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Toddling Off To School

Our most recent poll focused on preschool and the options we’ve got as parents of infants and toddlers. A full fifty percent of you said you’ll be sending your child to preschool around age 3 or 4, mostly for socialization reasons. The rest of you split down the line evenly, with some opting to save money and not start an organized school until kindergarten, some working to get their children into the “right” preschool as the first step towards the “right” college, and one mom even admitting that the sooner her child was in preschool, the sooner she’d finally have some time back for herself. (I feel you, girlfriend!)

Interestingly enough, I posted this poll a few weeks ago, before heading off on vacation, and my girlfriend Abby did a guest post while I was gone about her son Isaiah starting preschool last week. At 3 ½ (I can’t bring myself to think of him as an almost-four-year-old yet), Isaiah’s right in the middle age of kids starting preschool. If you’ve read Abby’s blogs, you know she’s helping launch a new preschool in her area so she’s a big supporter of them. Originally worried about how Isaiah would do at his twice-weekly school, Abby now worries that it doesn’t meet frequently enough to suit him! 

I didn’t hit preschool myself; I haven’t asked my mom but am guessing it was simply beyond our finances. Both my brother and I did start school at the age of 4, though, so perhaps it’s the same thing. I know that if you had asked me pre-child whether or not my child would be attending preschool, the answer probably would have been “no”. What’s the point? I would have asked.

I do see, though, how important it is for my daughter to interact with other kids her own age. I see the social lessons she learns on the playground – that someone might walk up to you, for example, and simply take your ball away.

Or, for that matter, your wallet, but that’s Mommy’s recent life lesson.

Anyway, as I was saying, Maddie’s discovering there’s a set of rules governing how you interact with others. She’s learning not to scream and cry when another child yanks a toy out of her hand: she remains calm and seeks an adult’s help if necessary. Likewise, she’s finding out that not every toy is “hers”, to take at will from other babies. Ah, the old “Those rules don’t apply to ME” mentality . . . Sharing swingset time, stepping aside to let a bigger kid pass on the stairs, all of these are common courtesies she’d never discover stuck at home with just Mommy.

I can also see how doing some sort of part-time “school” would help ease a child into the world where Mommy’s not there all the time – a bit of a transition from babyhood to elementary school. It’s a low-pressure environment, and is only a few days a week, giving the toddler plenty of family time back in familiar territory, with recognizable routines.

There’s also, of course, the actual learning factor – does preschool make kids smarter, and more prepared for elementary school? Do preschooled kids have a leg up on reading, writing, and so on? I’m not convinced of it; a recent study I read showed that kids who entered elementary school at a higher knowledge level – being able to read, for example – maintained that edge for only a year or so before their peers caught up. But I can see how kids who have trouble focusing, for example, or take longer to learn things, could use that advantage when starting in a mass classroom setting. It seems, though, that those sort of basics could be introduced at home nearly as well as in a group setting, so I still see preschool more as a lesson in culture and socialization than ABC’s.

So we’ll probably talk about some sort of preschool when Maddie’s time comes. I’m definitely not interested in the type of preschool you have to “interview” for, where they observe how Maddie holds her juice box while looking over her resume: “I see she’s got finger painting down, but she’s only playing one musical instrument, and where are her foreign languages?” I don’t think we’ll move in the world where her preschool will make a hill of beans difference on her college admission.

Then again, at the rate we’re going baby girl’s going to have to pay for college herself, so maybe she’ll need every advantage she can get. 


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