Saturday, February 28, 2009

To Preschool or Not to Preschool

They absorb what goes on around them, things they hear, things they see. They learn to speak by listening to us. They learn how things work by watching us like little spies. We want to foster this potential our children have to be taught. We want to be sure we have them as prepared as possible for their life-long learning tour.

We know this tour begins at home. As parents, we usually, instinctually, start teaching our children. The question is, at what point do we say they need a professionals touch. Kindergarten begins their elementary school career, but do they need preschool before that? Is it better to put them in preschool than to teach them at home?

My man and I both have to work full time, but we were lucky enough not to have to put our daughter into day-care until she was nine months old. We do not have family close by, so day-care was/is a must. After calling every preschool in the phone book I had found that they were full, the child had to be two years old, or had to be potty trained to attend. After interviewing some horrendous possible caregivers we started L in an in-home day-care. We had to find another within only a few months, which was fine by me. Something was just not right about the first place. The children didn’t seem at all enthused.

By chance we were told of a lady who runs an in-home day-care and came highly recommended. We interviewed R and were happy (really we didn’t have much of a choice if we wanted to keep our jobs). R was a middle school English teacher but had quit almost twenty years prior to stay at home with her own daughter. L has now been contentedly attending R’s day-care for about three years. L is happy at R’s house. She benefits from the nurturing environment R provides.

With things playing out this way do I need to put L in preschool before kindergarten? We started asking this when L was two. At that time we decided we would think about it over the coming year and decide before she was four…and the time has come. L will be four in May.

What do children learn in preschool? Three things: social skills, academics, and how to behave in a school-like environment. Between me, L’s father, and R’s in-home day-care, can we provide everything L needs? I believe so. Well, mostly.

Karen Deerwester of South Florida Parenting states that preschools are “…places where children learn to consider the needs of others and think of others as friends and partners.” While this is true, Deanna Mascle, author of the article “Does Your Child Need to go to Preschool,” and I agree that in a day-care setting children will learn how to play with others, how to share, and how to follow instructions. L does receive the types of social interaction that preschool would provide. The other four children are her friends. She even has play dates from time to time with one little boy who is only a month older than her. She gets socialization outside of this group as well. R takes the children and meets up with another in-home day-care crew everyday (weather permitting) at a park or the library. We also take her to the park and to visit family during the weekends. Do I really want to take her out of there just to turn around and take her out of another familiar environment in a year (she’s almost four now) to put her in kindergarten? She has done very well with change so far.

What’s my other option? Is there anything that she would be taught in preschool that I couldn’t teach her at home and have R back up? R doesn’t just sit around while the kids run all over the place. She is incredibly involved with them. She teaches them as they play, but she also uses school workbooks. One of the best things about her is that I can tell her what I am teaching L at home and she will reiterate it while L is with her. I go beyond the natural development that happens at home, although doing so seems natural to me.

Currently, L is considered very smart. She is very inquisitive and we are constantly feeding into that. But what if, by not putting her in preschool, we aren’t allowing her to develop to her full potential?

I was reading a parenting magazine some months ago and came across an article on the choice of whether or not to place a child in preschool. The only thing that struck me as particularly interesting or swaying about the article was the picture at the beginning. It showed a game of sorts. There were columns that had letters at the head of each. Under each letter were two inch think, five inch long strips of paper with words written on them that began with the letter at the head of the column. I thought, is this really what they are teaching them in preschool. I wondered if I was leaning the wrong way by thinking she should stay at R’s house. I realized I could play this game myself with L, but what else were they teaching that I wouldn’t know about?

Deerwater asks “But do you wake up in the middle of the night and write yourself a note to remember to find a new book to read about dinosaurs? Or create a hospital in the living room because you want your daughter to practice what it feels like when Mommy leaves to have a baby? Or build a three-dimensional cow complete with latex-glove udders for the children to "milk"? Good teachers are always thinking of ways to meaningfully engage children's minds and bodies.”

The only time I wake up in the middle of the night after an exhausting day of work, school, and raising a child, is when that child wakes up (often) or if the dogs bark (rare). But, every time I see the types of ideas mentioned in Deerwater’s quote I make a point of trying them with L. And with a decision to not put L in preschool I will go hunting for them. According to Mascle “A motivated parent can certainly create a quality preschool program for their child…” And motivated to do what’s best for my child I am.

