“I don’t think preschool is necessary”. In theory, I agree with this statement, even though I dislike hearing it. It’s a broad enough (and vague enough) generalization that it would be hard to disagree with it. Preschool isn’t necessary. For every child. In every situation. It probably isn’t essential under most, if any, circumstances. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t beneficial for some children in some situations.
My son, who turned 3 last January, started preschool this past September, and attends two mornings/week. Many of the classroom activities are similar to things that I have done with him since he was around eighteen months old. We do crafts, painting, puzzles, boardgames, blocks, lots of books, playgroups, Story Hour at the library, etc. Which is probably why I am often confronted with the “I don’t think preschool is necessary” comment.
Technically, it’s true. Preschool isn’t essential to our situation. I work very part-time, when my husband is home, so I don’t have any need for daycare (and even if I did, the five hours/week that he attends wouldn’t go very far if that was my motivation for sending my son to preschool). I only have one child, so I’m not desperate for free time. (Even if I were, it really doesn’t provide much of a respite. Half the time I’m right there with him on field trips or volunteering in the classroom, and when I’m not, by the time I come back home and then head back out to pick him up, I only end up with a couple of hours to myself.)
Curriculum-wise, also, we could probably manage just fine without preschool. Even with his status as an only child, I could probably arrange enough social opportunities for my son without preschool.
My basic parenting philosophy is that for most children the ideal would be to spend most of their early years home with their parents, and to have a gradual transition from home to the outside world. (Again, I say MOST. I don’t believe that there is any one-size-fits all approach, and it is up to each family to discern what the best approach is for them. This is what we have discerned for our family.) The preschool that I have chosen shares my philosophy, and the amount of time he spends there fits in with my approach.
My primary reason for sending my son to preschool is that it’s fun! He has fun pretty much every where he goes; that’s just his personality. But for him to walk into an environment that is completely child-centered, with one station of another of interesting, age-appropriate and specially targeted toys, and child-size furniture galore, he might as well be walking into Disney Land. After half the school year has passed, he still has that response when he walks in the door.
I love the community activities that my son and I do together, and he definitely benefits from them. But they have their limits. They are usually crowded, and this can intimidate my son, who has a reserved nature. Being in a small preschool class and participating in group activities that are specifically targeted toward his developmental level has been a huge confidence-booster for him.
The final factor in my decision to send my son to preschool is socialization. Yes, I acknowledged earlier that we could probably manage socially without it. But it really helps. We don’t have any neighborhood friends. Our friends are a patchwork from various community activities, so he never sees consistent children on a consistent basis. This wouldn’t be as big an issue if he had siblings who he interacted with consistently, but since he’s an only child, I think he needs consistency in order to develop more meaningful friendships.
No, I don’t think preschool is necessary. I don’t question mothers who choose to forgo preschool (or even elementary school for that matter). I believe that life is the best classroom, and that can take many forms. But preschool does have its place and there are families, like mine, who benefit from it.
Claire is a regular writer for Catholic Mothers Online.