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To Preschool or Not To Preschool

Mar07

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Hi Amalah,

I’ve read your column for years now and always love the advice you give. So, after weeks of indecision about preschool, I decided it was time to ask the expert. I have an awesome 4 year old son. He has a September birthday, so he missed the deadline for going to Kindergarten this coming year. Right now he is going to a mommy-based preschool with some friends from church. Four kids total, each mom takes a turn to teach two times a week. Overall it has been awesome. But! He hasn’t learned anything. He knew his letters, sounds, numbers, etc. before he started. He loves going and being so big with his backpack and playing with his friends is awesome, but he really hasn’t learned anything. So here we are looking at one more year of preschool ahead of him and I’m trying to decide what to do. An in-home preschool around here costs $150-$175/month, for two-three days a week depending on the teacher. At a public daycare-type preschool it’s about twice that. I’m a stay at home mom with a three-year old and 4-month old as well.

Adding an extra $150/month expense to our budget would be a huge financial hit to us. Yes, we could do it, but I feel like we would be sacrificing a lot in order to make it work. But yet I feel like my son WANTS to learn more than what he’s getting from this little mommy group and another year of repeating sounds and numbers is not going to help him and might even bore him. And even if I wanted to do the mommy preschool again, all of the other kids are enrolling in a more formal preschool, so at this point it’s not even an option.

So I go back and forth. Is it worth the money and sacrifice to put him in a “real” preschool? Or do all kids just even out by mid-kindergarten anyway so no one can tell who had preschool and who didn’t? I feel like I have to do something for him, he’ll feel so left out when all of his friends are going to school next year and he’s not anymore. Should I send him to Kindergarten a year early? I’m positive he would pass the screening, but I don’t want to be that mom that tries to prove how smart her kid is, so let’s bump him up a grade! I don’t want him to be at a disadvantage because he would be younger than the other kids, but yet I feel like if I don’t do SOMETHING for this next year then I’m also putting him at a disadvantage. I just want to do what’s best for my son and my family as a whole. Oh goodness, I’m completely overanalyzing this, I know. So, just tell me what to do so maybe I can get some sleep tonight.

Signed,
Preschool Drama Queen

“You will never regret any money spent on your child’s education.”

That’s the advice I got — and ever-so-thankfully followed — a few years ago, when we were debating whether to send our oldest to a private, special-needs preschool. Also a screamingly expensive one. (If you’re looking at $150 a month for preschool, I guess that means we paid for…133 months’ worth. GAH.) It was a huge financial sacrifice, and at the time I had real doubts over whether it was worth it or necessary — we were already getting a half-day of special education preschool for free through the school district! — but we eventually decided to go for it. I wasn’t even 100% sure where the money would come from, so it was very much a “leap and the net will appear” kind of decision.

We do not regret it. At all. It was probably one of the best decisions we’ve made for him. Absolutely life changing, for all of us. If we HADN’T sent him, I’d still be regretting THAT choice and kicking myself for it to this day, because I always would have wondered what he’d be capable of if we’d just tried that program. And the advice I got was absolutely true, even for my other “typical” children who will also have three full years of preschool under their belts before kindergarten. I don’t regret spending any of that money, either. (Though I’m certainly looking forward to getting down to one tuition payment next year, when my second goes to kindergarten, and then being freeeeeeeee in two years or so.)

So, obviously, you asked this question of someone who is hugely, overtly biased and very pro-preschool. My kids were all enrolled in some level of preschool before their third birthdays — my youngest wasn’t even two! I think it’s fundamentally important and not even a little optional and the fact that we don’t guarantee every child in this country at least a year or two of preschool makes me rage-y, because it’s SO GOOD FOR THEM.

My two oldest boys also have September/October birthdays and juuuust miss the cutoff. Pushing them ahead, however, was not ever an option I considered — they’re both quite smart but socially and emotionally? No way were they mature enough at four and and just-turned-five for kindergarten. I hate to gender-generalize, but boys in particular seem to benefit from an extra year of maturity pre-kindergarten.

And that’s the thing. Kindergarten is…intense. I sense we live in very different areas of the country ($150 A MONTH? I’M SO JEALOUS I COULD CRY.), so it’s possible that your public kindergarten isn’t the pressure-cooker environment that it is around here in my Washington DC area/suburb. Here, kindergarten is full day, five days a week, and is basically what you and I would have considered first grade, growing up. Maybe even with aspects of second grade, in terms of academics and structure. Preschool basically IS kindergarten now, and everything else has shifted up accordingly. It’s a brutal transition for just about every kid I know, even for those with plenty of preschool experience. (And yeah: a few kids who did not attend preschool were quickly singled out and put on the remedial/pull-out services track, usually for reading/handwriting.) We upped our second son’s preschool enrollment to full-day this year, in hopes of easing his transition next year.

So I’d encourage you to arrange an observation visit to your local kindergarten and see what it’s like. Obviously, it’s late in the year so you’re not going to get an accurate view of what these kids were like back in September, but you’ll at least get a sense of the class size and social environment and how much sitting and structure will be expected of your son. Kindergarten might be a completely different, laid-back animal where you live, but I think it’s important information to have before you make a decision. (I visited our kindergarten in January a few years back with a group of parents, and I believe our collective reaction was one of OMGWTFBBQ MY KID IS SO NOT READY FOR THIS.)

Academic readiness is really only one small aspect of preschool, honestly. I love how much my kids have learned at preschool, but the social piece has always been just as important. Manners, following rules and directions, working within a group, conflict resolution, hands to yourself, use your words, all that. So if you were, say, to skip enrolling him in a formal preschool in favor of a homeschool curriculum (which might be worth looking into anyway, for your three-year old), you’d definitely want to find some way to get him regular exposure to a structured group setting as kindergarten prep. Which might be difficult to do for free if all his peers are enrolled in preschool, but even just some kind of art or sports class would be good for him, if you can find a reasonably-priced one.

