Where are the Mormon Pre-Schools?

Although he goes to nursery in the Wakefield Ward each Sunday, my son attends pre-school twice a week at the Braddock Baptist Church in Annandale, Virginia. Lots and lots of churches sponsor pre-schools. Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, and who knows what other denominations all runs pre-schools. Mormons do not. Why? There are a couple of possible answers:

1. Sponsoring pre-schools would undermine the Church’s message that mothers with children who are not yet of school age ought to be at home. On this view, the absence of Mormon pre-schools is analogous to the CES policy of not employing the mothers of young children full time.

2. There is no professional Mormon clergy. As near as I can tell, most of the administrative work of the Braddock Baptist Church Pre-School is done by the church’s minister. Put in economic terms, there are start-up costs to a pre-school that a paid clergy already absorbs.

3. There is a liability issue. Pre-schools are places where children get injured. I suspect that the Braddock Baptist Church gets around this problem by being largely judgement proof. I seriously doubt that they have the assets to interest the contingency-fee plaintiffs’ lawyers who would bring a suit over the injury of a child. The Church, however, has deep pockets and would thus make a more tempting target for litigation.

4. Administrative burden. This is related to the professional clergy point. If Church buildings are being used, the Church would want to have some sort of control over the program. This would require that local officers take on the burden, and would also – given the Church’s penchant for administrative uniformity – require that the Church promulgate guidelines and programs etc. for any pre-school program. In an era of tight budgets, big building programs, and employee downsizing in Salt Lake, there is no desire to commit resources to this project.

Even if there are reasons why the Church as an institution (with all of its buildings) does not wish to become a pre-school provider, I am still a bit puzzled as to why some place like Salt Lake or Orem isn’t swarming with unaffiliated, but nevertheless overtly Mormon pre-schools. Of course, other than a couple of months while I studied for the bar, I haven’t lived in Utah since I got married. Maybe there is a Mormon pre-school on every corner in Deseret. I know that there is a Baptist pre-school on every corner in Little Rock.

24 comments for “Where are the Mormon Pre-Schools?

  1. Few Mormons are willing to pay for preschool. While the other church-associated nursery schools don’t solely rely on members to fill the nursery rolls, I think a Mormon preschool would have to, at least in the beginning.

  2. Although I have never seen a Mormon-run freestanding preschool, there are plenty of children “enrolled” in Joy School, a co-op preschool program. This curriculum (www.valuesparenting.com) is put together by Richard and Linda Eyre and is not overtly LDS but the lesson plans clearly are slanted that way. I know of several couples (mom’s mostly) who have taught their preschoolers (my daughters included), rotating with other parents in a group, using the Joy School curriculum and have been very happy. I know others who have not like the curriculum. Point being that there is at least one source of Mormon preschooling available.

  3. I know that there has been a coop preschool run out of the Manhattan Stake Center for several years. I believe Kaimi’s kids attended it at some point, so maybe he can say more about it.

  4. We recently moved to Provo and I spent weeks researching preschools for our 3-yr old. Many of the mothers in the ward I talked to said “since I’m home with my kids, I just teach them as we go through our daily routine” others participate in co-op (joy-school type) arrangements. But there are also LOTS of preschools around here. They run the whole gamut from full-day five days a week (day care) type to two-hour twice a week (what we eventually chose). There was one that bases it’s curriculum directly on LDS values and songs. All the others seemed pretty secular (though they teach the pledge of alleigiance at my daughter’s school ;). I didn’t find any Christian preschools here (big surprise there).

    Two of my sisters have their kids in Christian preschools, they send them to vacation Bible school every year, etc. They really love the great bible stories and songs they’ve learned there. They haven’t had any problems with their kids learning “false doctrine” from their Presbyterian teachers, but have had the talk about why we call God “heavenly father” and don’t use his name in idle conversation.

    I think Nate’s reasons are all quite plausible. The people who’d undoubtedly organize something like a preschool are already running the primary — and anobody who’s spent much time in a primary presidency will tell you that once a week is plenty to worry about.

