Wow--the preschool post struck a nerve.
First off, when I say "preschool" I mean a program that's part-day from one to five days a week, and is not meant to cover childcare while parents are working. Daycare is a longer-day program and is meant to care for your child while you're working. People with kids in full-time daycare don't send their kids to preschool, because the kids are probably getting the same stuff at daycare, and also the logistics wouldn't work out.
So to some degree the preschool issue is a problem of a certain socio-economic class, except that things are kind of mixed up in some areas. For instance, in the part of NYC that I live in, you can find a good full-time babysitter in two weeks, but the good daycares have waiting lists of 6 months or more. And if you have more than one child, a full-time babysitter is definitely cheaper than full-time daycare for two. So having a "nanny" doesn't mean you have more money than people with kids in daycare.
And I know women who can't work at all, even if they'd like to, because what they'd get paid wouldn't cover their childcare and commuting costs. If working from home isn't an option (and if you're full-time from home, you still need childcare), sometimes you're too poor to work.
So it's entirely possible that staying home with your child and paying $250 a month for preschool a couple of days a week is the cheaper option, depending on where you live, preschool and childcare options in your area, and what your field pays you.
But on to the "real" question: Lots of people were asking why someone would send their child to preschool, or what preschool can do that playing at home with a parent can't.
I never went to preschool. I know plenty of happy, successful people who didn't go to preschool. So it's clear that a kid doesn't *need* to go to preschool to be happy and well-adjusted. I think we should get that out of the way right now.
But there are lots of reasons that people want to send their kids to preschool, and want to so badly that they struggle through whatever the process is in their area.
- It's fun for the kids. They love, love, love it. I know there are some preschools out there that are trying to teach kids things in a structured way, but most of the ones I hear about are trying to set up situations in which the play helps teach kids things, and they have fun all the time. (It's only in Kindergarten that they start forcing learning on the kids, thanks to NCLB.)
- Which means that you aren't having to come up with projects. Or your babysitter doesn't have to come up with projects.
- They have equipment you don't have. Do you have a water table in your living room? Slides? Extra-jumbo wooden blocks? An endless supply of fingerpaints? If you do, please email me directions to your house, and we'll be there Saturday morning at 10 am.
- It's a break for you that your kid thinks is for him or her. (Although if you have younger children, the pick-up/drop-off routine can make any "break" aspect a washout.)
- It gives you a social structure. If you never had a playgroup when your child was younger, or if your playgroup is drifting apart, it's a chance to meet other parents who have something in common with you. Even if the only thing you have in common is that your kids are in the same class, that's a start. Built-in reason to make playdates, etc.
- Yada yada social skills yada. People go on about being with other kids (which I don't think is necessary at this age, and in fact would urge everyone to read Gordon Neufeld's Hold On To Your Kids about how we push kids to rely on peers too early) and learning social skills. Whatever. I think a kid who's raised with love and care, even if that child only ever sees one other human being, can pick up the social skills. But it can be great for parents because
- It helps you see where your kid lies in relation to other kids his age. Which helps reinforce your spidey sense/mama gut/whatever you want to call it. What a relief to know your kid's not the only one! Or, how good to see that maybe you do need to ask about that thing she does.
- Objective adults who see your child regularly who can help you troubleshoot. The preschool teachers have seen a ton of kids. They know a lot about kids this age. They can talk to you about yours, and help give you tips about how to deal with things that come up. There's a lot of social stuff with kids, especially around age 4, and the teachers can help deal with that.
- Routines. Kids this age love routines. And you might be very surprised to learn that the child who won't pick up for love or money at home is the best cleaner-upper in the class at school.
Anyone else have anything I didn't cover? I'm not trying to talk anyone into putting a kid in preschool. I'm just explaining what I see as the benefits. All examples and counterarguments welcome.