If preschool really will be a financial hardship for your family, investigate every available option you can find. Are there any co-op schools nearby? (Which would be similar to your mommy-run preschool, but possibly with a “real” preschool teacher in charge while parents simply fill in the aide role. They’re typically the most affordable option around here.) The YMCA? Check out Head Start, maybe, or contact your school district or Early Intervention or find out if your county has a childcare referral/voucher program. Our district has a great special education preschool program (PEP), and one of the options is called PEP Pilot, where high-functioning special needs kids attend preschool with “typical” peers. Those typical peers attend for free, and get the benefit of a preschool program designed with the public school kindergarten curriculum in mind.

A homeschool curriculum (you can find a lot of good ones online) might also be more affordable and provide him with a more personalized, academically challenging program — your three-year old can join in as well! — provided you can find some good community resources to get him interacting regularly with peers. Again, a visit to your local kindergarten will be helpful, since you’ll know if he’ll be in a class of 12…or a class of 30.

Anyway, yeah. I personally think you should send him to preschool. It certainly won’t be the end of the world if you don’t — he’s clearly bright and has a loving, involved family and will be JUST FINE, I’m sure — but…you won’t regret it. The sacrifice will be worth it. That I can pretty much guarantee. And if there’s even the slightest chance that you might regret NOT sending him…well, this sadly isn’t one of those situations where you get a do-over.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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51 Responses to “To Preschool or Not To Preschool”

  1. sassy Mar 07 at 12:24 pm Reply Reply

    I started kindergarten at 4 and also skipped 4th grade. I would second the academic readiness is not the be all end all. I did fine until skipping a grade and academically my grades went up and I did much better but especially in middle and high school it was very hard for me to make friends. I really didn’t have any friends until college. My son also barely misses the cut off and we’ve already decided to do preschool for that extra year instead of trying to start him early. Also think about him going to college early he’d be 17 when he graduated then and if he wanted to go away to college he would need your signature for everything. My parents had to sign my apartment lease and I had to drive back home for a weekend to get them to sign a paper saying they give me permission to have a job. It’s not fun. If you still feel he’s ready for  kindergarten then you have to do what’s best for him and not worry about what other people think but it’s worth it to think about what the decision means in the future as well.

  2. Stephanie Mar 07 at 12:35 pm Reply Reply

    So, while I agree with Amy on several points, totally different perspective on the young kindergartener.  Both of my kids have October birthdays.  When they were your sons’ age, the cutoff in Michigan was December 1st.  So it was up to us to decide whether or not to send them to kindergarten as four-almost-five-year-olds.  How I agonized over it with my daughter (the oldest)!  
    Both of my kids went to preschool starting in the three-year-old class (again, as two year olds for a month or so), and the teachers at the preschool assured me that they thought my daughter was more than ready for kindergarten.  But she was on the shy side, and I worried very much about how she’d fare in that department.  Ultimately, we decided to send her to kindergarten “early”.  To be honest, we had a pretty rocky start, mostly due to a rigid teacher, but from January of that year on (and she a sophomore in high school now), I have not regretted it.  Not once.
    We made the same decision with my son three years later, and again, have not regretted it at all.
    That being said, I really think it’s a good idea to sit in on a class where your son would be going if he were to attend kindergarten next year.  It would give you a fair idea of the structure and style of the teacher, the classroom ,and the school.  I would also see if your district offers any “young fives” options.  I know many in our area do now.  If none of those pan out, I would definitely figure out a way to pay for preschool, and make sure that wherever you decide to send him has enough structure and challenge for him, to prepare him for the big K and to keep him from feeling bored.
    Someone told me (in the midst of my kindergarten-related angst) that kids tend to live up to our expectations of them.  If we challenge them and expect them to rise to that challenge (within reason, of course), even if they don’t quite get all the way there, they still live up to what we expect.  Give them room to fail, and they quite often ending up in success.
    And, to repeat what Amy said, you will never regret spending money on your child’s education. 
    Hang in there.  You do know your son best, so explore your options, but always trust your gut.  It’s almost always right.

  3. Krista Mar 07 at 12:54 pm Reply Reply

    My daughter (who has an October birthday)  attended the aforementioned PEP Pilot class for 2 years.  She also attended a preschool program at our local high school (run by students and supervised by their teacher).  Three years of preschool and it cost very little.  See if any local high schools have a preschool program.  Sometimes you have to dig to find low cost options, but they are totally worth it when you do!  

  4. Amy Mar 07 at 12:59 pm Reply Reply

    Research shows that kids who attend preschool have better outcomes than those who do not..  Here’s a good summary of the data:  http://www.ounceofprevention.org/about/why-early-childhood-investments-work.php

    My own kids have gone/will go to a preschool at a nearby church that is phenomenal in terms of academics – I feel that my daughters were extremely well prepared for our competitive school system (nationally ranked #16 for math – boo ya!).  

    Most churches do preschool as part of their outreach mission, so you may be able to negotiate for a break in tuition based on your family’s financial situation – possibly in exchange for doing something around the church – maybe helping out a couple days a week or working in the nursery during services.  You also might check into Head Start and programs along those lines if you can’t afford the tuition.  You might be eligible for either or both.  Also check with the local YMCA and other such entities that may offer preschool – I know the preschool at the YMCA in the town where I grew up is also excellent and is priced competitively, again probably because it is an outreach.  Check with your local United Way for other ideas.

    You might also talk to local private daycares and Montessori schools about working out a reduced fee for services, also.  I know our local Montessori offers a tuition break for the families that help with landscaping and yard work, snow removal, etc.

    If there is any way at all that you can swing it, please send your children to preschool.  I agree 100% with Amalah – you won’t ever regret money spent on education (yours or theirs!)

    Good luck!!

