to preschool, or not to preschool?

When I was little, I didn’t go to preschool.  I thought this was normal: the little girl down the block didn’t go, either.  As an adult I have learned that, then and now, EVERYONE goes to preschool.  Our family and the one down the block were apparently anomalies.

Our oldest turned three last fall; thus, he would be eligible for a typical three-year-old preschool class this coming fall.  At the beginning of the calendar year, when all the local preschools were opening enrollment for the coming fall and advertising open houses (which, by the way, seems totally wrong—to have to sign up for preschool six months in advance for someone for whom six months is like a lifetime), ‘Love and I investigated.  So far, so good.

We visited the preschool that meets in our church.  It gets rave reviews from parents, and I’ve heard it favorably compared to other area preschools by more than one seemingly choosy mom.  Then it got complicated.  You see, I bothered to look at the curriculum outline provided at the open house.  It had a list of objectives, and it included items like the following (my responses in italics):

–          Learn to play nicely, taking turns and sharing.  Shouldn’t children already have a basic understanding of that if they’re preschool age?   I mean, I know they aren’t great at it, but isn’t this something that you’re supposed to be working on at home and on playdates?  I guess this one is fine and all, but it’s nothing earth-shattering.

–          Identify primary colors.  Surely they can’t mean primary colors, can they?  I mean, that’s only red, yellow, and blue.  No, no, they really do mean it—here in the four-year-old objectives it lists secondary color identification.  Seriously?  Our kids knew their primary colors by age two!  This is ridiculous.

–          Learn the alphabet.  Learn it?  That’s it?  Doesn’t every kid walk through the door already singing the alphabet song? 

–          Discuss seasons.  I don’t need to send the kids to school to discuss seasons.  I do that perfectly well at home. 

The whole list continued along those lines.  Now, I don’t think my kids are uncommonly brilliant or anything, so I’m surprised that items like these make it into a curriculum list.  Maybe I’m expecting too much of parents, figuring that they DO sing the alphabet song at home and talk about the world around them…but I’d like to think that’s pretty normal, basic parenting stuff.

One brief visit to the preschool revealed five little children seated at a table, quietly squeezing appropriate-sized drops of glue onto ever-larger dots; another stop at church found the whole preschool in pajamas, gathered to watch a Disney movie for the duration of their school day.

For this, I would pay about $150 per month.  If I wanted my child to “learn through fun,” I would have to pay an extra fee and send him for an additional day.

Shouldn’t all learning be done through play—fun—at this age?  Isn’t that what researchers have been telling folks?  I mean, I watch my son pour water in the tub, and he’s checking out how fast it flows through the different sized holes in the bottom of the cups, looking to see what happens if he pushes that hole-riddled cup into the tub water, what it does if he tips it sideways…  He’s learning all the time, and it’s accomplished through his own curious play and through the questions he thinks to ask me.

After being thus disappointed by a highly-regarded local preschool, I looked into a few more, only to be similarly let down.  Curricula included items that my kids have already soaked up, for the most part, and the formats just did not impress me–they were just like big kid school, only with pint-sized students.

First day of school

This is me on my first day of kindergarten. Little did I know the torture ahead of me…

I was a teacher.  I say this to clarify that I have nothing against school as an institution, necessarily, but…  For both my husband and me, school was not a pleasant place.  He was always a head taller than his classmates and was introverted to boot; I was a perfectionistic lover of learning with a large vocabulary.  Neither of us particularly fit in with our classmates.  Beyond that, it was boring—full of repetition, painfully slow lessons, and meaningless worksheets.

Our children are doomed.  Not only were their parents misfits, but we are passing our craziness along.  We never did bother to hook up the antenna on our analog TV after moving nearly two years ago.  We live very frugally and don’t spend much money on toys or entertainment.  We read—a lot.  We go to church weekly.  We garden.  We despise the commercialization of childhood and avoid anything with Disney’s Princess or Cars—or any other TV-character-turned-product-pusher— when humanly possible.  Our poor, precious little dears are not going to fit in well with their classmates.

My dilemma, then, is twofold.  First, is there any point to sending a child to preschool?  Do they actually gain anything from the experience?  I doubt they’re going to gain much on the academic front, but will any social gains be big enough to justify the price tag?  (It’s not cheap—and on a tight budget, there’s going to have to be significant sacrifice to find enough money to pay for the experience.)

