As the proud mother of four young girls I think it's safe to say that I have been around the old preschool block a time or two. My oldest girls (now ages 10 and seven) went to daycare centers as babies so the transition to preschool was kind of a no-brainer. I had to work, they were there anyways – might as well do the preschool thing.
My twins, on the other hand, have been a different story. They are my teeny-tiny-stay-at-home-absolutely-positively last babies ever. When they turned three years old this past year I found myself second guessing the decision to send them off into the big, bad world. Would they be ready for preschool? Would I be ready for preschool? Why not just keep them home for one (or two) more years with their best and most favorite teacher: me! Well, here is why:
If you suspect your little guy might need a bit of extra assistance in his academic journey then you most definitely want to get him into a preschool program. Whether it's fine motor skills, speech and language needs, or a bit of occupational therapy, preschool can give your tot a head start in areas of deficit. Under IDEA, or the Individuals With Disabilities Act, once a child turns three they are guaranteed special education services by the state agency. A lot of parents have no clue that this service is even available to them and often wait until kindergarten to bring concerns up with educators.
If your child never attends any sort of school setting before entering kindergarten he may be in for a very rude awakening. When five-year-olds come into elementary school, so much is expected of them. It is bound to be overwhelming even for the most prepared students. Where traditional kindergarten used to be a half day program, it is now full time in most places. Children are expected to sit, listen, wait their turn, and show growth in the areas of academics, social awareness, and emotional maturity. That is one heck of a tall order for a little guy. Preschool does a lot of this heavy lifting for them.
A lot of the early educational years are spent focusing on child-to-child interactions. By nature young children are egocentric and it can be difficult for them to learn to share, work out their problems with their words, and voice their needs and concerns to adults. Preschool programs allow children as young as two-and-a-half to fine tune their social and emotional growth to prepare them for kindergarten. After sending my three-year-old twins to school for one week I noticed that they were more in tune with each other's emotional needs. They started to show empathy and apologize for their actions more often than before. At the same time their social development skyrocketed and they began to interact with kids on the playground and seek out friendships more fluidly. It was amazing!
Let's face it, kindergarten has drastically changed over the last 20 years. What we adults remember as being a whole lot of coloring, playtime, and learning our Letter People is now an eight hour day of academically rigorous lessons. Kindergartners are tested like never before and in a lot of ways expected to know far more than we did when we entered primary school.
Preschool does a phenomenal job of providing your child plenty of choices while giving them the structure that they need to feel safe and secure in their environment. Kids need to have some sense of control over their worlds and allowing them to choose the colors of paint to use in a project or allowing them to select a free choice activity at school is a great way to do that. In balance with the choices comes a heavy dose of structure. Preschooler learn that there are rules and hard lines in the sand when they attend learning-based programs. Three-year-olds learn to hang up their backpacks, clean up their messes, and sit on rugs while teachers read to them. They line up for recess, wait their turn to swing, and take turns using the bathroom, all at the age of three.
It is insane how much more independent my children became after I sent them off to school. Within weeks they were dressing themselves, pulling up their own pants, and wiping their own tiny butts. Children need to feel capable and preschool provides the independence skills for just that. I wonder if I should send my husband back to preschool and see if he can pick up some independence skills as well. That guy still tosses his dirty clothes on the floor.
I will be blunt. This summer my kids got bored of me. I tried to create exciting days and experiences for them but we basically needed to break up. Sending them to preschool for three hours a day did the trick. Our relationship was saved! Programs these days infuse your little one's day with a whole new world of interesting activities. They play in spaces that are new to them and use toys and tools which they may never have seen before. At preschool there is a whole new world full of people to connect with and enjoy. The bonus is they miss you and you miss them and when they come home at lunch time everyone is refreshed and ready to spend quality time together.
Many of us did the tot-and-mom play dates at the park and story time at the library, but these events are almost always under the guidance and watchful eye of mommy and daddy. Preschool is a time where young children can go into the big world and make friendships and connections with other children all on their own. They also learn to love and trust their teachers and assorted personnel in the buildings. I was really starting to believe that the twins would never connect with another adult outside of myself, my husband, and close family members. Within three days of school the girls were willingly holding their teachers' hands and asking if they could come home with us.
When your offspring are young the days are long, but the years are short. Kids get up so freaking early and sometimes (or in my case all of the time) it's just you and them until the moon pops up and you pass out in their toddler bed at 10 p.m. Seven hours later it starts all over again – this goes on for years. Then bam! Preschool smacks you in the face and hands your family the gift of routine. Most people function better on some sort of routine and my children and I are no different. We now get up at a certain time, get dressed, eat breakfast, and it's off to school. The kids come home tired, we eat and play, and then the big girls come home. A few more hours and dinner happens, then bath time and bed. The kids have tuckered themselves out with all of that playing and brain work that school provided them with and my day is no longer one continuous flow of everyone screaming, "Mooooooooom."