Friday, April 9, 2010

To Preschool Or Not?

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I had a reader as me to share my thoughts on sending children to preschool or not, so here we go.

First, I don't think sending your little preschooler to preschool is necessary. My mom didn't send me, and I think my life turned out great. So as one who has not been there, I can say it is not a necessity. I think a mother can quite easily teach a child everything she needs to know to be ready for kindergarten academically. You can also prepare for the social aspect through various activities like small playgroups, large playgroups, playing with the neighbors, sports, and most especially church primary if you do that.

That is not to say nothing is gained from preschool. You child could and would learn a whole lot--and not just academically. Studies suggest all gains made in preschool, however, are lost by about second grade. By second grade, most students find themselves on a more even playing field.

But on the flip side, there is the whole idea of "first impressions." Your child only gets one shot at a first impression at school. On Becoming Preschoolwise talks about this in conjunction with being sure your child is ready for school. If not, it can set your child up for difficulty throughout her academic career. Does that sound dramatic? I can tell you it does not to me in the least. I have seen that happen. I believe preschool can set your child up at a better shot for success in kindergarten. I also think a preschool teacher can better help you to know if your child is ready for kindergarten or not, which is very valuable to those children with later birthdays.

With that out of the way, let me share a bit about our preschool experience here.

With Brayden, I was able to spend a lot of time one on one with him. Kaitlyn was an easy baby and a big sleeper. We had lots o time available to us, and really needed that structured learning time each day to get us both through with some sanity. Along came McKenna, who also was an easy baby and great sleeper. I continued being able to work with him.

Brayden also has fun neighbors and friends to play with, along with great learning opportunities in church for learning to sit quietly, raise his hand, walk, stand in line, etc. With all of his experiences, there was no real need for preschool on any level. Never-the-less, he goes to preschool.

We started him when he was 4--his last year before kindergarten. I really must say that I am amazed at how much he learns at school. He only goes three days a week for 2.5 hours at a time. But there is something about the environment that makes him learn so much more than he does at home. He pretty much has the best preschool teacher on the planet--I am sure that something to do with it :). I really only hoped to have him gain a better grasp on the social aspects of school, and he has gained so much more. At his kindergarten screening, he scored a perfect score. The teacher, who has been teaching there for about as long as I have been alive, was very shocked and impressed with him. After the test, she asked me about what else he already knows and was impressed.

Now, I don't just send Brayden off to preschool and ignore all academic learning at home. I take note of things he needs help with and we will work on them at home. One day I was talking to his teacher and she expressed that she hopes moms are happy with what their children are learning there. The funny thing is that struck me as an odd comment. It never really ocurred to me to expect her to teach him things. Like I said, my hopes for preschool were all on a social level. I also don't expect her to teach my child everything he needs to know in life--that is not her job in my eyes (even though she does it). So I kind of have a different view on what is to be gained from preschool than perhaps others do.

Kaitlyn and McKenna will also be attending this same preschool when they are four--their last year before kindergarten. I have loved the experience and loved the teacher.

So now you all know that I love preschool and will do it with future children. What about my caveats? Of course I have them :)

One is the age of my child. You may have noticed that my children are quite old when they go to their first year of preschool. In many parts of the United States, children to to "preschool" starting at age two. My opinion is that is too young.

The age is a pretty easy decision for me. Culturally, in my area, parents don't send their kids to preschools or any sort of organized sport until age three at the earliest (other than perhaps swimming lessons). Most don't until age four. There isn't some written rule we all follow, it is just what we do. When I ask moms about it, I get comments about moms wanting to keep their child home with them for as long as they can.

This isn't some inability to cut the apron strings. The moms around me are highly concerned with moral values. They want their children armed with the ability to make moral decisions correctly before sending them off unsupervised. Yes, a teacher is present, but you cannot expect a teacher to be able to control every word and conversation said in the classroom.