And second, do I really want to send my kids off to school any earlier than I really have to?  School is where you discover that you don’t fit, where you learn that it’s not okay to make mistakes.  School is where you worry about whether others like you or not, and where you are laughed at and ridiculed by those who don’t.  Do I really want to send my little ones to that doom any earlier than I need to?  Or is it okay to keep them home with me for another year or two, to send them to Story Hour at the library and to Sunday School at church and to have playdates for “socialization”?  Can I let them learn in their own way and encourage their curiosity and delight in discovery at home—or will I be depriving them of something greater?

I know if I do choose to skip preschool, I will be branding myself a misfit among local mommies.  I’ve already begun to get the questions—“Isn’t Peatie old enough for preschool yet?”  “You’re not sending him in the fall?  Certainly you’ll send him NEXT year though!”  Must I be a misfit again to protect my little ones for a bit longer?  Or will it only make things worse for them, too?  Oh, the many questions of motherhood!


18 thoughts on “to preschool, or not to preschool?

  1. I know what you mean. I got a lot of looks because I waited to send my kids to preschool when they were three and not two! The horror! They each went two days a week then and when they turned four, they only went three days a week. A lot of places go four or five days a week at that age, so I was lucky to find that. I really wasn’t ready to send them every day yet, but I did want them to get used to a school routine. My kids are shy and having been home with me all that time, I didn’t want kindergarten and leaving me to be hard on them. They both had a great experience.

    I will say that kindergarten is a long (full) day here and I personally felt like not having been to preschool would have been a shock to them. It was a big adjustment anyway to go every day.

    But you’re right. It is just preschool and as far as learning goes, you can do it all and more. And much cheaper!

    • I wasn’t planning to do preschool at all–until they did away with half-day kindergarten here this year. Now I’m torn. If kindergarten stays full-day, I’m pretty much obligated to send them for at least a year of pre-k for the same reason you did.

  2. I wonder about preschool too. Most preschools I looked into prefer that you enroll at 3 years old because that’s the earliest they’ll take you. But for me, ideal is 4 or 5 so that they have some sort of prep time before they hit kindergarten.

    We visited a few places and one seemed like it would be a good learning environment except that I don’t know if it fit my toddler’s personality. They have half days so that might be what I would look into; he would have a bit of experience for a few hours a day.

    Decisions, decisions!

      • $5k per month?! The most expensive I found which I didn’t bother looking into was 1600+/month.

        I did notice that the more economic ones had a ton of kids (it looked like a happy place, just not one my kid would probably like much), or was in a less-than-stellar neighborhood.

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  4. Could you keep doing what you are doing and tell those that question that you are homeschooling for preschool? In fact, I bet there are preschool homeschooling groups you could find and then you would have a group of people to relate to where you don’t have to feel like a misfit, and your kids get to know other kids that are likewise not going to preschool. It sounds like you are very actively involved in teaching them all the expected academics and beyond so basically you are already homeschooling and just not labeling it as such. By associating with people in a homeschooling group you would get a lot for new fun activity ideas. I know I have found so much online that is helping me. I may need to enroll my son in a preschool a couple of days a week at least even though I have always planned on homeschooling because my son is speech delayed and will likely need more hours of peer group interaction (once the group therapy stops at 3 years old) than he gets in normal social offerings at home. Still I will consider myself a homeschooler because of the things we do the other days of the week. By doing this you are not committing to anything beyond each year. If you always planned on them going to school, just because you are homeschooling for preschool doesn’t mean your stuck for the rest of their school years. Considering how your school experience went though you may find as time goes by you naturally decide to do so. Who knows? Sorry for such a long rambling comment. 🙂

    • If we plan to send the kids to the public school for kindergarten, I feel like I almost have to send them away for preschool. We now have 5 full-day kindergarten here, so I think it would be unfair to make them go from full-time at home to full-time in school without any middle step.

      I’ve considered homeschooling particularly in the early grades, since I was a teacher and love learning with my kids. (I was even homeschooled in 3rd grade by my former-teacher-mom since my 2nd grade year had undermined my confidence so badly that my standardized test scores plummeted from beginning to end of year.) But even though homeschooling has become more mainstream, there’s still such a stigma attached. I want what’s best for my kids both academically and socially, and I also want to keep other people’s perception of them positive.

      Why did you make the choice to homeschool?

      • It sounds like your reasons are very well thought out. Going from full time at home to all day kindergarten would be a very difficult adjustment for a child!

        As far as my reasons for wanting to home school… My own schooling experience was damaging in many ways. If there is a good school where my son can thrive, I have no problem with him attending, but I like knowing I have options and alternatives and I don’t have to just watch him experience what I went through.