  5. Melissa and I checked out the preschool at that very church, Nate. But we decided it was too far to drive twice a week, and we couldn’t afford it anyway. When ended up enrolling Megan at Bush Hill Presbyterian. Here in Jonesboro, Caitlyn has did a year of Joy School, and this year the same parents who did Joy School for their three-year-olds have organized an almost entirely LDS pre-school, with a member of the ward (and former school teacher) in charge. I’d never heard of Joy School before, but I have since come to learn that these sort of informal, in-home, rotation pre-schools are pretty common in many LDS wards.

  6. Joy schools are everywhere in Mormon wards, from California to New Jersey and everywhere in between. Most Mormon mothers I’ve known do some kind of ward/neighborhood joy school for a year; then traditional, paid, out of home preschool for a year. I think many wouldn’t want their children to go to a Mormon preschool. Since many little LDS kids aren’t in day care, many mothers I’ve known view preschool as a place for social interaction to prepare their kids for kindergarten. A Mormon kindergarten probably would have limited benefit socially, since Mormon kids are already interacting with lots of other Mormon kids all the time.

  7. Nate, for the record, I know of at least two pre-schools in Davis County that are privately run but explicitly state that they espouse LDS values and teachings as part of their curricula and activities. I guess that’s something.

    Michelle, I’m not sure how you come by your belief that few Mormon parents are willing to shell out for pre-school. Well, okay, I’m one that isn’t, but I have the problem of being married to someone who believes it’s very important, and who has many, many LDS friends who pay for pre-school. In our ward in Virginia, virtually everyone we knew that had small children paid to go to the Methodist pre-school across the street from our chapel.

  8. The church used to be in this business: when my parents were in Durham, NC where my dad was at Duke law school, my mother’s calling was to run the church day-care. It was an incredibly demanding calling, and she’s felt for the rest of her life that she did an inadequate job. She felt incredible relief when the program was shut down.

    My daughter goes to pre-school at the Presbyterian church twice a week, and our time there provides virtually the only interaction with non-Mormons (other than our neighbors) that I have each week. We also do a joy school coop with other members once a week.

  9. Don’t forget that Ezra Taft Benson (and Reed?) thought pre-school education (esp. state-sponsored) was a socialist evil, and that children younger than the age of accountability should be at home. I don’t know that that idea ever had much traction, but it is out there.

  10. I don’t know about socialist evil, but I am often puzzled by the desire of Mormon parents with a parent at home to send their children off to a preschool. We”ve always done co-op preschools with our kids, and had really good experiences. However, we’ve never felt the need to send our kids off to a preschool.

    Time was when kindergarten was a half-day, and pretty much optional, and the purpose was to prepare kids for elementary school life. Now preschools have largely become the norm as a place for kids to prepare for mandatory, full-day kindergartens. What’s the big rush?

    I’ve liked David Elkind’s The Hurried Child as a starting point for thinking about this topic. He traces how educational ideas that have benefitted small segments of our society with specific needs have been adopted by the general community, with some negative results. For example, at-risk children without stable home environments benefit greatly from structured preschool opportunities. Extrapolating from there to say that therefore all children would benefit from structured preschool opportunities, and furthermore that such opportunities should be made a part of the public school establishment for the general population is not justified without much more evidence, however.

    Of course, everyone here knows I’m a militant homeschooler who thinks the public schools are hopelessly evil tools of the devil to indoctrinate our children with godless secular ideas, right?

  11. Bryce, I don’t disagree with your arguments. My reasons for putting Elena in preschool (five hours a week) are simple: I want some quiet time at home to write. I have no illusions about the great benefits Elena might be reaping (though I don’t think the experience has been negative for her).

  12. Rosalynde (and others)–

    I hope I didn’t come across as critical. There’s a lot to be said for some quiet time for mom, which is a full-time job in a sense that even medical residents and high-powered lawyers don’t experience.

    What motivated me to write was the perception I have that some parents think that a good out of the home preschool experience is somehow essential to their future academic success. If you want your kids to have some friends to play with, and experiences with other adult authority figures, or want some time to run errands or blog, or need child care because both parents work, that’s fine by me — it’s really none of my business. I think it is sad, however, when parents are convinced that the educational establishment can do a better job of teaching their 2, 3, and 4 year old children than they can. I think that too often parents in our society are taught to sell themselves short.