Another mother, a doctor I am seeing, who has a child only slightly older than L suggested I take advantage of the VPK programs being offered. Because of her father’ schedule L is home with him 5 week days out of every two weeks. I am going to look into it to see if she can attend the VPK program, which runs from 9 am to 12 pm, during those weekdays. Being in this program would broaden L’s views. She can get used to being around a larger group of children. She can learn how to sit with them and pay attention to a teacher, which is something I cannot provide at home. While she loves the lessons I give her at home I can just picture her getting up during a lesson in kindergarten and trying to get another kid to play with her.

I realize now that her full potential isn’t going to be reached while she is four or five, and won’t be for quite some time. There will always be room for her to grow. I have confidence that, with the support from R and possibly the VPK program (hopefully they will let L go part time), I can teach her more than she needs to have a proper foundation for when she starts public school. She will be taught beyond just the bare necessities, of course. That’s what a dedicated parent does. Preschool is probably best for some children, but for mine we are on the right path.


  1. Preschool is necessary.

    Ultimately parents need to keep in mind that most brand new phases in life require a transition period. Preschool does just this. This does not mean that the care and nurturing of the parents needs to stop. Young children at prechool can learn the social interaction skills, academic reasoning skills as well as various other skills necessary to be efficient in Kindergarten and the elementary years to follow. Adding this to the things that the parents teach their children can help further drive these values and skills into the child's ever-learning brain.

    I am not doubting the competency of parents, however not every parent is a professional caretaker as soon as their children are born. Over the first few months it is as much of a learning experience for the child as it is for the parent. Then the next transition is to go to some form of preschool care. The parent then becomes a back-up for what they learn in the new environment.

    This does not have to be the only option for parents. However, this can be one of the only ones due to busy work schedules or other things that might prohibit a parent from being functional in their own life as well as their child's. A good example of this would be military parents. They can not always have time off to mentor their child over the first couple of years prior to Kindergarten, so preschool becomes one of their only options.

  2. If a parent cannot be the main knowledge giver because of time I understand. But there is a difference between seriously not having time and laziness. Parents need to play a major (if not THE major) active role in their child's education. There are parents out there who don't even attempt to teach their children much more than the basics, like using a fork. If they ware not going to teach their child then yes, they need to have their child in preschool.

    My daughter goes to daycare half the week.

    Maybe I have one up on some other parents when it comes to teaching my child since my major is education based. However, it seems natural to me to want to teach my children.

  3. I could not agree more, parents need to be the primary source of learning. I do happen to know some children whose parents SHOULD put them in daycare because, as parents, they are not smart enough to teach them everything. This child is so smart it's scary and she's 3. But I don't feel her mother is doing all she can. Her mother is a single mother, but she only works 3-4 days a week so she should spend more time helping her learn. The bad thing is: she has free pre-school paid for by the state and does not utilize it. How should I recommend she enroll her in pre-school so she will enhance her daughters education and intelligence?

  4. You could mention to the mother that she would have some free time if she enrolled her daughter. It might appeal to her. Maybe she could just put her daughter in during the VPK time. I believe that is 9am-12pm. You could also say "oh, your daughter is so smart. Imagine how smart she would be if you put her in preschool for a few days a week." This would be a tough one...and I'm not very good at being subtle.

  5. Here is a good example of the type of person running the in-home daycare L attends. This morning I told the caregiver that while L can count to 100 and can recognize numbers like 72 or 59, she needs to work on recongizing numbers 13-30 by site. When I came to pick L up today R was playing a game with L and another boy L's age using flashcards she had made during the day with the numbers on it.

  6. Rowan (19 months) can't do daycare because of her medical condition, and we feel that she is missing out. While parents are a huge influence on learning, so are other children. Rowan picks up so much from just the few playdates we have--we really wish she could be around other children full time.

  7. Wrangler - If possible, you can take Rowan to library story times as well. My daughtered started really loving them around that age. Some even offer playtime with the other children after the active stories and singing.