        I live in an area where there is not such a stigma around homeschooling, and I have known many homeschoolers who are perfectly well socialized. In some cases better socialized, as homeschool groups tend to be multi-age and these children learn to relate well to other children beyond their own age group. I also find that they tend to be kinder and more compassionate than the children I taught in my years as a public school teacher.

        During my time as a teacher I became so aware of all the wasted time during the school day due to logistics of herding 30 children through the same activities. Then there are weeks lost to prepping and practicing for standardized tests and then the administration of those tests. I so often wanted to have one on one time with a struggling student or to delve deeper into a topic of particular fascination for my students but could not, even though I often opened up my classroom during lunch and always stayed very late after school. By homeschooling we can cover material that takes an entire school day in just a couple hours leaving time for deeply pursuing the children’s personal interests, field trips and the ability to travel as a family. We can explore extra-curriculars through community and homeschool group offerings and not be limited to only what is available at the particular school they would have attended. And I believe that by law the kids will still have access to the extra-curricular activities offered at the school as my family will still be paying the taxes that support the schools. My son is now only 2 so I haven’t looked into this too carefully yet.

        I have other reasons but this comment is already quite long! At this point I am just planning to take it year by year, and give my son (and any other children we might have) a large part in the decision making process, especially as he gets older.

  5. We’re not doing preschool either and I’m already getting questions about it (our daughter turns three this fall). Wait until they find out we’re planning on homeschooling! I agree that “socialization” through church, library and family activities is more than enough at this age. And academically preschool would not be advantageous for our daughter…not to mention I don’t want her to associate learning with anything other than play at this time.

  6. I can understand how the curriculum can seem very rudimentary for a typical stay at home kid, and if you are sending your child purely for the academics, it doesn’t seem like it will benefit their educational growth much.

    For me the point of sending my boys to preschool was for the fun and social aspects of it. They both loved preschool, each attended a different one- my first went to a Montessori based and my second was in a more traditional setting. Both made friends, which is fairly easy at 3 and 4, before kids get too snotty and judgmental, and they loved their teachers. They learned, maybe not as much as I expected, but the learning wasn’t boring and they were always very excited about going to school. The early experience also prepared them for the social aspects and routines of kindergarten.

    Don’t worry so much about being a mommy misfit- unhappy mothers will always find a way to condemn you- it has nothing to do with you as a person and everything to do with their own issues. 🙂

    • Thanks for the reply! I do think he’d enjoy the time with other kids, and I would love for him to find friends he enjoys rather than just whatever kids happen to go with the parents I know. (Though I would feel bad for him going to kindergarten and starting all over…not that it’s such a big deal at that age, but still!) I’ll probably send him next year, though the cost vs. benefit ratio will still be shaky.

  7. Philosophically, I’m a huge fan of homeschooling. Unfortunately (?) being a homeschool mom/teacher is a terrible fit for my personality. My kids are daycare kids so pre-school becomes a part of the program as they get older. The benefits are the social time with friends and learning independence in preparation for the school years. Other than that, you’ll have to make the choice that works for you and your kids and toss the ol’ stink eye at anyone who thinks its their business to tell you what to do in this case!

    • At the moment, it’s the agony of trying to determine what WILL work for me and the kids that’s getting me. There are many things to like about school, and if I did homeschool, I’d just do it for the first couple years because I do want my kids to experience the school environment. I just hate that I have to make this choice now, despite the fact that we wouldn’t start preschool for a year and kindergarten for two years. (I guess I can ignore preschool and push the decision back to K, but like I said, I don’t feel like it’s fair to go from full-time playing at home to full-time, 5-day/all-day school at 5.) Glad you managed to find something that’s a good fit for you!

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  9. You most definitely don’t need to send your kids to preschool if you are looking to give them a solid education. As a matter of fact, a dedicated parent will do a MUCH better job at teaching their kids at that age. I just think it would be a shame if the decision is based on financial grounds

    • It’s not based solely on finances, though that does have an effect. (A year of preschool would be a stretch, but can be done if we really found it to be compellingly worthwhile.) I just have a hard time believing that it’s worth PAYING for someone to watch my kid while he squeezes glue, plays with cars, or watches a video. I can do that myself–and then some. Maybe (remotely affordable) preschools in other areas are much better. Around here the only ones that look anything near decent, providing hands-on, guided learning through play and experimentation (not just seatwork or videos), are WAAAAY out of our price range, so I think I’ll stick with playdates and learning-at-home.

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