With another new school year about to start, parents are thinking about what kind of experience they want to give their preschoolers.

We recently wrote about our belief that small kids deserve a real childhood, not just "preparation for school." In the poll that accompanied the column, more than two thirds of Deseret News readers who responded indicated that they think an imaginative, play-oriented early childhood is more important than early academics or early sports and music.

As we shared in a recent Mormon Times column, the Northern Virginia suburb where we raised the first of our own kids just happened to be a hotbed of early childhood education ideas. During that time, we began asking some questions: "What do we most want for our very young kids?" "What will really prepare them, socially and emotionally, for school?" and "While they are so receptive and open, what is the most important thing we can teach them?"

This was the origin of Joy School, a do-it-yourself mothers' group/play group that we started 30 years ago and continues to grow throughout the world today.

Our readers seem to agree that it's not early academics or sports or music that preschoolers need most; rather it is the social and emotional skills that allow them to be happy in school and some good training on how to share and be kind, and how to be confident and natural around other kids.

These social and emotional skills are what we call the "joys" of the Joy School curriculum.

With that in mind, let us share with you what we've learned from our experiences creating the Joy School curriculum and interacting with parents from throughout the world.

The basic format of Joy School is: Three to six moms form a neighborhood play group for their kids and rotate it from home to home two mornings a week with the "home mother" being the teacher.

The curriculum for the "joy of the month" is found at www.joyschools.com. The Joy School lesson plans are based on a book we wrote many years ago called "Teaching Your Children Joy." The detailed lesson plans, available with a one-time, lifetime membership and modest fees to cover the costs of the stories, games and songs, can help moms with no training or teaching experience.

We've been asked if we really have to teach joy to our kids. Some contend that it's something they are born with.

It's true that some of the joys in the curriculum, like The Joy of Imagination, The Joy of Spontaneous Delight, and The Joy of Interest and Curiosity, really are already implanted in most small kids, and our job is to learn from them and to preserve those joys in them. Other joys, however, like The Joy of Sharing and Service and The Joy of Goal Striving, do not come automatically to preschoolers, yet they are remarkably adept at learning and practicing them once they are taught in the context of joy.

It's true that kids do need to be prepared academically for kindergarten. But the best preparation is these social and emotional skills or "joys." Countless kindergarten teachers have told us that they can tell which kids have gone to Joy School and that before the end of first grade those who have not had an academic head start have caught up with the kids who have.

There are now more than 200,000 families around the world who have participated in Joy School. One of our favorite things as we travel is to have moms come up after our presentations and say, "I was in Joy School as a little girl, and now I teach Joy School to my own kids."

Long live parents who do all they can to enhance the happiness of their preschool children.

Help us with some feedback about Joy School by taking the brief readers poll via the "contact us" button on www.valuesparenting.com.

The Eyres' next book is "The Entitlement Trap: How to Rescue Your Child With a New Family System of Choosing, Earning, and Ownership." Richard and Linda are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com. For information about preordering "The Entitlement Trap," see www.valuesparenting.com.