Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Boys Do Better in Full-Day Preschool?

Educators in Montgomery County Maryland recently announced that boys (and African-Americans of both sexes) who attend a full-day pre-kindergarten program do better academically. The study is intended to provide support for public full-day programs at a time when many districts are cutting early childhood programming due to economic pressures.

So is more school the answer for our boys?

Not necessarily. The Maryland study compared kids in full-day preK programs to kids in half-day preK programs. It did not include, measure or assess kids in full-time family care. It does not answer what I consider a most basic question: Is school a better option than parental care and nuturing?

A few years ago, I was researching an article about full vs. half-day kindergarten. (Notice the incremental creep: Seven or so years ago, educators were still debating whether full-day KINDERGARTEN was in the best interests of our kids. Now it's full-day PRESCHOOL.) A number of my experts implied that full-day kindergarten was especially helpful for kids who never attended preschool, because they needed more time to attain school readiness skills. But were there any studies, I asked, assessing the academic and social readiness of children who stayed home, in parental care, vs. kids who attended preschool? The answer was no -- and the reason for the answer was quite revealing.

Studies like this are basically conducted in a quest for money. If enough studies demonstrate a benefit to full-day kindergarten (or preschool), school districts have the data they need to support spending on new programs and teachers. If the studies don't show a benefit, why would school districts pour time and money into a program with no proven benefit?

Virtually no research has been conducted on kids who stay home because there's no economic incentive to do so.

Think about that. We have headlines blaring at us, almost every day, telling us which academic programs are best for our son. But there have been almost no studies examining the effect of a supportive, nuturing family environment.

That's a glaring overview, in my opinion, because far too many parents read the headlines and conclude that their sons need something "more" than Mom and Dad. One of the saddest comments I ever heard was from one mom to another. Mom A had enrolled her son in a local preschool; Mom B's four-year-old son was still home with her. Mom B couldn't afford preschool and felt she was somehow shortchanging her son: "I'm sure your son is getting so much more at school than mine is at home," she told Mom A.

The comment saddened me because Mom B is the kind of mom who takes her kids to story time at the libary and on interesting excursions. She talks to her kids constantly, creates projects with them at home and encourages their creativity. The kids live on a farm and spend plenty of time outside in nature. Yet somehow, the ubiquity of school -- and the constant message that school is best -- caused this mother to devalue her own contributions.

Boys (all children, really) need time and attention to thrive. Does that time and attention really have to be provided in an academic setting? I'm thrilled that some boys in Maryland are getting the help they need, but I remain concerned about the trend toward earlier formal education, especially for boys.


  1. It saddens me when I think that I put my oldest son in a 3 days/week preschool. I did it because "people" told me that he needed it. I found homeschooling and saw the benefits of home. None of my other 4 went.

    I'm not "dissing" parents that have to place their child in such an option. But if at all possible, keep your babies home.

  2. I am right behind you.

    I know how my boys are during the day when I teach them.

    I can't understand how people are so afraid of being left behind.

    If anything, our boys are ahead of the game b/c of the "invidualized tutoring" they've gotten.

    Excellent post.

  3. personally, and highly opinionedly, I think the more schooling a boy (child) has early (like stating preschool at 3 and so by the time they are in 1st grade they have been in school for 4 yrs)- the more likely they'll end up medicated and DXed with ADHD or even Sensory Processing Disorders.. kids (esp boys) need to MOVE and Explore in order for their brains to develop properly.
    JMO of course.

  4. Max has asked me every day this week whether he can go see Ms. Ani, his daycare teacher. It made me wonder if he shouldn't be in more daycare... if he's so crazy because he's been home, and I'm not as good at teaching calmness and rule-following as daycare is. Regardless, next fall he'll go to preschool two days a week, plus the one day of daycare while I work. And you know what? I'm a little ashamed (but just a little) to admit that I'm looking forward to it.

    But, I do have to play devil's advocate a little bit. You talk about moms who engage with their children, play with them, talk to them, teach them. But the studies specifically say African-American kids need the most help. It makes me wonder if they benefit from it because maybe the moms aren't there full-time, or have alternate caregivers, or bad home lives. In that case, I'm glad they do the studies, for those kids who really do need full-time preschool/kindergarten. Clearly, the same set of "facts" don't apply to everyone!

  5. Full-disclosure: My oldest 3 sons all attended 4-yr-old preschool 3 mornings a week. My oldest will tell you that everyone -- even and especially homeschooled kids -- should go to preschool because he met some of his best friends there. Still not sure what we're doing with Boy #4.

    While I'm clearly not in favor of one-size-fits-all education for everyone, I also agree with Jill that preschool/early ed programs fill an important need.

  6. My son hated full day pre-school and kindergarten, but loved the half-day versions of both. I don't know if he learned more in one than the other, but I know that he was far more stressed in the full day versions, which was one of the reasons we started homeschooling him in 1st grade.