Planning for Preschool

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Just as the homeschooling community is starting to prepare for the coming school year, so are your local preschools. Life as MOM contributor, JessieLeigh, offers some things to think about as you start to line up your preschool options for next year.

Spring is right around the corner, and March is an important month when it comes to schooling. For many, this is a time of parent conferences and kindergarten orientations. Still others find themselves faced with the possibility of preschool. Registrations and applications are often due this time of year, and parents of little ones are left wondering what their best option might be.

Each family is different and needs vary from child to child. Still, preschool is something many of us weigh and consider. If you find yourself in that situation, here are some important questions to ask yourself as you begin the process of looking.

Does my child even NEED preschool?

Obviously, plenty of parents opt out of preschool. There are abundant examples of children who receive a stellar start right at home. So, the short answer? No. Preschool is not required before kindergarten and any of the “academics” and learning can most certainly be done at home.

Some additional things to consider:

  • Would my child benefit from the social aspect of a preschool?
  • Would the structure of a preschool day be beneficial or detrimental to my child’s personality?
  • Would I feel more confident having another opinion about my child’s development?
  • Can we afford to pay for preschool right now?

All of these will help you decide if it even “feels” right.

At what age should he begin preschool?

For the most part, there are three-year-old and four-year-old preschool programs. For some three-year-olds, preschool offers a predictable structure that is helpful. Particularly for children who receive therapies (I’ve parented two of them), preschool can provide a nice setting in which to receive this added help. Other children? Might be happier and do just as well starting at four.

The one thing I would caution you to remember is this– many quality four-year-old programs are already at capacity because of the three-year-olds moving into it. It can be much harder to get into a “desirable” class if you don’t start at three. Just something to think about.

How many days do I want my child to go?

Preschool programs vary. I’ve seen some that meet two days a week and some that meet five. Some are a scant two hours and others encompass four or even five. It just depends. You know your child, and yourself, better than anyone. Really consider what you think would be best. Two days away might be perfect, or it might leave little time to play if your child receives services in school.

Will she cry?

Maybe. Maybe not. Kids all have different personalities and histories. So do mommies. The first few days will likely be tough because any new routine can be tough. With very few exceptions, children adjust and do very well. In the rare case that your little one doesn’t? There’s no shame in pulling her out of the class and opting to wait to start school away from home.

My kid goes to daycare– isn’t that the same thing?

Well, that would depend on the daycare. Some daycare centers have a definite educational program going on, taught by age, by trained professionals. Others? Are based largely on providing basic care for your child– meals, stories, kissing boo-boo’s, etc. There’s nothing wrong with either type. It’s up to you to decide if you feel your daycare provides an adequate or even superior pre-K education.

What kind of preschool should I look for?

Take some time and really think about what type of preschool you’d like. Is it important to you that there be a religious component? If so, does it need to follow your specific denomination, or are you comfortable with a broader view? Would you like a private preschool or would you like to start in the public school? Do you care if the teachers have teaching credentials or Red Cross certification? These are all valuable things to consider.

What are the pros and cons?

Ultimately, this is what will help seal the deal one or the other for you. Some questions that might help you compile your list include:

  • Am I ready to part with my child for at least a few hours each week?
  • Does my child receive speech, physical, or occupational therapy?
  • Do I feel confident meeting my child’s academic, social, and developmental needs at home?
  • Does our town have a good, recommended program?
  • What do other parents I respect say about the local preschools?
  • Does our church have a reputable preschool program available?
  • Is our daycare doing an adequate or good job of working on preschool skills?
  • How will preschool costs affect our budget?
  • You may need to consider additional items based on your family’s situation, but these should give you a jumping off point.

For our family, we chose preschool for our two older children, and I believe our third will be going as well. That works for our family. Like so many aspects of parenting, what’s best for one family may not be the best for another. There are LOTS of “right answers”, if you will, and only you know what is the perfect fit.

What do YOU think?

What questions do you have about the preschool process? Have you been through it before? What input can you offer to other families?

— A mother of three, including a 24 week preemie, JessieLeigh is a determined advocate for even the tiniest of babies. She can be found celebrating life’s (sometimes unexpected) miracles and blessings at Parenting Miracles.

