Just Say No to Online Kindergarten and Preschool

Recently, I saw a mom online asking for recommendations for online preschool, and I was quite honestly horrified. Online programs can’t provide what younger kids really need for their brains and bodies to gain the skills they need to develop at that age. Honestly, I don’t think kids under seven should be learning that way.  Let me tell you why. 

Preschool

First, let’s talk about what preschool is and what it should be. The original concept of preschool was to give children ages 3-4 a chance to be away from their mothers and learn the social skills needed to be successful in kindergarten. It was not academic and focused on the children learning to follow instructions from teachers while playing fun games and engaging in other age-appropriate activities. It also gave mothers a break so they could go to their own doctor appointments and such alone. It was designed to be low-stress and fun for everyone. 

Over the last several decades, the education system has pushed down to younger and younger kids more and more academics. We are at a point where a typical child entering kindergarten is expected to know their letters, numbers, shapes, and colors. They are expected to be able to write their names already. The more they can read and write the better.  The problem is none of that is age-appropriate and we are doing all of that at the expense of more important work. 

What do preschool children need to be learning? They need to be learning how to use their hands to make things, like molding play dough and painting pictures. They need to learn to get along with peers and clean up their toys. Following directions and playing games that require taking turns. Learning to share toys and sing songs, which is important for language development. Learning to listen to a story and predict what will happen next. These are the things your child needs to do in preschool. And online programs are not going to provide these things. Children need parents, siblings, and friends to do these things with them. 

Kindergarten

What about Kindergarten? Kindergarteners need to do all the things I listed for preschool and take it a step further. They need to have time to build their imaginations and play with other kids. They need time to play with every new idea they encounter. They need to learn to hold a crayon and draw their shapes. Kindergartners need to learn to tell a story out loud and look for clues in picture books about what is happening and what else might happen. They need to go out to play and build muscles by climbing monkey bars and running around. Those muscles will be put to great use when they are older and ready to do more difficult fine motor tasks like writing. 

Our kindergartens have been ruined by this push-down of skills. Many typical children who are five are not ready to read or write, but schools and online programs ask that of them. Their hands and eyes are not necessarily developed enough for those skills, and especially not ready to do them at the same pace as a classroom of students. This problem is even worse for children who are neurodiverse. Those children often need a little extra time at this age to get ready to read and write. 

Your kindergartener needs play dough, games, songs, crafts, and playtime. A great kindergarten program will give you ways to do those things with your child. They don’t need to sit at a computer for hours. Pushing buttons on a keyboard or using a mouse does not develop the coordination and strength that real play does. It does not develop the fine motor control or hand-eye coordination that building with blocks and playing outside will.

What can go wrong if your child gets used to online school so young? They may believe they don’t need to learn to write because they are already typing. They may feel they don’t need to read because the computer is reading to them. Kids need to want to develop those skills when the time comes to learn them. Motivation is an essential part of a good education. 

First Grade

Why do I still object to online school for first grade? Because this is the age when your child most needs someone to sit with them and teach them basic skills. Children need to be carefully taught how to hold a pencil for writing. They need to be taught how to write each letter and have someone show them again and again if needed. Letting a child figure out their own pencil grip and style of writing can lead to bad habits that actually make writing more difficult and illegible for life.  The occupational therapy community is seeing tons of kids walking through their doors for therapy to help poor handwriting that developed because no one took the time to teach the kids how to write correctly when they were getting started. 

Learning to write is not a skill that develops instantly nor one that should be rushed. It takes time and patience from both the student and the teachers. In a homeschooling situation, the child should be able to take as long as needed at this stage. Learning to write is important, and rushing it only leads to problems later. 

Reading is also best learned one on one. Using a phonics-based program will lead to the best long-term success with both reading and spelling. If they learn reading and writing together, even better.  My own children played computer games with phonics themes, but they did not actually teach my kids to read. They learned to read because I sat down and read to them and worked with them on those skills at their own pace. Each of my 3 kids learned to read at a different pace. One picked it up incredibly fast, one hovered at the early reader stage for a few years before really taking off with chapter books, and one learned to read very slowly needing years of instruction due to dyslexia.  All three needed me to teach them and create games with it. 

Playing is an essential part of education, it is how children’s brains are made to learn. When you teach your child, you can find all kinds of ways to play with ideas and words, language, and math. Pre-made, online programs don’t have time for your child to make up their own games of putting faces on all the letters or experiment with making them into blocks and building with them. They don’t let your child use their own creativity to explore what they are working with. 

What to do Instead

Instead of seeking an online program for your young child, find programs you can do with them. Preschool skills should only take a few minutes a day to develop and kindergarten doesn’t need to be stressful. Even if you need to work, you should be able to work with your child on weekends and in the evening enough to cover what they need to learn in those years. First grade also doesn’t need to take all day. Most kids learn far more from short lessons than long ones and it can also be worked into your life. 

Don’t let the lie that school needs to take all day lead you to sign your young child up for a program that isn’t developmentally appropriate and will set them back in the long run. 

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About the Author

nimble_asset_Laura-in-floral-shirt-with-treesLaura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator, and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.

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