Why An At Home “Preschool” For Your Toddler Is A Bad Idea

Since spending more time on Pinterest and becoming more knowledgeable with how it works, I have also found it’s a great place to get ideas for articles.  It is also where I see what sort of information regarding child development is being shared.

Unfortunately some of this information isn’t always the best.  And that is what led to me write this article.  There are so many pins (with 1000’s of repins) about setting up a “preschool” or “tot school” for your child (I don’t mean a home daycare where you are watching other children).  Most of these are aimed at parents of 2-4 year old’s.

I know that these articles are typically written by well meaning parents who want their child to thrive and succeed.  This is great!  As parents we must take an active role in our child’s development.

But setting up an at home “preschool” isn’t the way to do this and here is why (and what you should be doing instead)!

One more thing before we get started.  There is nothing wrong with attending a “play class” with your little one.  These classes are great for parents to meet other parents and it’s interesting to see young children interacting.

And usually these classes can be helpful to teach new parents about developmental milestones and how you can easily incorporate learning into play.  These classes can either be drop in or run for a set number of sessions.  There may be some free ones that are government funded and there are always ones that require a fee.  Both are good options.

Be sure to scroll to the end to find the best ways to get your child learning and developing at home in a natural way.

The Downfalls Of Setting Up Formal Preschool At Home

Too Much Structure

It’s true that children need structure, but there can also be too much of a good thing.  In this case it’s structure.  Kids thrive when they have a general idea about what is going to happen.  Like getting up in the morning, having breakfast, that kind of thing.

While at home, a young, typically developing child, does not need to be given a list of activities with a picture schedule of what is going to happen first, next, then…last.  I did say “typically developing” children in the sentence above because those are the children I am referring to in this article.

If you have a child with special needs, then a (visual) schedule is often a must.

But for a typical toddler spending the day at home or out and about running errands with mom or dad, a set schedule really isn’t necessary.

Dependency On Adults

When you are always there with ideas and suggestions for your little one, she will become used to this and will start finding it difficult to come up with her own thing to do.  Especially once she gets a bit older.

Of course a toddler is dependent on his parents to a great extent, but this doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have or need any time for exploration.  There is nothing wrong with trying to give your toddler some independence.  This will be a great asset in years to come.  And don’t worry about feeling like you are neglecting him because you are letting him safely play with and explore his toys on his own!  This brings me to my next point.

Difficult To Follow Child’s Lead

Following your child’s lead is one of the best things you can do from a language and overall developmental perspective.  But if you are planning a bunch of activities for him to do you can’t truly follow his lead.

You can follow your child’s lead to an extent within each activity, but perhaps your activity isn’t really what your child wanted to do.  But since she is still young she went along with it.

The Best Toddler Toys For Learning Through Play

School Starts Early Enough

You may have heard or read that “parents are their child’s best teacher”.  And this is completely true, but it doesn’t mean that you should actually take on the role of a school teacher with your child.

There is a debate going on within the community of child development professionals about whether or not children are starting formal education too early in North America.  Many children in the U.S., U.K., and Canada start school at the age of 4.

We definitely know that starting academic education too early can be detrimental to a child’s success later on.  Therefore when children are starting school at the age of 4 (and even 5) the curriculum needs to be play based with plenty of time for exploration and open ended play.

I feel like I am rambling a bit.  The point I am trying to make is that your child will be going to school soon enough.  Let his time at home be fun where he can grow and discover at his own pace.

Too Much Pressure (Parents)

Why give yourself more to do than you already have with little kids?  Some of the “lesson plans” and pictures of people’s at home preschool set up that I saw while browsing Pinterest made me feel like I wasn’t measuring up as a parent.

The effort that has gone into this is commendable.   But your child doesn’t care.  All a toddler wants is to be loved and played with (and fed of course!).  Cuddle your child, snuggle up and read books and sing songs.  When something catches her attention (a toy or otherwise) use this time to talk about whatever it may be.

Language and learning opportunities for toddlers are everywhere, from bath time to playtime to mealtime.

Your child’s development doesn’t have to be complicated!

Why I didn't teach my toddler to read banner

What You Should Do To Facilitate Language Development & Learning At Home

While reading some of the “tot school” articles one thing that stood out to me was the reason why so many parents were claiming to set something like this up.  And that was that they felt they (and their child) were spending too much time in front of the TV or playing on a tablet.

