Best Pre-School Styles: Worksheets or Water Tables?

pre-school stylesIf you're a competitive type, you might be interviewing all of the pre-schools within a 30-mile radius to see which one is right for your future Harvard grad. But even if you're just trying to find a more affordable option than a nanny, it can be hard to figure out what's best for your child at this stage of her development.

More recent studies have shown that play is the key in these tender years. But a Tiger Mom might strongly disagree. And hey, her kid got into Yale and Harvard, so maybe she's onto something.

This qualifies me more as a flip-flopper than an expert, but my daughter has been to four pre-schools -- two developmental, two academic -- and I can tell you which way was better for my toddler.


After spending time in two very different types of school, I can report my toddler is far more engaged in learning when there is the element of play, rather than the element of homework. Don't get me wrong, my girl loved her homework (strange, yes?). But when she was attending schools that sent home worksheets, she only talked about school in an excited way when she described what went on at recess.

With the developmental schools, which focus on play, she would bring home art and talk to us about it. She would tell us what she learned about dinosaurs after she made a paper mache Diplodocus (a dinosaur I'd never heard of). She never came home talking about what she learned on a worksheet that made her practice her penmanship. With that said, the kid has some pretty good penmanship. And while her current developmental school isn't pushing her to read, she enjoys reading the Dick and Jane books before bed and improving every week.

But the big difference I noticed between the two schools of thought, was in her behavior. As the study about the benefits of play points out:

After two years in the play-oriented classrooms, children scored better on self-regulation, cognitive flexibility, and working memory. The self-control kids learn through interacting and playing with others has an academic payoff, too; it's more strongly correlated with future academic success than either IQ or early reading and math skills.

Coming home from the developmental schools, my daughter was much calmer, more cooperative, and less likely to melt down. When she was made to do academic exercises, she seemed to explode when she left the school yard. I don't regret that she learned some academics -- it seems to have stuck with her -- but I'm also much happier when she's happy, and chill.

Perhaps that makes me an anti-Tiger Mom, but I like that she's playing with colors and shapes, rather than being drilled on addition and subtraction. In fact, that totally makes me an anti-Tiger Mom. Sorry, kid, if you don't get into an Ivy League, it's all my fault.

Which school of thought do prefer for your toddler?


Image via edenpictures/Flickr


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