  5. Hi, I'm Natalie. Mar 07 at 1:13 pm Reply Reply

    Yeahhhh… The preschool/kindergarten scene where I live (one of the most highly educated and THE highest income levels in my country) is nothing like DC apparently. Here, probably half of kids go to preschool. Kindergarten is a significant transition, but WAY more mellow than what Amy describes. Here, academics are extremely important, but independent play is even more valued for those age groups. (My brother, who was a geologist before getting his MEd, thinks the structured stuff is WAY overrated for *most* kids.)

    So… I think it probably really depends on your area, and what the grade schools expect/encourage. And what your kid needs.

  6. Meghan Mar 07 at 1:14 pm Reply Reply

    I also agree with Amalah – I would love $150/month preschool. But just wanted to throw out other suggestions for you – definitely contact the Headstart program (they admit based on your financial situation) and also contact your local school district. Several of the high schools in my area run preschools through their early childhood education programs. And I know it is either free or very inexpensive. So just something to check out.

  7. Hi, I'm Natalie. Mar 07 at 1:20 pm Reply Reply

    Regarding the data that says that kids who attend preschool have better outcomes than those who do not…

    The data is skewed by kids who don’t have very educated parents who have the time/resources to spend a lot of quality time with their kids. (Which is probably why the no-preschool kids in my city have an easier time with academics.) So. Know your area. And your family. It’ll be ok.

  8. Cary Mar 07 at 1:45 pm Reply Reply

    Highly recommend checking out at the church preschools. Some may offer 2,3, or 5 times a week based on your needs. We are not religious, but just felt like they had the joy, interaction, and all the warmth you want your child to have in preschool in comparison to some of the other schools we tried.

    However, we live near Austin, TX, in an amazing highly acclaimed school district, but my son was so bored in kindergarten. They spent a great deal of time, making sure kids knew the basics like in/out, up/down, and their ABC’s. If there are any kindergarten round-ups going on in your area check those out. Schedule a meeting with the principal/vice principal and find out what the kindergarten expectations are. A great deal of kindergarten is about behavior. Can they sit quietly, follow directions, be respectful of other students, teachers, etc.

    Best of luck!!!

  9. Jenn Mar 07 at 2:03 pm Reply Reply

    Just wanted to second (third?) about church preschools, unless you prefer not to use them.  We have had wonderful results with a Methodist preschool and my sister’s children go to Lutheran preschool.  Real curriculum, lots of socialization, manners, acting appropriately in group settings, and reading and writing.  And much much cheaper than the secular options we looked at.  

  10. Stephanie Mar 07 at 2:57 pm Reply Reply

    I agree with Amy’s advice. Preschool does great things for kids. Socializes them in a smaller environment than Kindergarten. Children (at least mine) are much more likely to listen and do things for teachers that are not their parents. Your child also needs an opportunity to be without you. It’s an important skill. Now, my children are in full-time daycare, but they have learned so much. They do art, music, science, cooking, dance. Things I certainly would never be able to teach them (reading? yes. math? sure. Art projects? nope). The other day, my husband said the name Helen. My daughter blurts out – “Helen? She can’t see!” Apparently, she learned about Helen Keller. And $150 a month is about what I’ve seen for in-home daycares around here. My daughter starts Kindergarten in August. She will be completely academically prepared, but going from a class of 12 to a class of 30 will be a huge step. I can’t imagine how hard it would be going from 4 kids to 30. Do it. You won’t regret it.

    • Cassie Mar 07 at 4:09 pm Reply Reply

      Heee! My reaction to your response was art projects? YES! Math? SURE! Reading? Well, I make sure he practices the letters the pre-school teacher taught him to write and I read TO him a lot. Does that count? Just proves that all parents have their own strengths. :)

      I think being in daycare/preschool has helped tremendously with those things that I certainly *could* teach my son, but may not think of or do a good job with. In fact my son is 4 now and won’t hit 5 until early December, so he’s going to go to kindergarten as an almost 6 year old. In the mid-year between being ready for K but having outgrown his current daycare/pre-school, we plan on moving him to a more structured & educational pre-school. I think its going to be sooooo good for him to get that practice in before K. But really, YMMV. All kids are different. 

  11. Kate Mar 07 at 3:18 pm Reply Reply

    Definitely check out the kindergarten and talk to teachers or parents of kids who have gone through kindergarten in the last few years. In my daughter’s under-funded urban public school, every child was expected to know how to write his/her name, write every letter (upper and lower case), count to 100, identify quantities up to 20, etc. on day 1. I’m sure there were kids who weren’t quite there yet, but that’s the level the teacher was teaching to. They came home with a list of sight words the first week and have been expected to write short sentences since the end of the second week. From what I can tell, every kid in my daughter’s class had gone to at least one year of preschool (and my city doesn’t guarantee public preschool.) I don’t think knowing how to do these things before the end of kindergarten is going to make the slightest difference in her eventual educational achievement, but I do think feeling like she’s struggling or less capable than the other kids would have long term effects. With my particular kid’s personality, I wouldn’t be worried about her acting out/misbehaving if she felt behind, but I think it’s a concern for some kids. BUT if kindergarten in your district doesn’t require the same level of preparation, none of this matters. It sounds like your kid has already adjusted well to a structured play group setting– and he has to handle things with two siblings at home– so he’ll probably be fine on the socialization front.

  12. emah Mar 07 at 3:29 pm Reply Reply

    There’s also this article:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/the_kids/2013/01/how_important_is_preschool_if_you_are_researching_early_education_philosophies.html

    That said, my kids are going to preschool, so I apparently didn’t buy it :)

    • Elizabeth Mar 11 at 4:05 pm Reply Reply

      ha! this article was all the rage at my daughter’s last parents meeting in her preschool. Oddly, we all agreed with it yet there we were. Sitting in tiny chairs at an accredited program.

  13. Suzy Q Mar 07 at 4:36 pm Reply Reply

    I have nothing to add re: preschool.  No skin in the game, so to speak.

