In the US, we tend to assume more education is always better than less education.
In a new longitudinal study from Vanderbilt University, kids who went to preschool saw no measurable benefits of the added early education once they finished kindergarten than the kids who started a year later.
In fact, by the second and third grades some of the former preschoolers had actually fallen behind.
The finding is surprising, to say the least.
In the US, preschool is often considered a head start for kids, especially those who seem to need the extra year to play catch-up. While kids who start school at age 4 or 5 are sleeping in and watching TV in their PJs, preschoolers are toiling away in the sandbox, where they are thought to be nipping future achievement gaps in the bud.
The study, involving more than 1,000 kids split between kids in Tennessee’s voluntary prekindergarten program (TN-VPK) and a control group of public school students, challenges that rosy story.
As the research team charted kids’ performance and changing attitudes about school, they realised preschool wasn’t the almighty “Intro to Kindergarten” course it’s often made out to be. Preschoolers did have a leg up when they began kindergarten, but by the year’s end their scores in literacy and maths, peer relations, and liking for school had leveled off.
“First-grade teachers rated the … children as less well prepared for school, having poorer work skills in the classrooms, and feeling more negative about school,” the report stated.
One interpretation is that preschool itself isn’t broken, but that specific approaches are failing kids.
In Sweden, for example, equality is one of the country’s guiding values.
To that end, a Stockholm preschool known as Egalia doesn’t use gender pronouns when referring to its students. Teachers generally find the policy creates a warmer learning environment where kids play and learn in more inclusive ways. Instead of playing house with only a mummy and daddy, two girls might imagine they are parents to an adoptive child of another race.
As a result, kids avoid learning traditional stereotypes, potentially improving peer relations.
The US isn’t in quite the position to abandon “he” and “she,” so innovative preschools focus more on building more general skills. They teach kids how to be nice to one another, how to count, and how to pick out certain shapes.
Many of those skills, however, are also things parents can and should impart at home, where the lessons can be tailored to the child. For example, as Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of “How to Raise an Adult,” recently told Tech Insider, doing chores predicts future success better than just about any formal school program.
It may be the case that serving kids’ needs means avoiding preschool altogether.
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