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  1. How I wish this post had been available 7 years ago!! 😉 excellent job of rounding up all the factors for consideration.

    I would just add two things. Lots of parents act like there’s a right or wrong way to do this. That is, in fact, untrue. There is a better or worse way to do it for each particular child, and even among different children in a given family.

    Second, consider the child’s birthday. Will s/he be one of eldest or one of the younger in the group. That can make a BIG difference, especially for boys.

    Finally, if you have a child that is showing any signs of autism, as my eldest did, see if your local early intervention services office can provide an aide to attend with him/her to smooth the transition and weed out any behavioral issues before they are solidified.

    I write a blog, too, (although, mine is not nearly as fantastic as Jessica’s, and I do use bad words…be warned!), but I have posted about the preschool experience differences between an ASD child and NT one, should anyone need that additional perspective.

    Great job, Jessica and JessieLeigh! This is a great post.

  2. Great tips – as a mom going through another “season” of deciding about preschool with a 2 year old foster child, it is good to be reminded of points to consider. For children that are home alone and do not have a lot of interaction with others their age preschool or play groups can provide that social development that can be missing. When I look for preschool, I want some structure, but a lot of fun play that perhaps I wouldn’t be able to accommodate at home.

  3. Great post! I am so glad to see an openness that there is no one “right” way. We have a just turned four year old and we are in the process of deciding what to do. We have seen some amazing benefits of preschool, and other times I think that I would like to keep him home.
    So…what to do 🙂 Thanks!

  4. My eldest daughter went to preschool at 3. She and I both loved it. I kept her home the next year, not being confident in the next teacher. My second daughter went at 3 and had a different teacher. I ended up taking her out because of a few different reasons. One being movie watching in the classroom (she was there 1/2 days). My son did preschool at home.

    Looking back, I wish I would have just preschooled all my children at home. It was easier than I thought it would be and I really enjoy teaching them.

    I would suggest to any parent that sends there kids to school to be very involved. Try and volunteer in the class at least once a week.

  5. this post couldn’t have come at a better time!
    I’ve been debating preschool since Oct. My son could have gone at age 3 but my work schedule didn’t work with the preschool schedules. He is now 4 and could go to the districts schools. But his current in home daycare has been doing preschool. He’s come a long way in the sense that he knows letters, numbers and other things.
    So, I’ve been debating on whether or not he needs preschool. He’s been in daycare since he was a baby and has excellent social skills and does well in a structured environment.
    After reading this, I’m thinking it’s ok if I skip traditional preschool. Thanks for the info.

  6. We’re currently in our Preschool year for my oldest. Based on the fact that all the “free” programs were 5 days a week, we decided to do a co-op with a few other mom’s in the area. We meet 3 days a week for 2 hour and rotate teaching and assisting responsibilities. It has worked out wonderfully. If you can’t find something that fits what your child needs, don’t be afraid to create it!

    1. I love this idea, Kimberly! Such an excellent example of thinking outside the box and not being afraid to create something new. 🙂

    2. We do a co-op like this too! One of the families has an extra area/room so we set up a little classroom and all contributed supplies. Two of us moms who have our degrees in teaching do the lesson planning and the teaching and the other moms (who have no desire to teach) bring the snack, help cut things, pick up supplies we may need, etc. We meet twice a week for 2 hours. We are finishing up our second year and the kids (and the moms) have been loving it 🙂

  7. When our girls were little…I didn’t even think about preschool, that subject never really came up with us moms then. My girls were homeschooled after my oldest finished first grade in a Christian school. My girls are now are 18 to 29 and serving the Lord. When I did want to do a little something I found the sweet books and workbooks by Rod & Staff Publishers for the four year olds were so darling and sweet along with their coloring books and little story books and so reasonable too! : ) Actually, I didn’t even use those books until my third and fourth arrived on the scene.

    Even now my girls like sweet old fashioned things like those books. : )

  8. We agonized over this for our first though really there were no choices..either go and get the services he was prescribed or decline. But with our typically developing second child we haven’t even given it a second thought…he’s not going.

