Last month, my newly turned three year old son started preschool. I can’t believe he is already old enough to go. Time flies. On the other hand though, my son was more than ready to go. I often get asked how we chose his preschool and how we knew he was ready. I firmly believe that each child is different but hopefully this post will help you decide if sending your child is the right choice. Stay tuned next week for tips on choosing a school if you decide that school is the best fit.
Is preschool necessary?
In Connecticut, and I’m assuming in most if not all of the other states, preschool is not required and in most cases it’s not free either. Our town does offer a free preschool program though the public school system but there were only ten slots available for the year – a very small number compared to the number of kids in our town. To get in, you must apply and then get selected through a lottery system. Needless to say, the odds aren’t exactly in parents’ favor. When my husband and I started researching possible school options we discovered that prices (in our area) range from free (the town program that I just mentioned) all the way up to upwards of $16,000 (yes you read that right!). I almost died when I saw the price tag on that last school. Part of me wanted to home school our son for preschool. After all, I’m a teacher by trade myself. The topic of preschool comes up often in my mom groups of moms who have kids of similar age. When I mentioned that I was considering NOT sending my son, I was often met with disbelief and sometimes even disdain. However, that’s really uncalled for. While ultimately, we DID decide to send our son, he would have been just fine if we had decided not to. In fact I personally know a few families who home school and have children who are much older than preschool and have children who are well adjusted – children who you would never suspect were “home schooled” if you didn’t know the family. I also spoke to our library’s children’s librarian at length regarding preschool. As part of her programming she visits all of the preschools in the area and does presentations so she is familiar with how they run. She told me that from what she has seen, kindergarten is the great equalizer and that makes a lot of sense. After all, since preschool is not mandatory – and not everyone can afford to send their child to a private school- some kids go into kindergarten with no prior schooling and some go in with a few years under their belts. In the end, everyone seems to go into first grade more or less on the same page.
So how do you know if sending your child to school is the right choice for you child?
Is your child ready for school?
Knowing if your child is “ready” for school is the first thing to consider when thinking about preschool. Most preschools (but not all) require children to be three years of age and potty trained to attend. Some schools that also run day care programs are more flexible but you may see an extra fee if staff will be needed to change diapers (more on this later). I think the “readiness” question is harder for families who have a stay at home parent. For families with two working parents, children are likely already in daycare or at the very least are spending the day with a relative away from mom and dad. For many families who have a stay at home parent, preschool is the first time that the child spends a lengthy time away from home and this can be difficult for both the child and (wait for it) the parent too! In fact, I have a couple of friends who decided not to send their children to preschool purely because they didn’t want to be separated from their child for that long yet. And that’s OK! If you are ready to send your child though, it may be helpful to consider how your child reacts in social situations. Is your child painfully shy? Does he or she warm up to a group after a short time? Is he or she a social butterfly? Does your child still take multiple naps a day? You want preschool to be a positive social experience and if your child isn’t ready to leave the nest quite yet there are other ways to accomplish this goal through play dates and other social activities.
As a parent you are also most equipped to evaluate where your child stands on an academic level. Children do not have to “know” anything to start preschool but if your child loves to learn and find out new things, they might be more ready for school than a child who has no interest in that yet. Every child develops differently.
Ultimately, as a parent, it is your decision and further – your right to decide what is best for your child and to decide if your child is “ready.” But don’t worry, just because you make a decision one way or another, that doesn’t mean that you can’t change your mind later.
Full-Day or Half-Day? How MANY days?
Options vary among schools but it’s important for you to know that there ARE options! Many schools offer both full day and half day programs and many have different options as far as number of days. For the schools that we looked at, most had an option or either 2 or 3 days a week or full 5 days a week and for all of the mentioned options both full and half day schedules! The only school that didn’t offer options to us was the free program run through the public school which is understandable given that it is just two single classes within the elementary school. As a parent, you get to decide which schedule works best for your family and your child. For us, we decided that half day worked best for us since my son still takes a nap and I didn’t want to pay for my child to have lunch and take a nap when he could spend the afternoon doing so at home. On the other hand, I have several friends who wanted a full day program to accommodate work schedules or so that they would have more time in between pickups and drop offs to get tasks/errands done while the kids are in school. There are also full year and school year options. Again, there is no right or wrong answer here and you should not feel guilty for making the choice that fits your lifestyle and your family’s needs the best.
Can you afford to send your child?
I touched on this a bit before but there is a very wide range when it comes to pricing for preschool and it’s an important factor to consider. In our area I have seen schools range in price from free (if it’s a town run program) to upwards of $16,000 for a year. Obviously the lesser expensive schools tend to be tougher to get into but in some cases you also get what you pay for (more on this in my next post on choosing a school). Prices also vary depending on how many days your child is attending, if the program is full day or half day, and if your child is going for the school year or calendar year. There may also be extra fees depending on if your child is potty trained or will be attending the school for lunch. For us, after running the numbers at the school that we chose, it turned out that it was actually less expensive for us to send our son through the summer (for the full calendar year) rather than to just send him for the school year. I had originally wanted to send him for the school year only but after crunching the numbers and considering a number of factors, we made the decision to send our son for the full calendar year, not only because we knew that he would love it, but because it was the more budget friendly option. On the flip side I know some friends who work and have children full time in daycare have told me that preschool costs are actually less than daycare so if that’s you… preschool could be a great deal! Some families may opt to only send their child to one year of school (at 4 or even 5 depending on age cutoffs for school) and some may not be able to afford to send their child to school at all and that’s OK too!
What are you hoping to get out of it?
Deciding what you are hoping to get out of the preschool experience is another very important factor to consider and discuss with both your spouse and perspective schools. Are you considering school mainly for socialization? For the daily care? For the educational aspect? One of the primary reasons that my husband and I were considering preschool (private or public) instead of home school was that we wanted our son to be exposed to some new adult authority figures in hopes that it would help us to curb some unwanted behavior that we had been working on. My son is also a major social butterfly and craves interaction with other kids on a daily basis. As an only child (at least for now) unless I took him out to activities several times a week, he would whine and complain that he wanted to play with other kids. Getting to play with other kids 3 days a week is going to help with that a lot. Figuring out what you hope to get out of preschool will not only help you find the school that is the best fit but also help you decide if the cost is justified. Don’t settle for what you think your child “should” get out of school. Since this schooling isn’t required, it’s more important (in my opinion) to focus and what YOU want your child and your family to get out of it.
What if you decide your child really isn’t ready?
If you decide to send your child to school, I think it’s important to add you’re not permanently signing anything away. Most schools have a “trial period” of a month or so and if you find that they school is not a good fit or that your child isn’t ready, you can pull your child out without penalty. Many schools also have it written into the contract that you may terminate at any time (ie. pull your child out) although some may have penalties or fees associated with doing so. Even so, those fees may be worth it if your child just isn’t fitting in well or having a positive experience. Preschool should always be a positive experience for everyone involved. You want your child to grow to love school, not resent it. Don’t feel like you have to force something that isn’t working and don’t feel guilty if you need to change your plan or wait a year. You know your child best. Don’t be afraid to advocate for their needs.
All of this information is a lot to absorb. It won’t happen overnight. Start researching with enough time that you will be able to consider all of your options and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you decide that preschool is right for you and your family, stay tuned for my post next week. I’ll be discussing how to choose the best preschool for your child! If not, don’t feel bad! Regardless of your choice you are doing a great job.