Kindergarten – Good or Bad Idea?
Do parents make a wise decision sending their children to kindergarten? In the nineteenth century, the process of urbanization and social tendencies connected with it invoked the emergence of the first kindergartens in response to the needs of working parents. In the twentieth century, mostly in socialist countries, the preschool system became centralized. Nowadays, there are various care centers, nurseries, and preschools that are favored by parents; in Hungary, the Philippines, India, and Sudan, kindergartens are not only popular but compulsory. Parents often consider sending children to kindergarten as an effective way to prepare them for school, develop their communication skills and personality. But does preschool system live up to the expectations? It is hard to find a study of the effects of kindergarten on children where there would be no reports about arising behavioral or communication problems. On the other hand, if kindergartens influenced children apparently in a negative way, they would not be so popular. According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics, by 2005, more than one hundred thirty-two million children were enrolled in preschool programs worldwide. Obviously, the outcomes of attending kindergartens and care centers depend largely on the quality of the program and educators’ personal identity and qualifications. However, the debates about the general effect of preschool institutions continue. While some parents consider kindergarten as essential childhood experience for their kids, others believe it is better for their children to escape the influence of preschool.
Proponents of preschools are concerned with their children's advantage and don't want them to miss any opportunity other children would have. Sending kids to care centers, parents expect them to develop socially, cognitively and morally. Skipping kindergarten as a preliminary stage of education is often associated with the removal of an integral part of childhood experience.
Claiming that children benefit from attending nurseries, parents base their argument on the importance of qualified care. According to Mary Renck Jalongo, an American writer and experienced teacher, one reason for parents to enroll their kids in a preschool program is that specialists would take care of their children professionally and meet all kids' needs (2005). The importance of on-time lunches and health-checks may be underestimated, but the absence of these benefits is rather noticeable. Such qualified care may not be received from parents due to the lack of competence and time spent with children. Indeed, there are cases when hard working parents can barely meet kids' basic needs and cannot prepare their children for school. Cooper supports this view, suggesting that skipping kindergarten may be appropriate only if parents are competent enough to make children's preschool development balanced and comprehensive (2005).
Another reason to consider preschool beneficial is that there is an appropriate environment for developing children's social skills (Jalongo, 2005). In a company of peers, kids learn to interact with other children and be independent. Psychologists find preschool communication practice and experience of being a part of a team necessary for a child's social development. (Jalongo, 2005) In addition, assessing kids' social-emotional skills at preschool is found helpful to reveal the predisposition to social-emotional problems and indicate the need for intervention early (Jones, Greenberg, Crowley, 2015).
Then, sending children to kindergarten is an effective way to prepare them for school. A study on the effects of kindergarten that involved over seven hundred children in Northern Ireland indicates progress in attainment rates and high learning outcomes of kids at preschool (Quinn, Melhuish, Sylva, Sammons, Siraj-Blatchford, Taggart, Hanna, Sweeney, 2003). Learning to read, write and do elementary math kids get a set of basic skills that may make their studying at the first grade easier and help them to adapt to the studying environment at school (Quinn, Melhuish, Sylva, Sammons, Siraj-Blatchford, Taggart, Hanna, Sweeney, 2003). Apparently, parents' decision to send children to kindergarten is well-grounded, there is a number of reasons taken into account. Although the arguments for attending kindergarten are persuasive, the opposing claim is strong, too.
Parents who do not send their children to care centers are not less concerned about upbringing their children, they are led by the same motives as the proponents of kindergarten are. They aim to apply the best educational approaches to raise their kids in a way that would develop their talents, taking into account natural inclinations, establish the model of moral behavior, and improve their learning abilities and social skills. To implement these goals, intervention of qualified caretakers may seem to be required. However, parents wonder how they may entrust their children to strangers and rely on preschool caretakers more than on themselves. From this perspective, sending kids to preschools may be interpreted as parents' attempt to escape responsibility for their children's upbringing.
The proponents of alternative homeschooling point out the detrimental effects of preschool. Numerous reports about negative changes children undergo in nurseries cause concern. Parents often observe vulnerability and nervousness in their children's behavior after attending care centers (Deward, 2013). According to Gwen Deward, a science writer and anthropologist, in preschool groups, children get an increased amount of stress (2013). As a result, spending hours in a group of peers may also increase child's exposure to stress-related health problems (Deward, 2013). Aiming to prevent it, some parents prefer staying at home with their children. In this way, they solve the problem of deprivation that endangers kids' rational development. Additionally, homeschooling gives the opportunity to work out an optimal daily regimen for children and meet their individual educational needs.
By keeping children from kindergarten, parents aim to prevent them from possible adverse effects of peer grouping. According to USA National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, kids attending preschools face more behavioral problems than those who do not. The company of peers, expected to establish children's communication, interaction, and teamwork, turns out to make kids restrained, stressed and even aggressive (Deward, 2013). The way children are raised in kindergarten is often considered unnatural and harmful. Those who choose alternatives to public preschools criticize the method of gathering kids of the same age in groups. Deward supports the view that in natural circumstances children would communicate with peers of different ages and adults; the difference in age and experience is claimed to be a factor that moves kids to progress in their development (2013). Forming the models of behavior, obtaining social competence and studying, children need parents' support and involvement as well as the environment of peers of different ages, backgrounds and experience (Dewad, 2013). Such environment may seem difficult to implement keeping kids at home but the environment offered in kindergarten has less in common with the desired one. Examining the national database of over fourteen million children, the researchers find that the rates of communication problems in children risen at preschool and their scores of social skills lag behind (Deward, 2013). Deward suggests that the more time kids spend at kindergarten, the lower their rate of social competence is.
Next, besides communication and behavioral problems, the effect of kindergarten on children's cognitive development is questioned. The educational aspect of preschool implies the development of cognitive skills and sufficient preparation for school. Although the results of the study on kids' learning progress at preschool were positive, they were found short-term. Steven Barnett, the Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, claims that the high scores kids get in an average kindergarten have no impact on their academic performance in the long term run (2008).
The controversy brings up the question, what should be the priority – kids' moral behavior and social competence or academic achievements. For parents who decide whether to send their child to kindergarten, this is the matter of personal choice. Some may give preference to development of kids' virtues and social skills; the others consider children's cognitive development and academic success more important. Suggesting the best way to bring up children, parents choose the option they favor, however, making decisions about preliminary education implies taking responsibility for children's future, and, therefore, requires special attention and conscientiousness. Making the compelled choice between cognitive and social development is not a good option, though. The key to resolving the problem is to combine the elements of individual and public preschool education in a ratio that would suit a particular child’s needs. Applying individual approach, parents can control their children’s development in kindergarten. The time spent in care center needs to be regulated, too. Attending care center for three hours a day or less, children may socialize in the group of peers getting no or minimal harmful effect on their behavior (Deward, 2013). In addition, personal care, emotional comfort and support provided by family would reduce the amount of stress kids receive in kindergarten. Parents’ active involvement in children’s upbringing and the appropriate amount of time spent in preschool would resolve the controversy and make kids’ development successful.