeschooling would actually avoid most of it. When Monica performed in the church’s bullying video, it wasn’t surprising that it was set in a school. 🙁 🙂
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Tolerance Is Not a VirtueMy Profile

  • Holly January 18, 2016, 2:26 pm

    IdRatherNotSay
    I’ve found that having my children at home mostly around myself and my husband helps them acquire better social skills because they aren’t learning all the garbage from other kids at school all day long. I don’t have to get them home from school each day and then try to help them un-learn all the bad words, rude saying, and off-color jokes they might hear.
    I have also worried about socialization just because we are home-bodies and fairly shy and reserved anyway. I don’t want that to hinder my children in any way. But while the kids were little and we never really got out much, I don’t think it made any difference! They acted normal at church and in any instance that we were around other people because I taught them how to act like decent, polite human beings not matter what. Now that I have 2 kids who are over 8, I’ve been really wanting an experience to get them out of the house a little. But we have formed a homeschool park day, and a homeschool book club and they’ve had a blast with their friends of ALL ages! And best of all, they recently went to their first audition and got main character parts in a community play for kids. The director said they had the best kids’ audition she’s seen in her 5 years auditioning kids. This from supposedly “unsocialized” homeschooled kids! All it took was a week with me preparing them to be polite, look up at the judges, sing really loud, and I helped them learn a song and dance number. Boom! They were in!
    I think I’ve seen more people be interested in what we do for school than be ready to tear us down for homeschooling. When I tell people about our fun book club activities, the owl pellets we dissected, the bug collection we’ve pinned, or the geography songs we’ve learned, they think it’s pretty amazing actually. And we make sure to brag just a little bit about the fact that we can go out of town when we need to! ( :

  • limited cargo January 18, 2016, 2:51 pm

    Allison, that blonde girl is your daughter? My two teen daughters love her. She is everywhere! Such a talented girl, very cool. What’s she doing now?

  • IdRatherNotSay January 18, 2016, 3:50 pm

    I read the post you suggested, along with the comments. Wow. I have so many things to say that it’d probably be more appropriate for me to start my own blog than to dump all of my thoughts into this comment…

    I am going to print out your reply to me along with some of the comments on the other post. I think I am going to need them in the future. Thanks for all of the help.

    I was a relatively popular kid at school and while I attended the same school as those in my ward, church was a different experience for me from about 7th to 12th grade. I endured some consistent, hurtful experiences there and I think that’s why I’m so concerned for my kids. However, what you have said has been very helpful.

    Most of the negative opinions that I have heard with regard to homeschool have come from teachers. To be frank, I think it is out of the fear of being put out of a job and secondly, I believe they feel that homeschoolers invalidate teachers’ status as professionals. I always hear “As a teacher, I know that blah, blah, blah.” Well, I think I speak for the vast majority of Americans when I say that we’ve ALL sat in classrooms and we ALL know what goes on in them. There are no special secrets known by teachers that we haven’t seen/heard/experienced as former students. I personally know a teacher who accuses homeschooling mothers of having mental disorders and being “unable to emotionally separate from their children, so they homeschool them.” I am not a violent person, but I wanted to smack her. Heaven knows I’d LOVE a break from my kids… but taking a break at home to indulge in my own hobbies while someone else handles my children’s educations is not my job. My job is to prepare my kids for the real world, however I see fit.

    I earned my master’s degree in educational psychology, which is a subject that draws a large number of school teachers as students. During my undergraduate years, I earned a nursing degree, was pre-med for a few years and also earned a BA in sociology… I say this to make it clear that I have dabbled in both the hard sciences as well as in the social sciences/humanites. I was astonished at the way my fellow master’s students (who were teachers) struggled with anything that dealt with *real* work beyond creating visual aids (ahem, bulletin boards). Many of them failed out of the statistics courses. None of the teachers from my cohort were able to finish their theses (the school had to create a “final project” option for them – which I felt was ridiculous; they should have been allowed to wash out if they weren’t cut out for the program). Most of them lacked the ability to write a review of research without heavily plagiarizing, but one thing they did very well was to pat themselves on the backs for the self-sacrifice they endured daily to “save the children of the world” (I chose another field for my Ph.D. as my poor stomach had endured all it could handle by the time I graduated). My opinion of the profession changed very quickly and I began asking myself why I had always assumed that these people would be better at educating my children than I could be. That was when we decided to homeschool.

    I do want to apologize because it is not my goal to bash the teaching profession. Bless the souls of those who are brave enough to babysit 30+ kids for 7 hours a day while attempting to teach them something in the process. Those without tenure accept low pay for their services and are subject to workplace bullying and administrative issues (I’ve heard all kinds of stories). I couldn’t do it. I am just saying that these people do not know some big teaching secret that they are keeping from us. Constructing lesson outlines, defining objectives, and assessing the learning outcomes of our children can be easily carried out by parents who care.

    Thank you again! You have now armed me with the opinions of an experienced homeschooler. The next time a family member makes a comment or a “concern,” I will be prepared!

  • Alison Moore Smith January 18, 2016, 6:37 pm

    limited cargo, haha. Someone saw her in something on social media—don’t remember where—and said something like, “There’s that girl again. She’s in EVERYTHING. So not fair!”

    She’s a great kiddo inside and out. Just a lovely person.

    As for what she’s doing, last summer she performed at Sundance Summer Theater in the Wizard of Oz. Last fall she filmed the new feature length Saturday’s Warrior motion picture. She’s still doing occasion ADR and reshoots. Last we heard it will premier March 30th or early April.

    Right after that wrapped, she began filming a BYU capstone project called Conflicted Felons. Then she filmed a few commercials (this is probably my favorite, she’s the zombie that talks) and the EFY theme reveal vids.

    Currently she’s working on another church web series, a pitch for a TV series, and vocal videos for a producer that contacted her. So…busy. 🙂
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…New Order Mormonism and the Teenage MindMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith January 18, 2016, 6:39 pm

    Oh, and last week she was in the recording studio with a bunch of people recording the new theme song for The Glenn Beck Show. 🙂
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…The Gospel of Inclusivity and NothingnessMy Profile

  • Toni - Design Dazzle January 28, 2016, 11:39 am

    Such a great article. Although my kids are grown I like to keep up on all this. The idea of some preschools getting rid of recess is quite ridiculous! Thanks for posting.
    Toni – Design Dazzle recently posted…Mickey and Minnie Mouse Valentine Card Box + Free PrintableMy Profile

  • Mich February 3, 2016, 8:17 pm

    My thoughts exactly. PARENTS must read this and think about it OUT LOUD! Thanks for putting this info up!
    Mich recently posted…Apartment 101: Make The Most Of Your Small Closet With These 6 Practical Tips!My Profile

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