Read a roundtable with its founders here, or see new stories in the Human Artistic development in preschool age section. If you are reading this article, your kid probably doesn’t need preschool.
One morning last September, my husband dragged himself out of bed at 5 a. The moonlit block was empty but for the first seeds of a sleepy line forming outside the school’s doors—he was the sixth person to join it. It wouldn’t be New York if preschool admissions, or any admissions, were easy. Waldorf preschool versus a Montessori one, little Emma isn’t going to suffer either way. It’s hard to tease out the effects of preschool on a child. Part of the problem is self-selection: Compared with kids who skip preschool, kids who attend usually have more well-to-do, encouraging parents who read and do puzzles with them at home. But research suggests that parents who are financially comfortable tend to devote more resources and time to their kids, in part because they can.
But what does all this have to do with preschool? For instance, in a study published last year, University of Texas psychologist Elliot Tucker-Drob assessed a number of different characteristics in a group of more than 600 pairs of twins. A hell of a lot of math later, Tucker-Drob reported that the home environments of children who do not attend preschool have a much larger influence on kindergarten academic ability than do the home environments of preschoolers. This is not to say that parents who have money can do anything they want and their kids will be fine. We all know plenty of horrible adults who were once rich kids. So if preschool doesn’t really matter for advantaged kids, then the type of preschool matters even less. Waldorf, Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Catholic school?
Might as well flip a coin. Some new research does suggest that certain Montessori schools could provide an academic edge over conventional preschools, even among advantaged children. Research on Montessori is overall a mixed bag—some research suggests kids do better in them, while other research suggests the opposite. When Lillard compared the test scores of children from advantaged families who spent a school year in conventional preschools with those who spent a year in the two types of Montessori schools, she found that children in the classical Montessori programs fared much better than both the other groups.
So what’s a type-A parent to do? If you’re providing your child with a stimulating environment at home—and if you’ve read this far, you probably are—don’t stress about preschool. Hell, skip the whole damn circus if you want. My husband is going to quote me on this later.