    I just wanted to say thanks to Amy for the “leap and the net will appear” thing.  I needed to hear it for different reasons.

  14. Holly W. Mar 07 at 4:50 pm Reply Reply

    As someone with a preschooler, I agree with Amalah, though mainly for the social reasons. While academically, I’ve always appreciated our full-time preschool, however, the social aspects were really where we saw a huge impact. And to be honest, this is especially compared with other kids my son plays with (neighbors, church, swimming, community activities) – the ones who mostly interact with siblings, small playdates, or even small, in-home care have a lot more trouble navigating busy social situations. things like hitting friends, throwing crying fits, not being patient with the other students, sharing, etc. etc. are all structured behavioral things kids are taught how to manage their reactions in a preschool environment. My son is an angel at home – says please and thank you, picks up his toys, plays nicely with his brother. But it’s a very different animal in a busy, demanding environment with 10, 15, or 30 other kids his age, and we had a lot of work to do when he moved into that environment. 

  15. Olivia Mar 07 at 4:56 pm Reply Reply

    Yep, church preschool. I was hesitant to send my daughter to one because we are not religious, but once all the pros and coins were weighed we went for it and it’s been wonderful. I’m on Indiana and it’s only $94 a month for the extended day program, even less for shorter day program. And the only religion she has come home with is a prayer said before snack time.

  16. Caroline Mar 07 at 5:00 pm Reply Reply

    Just seconding what Amy has said, that education is absolutely a great thing to spend money on. Obviously not if it will mean not eating (!), but kindergarten is such a valuable grounding, and yes, I think children who don’t go, miss out a lot, not just in terms of academics, but on the introduction to what schooling actually is, the social side, the way it works, being part of a group… a whole range of stuff.

  17. traci Mar 07 at 5:18 pm Reply Reply

    This is not meant to be inflammatory, but Amalah and the other posters are giving personal viewpoints that are not grounded in research and they are wrong. I am an experienced early childhood educator, am certified to teach kindergarten, have a Master’s in education and a Bachelor’s in developmental psychology. I’m a big advocate for developmentally appropriate early childhood education and kindergarten, however most of what I see does not fit that description. I’m also a realist. The research shows that preschool is hugely beneficial for at-risk kids and those with developmental delays. Average joe kids see no long term gains over those who don’t do preschool. Also, the long-term benefits for at-risk kids are only gained in programs that are based in play. Sorry, but headstart does not pan out, the benefits fade by 3rd or 4th grade. All of these academically focused preschools are not developmentally appropriate (a lot of kindergarten is going this way too). Look up high scope to get a sense of what’s best. The high scope studies are the only that show long term benefits and they are amazing! Really, our whole system should be designed around these ideas. All that being said, your kid sounds like he fits the bill of preschool won’t hurt, but not doing preschool won’t hurt either. If you can’t afford it there are programs available for free as others mentioned, but you ARE NOT depriving your child or hurting him by skipping preschool. It sounds like you are already giving him the readiness skills he needs and you can invest that money in more enriching experiences. Continue exposing him to group settings, maybe sign him up for a fun group class (martial arts, art class, etc.) that gives a chance to practice following directions in a group setting, read to him a lot, incorporate math into play (patterns, adding, naming shapes, etc.), and if you’re worried about handwriting pick up handwriting without tears.

    As for the early enrollment debate that is entirely dependent on his current developmental state. The social side of things is important for kindergarten success. Can he handle 30 minute increments of focused work or group circle time? Most activities will be in 15-30 minute increments so that’s how long he’ll need to be able to sit in a group and focus. Can he follow multi-step directions (at least 3 steps)? How is he with sharing? Can he work or play independently as well as part of a group? The maturity really varies by child. My sisters and I are all summer birthdays and I have a few cousins (male) who also had summer birthdays. Me and my sisters and one of the cousins started at just barely 5. 1 cousin waited the year until he was 6. The one who waited did spectacularly, he wasn’t ready at 5 and that was okay. My big sister did terribly, she wasn’t ready and was actually pulled out part way and redid kindergarten the next year at 6. I think that had a bad effect on her as she never gained confidence. The rest of us did great even though we were the youngest in our classes. So, you really have to look at your kid and be honest with yourself. If you aren’t sure, have him evaluated by the school and ask them for their honest opinion on his social skills/maturity. The school will be glad you are considering the whole child. Good luck!

    • jessica Mar 07 at 8:07 pm Reply Reply

      This poster can claim to be expert but she’s referencing some very biased data. The study that said Head Start’s benefits fade by 4th grade has been largely discredited. (It was put together by people who wanted to defund Head Start.)

      • betttina Mar 11 at 2:41 pm Reply Reply

        YES, yes, yes to everything Traci says! I’ve taught middle and high school for ten years and it’s amazing how important the social skills are even for older kids to do well in school.

        Are there library programs for his age? Then he could practice sitting still and following directions for 20 or 30 minutes.

        Do you have to sign up for a whole year of preschool? Could you just do next summer before he starts kindergarten? Then you’d have a year to save up for three or four months of preschool.

        I hope this helps! You’ll make the right decision for your family. Trust yourself.

  18. sarabean Mar 07 at 5:26 pm Reply Reply

    Another voice agreeing with Amy. I stay-at-home and preschool was a stretch for our budget (esp since she could be home with me), but it was worth it 100%. Social skills, projects, exploring friendships, starting on K skills. I would echo what everyone else said about church related preschools being more affordable and would encourage you to check out other preschools – lots of them have tuition assistance. Especially with two more kids in the hopper, so to speak, my preschool loves to court parents with several children because often those are guaranteed filled spaces in the future.