This ties into another caveat of mine, and that is the environment. If there were no preschools and teachers around where I could trust the environment, I wouldn't send my children at all. Yes, a teacher can't control everything, but she can try and she can pass on those same values you hold dear to your children. Most kids love their teachers. Hearing the teacher say, "you get what you get and you don't throw a fit" is another authority figure in your child's life teaching about accepting what you are given (don't you love that phrase? That is from Brayden's teacher).

I am able to trust Brayden's teacher and I also know that the kids in that class are taught values similar to ours at home. There have been times Brayden has come home and said something I didn't like. It hasn't been any profanity or anything, just whining words or calling Kaitlyn a "goose." Because of his years at home with our moral training and because of his age and ability to understand moral reasoning, I can tell him we don't say that word or call people names and that is the end of it.

This age of four is a great time to work on this with your child. Remember that moral comprehension really starts around the age of three. Up until three, you have been teaching correct actions without much explanation. Based on the maturity of your child, somewhere around three you start to add moral reasoning. Instead of just "we don't pick the flowers," we add in "we don't pick the flowers because they aren't ours" or "because other people want to be able to look at them, too." So you now have a year or more to apply the "why" behind your "hows" with your child.

So by age four, your child is ready to step out of the home without mom hovering over him for short periods of time. He can practice what he has learned. He can test the waters while the stakes are low and while he still cares about what mom has to say. At age four, mom is still cooler than classmate. Mom is still the smartest person around and still has the final word.

I would never send my child to "preschool" at age two unless I was sitting in the room with her the entire time to make sure she was behaving correctly. I don't hover around my children at all times; I do allow them to go to church nursery without me there :) But I don't even really let Kaitlyn go to the neighbors without me with her yet--and I trust my neighbors. I just feel like she still needs my guidance and isn't ready to be set out on her own.

With that in mind, I still don't want to send them at age three. Kaitlyn is ready and greatly desires to go to school just like Brayden. She could go at three; our teacher does a three year old class. She is very smart and very socially capable. I want to send her because she would love it. But I feel very strongly that I need to keep her with me that extra year to continue teaching her these morals. I want her to be one year stronger on her moral front when I send her out there. I think a three year old is still tender. A four year old is much stronger in that regard.

So there are my rambling thoughts on preschool. These are some things for you to think over in application with your own children. Always go with your "gut." You know your children best and you are able to physically visit the preschool and get the vibe there. There are always unseen and unknown factors, which is why you need to trust your instincts on what to do. One of my best friends (Kelli who has written a couple of guest posts on this blog) started preschool as a 2.5 year old and she is one of the most morally straight on people I know. I never went to preschool and I did very well in school. In the end, do what is right for your individual child and family.



Abby Mazanec said...

Thank you for posting this, Val. In my area (Northern VA), almost all my SAHM friends send their kids to preschool at age 2 and to me, it just seems like daycare, which is fine, if you're ok with spending that kind of money every month so you can have some time alone (or perhaps to have 1 on 1 time with your younger child(ren)). For us, it just doesn't seem worth the money so I would like to wait until the year before kindergarten as well.

My husband is a little worried about our 2 year old, though, and wonders if we should send her earlier. She is very shy when she's in a large group of people that she doesn't know really well and tends to stand off on the sidelines and just watch. I encourage her to join in but she generally refuses...I try not to push her too much so it's not a fight. In my opinion, it's probably just a phase that she will grow out of and even if preschool would solve the issue, I'm not sure it's worth it for that alone. DH wonders, though, if she should be in a "school" setting to get her more used to being in groups. We do lots of playdates and activities as it is and she is very comfortable with the people she knows's only when we're with people she doesn't know as well that she gets uncomfortable. Frankly, I'm the exact same way so I don't think it's anything to worry about. If you have any insight on the concept of kids learning social skills and being "socialized" at preschool, though, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks again!

Laura said...

What do you think about homeschooling? Especially in regards to moral teaching/maturity.

Jessica said...

Wonderful post, Valerie.

