Preschool and the Soul of a Child

Sister Mary-Elizabeth and Miss Jacinta Murphy

Tomorrow’s Man

The minds, attitudes and moral habits of children are plastic. They can be shaped in almost the same way as wax is shaped in moulds.1

Today’s child is tomorrow’s man. For Catholic parents, early education is of paramount importance for the salvation of their child’s soul. When a three-year-old starts roaming listlessly at home, complaining that he is bored and wants to go to school, what should be done? Should he be enrolled in a preschool? This article will help parents answer this question.

Let us first examine what the Catholic education of the child in his early years should be and what it most certainly should not be. Then we will highlight the dangers of early education in a secular preschool setting with a view to helping parents discern what is the right thing to do for their children.

Catholic versus secular education

Education is the meeting point of two souls. “Education—above all, maternal education—is in fact much more of an outpouring of the soul than a syllabus for a teacher,” said Madame Gabrielle Lefebvre, the mother of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The education of a young preschool child is part of maternal education. If it must be delegated to, or rather supplemented by, another person, care must be taken to choose someone with the necessary maternal aptitudes of character and of soul.

The education of a three-to-four-year old is not firstly or primarily about imparting skills and knowledge (although the acquiring of the skills and knowledge may in fact take up a great proportion of the time spent). It is, above all, concerned with one formed soul influencing another unformed soul, which is as “wax to receive, marble to retain”. Every virtue or vice of the educator is mirrored to some degree in the soul of the child.

No good parent would choose a preschool teacher who is rough, noisy or uncouth; why pick one without the precious Faith, or who is living in sin? The bare minimum criterion for a soul which nurtures another soul in the life of grace is that she herself receives grace through the Sacraments. The ideal maternal educator, like the ideal Catholic mother, models herself on Our Lady, seeking to serve and form in her young charges the Child Jesus.

Influence of teacher and setting

The ideas of the teacher have a profound influence on the soul of the child. The docile child picks up the attitudes of his teacher and of the settings in which he receives education.

If the teacher has a supernatural outlook, she will realise that the children in her care are raised to the supernatural order by grace, and therefore capable in varying degrees of acts of faith, hope and charity. She will strive to develop the seed planted by the sacrament of Baptism. Bearing in mind that the children have, like herself, a wounded nature, she will not allow wilful selfishness to win the day.

In a secular preschool, children will learn to share “because it’s nice”. In a Catholic environment, on the other hand, children learn to give up their own will for the good of another because it pleases the Child Jesus and He will reward them in Heaven. Already the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity are being exercised by this method.

Would we wait until the children were half grown-up before developing their physical muscles? Why wait to develop their “spiritual muscles”?

In a non-Catholic environment, God is set aside at the door while the child’s secular education begins. This is harmful to the docile child who is taught to respect his teacher. Already he learns that God is not significant to some important people in his life. If a religion is not explicitly taught in the playgroup or nursery, then a religion is implicitly taught: the religion of secular atheism, the pride of modern man who thinks he can do without God.

Government-controlled education

Unsurprisingly the world’s powers take a sinister and cardinal interest in the first years of human development. They know—how well!—that if they get hold of the child, they get hold of the adult too.

All schools, particularly early years settings... make a significant contribution to the development of values and attitudes in young children that are likely to be highly resistant to change in later years.2

In this country, a child’s education outside the home between birth and the age of five is strictly regulated by the Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) for all state- maintained schools, non-maintained schools, independent schools and registered preschools (N.B. a private nursery school, preschool or playgroup can remain unregistered if all the children are between 2 and 5 years).

These settings are inspected by both Ofsted and the Local Education Authority. During the inspection, heads and practitioners (the official name of staff working with the children) must bring forward evidence under pain of sanctions to demonstrate that they comply with statutory requirements.

Let us examine two standards from the Statutory Framework for EYFS.

Subverting the natural law to stop bullying

First, “All staff must have an up-to-date knowledge of safeguarding issues.”3 This statement sounds at first perfectly acceptable. But let us take a look at what the government considers an important safeguarding issue.

Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for Schools, addressed the Stonewall Education Conference in July 2011, saying, “Tackling poor behaviour and bullying are top priorities for this government and we are supporting all schools to take action against all forms of bullying, including ... homophobic bullying.” Since then, in 2012, a new Ofsted framework has been introduced which focuses more sharply on behaviour (and bullying) as one of the four key areas of the new school inspections.

