Several of the parents of four-year-olds in my class are strongly opposed to current pressures pertaining to so much academic instruction with children of this age.

I'm always for respecting parents' wishes within the realm of reason. And I'm always for individualizing as much as you can in a group setting.

As we all know, there are two major philosophies of early childhood education out there these days. One is called developmentally appropriate, which concerns itself with the all-around development of the child. Social development, emotional development, and physical development are seen as just as much the business of school as academic development, especially when we're talking about young children. In contrast, the academic preschool and kindergarten focus much more attention on academic learning than on other aspects of child development.

Both approaches are endorsed and promoted by legitimate early childhood educators. So I think it's only fair to acknowledge that parents, too, may have a legitimate preference. Besides, families know their own lifestyle, values, children, and so on, better than we teachers do. We need to listen with open minds to parents.

To me, it seems easy to individualize instruction with this age group. The whole group can do some activities featuring sounds and letters. When the group disperses for free choice time and teachers work by invitation with small clusters of children, you can do additional activities of this nature with those who you know need it and with those whose parents want it. And you can do something different — some other kind of project, maybe taking dictation so they can "write" stories — with the kids whose parents don't want more letters and sounds.

You can offer all children substantial chunks of play time, and you can enrich it with various props. But maybe the children who have very full home lives are ready for a more complex enriched play project — setting up and equipping a post office or some such.

It sounds good to me to listen to parents, act on their reasonable wishes, and provide different things for different children within a context where everyone does group things much of the time.