I do want to mention something about age, morals and preschool that I gleaned from your post. You mentioned that Kaitlyn is 3 and would love to go to preschool but that you want to continue to teach her for another year before you let her into a preschool environment. I think this is wonderful because according to BW a child cannot morally understand his actions, or I suppose the actions of others, until he or she is 3. When you send your child to preschool before or around the age of 3 you are allowing others to shape your child's moral self without your presence. That is concerning.

Now, here is my kicker, our little girl, age 2, is scheduled to start a morning preschool this Fall. She will go 2 days per week in the mornings. Our reasoning was really her personality, she is somewhat introverted around people she does not know and my husband and I wanted to get her in these structured situations with other children her age before she became "set in her ways" and there was no going back. Lately, I have been wondering if this was the right decision because of her age and my controlling tendencies...ha. ;) The preschool she will attend in a Christian school, with Christian workers, so that helps ease my concern a bit regarding their morals, etc. Looks like my husband and I have some new things to pray about.

Thanks for such a timely and thought provoking post.

Jessica said...


Here are my 2 cents.

So many people send their children to school to be taught morals and while morals have a place in schools, although some would disagree with me on that point, morals need to be taught at home. The foundation for ALL learning should take place at home. ABC's, 123's, colors, morals, faith...should all be grounded in the home.

I do not believe you need a cirriculm to teach your child morals, it isn't something you need a formal learning session for, many moral lessons are taught while living our daily life.

Laura, are you thinking about homeschool? I think it is a wonderful option for many families.

stephanie said...

Wow. Thanks for making me, and perhaps other working moms, feel really lousy. I have really enjoyed your blog and have obviously understood that you stay home with your kids. Please realize what a blessing that is.

Laura said...

Thank you! This post is very timely -- I've just been thinking about organized activities and cutting the "apron strings". I agree with all you've said! Thanks for the reinforcement.

ys said...

I think you mentioned you were going to do a post on Brayden's kindergarten requirements, and this kind of builds up on that. Can you elaborate on what you do/did for structured learning activities every day for Brayden and Kaitlyn who is almost a preschooler? I see a lot of routines with "structured learning" time but was wanting to know a bit more specifics about what is done in there. I'd like to see if I'm on the right path:) Or maybe get some good ideas.

I noticed Brayden's preK is only 2.5 hrs day. I think that length is perfect! Most here are 9-1, which is 4 hrs and I personally find that a little long for their first experience at young age (I was thinking for my 3 YO who'll be 3.5 in the fall, although it might be 4 based on this:) I really like that length. I feel my LO maybe will be overwhelmed for that long.

But I am curious, in your area, is kindergarten a full day program? I know there are some areas that still have half day programs but not most. So do you think going 2.5 hrs 3 days a week and then going 5 days a week fulltime is going to be a rough transition? It seems like a big leap. We have only full days here (I think 7:45-2:30 which is a LONG day!)

Emily said...

I'm one of the readers that asked for this post and THANK YOU for it!!! I always noticed in your daily schedules that you didn't mention pre-school so I was curious. My plan has always been to start my son at 2 1/2 3 days a week for 2 hours a day as I hope to have baby #2 by then and thought it was important to have that quality alone time with that child. You've FOR SURE given me something to pray about and think over!!! I totally agree that moral lessons come first and I may hold off until he's at least three and just see how things go. Thank you so much!! I don't know you personally but I tend to value your parenting opinion over people who I do know ;)

Plowmanators said...

You are welcome to everyone!

Plowmanators said...


I would agree with you that it is both an age thing and a birth order thing. It could also be a personality thing. She might get more accustomed to large groups if she were in a school setting, but that wouldn't mean she would enjoy them any more. And it is normal for two year olds to not play with other children. They typically play around other children, but don't interact much.

From what you described, I would guess she is a little shy and likes to observe and get to know people first before jumping right in, which can actually be a great and wise quality :)

She also could get "Socialized" in ways you wouldn't like at school :)

Brayden was always reserved around people he didn't know at that age. He is currently usually the "leader" among his peers, so he doesn't have social issues or anything. He just likes to analyze situations before stepping in.

