Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Is Preschool a Necessary Expense?

image from

What I’m about to say is very politically incorrect.

In our area, preschool programs cost about $100 a month. Is it a necessary expense in order to have a well-educated, properly socialized child? Or can your hard-earned money be better spent on other things while your child still grows into his or her perfectly-rounded, well-adjusted, very-socialized, brilliant self? I would argue the latter.

You can send a child as young as two to preschool five days a week, and you’ll be asked to attend parent-teacher conferences, where the teacher will probably point out areas needing improvement in your child’s life. What could those areas possibly be at age two or three? Maybe the teacher will say he is not holding a crayon properly and is not sharing toys as well as she would like. And you will go home and cry.

Or you could just remember, your child is two (or three or four), for goodness’ sake! Coloring with crayons and learning to share will come in due time. Let’s keep our perspective. But that’s hard to do when the “educational expert” on your child (the teacher, not you) is pointing out all of your wee little one’s faults and areas needing improvement. Can we just back away from the situation and relax a little? (I’m sure you know all of these areas anyway as the parent, and as a good parent, I’m sure you’re working on all the character training anyway).

You can save your money and teach your child everything he or she will need to know for success in school in the comfort of your own home. Read quality books to your kids every single day. Their vocabulary and comprehension skills will soar. Involve them in your lives; that in itself will educate them.

You can pick up an early learning workbook for $3.86 at Walmart and take them through that closer to four or five if you want. Or you can teach them their letters and numbers, shapes and colors on your own without any workbooks. (By the way, I am not against workbooks; I actually own several --Developing the Early Learner, Singapore Earlybird Math, and the Ready, Set, Go series that I’ve ordered from Sonlight. But I don’t force my four-and-a-half year old to do pages every day, or even every week.)

One of the best tips I ever read about homeschooling (or schooling in general) is this: children have an innate, God-given desire to learn. You would have to lock them up in a dark room and starve them educationally to keep them from learning and growing. Obviously none of us is going to do that; the point is—they learn even when we’re not aware of it. (I believe this point came from Better Late than Early, or Homegrown Kids by Raymond and Dorothy Moore--great books, by the way!)

Now about the big “s” word, socialization—

Parents send their children to preschool usually for one big reason: they, more than anything else, want them to be socialized and learn how to “properly interact” with 10- 20 other two, three, four and or five year olds. Yet studies (and perhaps more importantly, teachers and parents) will tell you that preschool actually negatively socializes our kids. The reason is because no teacher, no matter how wonderful she is, is going to watch your child and several others as closely as you would at home or at a play-date. Therefore, behaviors will occur that you would be quick to correct; yet, in preschool, these actions could very likely go unnoticed or uncorrected. My friend’s five-year old actually came home from preschool once and called her a “b----”—a word he had learned from another kid at preschool. Hence your child is picking up and bringing home character qualities and bad habits you’d wish you could have prevented. But that’s all part of “proper socialization,” right?

Interestingly, a second grade teacher told me recently that the best socialization for a preschool-aged child is to be around his or her parents, siblings, and other adults. This way, they learn from you proper manners and proper interactions with people of all ages. With you, more so than with anyone else, they learn what is and is not acceptable. As long as you take them out on errands, to church, to the library, and a host of other places, they will be getting all the right kinds of socialization. And you won’t be paying $100 a month for it.

Going back to skills—

One of my best friends, who taught 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades before becoming a full-time mother, told me that kids who have gone to preschool may have the edge in kindergarten for about a week, but then it all evens out. Her encouragement was to teach our preschool-aged kids skills they’ll need for later-learning success, such as:

  • Develop fine motor skills by doing projects like stringing beads
  • Learn to trace shapes and patterns, with their fingers, and later with pencils
  • Spend time coloring (as they’re ready) to develop those muscles. She said many kindergarteners have a hard time coloring because their fingers and wrists get so tired so easily.
  • Help them develop their creativity by giving them large blocks of unstructured play. One teacher said kids are losing their creativity. You can given them a toy, and they don’t know what to do with it—how to play with it. She said it’s a great trait in a child if we as parents and educators can back away, not micromanage, and watch our child’s creativity bloom.