    1. Your comment just keeps running through my mind, Heather… I’m really bothered by the idea that your older son wouldn’t have gotten services if he didn’t go to the school. Our children were absolutely still entitled to receive therapies determined by the special ed team whether we sent them to the school or not. I thought that was federally protected, but perhaps it’s state-by-state? We chose to send our kids to the preschool (because it’s a flat-out phenomenal program and was an awesome fit), but, had we not felt that way, they still would have gotten speech, OT, etc. Were you not given that option?

  9. I sent my daughter to preschool for 3 yrs actually – age 3, 4, and 5 because she has a very late Aug birthday she started K at age 6 and we are so happy that she did preschool it was a wonderful experience and she really loves school!

    1. My oldest child ended up having 3 years of preschool. It’s a very long story (and involves a boatload of therapy), but it was a good, albeit hard, choice for him. It’s so important that we look at the individual child when considering these things. I’m so glad your daughter had such a wonderful experience!

  10. I have been debating on whether I should send my three year old to preschool. Every time she sees a school bus she gets so excited, asking when she’ll be able to go to school. I just worry about her fitting in and making friends. Which I’m sure she’ll do fine but I can’t help but worry.

  11. I can’t stress enough that there is no one size fits all. There also is a bit of trial and error that might go along with preschool as well. What works for your older child might not work for your other children. The local nursery school all your friends send their kids to might be the worse option for your child. What worked last year might not work this year. This can also apply to teachers as well.

    It’s important to look into as many options as you can, ask people you know well and even some you don’t know well their thoughts on the various options. Also talk to the teachers in the programs if you can.

    It can also help to have some general idea on what your looking at down the road for Elementary, Middle and even High School. Especially if it involves Private, Charter, or Magnet Schools. Sometimes it is helpful to come in on the ground floor as a preschooler then trying to get in down the road. This is the c.ase with my daughter’s school where you have a better chance of coming in as a 3yr old. There were 3,000 applications for the admissions lottery with only 45 spaces. There might be only a spot or two if any at all for a parent looking to get their 2nd or 3rd grader in.

    I have a unique perspective as a mom who has worked both in a child care setting and in a separate preschool program. My oldest spent sometime in a home day care and now attends “Pre-K” at a public Magnet School. It is tough to make a choice and sometimes even after you make the choice you question whether it is the right one.

    I know that after my daughter’s first year at her school I honestly kept asking myself if this was the right place for her. She had a very rough year. I really wasn’t sure her teacher was the best fit and since they have multi-age classrooms and remain with the same teacher for 3 yrs it was tough thinking about sending her back. In the end I opted to give her another year and see how it went especially because she has a late birthday and is very close to being the youngest in her class (she was not even 3yrs old when she started). So far the year has gone better and her teacher loves her despite the challenges she poses. The teacher has a greater understanding of who my daughter is and what her challenges are, she pushes her in just the right ways and knows the “games” she likes to play.

    1. I am in complete agreement that there is no “one size fits all”, Celine! My youngest turns 3 in June and we are currently looking into preschool for her. Honestly, though, there is only ONE program that I think would be a fantastic fit for her and, if we don’t get into that one (and it feels funny typing that), I’m not sure I’ll send her elsewhere. That makes me pretty weird to most people since many seem to be either extremely pro-preschool or absolutely opposed to it. I’m confident we’ll find a way to make her 3yo year fabulous, even if it does mean getting creative… 🙂

      1. I guess that makes me “weird” as well since that was my stance when we applied to schools. I had 2 options that offered the same type of educational focus, that I thought best for my daughter. If she did not get into one of those schools I was simply planning on keeping her at home and trying to get in the next year and the year after as well. Otherwise I would be perfectly ok with home schooling.

        Sometimes when the best choice doesn’t work out the only other option is to keep them home.

  12. Thanks for such a great discussion… truly no “right” answer. Love how many have the confidence to wait or create an alternative. Our kids are all older teens now, and if I had a do-over… we’d probably do a lot more creating our own way. 🙂 Still, it worked out fine for us.

  13. We have been having this same discussion for our almost 3 year old. She receives in home daycare (from Grandma) so she doesn’t closely interact with other kids often, but there aren’t many programs in our area that are less than 5 days. It’s very frustrating because I think 5 days is too much.

    I love the idea of a preschool co-op mentioned above, but with me working full-time I don’t know how that could work… It just feels weird to ask my mother in law to do it.