My mother is more litigious than yours

When I pick my daughter up at the preschool co-op, I am pleased to see they are taking advantage of the beautiful weather and playing outside.  

Learning Stages

By Candace Lindemann

Children's Author & Education Consultant

Candace Lindemann is a published children’s writer and educational consultant. She holds a B.A. from Yale University and an M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. You can also find Candace blogging at While Candace’s degrees prepared her for a career in education, she’s found that the best preparation for parenting is on-the-job training.

When I pick my daughter up at the preschool co-op, I am pleased to see they are taking advantage of the beautiful weather and playing outside. I chose the school for its play-based philosophy, emphasis on parental involvement, and warm and caring atmosphere.

Am I making the right choice? Or are we losing a golden opportunity to stuff her small, malleable, sponge-like brain full of all sorts of knowledge?

I feel fairly certain that play should be the focus of early childhood education but others obviously disagree. Have you heard about the mother who is suing a preschool for damaging her daughter's chances at Ivy League admissions?  

At issue in the lawsuit is whether the school, which charges $19,000 a year in tuition, provides the services it claims it offers. In particular, the plaintiff claims the school does not prepare students for the ERB, a test used for admission into New York's top private schools.

In playgroups and on Internet boards and blogs, commenters are quick to vilify the mother for placing so much pressure on her child, but isn't this just an extreme example of the larger debate surrounding the role of early childhood education?

As part of her lawsuit, the tot's mother alleges, "Indeed, the school proved not to be a school at all, but just one big playroom." If, like me, you believe that play is exactly the way that children form the connections necessary for complex thinking, this sounds like the perfect environment. However, if you believe that early training in skills will build a foundation for future academic success, all this play is a waste of time.

The lawsuit also mentions that the 4-year-old was grouped in with 2- and 3-year-olds. Multiage classrooms have come back into vogue and are said to promote a range of pro-social skills. The younger children raise their behavior to the level of the older children and the older children take their responsibility seriously, acting more gentle and compassionate than they do when grouped only with children their own age. Are these communitarian values what you look for in a preschool? Or are you looking for an advanced curriculum that prepares a child for an ever-increasing academic workload? 

Ultimately, the question is one of how we view childhood and our roles as parents and educators. Do you feel pressure to prepare children for admissions tests and challenging academics? Or do you see play as the primary work of a child?