  19. lh Mar 07 at 5:34 pm Reply Reply

    Speaking as someone who’s got four kids from 14 to 7, kindergarten has changed SO MUCH just in the 9 years since my oldest was in kindergarten himself. It is *way* more difficult. My youngest was in kindergarten last year and he was expected to know his numbers up to 20 (including being able to recognize them in print), letters, and shapes (including the rhombus, which, idek) from the first day. The kids who didn’t know that stuff got letters and practice books sent home to get them “caught up.” He’s a focused, very bright boy, was prepared, and still it took him 30 minutes just to finish his homework every night.

    All four of my kids have attended pre-K from age three, and it was worth it every time. Even when we were poor college students our oldest was able to get into our university’s lab childcare center on a grant. There is also Title I pre-K in many school districts for students whose parents are low-income, but they fill up fast. If the less expensive options don’t work out but you *can* swing it, I don’t think you’ll regret giving your son the opportunity.

  20. Lindsay Mar 07 at 6:54 pm Reply Reply

    I’m totally nodding to Amy’s point about social education in preschool being every bit as important as academic.

    Amy’s right that preschool is awesome and life changing for so many kids, but it’s especially so for kids who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Which is not the OP’s kid, who already knows his letters and numbers and good behavior in a school-like setting. My take, as someone who researches this professionally, is kids like yours will be fine with or without preschool. You can probably save your money by either skipping preschool or at least going with the less expensive option, if you research it and the setting is clearly safe and positive.

    And if you’re considering head start as an option: the poster above who said that head start doesn’t pan out is only partly right. It’s true head start doesn’t appear to result in 3rd graders that have a higher IQ (if that’s what you care about), but it does seem to magically result in 20 year olds who get arrested less, are more likely to employed, etc. In other words, it appears to teach kids self control, which is every bit as important for success as reading or math. Some centers are better than others, sure, but it’s overall a terrific thing.

  21. Jeannie Mar 07 at 7:37 pm Reply Reply

    I’m pretty pro-preschool myself, as I have two bright kids who really thrived with the social learning that took place with preschool, and who made a seamless transition to kindergarten because of it.

    Having said that? I agree that you are not, in any way, depriving your child of anything by not going to preschool. It’s possible it might make the transition to kindergarten a bit rockier, but that will be over in a couple or three months — and for all you know, he might be SO ready that he will leap into it and never look back.

    So my vote? Preschool is AWESOME if you can find a place that fits your child, your family, and your budget. And if not — your boy is going to be just fine.

  22. Kathleen Mar 07 at 7:50 pm Reply Reply

    Preschool is great is your child has separation issues. It allows them to adjust to being without you before entering the school system. But it sounds like your son has no problem with that — he is already happy with his mommy-based program. So if that’s the case, he totally *doesn’t need preschool*. Preschool is great, but if you are happy with him at home, keep doing that. This is your last year with him! Things are going to change so much once he enters the school system. If you’re able to, keep him with you and savor every second of it.

  23. Deedee Mar 07 at 10:09 pm Reply Reply

    For the socialization and group sharing-type skills in lieu of another year of preschool –  classes for preschoolers at the local gym or Y or recreation center (karate, swimming, music gymnastics, dance, cooking, etc) work well, can be relatively inexpensive and are fun too. Or of course team sports like T-Ball and soccer. Programs at the local library are another option. Our smallish city has a playhouse that does productions once a year with the little kids (Little Red Riding Hood, Wizard of Oz, etc.) I think if you work with your child with their reading and writing at home and get them involved in some outside activities where the learn to follow directions, cooperate with others and socialize in an appropriate manner they should be well prepared for kindergarten.

  24. Jennifer Mar 07 at 11:48 pm Reply Reply

    Re waiting a year for kids to attend Kindergarten, I thought this article was interesting.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/the_kids/2013/09/academic_redshirting_what_does_the_research_say_about_delaying_kindergarten.html

  25. autumn Mar 08 at 2:24 am Reply Reply

    I would suggest a compromise.  Look into community programs for socialization, sports, swimming, etc, and work on the academics at home this year.  Next year, spend the money on “real” preschool.  A Ready 4 K program would be best to prepare him.  It costs a ton, but it will make your life the following year so much easier.

    As to the socialization aspects, my 2 1/2 year old who is totally an introvert, had one of our (adult friends with a similar age child) friends over, and they just knew how to play together.  They were running around our house holding hands or chasing each other with push toys, and they knew how to play together without instruction. A stay at home mom there was amazed, and we replied:  day care kids.  They get socialized.

  26. Nikkles Mar 08 at 3:23 am Reply Reply

    I am afraid I’m also partial to preschool, particularly for the whole experience of larger group size, adapting to the process, etc. the real reason I am chiming in, though, is to gasp at these prices. I live in the Bay Area, and while I knew real estate was more expensive, I hadn’t thought about what that meant for child care and schooling. Our daycare (4 hours x 5 days) was $800. Preschool plus aftercare 3.5 days per week is just over $1,000.

  27. vanessa Mar 08 at 8:36 am Reply Reply

    as a certified early childhood teacher…yes, preschool. (i think preschool should be universal and free, and every kid should go. among other things, schools–ideally–act as a safety net, to help make sure kids are getting what they need at home. obviously not an issue for you, but this is my big personal reason ;) 
    anyway, yes, the science is clear. kindergarten has gotten crazy hard. which is a problem,, but also a fact. and preschool–the academic AND social emotional parts–is vital prep, in addition to just being good for kids. all kids.

  28. J Mar 09 at 1:25 am Reply Reply

    You can do A LOT at home with your child. You don’t have to send him to preschool to get a good educational foundation. Look for a Lakeshore Learning Center near you — they sell many educational toys, books etc. If some things cost too much money, look on eBay for a used version.

    The Kumon workbooks are great too, I’ve found. They have cutting and pasting, mazes (great for pencil skills, problem solving etc). There are lots and lots of math and english workbooks — they will help you identify what your child ”should” be able to do, and then you can work on teaching him those skills. BOB books are amazing. He will start reading to you… they come in a range of levels and again, will help you identify which letter sounds and letter combinations you need to work on with him.