Plowmanators said...

Laura, here is the shortened version of my answer. It would probably deserve its own post.

I am not a homeschooler nor will I be.

But I don't have anything against homeschooling.

There are moms I respect who are hardcore homeschoolers and think it is the only way to go.

There are also moms I respect who are very adamently anti-homeschooling and think it is aweful.

I really am just of the mindset to each his own.

I think no matter which path you take, there will be challenges and hurdles to overcome. For those who go to school, you will have to be extra diligent in moral teaching. For those who homeschool, you will have to be very sure you provide social opportuities adaquately so your child learns to interact with people in life. Learning to deal with conflict and how to communicate effectively with others is much less painful at 5 than at 18. I don't think that can be taught fully simply in the home.

If I were to homeschool, I would get some training in teaching children--preferably even a degree in childhood education.

I am one who is of the opinion we should teach our children how to live in the world, but not be of the world. I think we can and should do a lot of good, and you can't do that if you try to lock yourselves away from the world (I know not all homeschoolers do that, but some do).

However, if I lived somewhere where things were taught in school that I didn't agree with or the school was dangerous, I would likely homeschool.

I also think if you choose to homeschool, you need to take that position of teacher very seriously. You might need to hire a cleaner to clean your house so you can dedicate the time necessary to teaching your children. You would have to treat it as a job. It can't just be something you say you do but you then end up pushing it aside for other stuff, which I see happen a lot.

I think with the right effort and mindset, you can do either homeschooling schooling? sucessfully.

Plowmanators said...

You are welcome Jessica. Good luck in your decision :)

Plowmanators said...


I definitely did not to intend to offend working moms. Moms who asked for this post are moms who are able to make the decision and wondered why I hadn't started Brayden in preschool until he was four. I answered it honestly, and I couldn't leave reasons out that would offend moms who already have their children in schools of any sorts for any reason.

If you have your children in schools/daycare, you can definitely put in the effort to do your best to make sure negative things aren't learned in the environment, both by your own actions and by making sure the environment is the best one for your child. Also, if you feel like that is best for your child, then go with it. Like I said in the post, my friend Kelli started school as a two year old. Her mom was a SAHM. And Kelli turned out great. Her mom went with what she felt was best for her individual child. None of her other children (four of them) started school that young. Kelli was the second oldest.

Plowmanators said...


Have you see the children's learning activities blog? That shows ideas from what we do each day. That would give you good ideas. All three of us authors are babywise moms, too.

The addy is:

Our kindergartens are actually half days here.

Plowmanators said...

Emily, something else to consider is disruption to baby. If you are driving to school and picking up 3-5 days a week, that can get really disruptive. Some times it can't be helped--like McKenna was a baby when Brayden started preschool. But if your only reason for school would be to get one on one time with a baby, I really don't think it would be needed. Your older child can have independent play and would still have a nap at that age, so you can work it in quite easily. Just some things to think about :)

Kim Wyffels said...

Hi Val,
You send your children to public school, correct? I am a former public school teacher, and I have lots of friends who have decided to homeschool their children. My DD turns 1 today, and I have been thinking a lot lately on what I'm going to want to do when she reaches kindergarten age. I know it's a personal decision, but I am curious about your thoughts on public school vs. homeschool. Or maybe you already have a blog post about this?

Melissa M said...

We are doing a co-op preschool with my 3-year-old twins, and for us it's a perfect halfway step toward full preschool when they are four. Like Kaitlyn, they are smart and socially capable, and looking forward to going to school.

I know the curriculum all the moms will be using (Joy School), and I am confident it is the right thing for my two right now. I love Joy School because it is value-based, and I know my kids will have plenty of opportunities to learn academics (and we work on those daily already), but the time I have with them to give them a good foundation in good morals and values is short and precious. Joy School will help reinforce and support what we are teaching at home already.


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