Happy at home: Is preschool necessary?

My daughter is two years old. Some of my friends are already sending their kids off to preschool. We are very happy together at home. Will I be hurting her by keeping her home with me for now?

Question:

It sounds like you have a lovely situation, which is working well for everyone. You have the freedom and the desire to stay at home with your child and your child is doing well.

There are rich learning opportunities for your daughter at home with you: exploring the house, the laundry, the cupboards, the kitchen, her family relationships and the neighborhood. From the security of your love and attention, she can venture out to challenge herself physically as she tries to climb onto the back of the couch, cognitively, as she tries to fit the frying pan lid onto the saucepan, emotionally, as she becomes afraid of the neighbor's dog and you talk her through her feelings, and socially, as she develops relationships with friends and family.

What Preschool Offers

The two unique experiences preschools offer children are a chance to be cared for by someone who is not a family member and a stable group of children to build relationships with over time. It is useful for children to have some experience with both of these circumstances sometime before they reach kindergarten, particularly now, when kindergartens are becoming more structured and academic.

Having the experience of being cared for by an adult outside the family gives children a chance to begin to learn that the world is a safe and nurturing place. They learn that they can get their needs met and make their desires known to someone besides a parent. If children have a chance to learn this before kindergarten, they will enter kindergarten with the confidence that their teacher will be a resource to them, and that they can survive without their parent.

Equally important, building relationships with a stable group of children over time helps children learn how to communicate, problem-solve, negotiate and work together. When the group is stable (as opposed to a drop-in situation or meeting new kids at the park), kids have the chance to get to know each other and deepen their social skills. Preschool or child care is one avenue for kids to participate in a stable group, but families can also participate in playgroups or childcare co-ops which can give children a similar experience.

Options for Preschool

There are many different forms of group care for children. One main distinction is the difference between childcare and preschool. Childcare is generally full-day, providing care for parents who are working or in school full-time. Preschool is a part-day enrichment program. There are also parent co-op preschools where parents take turn working in the classroom with the children and the teacher.

Deciding When the Time is Right

It is a very personal decision to send your child to preschool. It is important that parents don't feel pressured about making the decision. If your child hasn't had an opportunity for some on going socialization and care by an adult outside your family, you may want to consider preschool the year before kindergarten. Ultimately you and your daughter will figure out the best time for her. And remember, there are a lot of good choices, not just one.

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