I love that parents are becoming more aware of how much time they and their children are “plugged in” and are trying to do something about it.

This article is in no way meant to come down on these parents.  Rather, I want to point out that you can engage your child in non-tech activities without going to the extreme of setting up a preschool in your home for your child.

Here are a few ideas that might help you out.

♥ Toy exchange ♥

This can be done with the toys you already have or get a few parents together and do a toy swap.  The vast amount of toys most children have can get quite overwhelming and you may find that it seems your child isn’t really playing with anything.

So instead of having all your child’s toys readily available, have only a few out and put the rest in bins.  If your child has a favorite toy and getting him to speak or speak more regularly is something you are working on, put the toy somewhere he can see it but can’t reach it on his own.

This way he will have to request for the toy in some way.  This could be via signing/gesturing, vocalizing or using a word or 2.

You can exchange toys once a month, every 2nd month, whatever works for you.

You and your child may be getting bored of the same old toys, but if some are packed away for a few months at a time they will be like new each time they come out!  This is especially true if you are doing a toy swap with friends.

If you are nervous about the toy swap idea because it’s an easy way for germs to be spread around, don’t worry.  There are many simple and natural ways to clean toys!

17 tips to help toddler with speech delay

♥ Make A Schedule For Yourself ♥

I don’t mean schedule each activity your child will do, but just some ideas of what you and your child can do together when you are at home.  This can be a mental schedule that’s in your head that you make each night for the next day.

For example, maybe tomorrow you could plan to fill a bin with water, throw in some bath toys or cups, spoons, colander, etc. and let your toddler have some fun playing around in the water.

Once that is done, why not make some playdough.  Have your child help you pour the ingredients into the bowl and stir.

Make sure to keep her safe while helping in the kitchen with either the Learning Tower or Kitchen Helper!

Set aside some time to read books and play with toys!  I’ve made a list for you of the perfect toddler toys and how they can help with language development and learning!

So if you are stuck for playtime ideas and how to implicitly incorporate learning make sure to check it out.

♥ Guided Play ♥

Most parents don’t realize this but your child is learning when you don’t even realize it.  Figuring out if only one or 2 balls can fit into a ball drop is how he learns to problem solve.

Matching the red ball to the hole outlined in red is teaching her about colors, same/different, categorization, etc.

Now throw in some guided play and you can subtly teach your child without having to really take on the role of “teacher”.

I always recommend guided play for the 0-3 age group.  This means you are playing alongside your child.  But you are also following her lead and letting her guide the play and interactions.

Your role is to comment on what your child is doing, expand single words he may be using, model correct pronunciation (without expecting your child to repeat back) and have fun!

What Does This All Mean?

As you can see, there are many ways to “teach” and engage your toddler without setting up a form preschool environment in your home.

There are so many things that you can do together to encourage learning.  

Here are just a few examples:

♥ running errands

♥ having a bath

♥  finger painting

♥ playing with a toy farm set

♥ making a simple (and age appropriate) craft

♥ reading books together

♥ and so many more!

Whatever you do, don’t get caught up in early academic skills to try and give your toddler an advantage.   Focusing on these skills (abc’s and 123’s) can end up to be detrimental to your child as she gets older.

Keep it simple and have fun!

Pinterest is a great place for ideas, but it can also suck you in and make you feel like a terrible parent when in fact you are probably already great!

At home preschool or "tot schools" are becoming a standard in parenting. Here's why this isn't a good thing

9 Comments

  1. Janet

    Lots of pertinent and important information here.  I especially like the part kids (and parents) being too “plugged in”. Your suggestions for unplugging and spending quality time together or learning through play were excellent.  Kids need to learn with their hands and include imagination for their best development. 

    I agree that it’s not good for them to feel like they are at “school” when they are at home.

    Thank you for the suggestions.

    Reply
  2. angela

    I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve written! I find, especially today with little ones able to navigate their way around electronic devices such as ipads just as well, if not better, than adults, that too much stimulation is not necessarily a good thing. And then there’s the flip side, if we plan all our children’s activities, how are they to learn to use their imagination and initiative?