That’s really about all. They stressed the importance of reading to our kids, and then they also stressed the importance—and value—of relaxing about the whole “school thing” in these early years. They’ll get enough of that soon enough, whether we homeschool or not.

Now what if you would like your children to experience preschool but without the expense? You could pick up a little workbook and help them learn colors, shapes, letters, numbers, things that are similar/different, etc. You could even purchase a preschool curriculum package, and you will still be saving compared to enrolling them in a program outside your home that will cost you $100/month or more. I myself am taking my boys through Sonlight’s pre4/5 curriculum, mainly because it is literature based, and at this age, I think the biggest thing is to read great books to our children. But we don’t follow our recommended curriculum plan every day, because again—they’re little, and I don’t think they need such structured instruction quite yet.
You could skip the curriculum and find great books at your library and read, read, read. The Very Hungry Caterpillar helped teach my two and four year old to count (and colors). Blueberries for Sal, Make Way for Ducklings, The Story about Ferdinand, and The Berenstain Bears Big Book of Science and Nature are some of my favorite books for this age.

If you have strong opinions in favor of preschool, that’s great! We can, I hope, agree to disagree. I myself am a preschool graduate and have fond memories of my time at Maple Tree preschool (what I can remember). As a friend reminded me, it is a personal decision.

 My purpose in this post is not to bash preschool (although I think I’ve given that impression); my goal is to help other parents who feel like they have to send their kids to preschool because everybody else does it, and how will their darling children be “socialized” if they don’t, but they can’t really afford the whole preschool expense, so what do they do? It is to those parents I write this post. It is my hope that what I’ve shared may help you consider it perhaps not a necessary expense after all.

Visit Frugal Fridays for more money-saving ideas!


  1. we've chosen to put our 4 year old into a 1/2 day a week nursery school. He's an only child and we've found that this is good for him overall. He has fun and plays with toys other than what is provided for him at home.

    Putting a 3-4 year old in school all day all week? can't see it. That separation from mom and dad. that dependence on other adults. that forced you "must get along" with other children all day long. Can't see it.

  2. Jaime SwartzendruberDecember 17, 2009

    I think that preschool decisions are made for a variety of reasons, and for some families it really isn't much of a choice. What I would suggest is taking a good look at the options and finding a fabulous teacher - especially one who won't focus on the negative but reinforce positive behavior. Noelle can't wait for a school of her own! She pretends CBS is her "school" and tries to run into Si's kindergarten class some mornings :) We'll be sending her to a Christian preschool very part-time in the fall. I will work from home during that time to counter the expense. I have to agree that preschool isn't going to make or break an academic future...and kudos to moms who can homeschool their children!

  3. Hi Annette, thanks for sharing. It sounds like your little guy is enjoying his preschool experience and that's great! I didn't write this in the post, but I myself remember (vaguely) going to preschool and playing with friends.

    Jaime, great advice! You're completely right about the decisions, and it is after all a personal choice. I hope this post did not sound too negative. The point I was trying to make is that if parents cannot afford the preschool expense but are worried about that, I wanted to reassure them that it will be ok in their child's life if they don't go to preschool. I know you'll find a great teacher for Noelle and that she will have a blast this fall! :)

  4. I really enjoyed this post. As a home preschool mom I sometimes encounter other parents criticism of my decision to mot put my son in a preschool program. Thanks so much for the encouragement and bolstering :)

  5. I think, as with anything, there are always pros and cons. We have done different routes and different preschools at varying ages with our 3 girls. Interestingly, very little had to do with academice (although they did learn stuff) but mostly with interpersonal interactions with other children, i.e. sharing, taking turns, good manners. Obviously we are reinforcing these at home, but often we moms can have a blind eye to poor behavior or the "me-centered, me-first" attitude in our children. A teacher with an objective view can be very helpful in this area, even if my plans are to homeschool. Pastor Jack has good advice for parents: "Train your children so that others like being around them." I have tried to take that advice to heart.

