Revisiting the Misgeret, or Is Preschool Necessary

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image: religious israeli girl first day of ganThis post was originally published in 2008, but is still relevant for many parents. Sadly two readers who commented here, Helene and RivkA, passed away within the last few years.

It’s bound to happen at one time or another when you are out with your toddler. Your neighbor asks you the question you were wondering yourself earlier that day, as you tried to talk on the phone while your son climbed the bookcase: “Isn’t he bored at home with you all day? How old is he again? [Insert any age here.] Shouldn’t he be in a misgeret?”

In honor of my 4-year-old starting gan in a few weeks (we did have an informal two-child playgroup, technically a misgeret I suppose), I share my answers to the suppositions of nosy and rude advice-givers. They don’t deserve a reply. But at times we must address concerns of family members, or, more likely, we ourselves need the reassurance.

  • “The child needs to get used to being in gan for half the day.” Or, “She will be behind academically.” When I mentioned to one mother that our three-year-olds would be in gan together the following year, she asked how I could send her when she hadn’t been in gan at age two. According to this theory, children need a year in a misgeret to prepare for the next misgeret.
  • [This one is for late talkers.] “Gan will help him learn to talk.” This is just wrong. Children in gan generally spend little time talking one-on-one to an adult. And the less the child communicates through speech, the less verbal attention he is likely to get from teachers. Children develop speaking skills at vastly different ages and unless you have reason to suspect a problem, it’s safe to let them develop at their own pace. Gan will not make a huge difference either way.
  • [For olim] “The child needs to learn Hebrew.” Gan-aged, immigrant children still have plenty of time to become fully bilingual. But language is a balance. If your child spends most of her day in a Hebrew-speaking environment, her English vocabulary will be smaller. And vice versa. You can teach him Hebrew yourself, or make playdates with Hebrew-speaking children, to ease the transition. But immigrants to all countries have survived the experience; emotional maturity is more important than language. [My daughter is concerned about this despite more than adequate Hebrew skills.]
  • “He needs to play with children his own age.” I question this assumption “milechat’hilah.” The younger the child, the less equipped to compete with others for the attention of adults. Since making aliyah the age of starting group care has lowered, while time spent in care increased. Children learn social skills mainly from their parents, and they can play with other children while parents are present. If all neighborhood children are in gan, they can meet in the afternoon or on weekends. They don’t need thirty hours a week away from parents to learn cooperative play. Unfortunately, preschool for fewer hours is unheard of in Israel. (Let me qualify that–I heard of a gan run by the city of Tel Aviv where you can leave a child on a drop-off basis.)
  • “Immigrant children need to develop a tough, Israeli exterior.” (I mentioned this here.) Okay, but at what cost? I read of a doctoral student who spent months observing three-year-olds in an Israeli gan. She reported of a complex social structure that included children bringing treats to appease bullies. The children’s teachers remained unaware. When put into such an environment children may learn healthy ways of defending themselves. Others become aggressive, or conversely, withdrawn.
  • “Aren’t you bored?” Mothers are supposed to be doing adult activities, not playing games all day with their children. (See my next point.)
  • “Do you sit with her?” I get this all the time; they are asking whether I use worksheets or teach letters and numbers. (I visited a highly-recommended gan where three-year-olds did worksheets each day.) The short answer is no; I enjoy a loose daily structure. We read, play, color, go to the park, run errands, do chores, and meet other mothers and children. The children who are interested pick up letters, numbers and even reading. They play by themselves a good deal of the time while I do “adult” things. In turn, I expect frequent interruptions.
  • “Your child is too shy/aggressive/wild/attached to you/disobedient/spoiled/slow/bossy. It’s because you don’t send him to gan.” Children develop differently and have personality challenges, even the ones who attend gan. Who doesn’t? But if you keep your child home, you will be blamed for those issues.

Over a million American children are being homeschooled for elementary or high school. Surely that puts keeping a two-, three-, or four-year-old at home for another year in perspective.

(I wish I didn’t need to add this caveat: I am not trying to convince parents to keep their kids out of gan, or quit their jobs. I do wish to support parents struggling with this issue.)

