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Is preschool really best for kids?
The pressure on parents and children to learn so much before getting to kindergarten may not be as good as we are led to believe. - photo by Wendy Jessen
It seems that preschool has become the norm among families today. It didn't used to be that way. However, now kids are expected to know the alphabet, how to count, how to read and write before they ever enter kindergarten.

Preschool is what kindergarten once was, while kindergarten is more like first grade, complete with weekly or nightly homework.

Is this really a benefit to our children? Or are we trading aspects of their childhood for desks and paperwork younger than ever?

"This whole idea of taking a child basically from the crib and preparing them for school is a really bad thing for our children," said Dr. Stephen Camarata. Not only that, but parents are becoming more stressed under the societal pressure to make sure their kids are ahead of the game.

Dr. Camarata suggests that parents really ought to relax and not push their children so hard at a young age. "Just playing with and interacting with our children is the foundation of their intellectual ability, self-confidence, relationship with parents and natural curiosity. All of those wondrous things are being displaced by a rush to accelerate academic learning....Its not so much that the kids will then not develop properly as it is that the parents are stressing out unnecessarily about building the perfect baby brain, and it is interfering with natural interactions that are part of the parent-child relationship."

For young children, play time is learning--perhaps the most important learning they can do. As parents, we should cultivate an environment where our children can discover through play and develop in a natural way.

Here are 4 ways you can encourage play time and learning:

1. Back-to-basics

Encourage playing with blocks, shapes and coloring. Kids can learn a lot just from the simple toys. This will encourage imagination in a natural way. They can play and discover on their own, without a hovering parent.

2. Go on outings

Take your children to parks, zoos and libraries. Let them run, jump, swing and slide. Discover animals and learn about their habitats. Explore nature and talk about the things they see such as rocks, trees, leaves and animals. Allow them to choose books at the library that they are interested in.

3. Read for fun

Not only does reading create great bonding time between parent and child, but it can also increase vocabulary and literacy in a non-pressure environment.

Children love to hear stories read by their parents. It also teaches communication skills as they hear the inflections in your voice. You can also have your child tell you a story from the pictures they see, which allows them to use their imagination to create a story.

4. Listen to your child

Interaction between you and your child is important. These times help them learn to trust you and develop their sense of self. You can also clue in to their interests and passions and find ways to help them explore things they enjoy.

There's no need for flashcards, memorization, or any other pressure for early structured education. Let your child explore and learn in a hands-on manner in the world they live.

Be present in their life and provide meaningful interactions. Help them discover all the things that you can't get in a classroom.
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