    And you CAN teach him to do this stuff, it’s pretty simple at this stage. :) I have a friend who home-preschools her son with a 2 yr old and newborn at home. She makes a plan for the week/month, complete with themes and goals. You could look for homeschooling resources to give you ideas, even if you don’t intend to continue beyond the preschool stage.

    You can check out local cities recreation brochures… they often have pee wee sports for 3-5 year olds and various enrichment classes. We pay about $5.00 a week for pee wee sports, 2 hour long lessons, and while I didn’t expect much — turns out they are excellent quality.

    Look for your local MOMS International group. They have lots of activities (and you can host some!), so your child will be able to build friendships with a consistent group of kids.

    My child does go to preschool – full time. He’s 4 and started at 2. My 2 year old will start this summer. I love preschool, but have no doubt whatsoever that your child will do just fine if you work on this stuff at home with him and make sure he has the opportunity to socialize. It takes a lot of time and effort, and I would love to do this stuff with my own son if I could (and we do, when we can)…. but your son doesn’t need to be bored or ”behind” because you can’t afford preschool!

    Good luck!

  29. Angela Mar 09 at 11:14 am Reply Reply

    I agree that finding a good school can be an amazing thing for your child, but I do know plenty of people who regret money spent on their child’s education. When my son was 3 I enrolled him in a preschool that was a little pricier than the norm because I wanted to give him the best start horrible. I did research the program but around here they do not let parents observe classes. I toured the school, met the teachers and talked about the curriculum/schedule. I got the impression that it was play-based when it was not. Apparently when they listed “learning activity” on the schedule they actually meant “worksheet” or “heavily-directed craft.” The kids spent a lot of time sitting down and it wasn’t a good fit for my son.

    This year he qualified for free preschool because we live in a Title 1 area. The Title 1 school is essentially a watered down version of Head Start. They only meet 3 days a week for 2 hrs but the teachers are the same and curriculum is similar. It has been a God-send. He has absolutely blossomed this year. I do not believe I would have gotten better results at a private preschool.

    In addition I know people who have been thrilled with an inexpensive in-home preschool or have done a great job home schooling (if you went that route though I highly recommend purchasing a curriculum). I also know parents who sent their kids to expensive, fancy private schools only to find that public school was a better option for them. I’m not denying there’s some awesome private schools out there but there’s also some crappy ones and some great public ones.

    Another thing is that around here kindergarten is not nearly as rigorous as Amy described. You may want to get him tested and talk with the teachers to see whether they feel he’s ready (not just academically but socially as well). Because he only missed the deadline by a month I don’t think his age will put him at a disadvantage if he’s truly ready in all other respects. If they do full day kindergarten in your district I probably would recommend some sort of summer day camp or preschool daycare that keeps a similar schedule for a few weeks so you can gauge how he tolerates it. The full day can be pretty rough on some kids so you’d want to make sure that he’s ready for that as well. 

  30. Amy Renee Mar 09 at 2:28 pm Reply Reply

    I think one of biggest factors is going to be whether K is all day or 1/2 day. If all day, I highly recommend preschool simply to ease the transition – all day K was a rough transition even for my kid who’s been in preschool/daycare all day his whole life. Academically, he would probably be fine either way – but socially and emotionally it would probably be an easier transition with preschool in between.
    One other factor no one has mentioned here is germs. When I worked at a public school, th attendance officer pointed out that you could tell which kids had attended preschool or daycare vs being with stay at home parents (or grandparents or nanny) simply by looking at their attendance records. The kids who were in school for the first time missed 2-3x more school, because they got every single cold & flu that came around, having not been exposed to those germs already. For kids with good academic support at home it wasn’t a huge deal, but for kids who started out below average academically they really struggled.
    I would add that you really should look at/ask for scholarships for preschool, even if you aren’t “poor”. A lot of schools have them for exactly families like yours (and mine!) where the whole cost of the program is beyond our reach or would require major sacrifices, but we could afford to pay part of the tuition.

  31. Stephani Mar 09 at 3:04 pm Reply Reply

    Another Early Childhood educator here, and just for clarification, The High Scope studies that Traci sites above are actually taken from studying the Perry Preschool. This highly respected curriculum is the one that any certified Head Start program would be using.

  32. jill Mar 09 at 6:14 pm Reply Reply

    For background, my oldest started 2 (half) day a week preschool at 3.5 and is now in 4 (half) day a week preschool at 5.  He will start kindergarten in the fall, but he asked to stay for “lunch bunch” two days, so actually he’s there til 2:30 twice a week and LOVES it.  His kindergarten will be 9-3 5 days, so I’m actually glad we increased his time now so he’s used to it.
    That said, I definitely understand not wanting to spend a lot of money on what seems like a bunch of extra play time.  I will second all the above who said to look into a church option.  We are definitely not a religious family, but my son has attended first a Lutheran and now Presbyterian preschool and really neither one of them pushed the religious teaching much at all and they are WAAY cheaper than other private options.
    Barring that, though, is it possible for you to get together with the other moms in your group and take some sort of class to learn how to make your preschool group more like an actual school?  I’m guessing most of the moms take their day and do an art project and read a book and call it good.  Maybe you would have better luck finding an actual homeschool type program that you all stick to so that the kids get more of the school experience and less play-with-friends time.

  33. Frances Mar 10 at 12:59 am Reply Reply

    I do not live in the USA and (thankfully) am not affected by the insanity that seems to have gripped the US education system — but frankly, I am appalled by the notion that preschool should include anything that could be described as “academic”.  It SHOULD be “a bunch of extra play time” — collaborative, exploratory, discovery-based PLAY.   They’re little kids!  They’ll learn so much more exploring the world around them and messing around with art supplies and building things with the recycling and listening to stories and counting the forks when they set the table and pressing the buttons in the elevator and just running around outside.  Time enough for “academics”  when they get to actual school.

