Revisiting the Misgeret, or Is Preschool Necessary

This 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.” I don’t believe this is true. 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. 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.)

You may also enjoy:

Raising Kids Where Neglect is Normal

What Defines Israeli Parenting?

Should I Send My Child to an English Gan?

Comments

  1. I kept Orli home until she was three (unusual in my neighborhood). When I brought her to gan the first day her teacher, who also taught my two older children, said, “Wow, all the other kids already have their little friends”. I answered, “you mean to tell me that cliques have already been formed and my child won’t ever have any friends because I waited until the ripe old age of 3 to send her??” The teacher smiled sheepishly, knowing how ridiculous that was.
    But I don’t think MILLIONS of kids are being homeschooled…

  2. mother in israel says

    Baila, I checked. In 2003 it was over a million. I adjusted the post.

  3. mother in israel says

    ID, so true.

  4. mother in israel says

    Baila, this source does say 2 million. Don’t know if it’s reliable.
    http://www.nheri.org/index2.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=199

  5. mother in israel says

    Baila, this source does say 2 million. Don’t know if it’s reliable.
    http://www.nheri.org/index2.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=199

  6. mother in israel says

    Baila, this source does say 2 million. Don’t know if it’s reliable.
    http://www.nheri.org/index2.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=199

  7. I think 3 or 4 is a good age if you have the choice. 2 is early unless you can’t avoid it.
    True people will criticize your choice whatever you do anyway.

  8. Every child develops different and has personality problems challenges, even the ones who attend gan. Who doesn’t? But if you keep your child home, you will be blamed for those issues.”
    If your goal is not to be blamed for ‘those issues’ – forget it! It comes with the territory, though every once in a while somebody also acknowledges that you did something right.
    Gan for 2 year olds depends on social and economic considerations. Some women need to work and some need the quiet time alone. My experience (6 kids) is that most of the time they really loved gan – at all ages.

  9. mother in israel says

    Risa and Leora,
    Yes, there has to be a balance. Every parent is different, and so is every kid. But I do see parents pressured to send a child to gan before they (both parents and child) are ready.
    Risa–
    I like your line about acknowledging that a mother did something right–it has happened to me!

  10. First about worksheets for 3-year-olds:
    BLECH!
    Mommying (or parenting, if father is main caretaker) is about maintaining best balance between child and mom. Different moms have different needs. Child does best with happy mom.

  11. I didn’t mean to be snarky about the “millions”–I just found it hard to believe that that many kids are being home-schooled. Wow.
    And its true that different children have different needs, even within families. Since I’ve always worked, I thought I would rather have my kids in a gan at a young age so they had interaction with other kids and a professional “morah”. It worked like a charm for my oldest (she was 2 years 4 months when she started). My middle child was miserable. She wanted to be home with Margaret, our babysitter who she loved. So I adjusted my thinking, and then didn’t bother starting the youngest until she was three.

  12. As I told you on our get together, I am always being asked, “oh, so you homeschool” in regards to my 4 year old who is also entering school (for a half day) for the first time.
    I always answer, “I wouldn’t consider being home with a 3 year old homeschooling.”
    I like this post. Those who want to make a decision that is outside the “norm” need more support.

  13. As I told you on our get together, I am always being asked, “oh, so you homeschool” in regards to my 4 year old who is also entering school (for a half day) for the first time.
    I always answer, “I wouldn’t consider being home with a 3 year old homeschooling.”
    I like this post. Those who want to make a decision that is outside the “norm” need more support.

  14. As I told you on our get together, I am always being asked, “oh, so you homeschool” in regards to my 4 year old who is also entering school (for a half day) for the first time.
    I always answer, “I wouldn’t consider being home with a 3 year old homeschooling.”
    I like this post. Those who want to make a decision that is outside the “norm” need more support.

  15. Helene Rock says

    Count me in as one of the many homeschoolers! For us, this was the educational option of first choice. At 3, my daughter already had a bigger vocabulary than her “preschool” teacher (we did a parent-child co-op preschool). Homeschooling allowed my daughter the opportunity to adopt our beliefs and values — not that of the mass culture. We deliberately chose to restrict her access to “pop culture”, and the “great California Cultural Eclectic.” Fast forward all these many years. My daughter is now a 21 yr. accomplished woman who is starting her second year in Veterinary school at one of the most prestigious schools in the country. She graduated with her Bachelor’s degree long before her peers entered college. Nope. You do not need any k – 12 schools, much less preschool!!!! My daughter has tons of friends now and is quite the little social butterfly. Of course, she didn’t have a lot of age peer friends when she was younger, but you know what? That didn’t matter to her. Preschool is fine for some families. But it is a respite for busy Mom’s who are otherwise engaged. I seriously doubt that preschool can offer a child anything s/he can’t get elsewhere. Instead, my daughter got her Mom’s full-time care and attention.
    Shabbat Shalom,
    Helene Rock
    Los Altos, California