Thanks to reader Amanda for the image.

You may also enjoy:

Raising Kids Where Neglect is Normal

What Defines Israeli Parenting?

Should I Send My Child to an English Gan?

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Comments

  1. Hi Hannah,
    Reading your blog post really hit home. Although I don’t have my own children yet, I founded CityKids on my own personal ideologies of parenting and early childhood education and look forward to having the resource available for when my children come along (in the next couple years).
    Since we opened in December 2010, we have integrated a part time preschool to our program to give parents who want/can be home with their children and opportunity to give their children a few hours a week to socialize with other kids their age in a semi-structured environment, but also to give mom a few hours to organize the house, run errands, meet a friend for coffee, etc.
    We are the only part time program in central Tel Aviv and I find more and more parents (15 for next year) are opting to stay home an extra year with their kids because the option is now available.
    Thank you for responding to the typical arguments many parents in Israel encounter! I feel like I am constantly responding to the same questions/comments as you.
    Thanks for this!

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  2. I get a mix of those comments regularly, and I’m sick of it! My youngest will be 2 next month, and I got so much pressure to enroll him this year, but I don’t see the need for it. He’s very happy, social, and plays well when we meet w/other kids. He’s a fast learner and copies everything his older brother does, plus I love being home with him. I tried the whole work/family balancing act when my first was one and a half, and it was too stressful! I would have to make so much money to pay for daycare, and in the end my child would spend most of his day away from us for a few shekels. If it works for some families, great! but for me, it’s just not worth it.

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  3. As someone who works in a kibbutz “misgeret” (this year with 2-3 year olds), I would add 2 important points for someone staying at home with their child:
    1. The mother spends time with her child. Not talking about worksheets (they don’t need to be doing that stuff so early), but playing, sharing experiences, talking with etc. Not every mother can do this nearly all day every day.
    2. The child spends time with other children. Otherwise when they do enter into a “misgeret” (be it gan or school), they will find it difficult to deal with other children, to play with them etc.
    It’s a shame that there aren’t more part-time options (ours is full-time only).

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  4. I agree! And yet I put my youngest in “mishpachton” family-style day care when he wasn’t much older than a year. I did it for my husband and I, and for our other kids. And it has been a very good thing. He’s definitely not talking or walking earlier. He is less shy, but that could just be him.

    I’m about to sign him up for for preschool for next year, and I’ve been wondering whether this is a good decision. If he stays home with me, I will spend much of the day trying to do housework, not playing with my little guy, and my husband and I will have hours of chores after the kids go to sleep. I think the big ‘gan’ will be fun for him, but I seriously worry about the effects of the stress and having less one-on-one time with Mommy or another loving care-giver.

    I don’t think kids need an formal learning before age six. But either for emotional or financial reasons, parents need a safe, caring place to leave their kids so they can get things done for the family, or not loose ground in their career. These are valid reasons that may lead to a better life for the child.

    However, parents shouldn’t kid themselves that ‘preschool’ (daycare!) is so important for the kid. I think people who pressure other moms to sign up their little ones are just trying to validate their own outsourcing of raising their kids.
    Yosefa recently posted..Too Easy Chocolate Chip Peach CakeMy Profile

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    • Yosefa, I agree with you about “people who pressure other moms”, not just about daycare, but all subjects. Even if we don’t agree with how someone raises their children, as long as there’s no neglect or abuse involved, we shouldn’t pressure them but accept that their way of raising children is different to ours.

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  5. re learning to talk, I have to say how amazed I am at the progress my small children make in talking in the Summer holidays (When they are not in a maon, or gan, but speak to older siblings and parents).

    Being in a misgeret does not do anything to contribute to language skills since all of the other children have language skills of guess what..2 or 3 or 4 year olds!

    Also, we had a gan where the ganenet really talked down to the kids!

    In my specific family I am talking about the 2-3 youngest of 6 when they had older siblings.

    My children were actually in Maon or Gan from a relatively young age, but even so, I am pointing out that in my experience, these frameworks did not develop or help an ability to speak.

    Everything has advantages and disadvantages, each person should do what is right for them. Today we should protect the right to chose

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