I’m In No Rush For My Toddler To Start Preschool, So Why Is Everyone Else?
All I was trying to do was get reimbursed for my Uber. A few months ago I was scurrying through the cubicles at my 9-5 nonprofit looking for a finance person so I could get “my little $7.00” as I had been referring it to as for at least a week for travel to a health fair. In my haste, I was approached by one of the senior managers at my job, a wise, regal figure who was one of the few faces of color there and whom I enjoyed talking to when I could since she always knew about the most random things from what kind of fish were better to pair together in an aquarium to Madame CJ Walker’s family tree.
Before I knew it I was ten minutes deep into a conversation about her grandson’s adventures in preschool. She was quick to correct me when I referred to it as “daycare” because the prestigious academy which toted a monthly tuition that was definitely a whole paycheck for me was anything but that. Her 2-year-old grandson was only a few months younger than my daughter and she radiated when she talked about how the toddler knew his ABC’s, could name both farm animals and different types of pets on sight, and was learning how to correctly uses phrases of common courtesy like, “Please,” “Thank you,” and “You’re Welcome.” In a way I was reassured because my daughter isn’t in preschool but we had done a pretty decent job in between myself, my husband, and two sets of grandparents and an auntie teaching her those same things in between work and morning and evening commutes without the hefty price tag. I was more impressed however by the toddler’s lessons in routine and structure and most importantly, social skills.
People have been asking me about preschool, siblings, social skills and teaching my daughter to share since her umbilical cord had barely fallen off. It’s as if people think that if she spends over a year as an only child who doesn’t interact with other children on a daily basis, she’ll turn into some pint-sized narcissist who wouldn’t be aware of other’s feelings if they were doing the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse “Hot Dog Dance” before her eyes. I’d be lying if I said that all of this over-zealous concern hasn’t rubbed off on me a little. That’s why it was comforting to come across the story “No, My Kid Is Not In Preschool. Yes, She Will Be Just Fine.”
In the piece, author Amanda Simpson talks about the nagging of family and other parents about her choice to not enroll her daughter in preschool, and that by doing so she’s doing her a huge disservice. Simpson says the decision is a personal choice that is based a large amount on the fact that preschools are friggin’ expensive:
“Preschool costs about 1 billion dollars. I exaggerate, but it’s a lot, especially in Los Angeles. And my family doesn’t have one billion dollars. Yes, I could go back to work and the majority of my paycheck could go toward preschool. But what do I do with my second kid? I definitely don’t have two billion dollars for preschool.”
I feel her pain. I am not in any rush to get my almost three-year-old anywhere near the Philadelphia public school system and while I’m sure it’s not the worst thing in the world, it definitely isn’t the best. So decisions about my child’s education often begin with a conversation about suburbs versus the city, and our own career paths and paychecks. I want my daughter to have a quality education and not just be anywhere with the faint scent of Crayola in the air and Dr. Seuss books scattered across the floor. Shoot, we can do that at home. In addition I don’t think I should have to work my life away in order to afford it.
Simpson also has some words for the folks who are convinced that your kid is going to grow into a shy anti-social hermit just because they’re not trading boogers and e-coli with their peers on a regular scheduled basis:
“My kid is social (shy, but social). We have multiple playdates/groups every week so she can socialize with kids around her age. We go on field trips to all sorts of museums — art, space, train, natural history, for example — where she is learning.”
“Those who know my kid, know my kid is shy. And there are those who say, ‘Well, maybe if she was in preschool, she wouldn’t be.’ Yeah, maybe. But also, maybe not. I went to preschool and was they shiest kid ever.”
“I was also a crier and a leg-hugger until second grade (maybe longer). So even with preschool, my daughter still might be shy. I was.”
But do three and four-year-old’s really need or benefit from preschool or is it truly a luxury? According to a HuffPost article, it’s probable a little bit of both. According to “Do Kids Really Need Preschool?”, about 30 percent of the country’s three and four-year-olds are enrolled in private schools and childcare centers, with a recent report by Child Care Aware America sharing that parents, on average, are paying anywhere between $3,900 (Mississippi) to nearly $11,700 (Massachusetts) per year for full-time, center-based care for a 4-year-old. Oh, and don’t live in the city. Manhattan residents are paying around $40,000 a year for preschool tuition at certain schools. And even if I was completely set on the idea of signing my daughter up within the next year, once I started researching local Friends schools and even Catholic school pre-K’s similar to the one I attended years ago, my pockets had to disagree. I’m starting to think I should’ve started saving for her quality education during my second trimester. It doesn’t help that her birthday is late in the year, so she often doesn’t meet the age cutoff.
Still experts agree that the hefty price is well worth it. Preschool may not guarantee your child will be the next Michelle Obama, but it certainly will increase the chances. Studies show that kids enrolled in preschool showed higher levels of school readiness, gains in test scores and math and literacy skills, as well as improvements in social and emotional development. Some studies even show that kids enrolled in preschool are less likely to rely on welfare or serve jail time.
Look, there are definitely more factors involved when it comes to if your child will be a future felon than a few missed years of Show and Tell. If I’m being honest, sending my daughter off into the world away from family and friends, terrifies me, and I’ll be damned if I do it before she’s able to communicate well. If I’m lucky, I’ll have years of sleepless nights waiting for her to drive home from her part-time job days after she gets a driver’s license and scheduled video chats from her dorm as she squeezes time in between classes and keg parties to talk to me. So trust me when I say I am soaking this time when I’m my toddler’s only BFF all the way up.
Don’t get me wrong, I get that there are millions of working parents who don’t have a choice but to send their child to daycare or preschool and that there’s also stay-at-home parents who feel like the benefits of giving their child a head start in the classroom is worth not being around for every single second of their childhood. I’m sure there are many kids who knew their times tables by age four that are now grown adults who can’t figure out the price of something that’s 50% off without pulling out a calculator. Just like there are probably kids who were home-schooled that are now social butterflies. The fact of the matter is all a parent can do is figure out what works best for their family, and raise their kids with their well-being as a top priority.
If there’s anything my father taught me, it’s that education should go way beyond a school bell and coat cubbies. My daughter may not be in a classroom, but her grandfather is teaching her everything from shapes to the rise of Motown Records. Her father and I make time for museums, the zoo, and cultural events. And sometimes we just eat Goldfish crackers and watch hours of Tom and Jerry. Because the truth is you only get to be a three-year-old once. The world of homework, due dates, and managing other people’s personalities isn’t going anywhere. And I am in no rush to push her out into it.
Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.