    I think it’s so important that children learn to ‘be’, and not need constant stimulation like a lot of us adults seem to (having the internet in our pocket doesn’t help, and I think this issue is going to become more apparent as our children grow older, us as adults are easily sucked into our devices, and these devices weren’t around when we were children).

    Children learn through observation and interaction. Life will get busy enough when they hit school. I have four children, and have found ‘I’m bored’ is often a consequence of planning too much for them – they don’t learn to ‘look’ for things to do, they expect someone else to keep them constantly entertained. This seems to be more so (dare I say!) with only children (not all, just some), as only children tend to have more one on one adult interaction compared to interaction with siblings, and are often not left to entertain themselves.

    I think flexible, open plans are best, rather than scheduling in activities from dawn to dusk. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks for your comment Angela.  Flexible, open plans really are the best as you say.  A young, typically developing (meaning there are no disabilities) does not need “theme of the week” activities scheduled for her. 

      I am not saying to have a free for all every day.  Younger children, like toddlers, will need adult guidance in play to learn best.  But this can be done by suggesting a few activities such as drawing or playing in the water.  

      There is no need to have a list of planned activities that you go through with your child.  That is too much structure.

      Reply
  3. SmileAfresh

    Hi Tanya,
    I liked this article because it is factual and practical. Let’s not make things all to official at home for kids and toddlers. They need space to play and grow.

    From experience with my young son (started school earlier this year), he got happier, more fulfilling days anytime I could give him a lead into an activity, then let him go about it himself. For instance, if I found out that he got rather bored playing in-house with stuff, there used to be a place where he could run around in a circuit just outside the house. So I could make the first few strides with him leading (never let him feel a loser!) and then he could go on and on while I cheer him on. This influenced even our neighbor’s twins of his age and we could almost make a team of runners. We made it an impromptu sport- any day any available time. Or I could take up my guitar and give him his tiny one, and we could enjoy strumming notes together, and so on. This really made him grow a jovial boy.

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks for your comment.  “Let’s not make things all to official at home for kids and toddlers” is a great summary of the points I am trying to make.  Kids need time to be kids.  They will have so many years of formal schooling ahead of them.  

      Reply
  4. FreddieC

    I so agree with you. Toddlers don’t need to be confined to these rigid schedules of “school”. They need to play and explore and do “baby things”.
    Where I am from in the Caribbean, I notice a lot of parents these days, not setting up preschool at home, but actually sending off their little ones to school. Some of these children are barely potty trained. Some parents hope that their child will gain an intellectual advantage (which they will not). Some parent just need somewhere to send their children so they don’t have to spend large sums of money on child care. Whatever their reason, the toddler misses out and gains no advantage over the child who starts school at 6 years old.

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Freddie,

      It is common in North America as well for children to go to preschool.  I sent my kids to daycare for socialization 2 days a week, and so I could get work done.  

      I made sure that this daycare center was play based.  I wanted my kids to have a lot of free time to play and explore.  There were some day cares (and preschools) that I looked at that were very focused on “letter of the day” and that sort of thing.  

      I do feel that it is good for children to be around peers as long as their is no pressure to “learn”

      But I agree that formal education should not start until a child is 6.

      Reply
  5. Kira | A Better Life Lived

    So many great points. I used to be a childcare teacher and the rigidity of some places on even 5 year olds was, I thought, unreasonable. They are kids. Let them be kids!
    I can attest that using teaching opportunities during play works!
    My son didn’t speak until nearing two but he was absorbing everything we said to him. When he did start speaking, he quickly could identify all of his letters and numbers (out of order). He also knew several shapes and all of his colors. Over the course of a couple months he went from not speaking at all to saying several word sentences, adding 20+ words a day, and singing songs. He knows more than we thought he did and continues to amaze us every day! They really do pick up everything you teach during play!

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks for your comment Kira! Ideally children under the age of 6 should be building the foundations that they will need to succeed later on. These foundation skills are learned through play during the early years and include problem solving, social skills, cause and effect, prediction, vocabulary building, etc.

      A 2, 3 or even 4 year old should not be sitting at a desk partaking in activity after activity set out by an adult. This is not optimal learning for children.

      I am happy to hear that your son did end up speaking and that he is doing well now. Keep it up and keep letting him play!

      Reply

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