  13. I should add that there’s no real reason to be teaching children younger than 5 years old in an academic sense anyway. If the child is ready for it and asks, I don’t see a problem, but obsessing over when to start math lessons for your toddler is pointless (although I often find myself falling into this mindset).

  14. Wow – a connection to a blogger! We, too, had children in Bush Hill Presbyterian’s preschool, mentioned by Russell Arben Fox, before moving further west (for us, to MO) 10 years ago.

    But missing from the other comments is one of our principal motivations for putting our children in preschool: the lack of neighborhood children at-home for daily play. We thought when we moved from Northern Virginia to a smaller city in the midwest that we’d have kids around. But we picked the wrong neighborhood – there were kids, but all in day care. Preschools (as opposed to day care) had the benefit both of giving our kids supervised group playtime each day, and putting us into contact with some great families from other neighborhoods where mother and kids were at home during the day. We didn’t mind the “academic” side of the preschools we chose in VA and MO (all of which were at churches), but that wasn’t a major consideration in making our choices.

  15. I actually disagree with you Bryce. I send my child to preschool not only because I need the quiet time and he needs the interaction and development of social skills. I send him for some of the academic skills he learns as well. I do think that somebody who has worked with 2 year olds for 30 years, as my son’s teacher has, can do a lot more with him than I can. My experience with 2 year olds is vastly limited, and my son’s teachers is constantly saying things like, “This is really good for their fine motor development,” etc, etc, things I genuinely did not know. Also, Jacob’s teacher has a whole store of resources that I just do not have, access to crafts and activities that I do not. I have learned a lot from watching her class, and we have incorporated many things into our home, ideas and activities that I would never have been able to come up with on my own.

    Do I think I’m making him ready for an academic environment? You bet. He’s learning how to take turns, how to sit quietly and pay attention, and how to follow directions. Those are basic skills essential for success in any kind of environment, academic included, and I think the earlier you can teach your child these things, the better. I’m not saying that preschool is a substitute for teaching in the home. I’m just saying that for many homes, preschool or any other kind of structured learning envrionment can enrich a child’s life in ways that are otherwise not available, or just not happening in the home.

  16. My 3yo son attends a Lutheran preschool. He comes home with some interesting Protestantisms like “Jesus is God” and “Tick-tock goes the clock, now it’s time to pray, God is great, God is good … ” etc. I’ve decided that we can counterbalance these things with teaching at home. (Jesus is like God and is God’s son; that’s a cute poem, honey, but it’s not a prayer.)

    I have appreciated the Lutheran preschool experience because it’s helped our family get to know other families in our community who are not Latter-day Saints. It’s so easy for us, as wrapped up as we are in callings and activities with the Church, to neglect the important opportunity to form friendships with those who are not of our faith. The preschool has been a great opportunity for that. I don’t know if that is an official reason for the Church not to run preschools, but I think it would be a good reason.

    As for whether or not preschool is good or important for kids in an LDS family, I think it varies from family to family. I’m a very laid-back mom, and my 5yo son desperately needed the structure of preschool to prep for kindergarten. He went to a state-funded low-income program last year. It was wonderful for him; I won’t go on about it too much but I do feel it was a blessing for our family. This year my husband went from a staff researcher to a Ph.D. student and I went back to work, so we no longer qualified for low-income but needed a full-time program for our younger son. The Lutheran program is one of the pricier ones in town but I just fell in love with their teachers, facilities and curriculum.

    So each of my kids needed preschool for a different reason, and different preschools have met those needs. With each of them we prayed about the decisions we were making. I’ve felt like what we’re doing was not just endorsed by heaven, but prepared to bless our family in different situations we’ve been in.

  17. My wife and I are looking for a preschool for our 3 year old. Our perspectives are very different on why. I want to expose him to as many different environments as possible. I don’t know why I think this is a good thing, but I do.

    This is a sucky comment, not worthy of submitting. But I wanted a vehicle to ask JL what part of MO they were at. I lived in the KC area for a while and my parents are still there.