  16. The thing about learning Hebrew goes both ways. A child who doesn’t learn Hebrew early on and doesn’t have a facility with language will be at a disadvantage.
    However, taking your child to a few Hebrew activities (story hour or movement chug) and/or showing your child a few Hebrew videos each week will give them as much as they need to be able to pick up the language later on.
    I think it’s a mistake to keep a child born in Israel isolated from Hebrew, but that doesn’t have to mean 8 or even 5 hours of “misgeret” each day.

  17. rachel in israel says

    I’m sending my 2 year old to gan now because everytime she sees it she starts crying that she wants to go to gan. And the past three months have been very very hard. But, she’s a very active girl. Other personalities may be happy at home until later.
    I don’t think MII is tryinh to get more kids homeschooled, but simply supporting those who do things outside the norm. In my town staying home until the age of 1 is unusual, until 2 is very unusual, later than that the assume there are issues.
    I got and still get a lot of comments regarding my daughter being home with me, both positive and negative. As I meet more people in town I’m also meeting the crowd who tries to keep their kids at home a bit longer. We are definetly a minority.
    The funniest part is that now in the summer all the moms are at home with their kids and they are going crazy. Especially younger moms with kids similar age to my daughter. I am now finding myself teaching those moms how to structure their day when their kids are home all day. They just never dealt with them for a full day.
    Regarding the language, the answer is very complex and it always comes down to “know your child”. For kids born here or those who came before the age of 3, the majority of them will be fine. Just going out to the park will be enough until gan. If you live in an area where people don’t speak hebrew in the streets or you send them to gan with too many other english speakers, then start to worry. I’ve seen many children of olim who came very young who have a bad hebrew after 4+ years because the live in areas with moslty anglo speakers.
    At home we are planning to have a no hebrew policy, since it’s the only way to force the kids to speak our first languages (we live in an area with very few anglos)

  18. I plan on keeping my kids at home until at least 3 or 4. before that, i think they’re really too young to leave mommy…
    Anyhow, i wanted some feedback on my blog, thought i’d share the url here…
    http://childish-musings.blogspot.com
    Come. Thnx.

  19. Good post, MII.

  20. Everyone is in school now, but all were home until age 4. All are fluent in Hebrew, with no aparent residual damage…. 😉
    I still love summers, when most of my kids are home for most of the time. Though my 14 year old is now doing a lot of her own stuff…. (though, thank God, she still likes to hang out with her family, when it “fits into her schedule”)

  21. sylvia_rachel says

    Where I live, there’s no way to win: any and all academic, social, developmental or behaviour “problems” are typically blamed either on daycare, if you work, or on lack of daycare, if you stay home.

  22. Lion in Zion says

    unfortunately no time to comment when you have the most interesting posts. will just comment on this:
    “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.”
    i am not sure if i understood this passage correctly, but i hope that “bringing treats to appease bullies” wasn’t considered among the “healthy ways of defending themselves.”

  23. mother in israel says

    LOZ, from what I recall, bringing treats was one of the healthier survival skills in that particular gan.
    Childish Musings: You sound very sad and lonely. I hope that you will be able to find the help and support that you need.
    Rachel–For the benefit of readers who are also parents of active children: It’s true that many active children love the stimulation of gan, but not all are ready to be separated from parents. Regarding summer vacation, it is a challenge to learn to care for small children all day and remain sane, whether for two weeks or year round.
    Commenters on bilingualism: I noted that for another post topic, bli neder.

  24. Lion in Zion says

    i don’t think that’s healthy

  25. mother in israel says

    LOZ, that’s my point. To state it explicitly: I would not want my child to have to appease a bully by bringing treats.

  26. mother in israel says

    LOZ, that’s my point. To state it explicitly: I would not want my child to have to appease a bully by bringing treats.

  27. mother in israel says

    LOZ, that’s my point. To state it explicitly: I would not want my child to have to appease a bully by bringing treats.

  28. mother in israel says

    LOZ, that’s my point. To state it explicitly: I would not want my child to have to appease a bully by bringing treats.

  29. It’s funny, in America, I think a lot of women feel pressured to stay at home and feel “less than” if they work outside the home when they have young children. Here, it seems like there is a competition to one-up each other with who does the most for their child.

