My son is currently 3 ½ years old. Since he was about 2 ½ years old, people have asked me “when will he go to school?” I’ve always been very confused with this question. I generally answer “five…like he’s supposed to?”
Turns out, about 68% of four-year-olds attend some kind of preschool or pre-k so my questioning answer is generally seen as odd.
The Mom Guilt and Mom Shame
I have battled with guilt for not sending him to school. I hear other parents say:
- “I don’t want my child to be behind in Kindergarten;”
- “I want my kid to socialize with other kids;” or
- “I want my kid to learn how to listen to other people besides just me.”
Here’s the thing, I want all of that too. I just don’t believe pre-k is the only way.
I’m not trying to push my ideas on to anyone. I’m trying to take away a stigma that seems to exist around NOT sending a child to pre-k.
I’m currently a stay at home mom.
I was a middle school teacher. I currently have a few part-time jobs including various performance groups, and teaching musical theater.
On occasion, I take my son to a drop in play care. We enrolled him in three fun classes (swim, creative movement, and tumbles) throughout the week where he gets exposure to teachers. I’m also in a moms group where he gets an opportunity to play with kids that aren’t necessarily his age.
If I had decided to teach full time, there’s no doubt that my child would have done a daycare and pre-k route. I would have spent hours researching daycares and preschools choosing between the best of the best, a place centered on fun learning.
BUT, I didn’t choose that path. I chose to stay home and assumed that would mean he would be with me until kindergarten.
I did not go to preschool or pre-k. I did the first two years of my life in an at home care environment. After that, my parents moved back to their hometown of El Paso right when I turned three. From that point on, I stayed home with my grandma until kindergarten.
My grandma was not a teacher by trade, but she was a person who cared for me just as much as my own parents.
I have amazing memories of days with my grandma which I cherish now that she has passed. We would spend days baking cookies, pies, or tortillas. She would read to me and watch me put on productions of my favorite movies in the living room (thanks for the early acting lessons, grandma).
She’d tell me stories about my mom and her siblings and what they were like growing up. She’d sing to me, play games, do puzzles, and take great care of me. I went through the days feeling happy and loved. I have vivid memories of falling asleep on the couch next to her as I would stare up at the sky watching clouds pass by our living room through the skylight. I wouldn’t trade those days for anything. Those are the kinds of memories I strive to make with my son.
In the end, I was a great student. I was blessed to have great parents and grandparents as a support system. My mom read to me and taught me to be a learner. My parents supported and encouraged me throughout school.
It’s Really About The Family
Research shows the most important factor in a child’s educational success lies in their family environment. Pre-k or not, family needs to be there and supportive to increase the likelihood for longtime learning success.
As a middle school teacher I couldn’t have told you which of my students had gone to preschool/pre-k and which had not. There is a lot of research to show it all basically evens out by the time a kid gets to the first grade.
“There’s actually not much evidence that starting education early makes any difference for children,” Kelsey Piper of Vox wrote. “What there is evidence for is that a safe daycare and a stable home environment make a big difference.”
High quality pre-k is great for people who need it. It helps families with two working parents or for families of stay at home moms who just need a break (and there’s absolutely NOTHING wrong with that).
It’s great for families who have a special needs child, a child with speech delays, or learning disabilities. Statistics and studies consistently show it is great for children of low income families, or English Language Learners. It especially helps to even the playing field for these kids who might not be as exposed to the kinds of opportunities of their more affluent peers.
For example, I have a good friend who was able to qualify for the state funded public pre-k as a child because she came from a low income family. Her parents had her at a very young age, and because she was able to go to pre-k for free, it allowed her parents to continue working to support their family. She ended up going to Yale.
Was going to pre-k the reason she went to Yale? Probably not. But, funded pre-k gave her learning opportunities and provided her family stability so they could support her learning.
Whatever reason a person chooses (or doesn’t choose) to send their child to pre-k, the beauty lies in the ability of parents to choose what works for their family. My son won’t be attending a pre-k, and I know he will be just fine. We’re happy. He will have many years ahead of compulsory schooling, so why not be with him for these short four years if I can be, and if it makes us both happy?
Additional Resource Reading
Preschool, Nanny, Parental Care, Daycare? What’s Best?
The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids
The Case Against Universal Preschool
Photography: Lynn Walker Photography