  18. We’ve sent both our daughters (now 7 and 4) to a non-denominational Christian preschool and have been very pleased with the experiences they’ve had. My daughter goes two days a week, from 9 until 2. They have wonderful, degreed teachers, low turnover, a fun P.E. time, Spanish, music, and art. It’s structured but nurturing, and not too focused on academics (although they do have lessons — they use the Saxon curriculum). I don’t believe it’s necessary for children to go to preschool to ensure their future success, and I feel bad for kids whose parents pressure them to perform, but I also think that in our case, sending the girls to preschool for a year before kindergarten gave them a chance to feel more comfortable in a classroom setting with the advantage of starting in a small, friendly group (12 children, 2 teachers per class). Plus, and this may sound strange, but I think it’s been beneficial for them to be around many non-LDS Christian children; if nothing else, they understand their peers better than I do, since they learn some of the same songs and hear the same code words for Gospel concepts that we share but which we have different cultural labels for (I grew up in Utah).

    The downside: They have learned a few loud songs about Jesus.

    We’ve also tried one year of Joy School, which for us had its problems (too large a group = total chaos). We’ve also, for the past two summers, done a ward “Summer Fun Camp” which we’ve really loved. Not an official church activity, but we got permission to use the church building, which is nice since the kids can run around and play soccer indoors, bounce in indoor bounce houses, etc. an especially nice bonus since it’s too hot here in Texas to play outside in the summer).

  19. Just about every kid I know ,that is of age, in my Sandy/Draper neighborhood is in pre-school. Most are enrolled in the “run out of the basement type”, you know, Miss Patsy’s or Miss Dee’s. But many are going to Challenger School or other commercial type preschools. As for Mormons not wanting to pay for pre-school, that certainly doesn’t fit the bill her. In my experience Joy school started to dive bomb when women became comfortable, and able, to pay someone else to do it. The “girls” of the generation that has preschoolers now seem to have a lot more discretionary income and are not afraid to spend it on themselves. (this coming from a 50 yr. old woman.)When my kids were small, the only way you could get a blessed moment of child-free peace was to take on someone else’s needy toddlers for a couple of hours. there is such a “sense of entitlement ” now and that may be sort of a good thing but that’s another blog.

  20. I dont have kids, but, I think, it is important to get children, even of the pre-school age interacting with the world and life outside the LDS bubble. I am an adult convert to our Church, and I am sometimes amazed at the very naivety and ignorance displayed by a lot of people from Church I have met here who are straight out of Utah – their difficulty in dealing with t he non-Mormon life surprises me a great deal. So, I think it is a good thing of Mormon kids get acclamatised to interacting to a largely secular or Christian worls that is largely non-Mormon. Not that they ought to lose all the great things and the life lessons and the Blessings we get by being devout Members, but, learning to navigate the world which is largely non-LDS.
    i woudl give a coupel of examples to illustrate what I mean, but, thefolks who I would be referring to, ocassionally read T&S, so, if you want to know, backchannel me please.

  21. Wow. It’s moments like this that make me realize how really ‘out of it’ I am.

    Our family’s preschool experience was radically different than most here. Our children have been mostly in charge of their own educations for most of their lives, including preschool. E.g. We had just moved to a new city when my then 4 year old daughter said “I’m bored. I don’t have any friends.” I asked if she’d like to go to preschool. “yes” she said. So I signed her up for the best interdenominational preschool in our area [everyone I’d talked to about it, raved about it.] It lasted maybe 4 months. One day she came home and announced that she wasn’t going back there any more. “Why not?” I asked. She replied “I went there to find some friends and now I have some friends and I don’t need to go there anymore.” When pressed about other aspects of preschool her reply was that it was “stupid and boring” [which I had to honestly agree with — I’d oberved the classes and all the ‘learning experiences’ the teachers came up with were fake. Manipulative. Having little respect for the children’s own gifts.]

    Anyway, if I now had a child who wanted to go to preschool [and we could afford it] I would skip the whole traditional preschool stuff and send them to a Waldorf Kindergarten. I have issues with Waldorf education, but their preschools are magical, beautiful and unhurried places.

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