    Having said that it’s good for children to learn to pay attention to other adults and to play nicely with others…but it doesn’t take a preschool to do that.  Find a music class and some swimmings lessons, storytime at the library and and maybe a playgroup and you’ve got it covered.

    • Nicole Mar 10 at 12:08 pm Reply Reply

      I participated in an early childhood education program for a couple of years with my daughter. She played with other children her age while I sat in a class learning about parenting and child development. I am so incredibly grateful for the experience because I was provided with resources that helped me understand how important it is for my child to be able to play. … And it made me feel disappointed in how the U.S. does focus SO MUCH on an academic approach to learning when children are still so young.

      For that reason, I have kept my child out of preschool. Instead, we go to playgroups, we go to library story times, we take our own field trips to museums and other facilities that offer hands-on activities and learning. I’ve enrolled my daughter in gym classes and dance classes on top of the early childhood classes we participated in so she could have some experience with more structure. 

      I was just commenting to my husband the other day that I get frustrated by the reactions I receive when people ask if my daughter is in preschool and I say no. It is okay to not send your child to preschool. There are other options. And from someone who has been really tight on money, I personally don’t think the added stress at home and decreased patience I have for distractions and frustrations because I’m constantly worrying about the monthly budget is worth it, especially not for really little kids.

  34. Angela Mar 10 at 7:37 am Reply Reply

    I am also a SAHM (who just started working from home very-part-time) and I wasn’t sure whether my son would benefit from two years of preschool vs. one.

    I ended up enrolling him at age 3 for two years basically because when my daughter, my oldest child, was preschool age, I was working and she was in a preschool daycare program, and I wanted my son to have a preschool experience similar to my daughter’s.

    He really enjoys the program and his face lights up when we tell him it’s a school day. Right now he goes two mornings a week; next year he will go three morning a week. It’s a play-based program

    With that said, I have a friend who couldn’t fit any preschool in the budget for her two children so she home preschooled both of them. We are fortunate to live in an area where there are plenty of free group-based social activities for kids under 5 – reading groups at the library and playgroups. She took her children to these groups. 

    Her oldest is in first grade and seems to be thriving–both socially and academically. She is in the top reading group. 

    And we live in an area where Kindergarten is intense – like what first grade used to be. And first grade is like second grade. 

    This has been a challenge with my daughter who is in first grade. My first grader has the mental capacity of a second or third grader but the emotional maturity of a Kindergartener or preschooler.

    And while I believe she could learn to be more disciplined and make some better choices, I also believe the 15 minutes of recess she gets in the public schools is NOT enough. I wish we could afford a Montessouri school for her, which as I understand, gives first graders 30 minutes of recess.

    I have a smart girl who loves to learn but hates school. And while I’m not the type parents who believes my child can do no wrong, I do believe that introducing more academics, earlier and earlier does more harm than good for many children. But I guess that is a slightly different topic.  

    • DontBlameTheKids Mar 10 at 1:04 pm Reply Reply

      I agree that introducing academics too early and too intensely is a problem, and there are many crazy places in the ultra-competitive DC that I would never send my girls to. The preschool we use teaches basic math, reading, and writing, but also does a lot of play interspersed throughout. The math etc is done through games. I think they do a good job of teaching without making it stressful.

  35. DontBlameTheKids Mar 10 at 1:01 pm Reply Reply

    Like Amy, I live in DC, so preschool here is…exactly 10 times as much. I am incredibly jealous right now. We made a lot of sacrifices to do preschool, but it was so worth it. I can only imagine that it will be for your child, too, especially given his age. He is probably ready for kindergarten, and could be pretty bored without some sort of structured schooling. It’s your money and your life, but please remember this: The early years, as far as education goes, are the most important. I could send you a hundred links on the subject, but please just google it. Because I’m lazy.

  36. camille Mar 10 at 1:36 pm Reply Reply

    Our daughter had been attending preschool for the past two years (starting at 2.5 yrs), but basically came unglued when she started again in September. We pulled her out (my husband is an at-home parent, with a son two years younger than our daughter), which was a hugely difficult decision because preschool=future educational success, right? Well, it depends. Here are a few articles I found helpful, which basically found that in homes with attentive, caring adults (i.e. parent at home and actively interacting) preschool can actually be detrimental. Our daughter turns 5 on Thursday (and our son will be three next week), and we don’t do anything formal school-wise, but she is reading, doing math (subtraction and addition…starting to get multiplication and division), knows a ton about animals, etc. Our son has never been to preschool and has all the skills on the “kindergarten readiness” chart we have from the school district. If preschool is going to be a huge financial stretch for your family, I think you can take comfort in the fact that your mama-based preschool and all you do as an attentive parent will be sufficient. Good luck….I know that this is so stressful.

    http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB121936615766562189

    http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2005/11/01_pre.shtml

    http://www.stanford.edu/~sloeb/papers/How%20Much%20Too%20Much.pdf

    http://www.cdhowe.org/pdf/commentary_237_english.pdf

  37. JCF Mar 10 at 9:55 pm Reply Reply

    I know I’m a bit late to the game in commenting, but I wanted to chime in with our experience.

    First of all, all of the studies that show enormous long-term benefits of preschool are focused on under-privileged/at-risk kids.  This is not your son.  

