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The Preschool Socialization Myth

The mom turned away from watching the chaos that was the children’s play area at the aquarium, and asked me “How old is yours?”

My son and hers, approximately the same size, had been chasing each other around, and tussling over the play stations and objects. Every now and then my son, or hers, would chase after an older sibling and tackle them to the ground. They were very much alike.

“He’s about two and a half,” I answered. “That’s what I thought,” she said, smiling. “Mine is the same age, and he’s just so much more,” she paused, “energetic than his brother was. He just overwhelms his brother.”

“Yeah, mine is a little tornado of terror,” I offered. “He’s getting a little of his own back, now, after how in-his-face his sister was when she had the clear body mass advantage.”

“Well, he’ll be going to preschool soon, so hopefully having all those other kids around will help socialize him,” she said of her son. I could tell she really thought this, and had been thinking it for a while.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that preschool was not the magic bullet for socialization she might think.

Both of my own kids have been in daycare/preschool at least part time for a couple of years. When it became a reality for my daughter, after I’d been home with her for a year, I asked myself what it was I hoped she would get out of the experience. I hoped, as this mom did, that it would just help socialize her: Surely just having kids around all the time, having to wait in lines, sit at tables together, take turns, and play together for longer than a one hour play date every few days would knock a few “dad spoiled me” rough edges off her.

Ha.

The truth is, unless your kid is already a shrinking violet, having that many other kids around just means that now your strong-willed kid has an army to lead, and new authority figures against whom to plan even greater rebellions. You know how they say prison is just a post-graduate work in crime? That, but with three year olds. And all the shivs are made of plastic spoons.

I’m not saying preschool is evil. In fact, I have actually liked most of the results of these early years interactions with larger groups. But one thing preschool did not do was socialize my daughter. It turned her into a general.

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