Preschool is your child’s first opportunity to experience the education system. It’s also their first structured environment to learn social norms and make friends. Preschool is a big step for little kids, so how do you decide whether or not to send your child to preschool?
My four-year-old daughter recently finished her first year of preschool. Throughout this year, her self-confidence has grown, she’s learned a lot, and made new friends. I feel that sending her to preschool was an excellent decision and it’s one that I plan to repeat with my son in a few years.
How to decide if your child is ready for preschool
Deciding to send your child to preschool is a personal decision for your family. Not every child goes to preschool and that’s OK!
I never went to preschool. I also had a hard adjustment into kindergarten. I was scared and didn’t want to stay at school. I had problems making friends and adjusting to the day’s routine because my household was very chaotic and unstructured.
Though I provide a very different household for my daughter than the one I was raised in, I still wanted her to experience a different kind of routine and new adult role models.
I was sure that I wanted my daughter to go to preschool when she turned three years old. From a very young age, she was interested in learning and could speak very well. She was often mistaken for a four-year-old because of her size and her maturity.
I chose a mixed age group class with children from three to five years old. Since she has no older siblings, I thought she would benefit from being around older kids and the examples they could give her. She was one of the youngest children in the class. Her preschool followed the local school district’s calendar and was four days per week for 2.5 hours each day. She was in the afternoon class which was held from 12 – 2:30 pm.
I was interested in getting her ready for kindergarten so I looked for a school near us that promoted those values. I wanted a school focused on learning letters, reading, and writing.
Before you consider sending your child to preschool, ask yourself these questions.
- Have you left your child in someone else’s care for longer than one hour? If so, how did your child react?
- How much socialization with peers does your child currently get?
- Do you want your child to attend one, two, or three years of preschool?
- What type of school would you like – traditional, Montessori, play-based, or kindergarten prep?
- How many days and for how many hours would you like your child to go to school?
- Would you like your child in a class separated by age or a mixed age group?
- What time of day would you like your child to go – morning or afternoon?
You may also want to take the following into consideration:
- Your child’s emotional readiness
- Your child’s maturity level
- Your child’s attention span
- Your child’s normal daily schedule
Types of preschool
When looking for a preschool in my area there were several options. There were schools that started at three or four years old. There were classes held two or four days per week. There were schools that had two hour days or four hour days. There were mixed ages classes or classes that were separated by age.
There are many different kinds of preschools available to your child. The material covered in preschool will overlap in all of these schools, but they may have different methods for teaching and different expectations for the preschoolers.
Here are some of the main preschool types you may come across.
Montessori preschools require teachers to be certified in the Montessori method. This is a method that focuses on appreciating and being in nature, creativity and hands-on learning. Preschoolers are expected to do things for themselves like making snacks and cleaning up. The teachers offer gentle guidance versus strict routine.
Montessori classrooms are broken into specific topic areas (like sensory and practical) and are bright and uncluttered.
You can use this website to search for a Montessori school near you.
Similar to the Montessori schools, Waldorf teachers also must be certified. This method is play-based and has mixed age classrooms. There is a schedule for activities and preschoolers are encouraged to cooperate with each other. They go outside every day.
One big difference in Waldorf is that there is no technology in the classrooms – no computers, tablets, or TVs.
You can use this website to search for a Waldorf school near you.
Religious / religion based
Many churches offer preschools. This can be a great option if you’d like your child to get a little bit of religious teaching mixed in with their kindergarten readiness. If you already belong to a church, you may want to check if they offer preschool. Otherwise, search for a denomination that you’re interested in and find a church that offers preschool. Oftentimes church preschools have smaller class sizes.
Depending on the church, classrooms could look a variety of ways and will likely be located within the church.
This type of preschool is held in community centers such as the YMCA. The community center could use a variety of teaching methods. Sometimes these programs have extended hours to cater to working parents.
Parent Cooperative / Co-Ops
These preschools offer a variety of learning styles but require that parents actively participate in the school. This could include acting as an assistant to the teacher, providing items for activities, coming in to teach something or supervise, or a variety of other responsibilities. These preschools are often less expensive because the parents are expected to play a large role in day-to-day activities. This option is not ideal for a working parent.
