Graduating Cum Laude from Romper Room

smart_preschooler.jpgAfter a grueling admissions process, many young people in Boston are preparing to head to school this week. The parents of these children are full of pride as their kids, who once seemed so young, head off into the world.

No, we’re not talking about college students. We’re talking about preschoolers.

Parents who thought they wouldn’t have to worry about their offspring’s career prospects until they were at least in their teens are jumping through hoops to get their children into good preschools, in the hope that the Ivy League will come calling in about 14 years, or so. This month’s Boston magazine rates the best preschools in Boston, but is all the stress worth it?

Michele Orecklin spoke to experts from Wheelock and Harvard about whether her daughter faces a future of petty theft if she doesn’t get into a high-end preschool program. Status-seeking parents will be disappointed in her expert opinion:

“The so-called ‘right’ preschool is no guarantee of anything later on,” [David Fernie, a professor of early-childhood education at Wheelock College] told me. “You want a high-quality preschool for its own sake, not for what access it will give later on, or what it says about you as a parent.”

When I asked for tips, [the experts] agreed on this much: It’s important not to base your choices solely on expectations you’d have for higher grade levels. . . . But such benchmarks are not applicable to preschool. For one thing, preschoolers pick things up at their own pace. “Forcing children to reach the same level of competence at the same time,” said Fernie, “is the quickest way to teach them that school isn’t a place where they can be comfortable.”

It’s a much different world from when our parents read books to us and plopped us in front of Sesame Street for an hour a day. Some of us even turned out to be college-educated (if not by the Ivy League) members of society. Would we have done better if sent to a French immersion preschool? Are any parents out there paying the tens of thousands of dollars? Let us know in the comments.