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Not too long ago Little Bo turned three years old, and it was time to start thinking about preschool.
Am I the only one who dreads the idea of preschool?
I know it’s basically a rite of passage in our culture but…I’m just not interested. Yes, I want my child to learn things. Yes, I want my child to know how to behave appropriately in social situations. Yes, I want my daughter’s life enriched by beloved friends and teachers. I’m just not convinced preschool is always necessary to accomplish these things.
Here’s why we decided we aren’t doing preschool, and what we’ll be doing instead.
PRESCHOOL IS EXPENSIVE
According to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, preschool costs for 4 year olds are more expensive than in-state college tuition in 23 states. For many, preschool costs are the equivalent of a second mortgage.
But what about free preschool?
These programs have been shown to be beneficial, especially for populations of children at risk for low academic achievement later in life. However, a recent investigation has shown that Head Start programs also demonstrate “inexplicable discrepancies across teacher training, teacher pay, and other indicators of quality.” Even families who qualify for programs like these aren’t always able to get in, due to underfunding and the necessity of lottery systems.
Is every free preschool program lacking? Probably not. I’m sure some are actually fantastic! But given that my state’s education system is one of the lowest ranked in the country, I admit I’m hesitant to try my luck, assuming we would even qualify.
The unfortunate reality is that high quality preschool programs tend to come with a price tag I can’t overlook.
THE BENEFIT OF PRESCHOOL?
For all this cost, preschool should at least be well worth it educationally, right?
Well, not always.
While Head Start programs have been shown to have a positive impact–particularly for low-income children–in preparing kids for Kindergarten, there is a sizeable amount of research demonstrating that children who go through intensive preschool programs don’t ultimately come out ahead academically long-term. In fact, by around second grade, the differences can’t even be detected anymore.
On the other hand, there is also a noteworthy amount of research showing that children who attend intensive preschool programs are less likely to be arrested, more likely to graduate, less likely to have substance issues as adults, and more likely to attend and complete college.
But I have to ask: Does preschool cause all these good things to happen? Or is it simply the case that the kinds of children who attend preschool tend to be ones whose parents are more likely to be involved in their lives and education long-term? Correlation does not equal causation, so my guess is parental involvement probably plays the bigger role here.
Even if we could find a low cost, high quality preschool–one that is play-based and involves and appropriate amount of time in the dirt–I’m not convinced a group setting is what my daughter needs.
I would not go so far as to say Little Bo is gifted, but academically she appears to be a bit ahead of kids her age, and she is eager to learn more. She could identify her upper and lowercase letters at random by age 2, and she already knows her numbers, counts to 50 (she could theoretically do more, but her attention only spans so far), knows her colors, shapes, body parts, and a plethora of nursery rhyme songs. As a newly minted 3 year old, she is beginning to pick up early reading and writing skills, and she has a surprisingly good memory. And virtually all of this she picked up through play at home, not formal instruction.
I worry she would get bored spending a week on a letter A-themed unit in a classroom. I would rather give her one on one attention at home and expand her learning at her unique pace.
I CAN MEET MY EDUCATIONAL GOALS FOR MY CHILD AT HOME
But what about socialization, you ask? I’m not too worried. My daughter has never been formally “socialized” (whatever that means), but she has no issues playing well with other kids when given the opportunity.
Does she struggle with sharing? Sure. Does “taking turns” go over her head sometimes? Sure.
But it should.
Because she just turned three, and it’s normal to struggle with these new skills since the ability to delay gratification doesn’t develop until sometime between ages 3 and 6.
In the meantime, she can practice sharing and turn-taking during our weekly mom-group playdate and at the park. She can learn about social situations that demand quiet at the library and at church and in the doctor’s office waiting room. She can practice delaying gratification every time we go to the store, when she helps me cook dinner, and whenever she has to wait for…well, anything.
Because socialization happens first at home, with parents and siblings.
What most fail to realize is that technically, “socialization” is an extremely broad term. It is more than a child’s ability to meet new people, make friends, and sit still. It’s actually a lifelong process of becoming familiar with social and cultural norms in a wide variety of different situations. By definition, it is going to happen outside of a classroom more often than not.
The truth is, a child who is happy to approach another child, shake hands and introduce themselves is not necessarily more or better socialized than the child who does not eagerly or readily do those things. It comes down to personality, a child’s level of development and maturation, the extent to which the child has been exposed to a variety of social situations, and cultural understanding.
And not so much whether or not they attended preschool.
WHAT WE’RE DOING INSTEAD
Homeschooling! Probably not forever, but at least for now, and at the very least up until Kindergarten. Especially if we are not able to get into the charter school we hope to eventually send our kids to.
Our days will be filled with play, with some purposeful activities sprinkled throughout.
We will learn our letter sounds, and get started with reading and writing. We will use math manipulatives to learn how to count by 10s and 5s and maybe even 2s. We’ll count stuff. We’ll introduce the concept of addition and subtraction, if we seem ready. We will go to the library and read a ton of books. We will do playdates and field trips to the zoo, the aquarium, and different places around our hometown. We’ll cut and glue and paint and draw and do a crap ton of art projects.
We won’t be doing many worksheets, but a few here and there to introduce the idea.
And perhaps most importantly, we’ll be participating in the school of life. Learning to sort clothes and switch the laundry and keep our room clean. Testing different ways to measure liquids in the bathtub. Tasting strange new foods in the kitchen and discovering how cooking works. That sort of thing.
Now…does this mean sending your kiddo to preschool is bad? No! Not at all! Lots of kids do very well in preschool, and a lot of preschools are very good. If you or your kids want to give a traditional preschool a try, do it!
But so far, this is working really well for our family. What’s working for yours?