This type of preschool strives to prepare children for kindergarten both mentally and emotionally. The primary focus is on learning skills including letter and number identification, colors, and shapes. Preschoolers also learn social skills like sharing, taking turns, playing, waiting their turn, and lining up.
I would classify my daughter’s school as a mix of Waldorf, Montessori and kindergarten readiness. The classroom is bright and colorful with designated centers for things like drama, science, sensory, and reading. They go outside every day, weather permitting. They do yoga, sing, and dance. Each week has a different theme that is often related to the season or seasonal activities (Plants in Spring, Winter Olympics in Winter).
Pros of preschool
When thinking about sending your child to preschool, it may be helpful to go through a pros and cons list. Here are some of the positives of preschool.
- Social interaction
Though playdates and siblings are a great source of socialization, preschool offers another level of learning social norms. Preschoolers learn how to take turns in conversations, share toys with each other, wait for their turn, follow directions, and practice listening skills. They have a chance to practice these skills away from their parents with peers.
- Getting used to routine and structure
All preschools have some sort of routine in place. My daughter’s preschool started with table time, then they sat on a rug and discussed the weather, day of the week, and if it was anyone’s birthday. Being in preschool helps children get comfortable with routines and transitioning from one activity to the next.
- Making friends
Making friends, and getting along with other people, is a skill that children will start to become familiar with in preschool. Depending on where your child goes to preschool, they may have the same friends in their kindergarten and grade school class. Learning how to be kind and treat friends with respect are important skills that preschool can teach.
- Trusting other adults or caregivers
Preschool may your child’s first experience being left alone with a caregiver who is not family. It was my daughter’s first experience with this as well. Allowing your children to be left with trusted people helps build their self-confidence and make them more comfortable with the world around them. Preschool is a safe environment for your child to become comfortable building relationships with other adults.
- Building confidence and self-control
Children develop confidence while in preschool by learning how to be self-sufficient. They are able to try new skills in a supportive and nurturing environment. They are responsible for their behavior and actions while in school which teaches them self-control.
- Learning kindergarten skills
One of the biggest benefits of preschool is learning kindergarten skills. In most schools, children are expected to come to kindergarten able to identify letters, numbers, shapes, and colors at the very least. School is becoming more difficult and competitive from an early age and preschool may be an advantage to children’s future academic success.
Cons of preschool
There are some negatives to preschool. Here are the ones that I considered before enrolling my child.
In my area, two day per week preschool is around $125-$175 per month. Four day per week preschool is around $200-$300 per month.
I understand not everyone can afford to send their child to preschool, but please don’t be deterred by the price.
If your child needs extra help with speech or social development, they can be assessed by Early Intervention and sent to preschool for free or a small monthly fee. If you’re in the US, search for Early Intervention in your state to see what’s available in your area.
- Time commitment
Preschoolers are notorious for taking a long time to get ready and get out of the house. Every day I do my best to let my daughter do as much of her self-care as possible. She picks out her own clothes and dresses herself, brushes her teeth and uses the bathroom on her own. This whole process can take anywhere between 30-60 minutes depending on how cooperative she is.
All said, getting ready, driving, and attending preschool ended up taking up around 4-5 hours of the day.
Should you choose to be involved with your child’s preschool, you will be dedicating more time to preschool. I was a room mom and helped plan and execute three parties, teacher appreciation week, and an end of the year gift. This was a time-consuming process though I did enjoy it and plan to do it again this year.
Ultimately, the time commitment is worth the benefits that your child gets from school.
- Increased sickness and colds
Prior to starting preschool, my daughter had had one cold in her lifetime. This was probably because she was the oldest child and we didn’t do a lot of activities outside the home during cold and flu season.
Her first year of preschool, she got sick at least 20 times. Most notably, she had a stomach bug and vomited for the first time. My infant son also had ten or so colds this year.
Everyone tells me the second year is better. Her immune system should be stronger so she should catch fewer colds.
Overall, the pros for preschool far outweigh the cons for my child. She had a great experience during her first year of school and can’t wait to go back for her second, and final, year. Only you can decide if your child is ready for preschool and when you’d like to send him or her. Consider the possibilities, do your research, and be confident in your decision.