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Is Preschool Really Necessary?

Intro

I really liked my daughter’s day care, so much so that I almost considered keeping her there until kindergarten. I had friends who weren’t sending their kids to preschool, and they were doing fine. Why switch my little girl to a preschool when she seemed to be thriving exactly where she was?

It wasn’t until another mother at the day care mentioned touring preschools that I began to question my own decision. Was this something I should be looking into? Was preschool something my daughter might need in order to gain the preacademic skills necessary for a smooth transition into kindergarten?

Here’s a look at the pros and cons of a preschool education.

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Preschool benefits

What are the benefits?

Preschool

In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama announced his goal to make available high-quality preschool options for every 4-year-old in the United States. It turns out that his proclamation was based on a lot of research. A meta-analysis of 123 studies in 2010 found broad and long-lasting benefits to a preschool education.

Some potential benefits include:

  • improved academic achievement in grade school
  • increased high school graduation rates
  • improved social development
  • improved emotional development

And so, I began my hunt for preschools, visiting three before I found one I really liked. The school I chose was one that had a structured day, but allowed for a lot of learning through play.

They also had a priority of raising kind humans, something that is generally more important to me than academic success. I signed my name on the dotted line and we waited for a spot to open. That happened about six months after my daughter’s 3rd birthday.

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Transition

Preschool transition

Preschool

I was a nervous wreck when we finally made the transition, sure that my little girl who hates change was going to have a fit over this new school situation. So, we visited the school several times before her first day, and even made a habit of playing on their playground on weekends leading up to her start date.

I don’t know whether it was all that prep work, or just the school itself, but her transition was a breeze. She loved her new preschool, and that very first weekend after she started, she woke up begging me to go back to school.

That same love endures today. She literally cheers on the mornings when she wakes up and I tell her we have to get ready for school. And I’ve noticed some huge improvements in her academic skills as well: She’s learning about the solar system, animals, and all sorts of other subjects I wouldn’t have thought to teach her about myself.

Her conversational skills have also improved dramatically.

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Parent responses

Did you send your child to preschool?

For us, preschool turned out to be a win all around. But I was curious how other parents make that decision for their families and what goes into choosing to send your child to preschool or not. These are some of the responses I received:

I sent my 2-year-old to preschool. Her language skills improved in leaps and bounds. The best part for me was that for three mornings a week, she couldn’t wait to get to the classroom.
– Sian C.
We didn’t do preschool because in our area, the options are limited. Public school preschool is only for low income, and private school preschool costs money and is only offered at the religious schools. I stayed at home so they weren’t in day care, either. If there were an actual public school preschool program, we might have sent them.
– Robin H.
For me, sending my son to preschool was a win-win situation. It started the foundation of learning in a positive manner, and it allowed him three days a week of playing with other kiddos. When kindergarten came around, he was ready to go to school because he had a positive preschool experience.
– Heather S.
I think it would be good for my oldest, but we can’t afford it. We make too much to qualify for low-income programs, but with about half our single income going to health care costs, we can barely afford the absolute basics. Which means going back to cloth diapers for the youngest just to enroll the oldest in a 30-minute dance class each week. Preschool is not an option.
– Jill S.
We didn’t send our first two children to preschool. We felt at the time they had so much school ahead of them, we wanted to keep them home with us as long as possible. When it was time to send them to kindergarten, they were behind. Most of the other kids in their classes had actually gone to preschool and could read and write. They did eventually catch up, but it took a little bit of time. They behaved great, but were pretty shy and didn’t want to talk as much because they weren’t used to being around so many other kids and in a classroom setting. We decided to put our son in preschool at age 3 because we didn’t want him to be so far behind like his older sisters. There was a tremendous difference in how prepared he was compared to them.
– Stacey Johnson
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The takeaway

The takeaway

Preschool

Most of the parents I spoke to were in favor of preschool. Even those who hadn’t sent their own children said they would have, had there been better options for doing so.

Then I started talking to some experts. Kelley Campbell-Hernandez, a 17-year kindergarten teacher with a master’s degree in early childhood development, explains, “Aside from the academic benefits, I am a strong believer in preschool for social/emotional development. Children need to learn how to interact with adults who aren’t their parents, as well as peers. They need to learn how to problem-solve, become independent (within reason), share, and communicate.”

Jody Jordan, a family advocate for Head Start, agrees. “There’s a ton of evidence supporting early childhood education, based on the huge discrepancy regarding kindergarten readiness,” she says. “If you have the opportunity or the ability to give your child even a small advantage in the core learning areas they will soon be required by law to study, and the social, behavioral, and emotional school readiness they will soon need, why wouldn’t you?”

Ultimately, this is one of those decisions that should always come down to what the parents think is best. And I have known some smart, happy, social kids who did just fine entering kindergarten without that preschool background.

But overall, I’m glad I decided to look into preschool options in our area. And I’m beyond happy that we seem to have found the perfect fit for my girl.

Leah Campbell
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