    We haven't decided yet what to do with Timothy, if anything, as far as preschool goes. Something to start thinking about! Thanks for the post.

  6. So much depends on your child! My son was happy as could be at home and wasn't ready for anything more structured until well past his third birthday. He's thriving at our church's prekindergarten now.

    Our daughter is far more social. By her first birthday, it seemed like she was bored when there wasn't another child around, even if she was just watching bigger kids at the playground.

    But I really wanted to mention another cost-effective option - co-op preschool! When faced with lots of pricey options they couldn't afford, friends of ours organized one for their 3 y.o. twins. It's a nice compromise - a little more structure than a playdate, but without all the pressure to do it all yourself, either.

  7. That you for being brave enough to speak what is on your mind...couldn't agree with you more! Naturally, education is a very personal opinion but I think children are drilled from way too young to follow routines...I would love for nothing more than to encourage my children to be freethinkers! :)

    Besides, instead up shucking out $100 a month, you get to spend quality time with your what makes more sense? heheheh! :)

  8. I was a preschool teacher for over 10 years most of my kids that i taught were from single moms that had no choice. but i'm a stay at home mom and i choice not to send mine to preschool. that is just me I don't want someone else teaching them. but being on both sides I totally get and understand both sides!

  9. This is very timely for me! I have been researching preschools and trying to decide which route to take myself. Thanks for the insight!

  10. Very well wrote! In the reality of things I see preschool as an expense we do not need to pay out, especially where I am home all the time and can teach my granddaughter myself. Thank you for sharing this!

  11. I have sent all three of my children to preschool - two different churched-based schools and one secular one. I have never had teachers tell me negative things about my children. They are always positive and upbeat.

    While I am teaching my children at home the majority of the time, one enjoyed and the other two still enjoy their time with friends two or three mornings a week for three hours at a time. For nine hours per week, I don't feel like I am giving up any kind of control as a parent. When my kids are home with me, we grocery shop, go to the playground, read books, go the library, meet up with friends, etc. But when they are at preschool, they play, form friendships, play, learn how to be a leader, play, learn how to be a follower, play, interact with children of different religions (secular school only), play, are taught basic educational skills, and play. As much as I want to, I can't get down on the floor and play with my children for three hours straight, and preschool offers great opportunities for that. I believe children should be children, and that's why I've chosen play-based preschools for them.

    I admit that I was hesitant to send my first child off to preschool, so I chose a co-op based school where I was in the classroom once per month and could see first-hand what was going on. I loved the idea that there was always a mom in this church-based preschool classroom, along with the teachers. And I was impressed by what I saw - seasoned teachers, experienced moms, and loving grandmothers nurturing my child. I learned many techniques from those wonderful women.

    I agree that sending a child to preschool is a personal choice. For my children it is the right one. They both love it and have made wonderful friends. I have met great people in the community that I live. The expense isn't a factor for us, but I could see that if it were, doing "preschool" at home is a good alternative. I think as long as children have time to be children and play with other kids, then both groups can get a good start in life.

  12. Thank you for the encouragement! I am a preschool grad, my husband is not, so our decision has been to home-preschool. Sometimes I find myself feeling pressured that my kids will be behind or out of the loop, so I appreciate your perspective! :)

  13. We are homeschooling preschool and ABSOLUTELY LOVE that book (the one you have a picture of). Kaelyn views the worksheets as GAMES and loves doing them to the point that she asks for them. I also love that you point out that some kids are just not ready to color. Kaelyn was always into coloring (from 8 mos on), but her sister, Anna, doesn't like it as much. We are just letting Anna direct her own pace!