    Second of all, I am going to disagree with Amy and say that you might regret spending money on your kid’s education.  If your family really can’t afford it, you may regret spending that money.  My oldest did not attend preschool at all, mainly because of finances.  We live in an area with insanely expensive preschool, and we just could not swing it financially without sacrificing some other pretty big things.  I worked with him on early childhood skills (counting, letters, cutting, pasting, folding, stringing beads, etc).  We played a lot.  Outside, inside, with other kids, alone, etc.  In fact, he did not attend kindergarten because the schools in our neighborhood at the time were TERRIBLE.  SO TERRIBLE.  I homeschooled him that year, and we participated in a super cheap co-op, and I even offset the cost of that by teaching a class. I was also home with two other toddlers at home during that time.  He’s now in 1st grade at our excellent neighborhood public school, and he is absolutely thriving.  I have absolutely no regrets about what we did regarding his first 5 years.  It was right for my family.  It was right for my kid.  You’re the one who knows your kid, your family, and your finances.  

    Now that we’re in a better place financially and we live in a better neighborhood, my 6yo is in public school, my 5yo is in a private pre-k, and my 3yo is home with me.  Next year, my 5yo will be in public kindergarten, and my 3yo will be in the private pre-k.  And everybody is doing just as well with a totally different experience from my first.  Everything is going to be fine, no matter what you choose.

  38. kimm Mar 11 at 12:41 am Reply Reply

    My son loves his half day,2 days a week preschool. He is such a social person, I wanted him to get to play with other friends. He has learned so much, he is doing great at sharing and being patient, loves his teachers. And its nice to have 1 on 1 time with my new baby. Anyway, see if u can find something u can afford, its worth it.

  39. Susan:) Mar 12 at 3:03 pm Reply Reply

    It sounds to me like your son would be fine not going to preschool, since he already knows the basics and has been in a preschool setting already. Of course you have to do what you think is best. But I would recommend doing a lot of fun and enriching experiences at home and around town. Especially since you also have a three year old who would benefit from that.  I take care of my two nieces. The older one is in kindergarten this year. She went to a 2 morning a week preschool at the YMCA when she was three, but stayed home with me during her last year before kindergarten. Academically, she was more than ready for school by age three. But she did more maturity. She took swim and dance classes and I took her and her sister ( 21 months younger) on lots of local field trips: the zoo, parks, botanical gardens, indoor play places, museums, aquariums, etc. We did art projects at home, she had play dates with friends from her earlier preschool program. And she had plenty of time to just play and be a kid before starting the formal academic world of kindergarten. 

    How did she adjust to school this year?  She had a rough start. Her first week she was nervous and unused to the structure. She got in trouble for too much talking and not listening to the teacher. But it only took a week, and then she was fine. She adjusted and did wonderfully. She and her teacher love each other and she has lots of friends and she is one of the smartest kids in the class. So missing out on preschool didn’t hurt one bit. And now I’m relishing my last year at home with little sister, who is also learning everything at home with me and going on fun outings and all that. And still taking swim and dance classes. :)

  40. Mary Mar 14 at 7:14 am Reply Reply

    I was just debating spending the money on a montessori program for my daughter…timely advice. Thanks!

  41. Elizabeth Mar 14 at 12:39 pm Reply Reply

    I am completely pro-preschool but where oh WHERE does this person live? We pay approx. $1,500 a month for private preschool!!!! Do I think kids who do not attend preschool are at a detriment to those that do? No. But I also think that it is excellent preparation for kindergarten. I don’t know anyone who regrets sending their child. 

    • Brenda Mar 18 at 11:26 pm Reply Reply

      I’m glad so many were surprised by the cost.  With twins who will be attending preschool in the fall (mandatory 3 days or more), the cost is $130/DAY!

  42. Lars Mar 15 at 12:50 am Reply Reply

    OP here,  thanks so much for all of the good advice. Since everyone is asking, I’m in Gilbert, AZ.  There are several former kindergarten teachers-turned preschool teachers that have little classrooms set up in their homes.  They all keep their prices pretty reasonable.  I think I’ve FINALLY made up my mind to send him to one that my friend already has her son enrolled this year, so we could carpool.  $135/month for M/W/F from 9-12.  I also found out my husband’s work has a flexible spending plan that we can contribute for preschool to help off-set some of the cost.  

    I don’t feel like I’ll harm him anyway by not sending him, but I know that he wants to do something.  I’ve already arranged a little mommy-teach preschool for my 3-yo and i can’t just have nothing for my 4 yo.  So anyway, long story short, i’m bracing myself for the costs, which sound incredibly reasonable now that I’ve heard from everyone else!

    Thanks again Amalah and everyone else!

  43. Kim Mar 16 at 2:53 am Reply Reply

    I’m a huge fan of the co-op model.  Having  said that, I;m shopping for a new program right now for my four year old.  Play-based is where my heart is, but her  7yo sister has had  a much rougher academic transition than I had expected.  Now I’m shopping for a secular pre-k near our elementary school so that she’ll get a head start on academics and meet some kids who will be in her class.

  44. Athena Apr 20 at 5:21 am Reply Reply

    Being from NZ, reading the education posts here is always kind of confusing. Because… preschool and *then* kindergarten? Just… what? Here, those two are the same thing. And the cut off is sometime near September? Isn’t that the month school *starts* there? So, the equivalent of maybe February here?

    So, I can’t quite grasp how five days full time is “high-pressure” when kindergarten appears to be the same thing/age/something as year one here, which, y’know… first year of school. Just… school. Nothing part-time or part-week about that, that’s what preschool is for. And even then, April is considered an early cut-off here. Time is not my strong suit, so I may be getting confused here, but I’m pretty sure a cutoff just before the start of the school year disqualifying a kid who turned 5 just as school was starting means… mostly a lot of kids starting at or near 6. So, even less pressure.

    I will concede to the absurdity of what they’re expected to know on arrival that @If listed, though. I don’t know so much about the numbers and letters, five was too long ago and I was advanced besides, but honestly, a rhombus? *Rhombus*? Yeah, I know what one is (and just barely remember), but sure as hell I didn’t learn that when I was five. How on earth…? Who even says rhombus anyway? Or uses them? (at least in a “you know what this needs? A rhombus” sense, anyone can draw a shape without knowing its name, just… how many people out there need to know what it’s called?

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