  30. It’s funny, in America, I think a lot of women feel pressured to stay at home and feel “less than” if they work outside the home when they have young children. Here, it seems like there is a competition to one-up each other with who does the most for their child.

  31. It’s funny, in America, I think a lot of women feel pressured to stay at home and feel “less than” if they work outside the home when they have young children. Here, it seems like there is a competition to one-up each other with who does the most for their child.

  32. It’s funny, in America, I think a lot of women feel pressured to stay at home and feel “less than” if they work outside the home when they have young children. Here, it seems like there is a competition to one-up each other with who does the most for their child.

  33. mii, i don’t think it’s just a matter of active/less active children. I remember you’ve stated previously that you think many women have trouble dealing/occupying a first child at home and that’s why they put them in mishpachton.
    My oldest is not only very active, but she’s extremely social. At five, she strikes up conversations with both adults and children she meets wherever we go. I think it would not have been good for her to keep her up till 3 or 4 because no matter how much attention I could give her, i could not give her the type of social stimulation she craved then as a toddler and that she craves to this day.
    She does play by herself now, but as a smaller child she was never interested in sitting and playing with her toys. She always wanted to be out and seeing pple, doing things. My second seems to enjoy being by herself more, and so she comes home in the afternoons.
    I also believe that my children have benefited greatly from having other adults who love and care for them on a daily basis and whom they have loved in return. Of course, there’s no replacement for Ima, but I also don’t think Ima has a monopoly on loving her children.

  34. I just wrote a blog post about this. I was asked 4 times on Shabbat about sending the girls to school. Apparently I need to send them to school because it would be “easier” for me.

  35. It is funny, it must be a difference between town and yishuv.
    Where I live it is quite OK to keep your child at home till the age of 3 when the local gan starts (people have quite a few children and if mother is at home anyway with a small baby, so she thinks it is a waste of money to pay for childcare out of the home.).
    Till now the Gan (age 3-4) was very cheap, this year it will cost around 700 shekels, I have a feeling we will see more mothers keeping children at home.
    The big groups of the Gan are not appropriate for 2 year olds (they do not need more than 4 or 5 other kids at a time).
    We do have a couple of groups where 5 mums take turns looking after all the chilren, but this again is in a home enviroment.
    I live in Israel, but from everyone I know where I live, it seems that they think the ideal is to stay at home with your child till the age of 3 at least. I did not think you encountered criticism as it seemed to me that you are lucky you can allow yourself to stay home with your daughter.
    On the other hand, since your child has brothers and sisters they do have social interaction. I think meeting other children is also important, but you can go visit friends or to the park to do this, you do not need to go to Gan.

  36. I kept most of my kids home until age 3+.(I am a frum mom in Israel)
    HOWEVER, if a child DOES have delayed speak, gan may very well help him. If he hears speech from other children he is likely to copy it (or attempt to). Integration into a normal setting is what made my daughter’S (now 13 with Down syndrome)speech much better than most children with Down syndrome.The same would apply for almost all speech delays.

  37. melissa qubti says

    don’t you just hate it when everybody seems to have an opinion about what is best for your child,each child is different and every mother has their own style!

  38. I am delurking to comment on this issue because it really makes me crazy. My son, who just turned 4, is “supposed” to be going to junior kindergarten next year from 9 am – 4pm. Is it just me who thinks that is insane??? Anyway, I’m only sending him for half a day (9-12) and having other activities for him in the second half of the day. And, I’m not even a stay at home mom. I think we are so obsessed with our kids getting into Harvard that we are terrified if they “fall behind.”

  39. sylvia_rachel says

    Renee — you’re kidding, 9-4 pm?? You said “junior kindergarten”, are you in Ontario also? That’s an education “reform” I hadn’t heard about yet. Oy vey.

  40. Sylvia-Rachel – Yup, I’m in Ontario. Knew the JK would give me away…Oy vey is probably the most polite way to put it. Anyway, I’m very happy with my “radical” decision to only send him for half a day

  41. Regular Anonymous says

    I agree with Melissa. It’s definitely not one size fits all.
    I wound up putting both my kids into pre-school much before I planned to, due to a combination of their intensely high activity level, my non-existent energy level and there need for social interaction.
    Re long school days for kindergartners: when my DD was in gan hova, they instituted a full day (8:30-3:20, you could bring them at 7:30) on a trial basis. I was thrilled and my DD loved it. Another mother said “My kid falls asleep as soon as he comes at 1:30.” My DD came home at 3:30 and said “OK, Ima, let’s go to the park now.”
    Maybe all the moms should cut each other a little slack.

