Parents agonize over whether their kids are academically ready for preschool. I say forget it. Let them play, get dirty, lick stuff, and be kids. They'll learn their letters anyway.
Education Parenting

To Heck with Preschool Readiness: Let Kids Be Kids

If I could remember being two or even three years old, I am certain that my memories would be of me playing with a pile of blocks and dolls. I guarantee my memories would not involve my mother subjecting me to flashcards, trying to make flipping through the numbers, shapes, and colors seem fun. Nor would they involve battery-operated “learning toys” that featured a toad sporting a ball cap that judgingly stared at me as I ineptly tried to operate the machine as if I were the dummy.

No, I think my toddler years focused less on school work and more on good, old fashioned play.

I bring this up because yesterday I sat and listened to a young mom fret that her one-year-old child was “not smart” and was “not going to get into preschool” because he did not know his colors yet. Her worry, though sad, was genuine, and I argue, misguided.

More than 90% of parents agonize that their child is not as smart as other children.

Sadly, this mom’s fears are not unique. More than 90% of parents agonize that their child is not as smart as other children. Okay, I totally made up that statistic, but based on my daily interactions with parents, I think it is a valid percentage.

At my real job, I work with kids who can’t talk or eat safely. Kids who have trouble relating to other people. Children who are very, very sick. Children who can’t hear or see. In nearly every single case, the mom or dad or grandma shows me, with great pride, all of the “learning toys” that they have for their beloved child to use.

I still argue that these toys are mostly overpriced on/off buttons, as most toddlers love to turn them on and then turn them off over and over until you want to either rip your ears off or toss the toy into the Atlantic, even if it means driving 3 ½ hours to get there, just for the satisfaction of watching it be swallowed by the icy, gray waves of the roiling sea.

Nevertheless, we still cave to the pressures of genius advertising campaigns and the neighbor who gloats that her ten-month-old can “do his multiplication tables and recite Shakespeare while peeing on the potty.” So, we purchase these toys and try to convince our kids that they are fun in the hope that we can force them to be better and smarter, and let’s face it, kind of nerdy (not that nerds aren’t awesome; it’s just that baby nerds should not be a thing).

Let him feel the wonder and excitement of his life.

In the meantime, we are missing so many amazing opportunities to let our kids have fun. I’ll tell you what I told this mom: “Let your kid be a kid. Let him feel the wonder and excitement of his life. Let him explore and be silly. Let him play with toys that don’t require batteries. Let him explore all the things that nature and the house have to offer. Talk to him. Sing to him. Read to him. Most importantly, enjoy him for who he is, not for who you think he should be” (you can do that later when he becomes sulky teenager who dislikes everything, and I mean everything, about you).

Take the time to imprint his whimsical, silly self into your memories.

Translation: Let him eat Play-Doh. Let him stack canned soup and beans until they crash down and terrify the sleeping dog. Let him roll in the mud outside and discover earthworms naturally. Let him be bored. Let him dance, sing, and lick glass (Seriously, so much can be learned by licking things. Tad the Leap Toad never teaches kids to do that). Take the time to imprint his whimsical, silly self into your memories; you’ll need to tap into that later (see teenager comment above).

In my earliest years, I bet I spent countless hours licking and eating things that maybe should not have been part of my diet. I imagine I danced to the warbled tunes cranked out by my little wind-up record player (high tech equipment in the ‘70’s). I bet I jumped on my bed and climbed into boxes, preferring them to the toys that I dumped out of them.

Maybe I learned my colors and shapes and numbers along the way. Maybe just touching and tasting and seeing and feeling and hearing things gave me the core skills I needed to be a successful preschooler.

Home should be the place you learn to love life.

Preschool should be filled with the learning of educational skills, like how to steal back your toy train from that mean, train-hoarding kid who ripped it from your hands. It should be filled with eating paste and peeing your pants (Of course, children must be potty-trained to go to preschool nowadays, sheesh. My preschool teachers sent me home toting a plastic bag of urine-soaked pants and wearing different clothes every day because I did not grasp the whole “pee goes in the toilet” movement).

Preschool should be the place where you start to learn shapes and numbers and letters and colors. Home should be the place you learn to love life, learn to have fun, and learn to be a kid.

This post was originally published on My Brunette Life as a Redhead.


About the Author

Elizabeth Redhead Kriston is an expert juggler of life. Somehow she manages to find time to pay attention to her husband, kids, and pets while writing children’s books, blogging, and working as a speech therapist. Liz escapes all of her responsibilities and relaxes by walking, kayaking, and reading. Though Liz is fairly inept in all things tech, she can be followed on Twitter @redheadkriston, on Instagram redheadkriston and her website She posts blogs on a variety of topics at