From the day your little one is born, you start dreading the day you have to send her off to kindergarten. However, after a few sleepless nights and a trip through the terrible twos, suddenly you can’t wait for that day to arrive. While in most cases children can’t start kindergarten until they turn five, starting at age three or four, they can enroll in preschool and begin to prepare for full-time school.
Of course, preschool isn’t required and may not be the best option for your child. “It’s up to you whether to teach from home or enroll your child in a preschool program,” says Jan Z. Olsen, creator of the Get Set for School readiness program. “Ultimately, school success depends on developing good social habits, motor coordination and strength, handwriting proficiency, and other language skills.” Your child may be able to develop those habits and skills at home.
Every child is different. Whether you want to keep your little angel at home a little longer or the cost of preschool haunts you at night, you must decide if preschool will be beneficial for your child. Making that decision involves looking at your family situation and your child’s individual needs.
- Can you afford preschool? One look at the price tag for preschool and you may begin to wonder if your child can reap the benefits of preschool in other ways. According to Child Care Aware of America, the average cost of full-time preschool for a four-year-old ranges from $3,900 to $11,700 a year. To cut the cost, you can try part-time programs where you child attends preschool two or three days a week. However, even part-time programs can set you back a couple hundred bucks a month. Before you take out a second mortgage to pay for preschool, look for free or low-cost programs, such as library story time, play group meetups and community center or parks and rec classes that cover similar skills.
- Are you capable of teaching your child at home? If you choose not to send your child to preschool, you still have to be committed to developing her basic skills. This means you have to set routines, spend a couple hours everyday working on building key skills and teach your child to follow rules. Are you ready for that? If you have younger kids at home or an already-full schedule, you may not be able to focus enough to give your child what she needs.
- Can your child function without you? A little separation anxiety is okay, but if your child needs you to interpret her every word or relies on you to know what she wants and needs, she may not be ready for preschool. Your child needs to be able to communicate without you by her side. This includes using words to explain when she is sad, angry or hurt. It also includes being able to perform basic tasks, such as getting dressed, washing hands and going to the potty on her own.
- How social is your child? A big part of preschool is teaching kids to interact with others. Are you regularly attending play dates, taking advantage of library story time and exposing your child to activities with other kids? If so, preschool may not be necessary. Your child doesn’t have to be a social butterfly; she just has to know to interact with other kids her age, not you and others decades older than her.
- Is your child physically ready for school? If your child isn’t potty-trained or still takes two naps a day, it may not be time for preschool. Has your child met most of the developmental milestones for her age? If not, you may want to wait a bit before sending her off to school.
At the end of the day, the decision of whether to send your child to preschool is yours. While research shows that preschool is an indicator of academic success, it doesn’t mean your child can’t be successful academically without preschool. Only you know if preschool fits into your budget and if your child can meet its demands. If it is too expensive or your child isn’t quite ready, you can always put preschool off for a year or work on building the same skills at home.