  42. reg anon: you can get all the slack from me that you want. I am heaping slack onto you! I totally know where you’re coming from on the high energy kid thing: I would also pick up my daughter from long day gan at 4 and her first question was : Where are we going? Just going home and chilling out was forbidden.
    Actually, now that she’s a bit older, she’s settled down a bit and it happy to go home to relax after a long day.

  43. When I was in kindergarten (age 6), we had naptime in the afternoon.
    I think it’s a bit silly to have such a long day without at least a short nap for the kids.
    Even in 3rd grade, we had downtime – After lunch, our teacher would read us a story while we zoned out. (She read us Farmer Boy. I still love that book)

  44. sylvia_rachel says

    My daughter has been in full-time something-or-other since my maternity leave ended when she was 13 months old. Her old daycare was 5 minutes from my office, so she was there from 8 to 4; her school is farther away, so she’s there from more like 7:30 to 5:00.
    It’s a long day. She does fine with it. But the thing is, she’s not in school that whole time. For Senior Kindergarten she was in school, doing organized quasi-academic stuff, from 12:30 to 3:00 pm. The rest of the time … playing. Lots of running around outside, climbing the play structures, riding tricycles in a circle, whacking at a tennis ball with a plastic baseball bat, building with legos, drawing and colouring and cutting and pasting and playing dress-up and sitting in a corner with a book. Supervised, but not too structured. No outcomes assessment, if you get what I mean.
    I think a routine is good (at least, it’s good for my kid), but I don’t think a four-year-old needs to be in a formal classroom from 9 am to 4 pm. That just doesn’t seem necessary to me.
    Believe me, I agree with the cutting of slack. Lots of it. Kids are all different, and have different needs. Lots of them have a great time at gan/preschool/daycare and get lots of benefit from it. I do resent how everything “bad” kids do is always the mother’s fault, either for sending them to daycare or for staying home with them.

  45. Trilcat- in my daughter’s long day gan- they have rest time after lunch and a small couch in the corner for resting whenever they want.
    sylvia- d’s gan is also a similar mix of structured/unstructured ( i don’t think it’s physically possible for 3-4 year olds to sit for all day like that). However, last year, I think it was difficult for her to be with 30 kids all day. The previous years, her afternoons involved a much smaller group of kids (her gan shalosh had an afternoon program, where half the kids left, so it was only about 12 kids. I could barely pull her out at 4).
    I think many mother consider gan to be structure, even if the time spent there is unstructured.

  46. Kids don’t need structure all day long, but it’s nice to have friends and toys that are different from what’s in the house. Even this year, I saw that having her at the gym babysitting 4-6 hours a week and at a friend’s house another 4-6 hours a week (with me) made her very happy, and often when I couldn’t get her calmed down myself, just having friends around helped her be happier and calmer.

  47. Kids don’t need structure all day long, but it’s nice to have friends and toys that are different from what’s in the house. Even this year, I saw that having her at the gym babysitting 4-6 hours a week and at a friend’s house another 4-6 hours a week (with me) made her very happy, and often when I couldn’t get her calmed down myself, just having friends around helped her be happier and calmer.

  48. mother in israel says

    I have enjoyed all of the comments. Keren, I’m curious where you live. Thanks, Deanna, for visiting.

  49. I found this blog through a blog carnival on parenting. I am in the USA, and I can tell you that there are a lot of kids who are homeschooled all the way through high school. Also, I wouldn’t say that there is a lot of pressure here to stay at home with your kids. It may depend on the region or who you know. In my case, I chose to stay home, and have gotten a lot of pressure to go back to work. I know others who work and felt pressure to stay home. I’ve had people question me about sending my daughter to preschool She’s 18 months, and preschool starts at 2 or 3. I see no need for her to go to preschool at all. I can teach her letters and numbers, and I honestly believe that we expect far too much from 5 year olds when they enter kindergarden anyway. Thank you for your article.

  50. connie tobar U SA says

    In california, a child can attend preschool at age 4, he or she must be toilet trained, (thank God) and its up to the parents wether they want to wait until they are 5 and go staight to kindergarten, it does not mean that your cannot teach or play with them at home in the meantime. And yes if you want to home school your child, well that is great, some of us rebels like, me is public school, but i do take part in my grandchildren’s lives, yes i babysit my grandkids, and my children are doing fine with the education they received in public schools. Soon my youngest daughter will be teaching those little rascals, and she can’t wait, and i will be there helping out as i do now. And by the way, i do bake treats for the kids.

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