It was a typical Monday morning. I’d dropped my 5-year-old off at his Montessori school and I was sitting at Starbucks with my 3-year-old, trying to cram in a little work while he played Angry Birds on the iPad. We were sitting near the condiment bar, where an older gentleman was adding sugar to his cup. He glanced over at me, then shifted his gaze to my son.
“No school today?” he asked.
My son looked up and shook his head. Normally shy around strangers, he said, “I don’t go to school, but my brother does.”
I didn’t want to engage with this man or answer his question when it was none of his business, but my kids have a way of making me have to engage anyway.
“He’s only 3,” I said by way of explanation, my voice frosty.
“Not too young for school,” the man said, as if his opinion—and that’s what it was—mattered to me.
“Yeah, he is,” I said, matching his tone. “And I like having him with me while he’s this young.”
The man shook his head and walked out. That was the entire conversation, start to finish.
First I was annoyed—then I was furious. How dare he look at my 3-year-old son and decide he should be in school? I’m sure that man wasn’t in school when he was 3 years old. I know I wasn’t.
The stranger at Starbucks wasn’t the first person to say my kids were “ready” for school long before kindergarten. Starting at age 2, more than one well-meaning friend commented at different times that one or both of my children was “ready” for school.
These comments most often came from parents whose children had been in daycare programs since infancy. While I tried to understand their perspective, it felt like they weren’t respecting mine. For many families, preschool isn’t the right choice.
Here’s why it wasn’t right for my family.
1. I didn’t need childcare outside my home.
The belief that early childhood education is necessary might be because so many parents need childcare. I have heard many parents call daycare—the place that cares for their children while they’re at work—“school.” But that doesn’t mean every child needs to be in a program, or that parents who are able to stay home or have another childcare alternative—like a relative, in-home sitter or nanny share—should feel compelled to enroll their kid in a formal program before kindergarten.
Call it selfish, but keeping my kids home rather than enrolling them in preschool meant I got to have more quality one-on-one time with them during their toddler years.
2. I was willing and able to teach my kids the basics they would learn in preschool.
What I remember about kindergarten was story times, puzzles, finger painting and naps. Children are now expected to be much farther ahead than that when they start kindergarten, no doubt because of all the childcare programs that emphasize education over play. But between me and my part-time babysitter, we were able to teach my son almost all of the things they would’ve learned in preschool. After a few months in school, no one would know they hadn’t attended preschool.
3. Financially, it didn’t make sense to put my kids in a preschool program.
For most parents, full-time preschool programs come with a hefty price tag. While preschool (or daycare) may be the best option for working parents who need full-time childcare, for parents like me, who only need a part-time babysitter, full-time programs are incredibly cost prohibitive and few part-time options exist.
4. I wanted to keep my kids with me for as long as I could.
Call it selfish, but keeping my kids home rather than enrolling them in preschool meant I got to have more quality one-on-one time with them during their toddler years. Even when I hired a babysitter for 20 to 25 hours a week so I could do my freelance work, I was still spending more time with them than if they’d been on a regular school schedule. I cherish the time I got to spend with them, and the time they got to spend with each other, especially now that they’re in school.
5. They stayed healthier.
Having kids who almost never got sick might not have been a primary reason to keep them out of preschool, but it was definitely a perk. Even the pediatrician said, “They’re not in daycare, are they?” when looking at their charts during an annual wellness visit. Until they started school, we had exactly two visits to the doctor that weren’t wellness visits—and one of those was for a spider bite.
6. Studies show that there is no real benefit to formal education at an early age.
Early childcare programs emphasize all the things children will learn while in school, making them “ready for kindergarten.” But the truth is, kids who aren’t developmentally ready for formal education do not benefit from it and any benefits of preschool fade within a few years. I didn’t want my children to hate school before they were even old enough to be required to attend. A lack of early childhood education didn’t put them at a disadvantage once they did start school.