Some children will thrive in a formal preschool program.

Preschool Versus Home-School

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr

Many parents want to give their child an academic head start, and that can include some form of preschool education. Some parents don’t feel they have the skills, patience or resources to teach their child in a home-school setting. Other parents believe they can use prepackaged preschool programs and Internet resources to successfully teach a preschooler at home. Depending on the goal of the parents, either option can provide a successful preschool experience.

Formal Preschool

A February 2013 report from the National Institute for Early Education Research concludes that children can benefit from preschool programs if the programs are high-quality and properly designed. According to the study author, W. Steven Barnett, Ph.D., the programs showing the greatest gains in academics are characterized by intentional teaching, small group learning and teaching one-on-one. If you send your child to a preschool that adheres to this criteria, your child might benefit more in a formal preschool program than from home-school, if you do not include intentional teaching, small group learning and one-on-one teaching. The small group learning applauded by the study had a teacher-to-student ratio of one teacher to six students.

Is Preschool Harmful?

A Berkley study published in the Economics of Education Review reports that students in formal preschool programs can show signs of inhibited social and cognitive development, such as aggression, disruptive behavior and lack of self-control. These negative social influences were greatest in white students from upper-income households and least in economically disadvantaged students. Home schooling your preschooler and maintaining a consistent standard of behavior that discourages aggression and disruptive behavior, while promoting self-control and positive behavior, could provide a better outcome than preschool.

Can I Teach My Child?

You have already taught your child so much, such as how to talk, walk, feed herself and follow some simple rules. Intentional teaching in home-school means that you teach your child with specific learning objectives and activities in mind, most often in one-on-one teaching. For example, you can review letters and their sounds as you read a book, identify the upper- and lower-case shapes of letters and help your child trace the shapes with a pencil or crayon. Many bookstores carry preschool activity books you can use to teach your child, or you can purchase a preschool curriculum that explains what you need to teach each day. Your little one can participate in small group learning through a preschool play group, preschool story hour at the library, Mothers Day Out program one day a week or in a preschool coop that meets two days a week for a couple of hours.

Home-School Flexibility

Home-school is much more flexible than a formal preschool program. You can start your program when your child is ready and progress as quickly or slowly as your child needs. You can take field trips to the market, library, park or zoo and turn the experience into an intentional learning experience. If your child isn’t a morning person, you can start later in the day. You can adapt your teaching to the way your child learns, using visual, auditory and tactile experiences and plenty of time for your child to learn through play and movement. You will have some days when lessons just don’t fit into the schedule due to illness, family emergency or other intrusion, and it will be okay because you can make it up on another day. You can choose the character influences you want to use, such as the Bible, stories and intentional character education lessons on forgiveness, kindness and racial diversity. You know your child, and you know when he has had enough for the day or when he wants to continue the lesson regardless of what the clock says, and you can go with it because you’re the teacher.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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