If you’re going to teach young children, you need to understand the stages of child development and plan your expectations accordingly. At the very least, you should know what age-appropriate behavior means and be able to exercise patience (and compassion) with the varying levels of kids in your care.
This is especially true at the youngest ages — which is why a newsletter that a mom shared from her child’s preschool has many of us totally baffled:
The letter starts off pointing out that it’s the second month of preschool and then launches into a two-paragraph chastisement of the young children in this teacher’s care, as well as their parents:
“We made it through a really tough first month with tears, attitudes, unwillingness, not listening, not obeying the rules and especially, too much talking and not enough sitting in seats when asked to. We work on this every day at school, but we need help from home, too. We realize kids don’t want to sit and would rather talk and play when they want to; but that’s not how school works.
Preschool is preparation to go on to “big” school and these things are important there, too. We simply can’t say that our kids don’t like coloring and sitting still because Kindergarten and first grade have a lot of coloring. Please, work five or ten minutes each day with your child on this and you’ll see improvement. We have seen improvement with several kids already. We realize it’s a fast paced world and parents work, but the adults in the house have to be in charge and help the kids to understand this. Please, talk to your child about the importance of sharing, not fighting, keeping their hands to themselves, and learning to get along with each other. Remind them that once we pick up the toys that we don’t get them back out again, because we are done playing and going on to learning fun things.”
Wow. My jaw dropped at the word “attitudes,” and I had to finish reading before I could pick my bottom lip off the floor. There are so many things wrong with this letter, I’m not even sure where to start.
As a reminder, preschoolers are generally 3 and 4 years old. The mom who shared this letter said that one of the kids in the class isn’t even 3 yet. At those ages, they are just beginning to master the basics of verbal communication, some are barely out of diapers, most of them still need naps, and they have notoriously short attention spans.
Let’s break down the reasons the first month at this preschool was “tough”:
Well, yes, preschoolers cry. They aren’t terribly experienced with handling emotions at this point. Feelings can be overwhelming and hard to verbalize. And if the little tikes aren’t used to being away from their parents, that separation can also be difficult.
They also tend to fall apart when they are stressed, or if they aren’t able to meet the expectations put upon them, which — I’m just taking a wild guess — might be part of the problem here.
Attitudes and Unwillingness
Um, again, 3- and 4-year-olds. At this age, kids start sharpening and honing their free will, despite having no real skill with wielding it.
“Unwillingness” is not unusual at this stage of development, especially when kids are being asked to do things that they are not emotionally or developmentally ready to do yet — things like understanding and obeying rules 100% of the time, sitting in seats and listening when asked 100% of the time, and sharing and getting along with other children 100% of the time.
Getting willingness from preschoolers isn’t impossible, but it is an art. One does not simply expect compliance from preschoolers at all times simply because you asked for it.
Not Obeying Rules
Most preschools I’ve seen have just a few simple rules like “Inside voices,” “Hands to yourselves,” and “Be kind.” But even at that, no one can expect preschool-age kids to remember and follow rules without repeated reminders, especially during the first month of school. Following rules is one of the things kids learn to do in preschool, and it takes time and loads of patience.
Too Much Talking and Not Enough Sitting in Seats When Asked
Okay, this part just made me sad. Preschoolers learn primarily through exploration. Other than while they’re eating, expecting a 3-year-old to sit in a seat for any prolonged period of time is silly. And again, engaging kids and getting them to follow directions at this age is an art — this isn’t a military boot camp, it’s preschool.
As for the rest of the letter:
Preparation for “Big” School
Saying that a 3-year-old should sit and color because they’ll be doing it in kindergarten and first grade is like saying that a first-grader should be memorizing multiplication tables because they’ll be doing that in the third and fourth grades. It makes no developmental sense whatsoever.
There is a huge difference between a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old, and there are huge differences between every preschooler as well. Kids at these ages are all over the map and changing constantly. And they aren’t in “big” school. Preschool is preschool and should be geared to those ages.
“We Realize It’s a Fast Paced World And Parents Work”
Nice dig at working parents, especially following a sentence asking parents to work 5 or 10 minutes a day with their kids. The message here appears to be: Maybe if you weren’t so preoccupied with work, you could take 5 or 10 minutes a day to properly train your child before sending them to preschool.
The mom who shared the letter said the teacher makes her feel like her preschooler is a delinquent and a troublemaker. “When I first read this newsletter, it made me feel very uneasy. I felt as if I was being reprimanded as a mother,” she said. “Then, when I read it later on that afternoon, my anger started. It came off as very condescending, like I wasn’t doing my job as a stay-at-home mom and needed her to tell me what to do.”
Even the manner in which these complaints were communicated to parents was inappropriate. Hasn’t this teacher ever heard of a positivity sandwich? Generally, if you feel the need to relay criticism of some sort, you start off by pointing out what’s going well, then what needs to be worked on, then some words of encouragement. Jumping straight into complaints about people’s (very young) children is bad form, and not likely to yield the results you were looking for.
I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t find a way to justify what I read in this newsletter — especially since there are only eight kids in this preschool class. The way the teacher described that first month, I pictured a room full of 20 or more energetic kids with an overwhelmed teacher. But eight preschoolers were enough to warrant that kind of harsh, critical response? Really?
If my kid’s preschool sent home a letter like this, I’d have them yanked them out of there so fast the crayon caddy would spin. Anyone who complains about 3-year-olds’ attitudes and unwillingness to sit and color on demand during their first month of preschool has no business teaching kids that age, period.