One will object, “What has this to do with preschool children?” Read the following statement, given here in its entirety:

All schools, particularly early years settings and primary schools, are ideally placed to challenge homophobia because they make a significant contribution to the development of values and attitudes in young children that are likely to be highly resistant to change in later years.2

Keep in mind that the playgroup or nursery’s “kind and firm” staff, to whom you consider entrusting your precious child, have now to demonstrate that they are up-to-date with the legislation and therefore, that they can tackle homophobic discrimination in their setting.

Prevention is critical, they will say. How does one prevent homophobic prejudices taking even the slightest hold on the budding citizen’s impressionable mind? By feeding this mind as soon as possible with non-verbal information to the effect that all deviant sexual behaviours are “perfectly right and nice”.

School’s Out, an organisation working for the “rights” of LGBT, and now a “charity”, offers an educational strategy to prevent homophobia for the EYFS. The first step is “usualisation”. It is about making deviant, immoral relationships usual: “Usualising is the non-comment, the non-judgement, the non-reaction... It is the tacit approval of acceptability and it must be used frequently for that acceptance to be embedded in the learner. We acclimatise people to its presence.”

This process is implemented in EYFS through the generous availability of books featuring kind and helpful characters who are most clearly established in an immoral relationships, even, although rarely, with overt sexual innuendos. The titles speak for themselves: Mom and Mum Are Getting Married, King and King, etc.

No exemptions on grounds of faith are permitted because it is considered a “safeguarding” issue rather than a “learning and development” issue.

The second step of the preventive process is called “actualising” and is being planned for primary schools. This will not be elaborated upon in this article, but the overall direction of the process is clear: homophobic bullies are bullies because they think homosexual relationships are vicious (i.e. a vice), therefore, to stop homophobic bullying, we should make all people think homosexual relationships are virtuous and even go so far as promote homosexual relationships.

Really, it is nothing other than a crude attempt to undermine the natural law. If homophobic bullying really was a problem, we should teach the children the truth: that both homosexual relationships and bullying are sins.

Subverting the natural law in the name of creativity

The second standard of the statutory framework for EYFS says, “Each area of development must be implemented through planned, purposeful play and through a mix of adult-led and child-initiated activity.”4

Here is the application made of the standard in the guide of good practice for EYFS staff:

Another instance of a child-initiated choice may be where a child takes ownership of an activity and ‘subverts’ it to a different purpose than intended. For example, a child might prefer to pour water into a hole to make a puddle rather than watering the plants as the adult intended.5

In this “subversion” by a child-initiated choice, we can easily see that the child learns that his unformed, uneducated will is the final decision-maker in every instance. Does this type of education lead to docility and obedience in the young Catholic soul? These subversive habits will have disastrous consequences on the eternal salvation of the child.

Does preschooling make much difference anyway?

In our experience at Saint Michael’s School, attendance at preschool does not correlate with higher academic achievement in the reception year or later. The key factor in children’s achievement seems rather to be their age. Typically the older children score higher on the Profile than the younger children, especially in skills-related areas like reading and motor skills.

We do notice, though, that many children who have attended preschool regularly tend to rush into our reception classroom unaware of the adult present and firmly intent on reaching the object of their desire; a behaviour that cannot surprise if one bears in mind that, “Practitioners must respond to each child’s emerging needs and interests…”6 They seem distracted by the quest for the ongoing overstimulation they have been used to in their previous setting. Motivation and calm are the key criteria for school-readiness; an overstimulating preschool environment may actually militate against the necessary dispositions of calmness and readiness to learn.

Should I send my child to a preschool?

Ideally preschool children are best educated by their mother in the home, but if one must delegate the maternal education of preschool children to another, it must be to a Catholic who has tender regard for their eternal souls.

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  • 1Father Henry Sattler, C.SS.R., Parents, Children and the Facts of Life (Tan Books, 1993)
  • 2 a b Mark Jennett, Stand Up for Us: Challenging Homophobia in Schools (Department for Education and Skills, 2004).
  • 3Statutory Framework for Early Years Foundation Stage, 3.6 (Crown, 2012) p. 14.
  • 4Statutory Framework for Early Years Foundation Stage, 1.9 (Crown, 2012) p. 6.
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  • 6Statutory Framework for Early Years Foundation Stage, 1.9, p. 6. Crown copyright 2012.