Thursday, September 8, 2011

My Preschool Dilemma

My son, Lou, is three and a half years old and has entered the age where most kids start preschool. Since I try not to focus on what "most" kids do, it took me a while to determine if I should even bother enrolling him in a preschool. It was a much more difficult decision than I had anticipated. Like any mother, I want my child to have a good education, but deciding what type of schooling is right for my child proved to be quite challenging.

I didn't attend a traditional preschool. My mother and a few other mothers in the neighborhood took turns teaching a group of preschool aged children. I've heard that it was similar to Joy School. I was at home for a good portion of my "schooling" at that age. I have many fond memories of it. I remember several activities that encouraged creativity, sharing and confidence, but I don't remember it feeling anything like traditional schooling. It was more like a slightly structured playgroup. I like this choice for preschool since it's not a traditional curriculum, the children are learning at home, and it still provides social opportunities. To me, it combined what I love about homeschooling with what I like about traditional schooling. Unfortunately, we don't live near many preschool aged children. My poor kid doesn't even have a single preschool aged friend that lives near enough to do something like this.

Honestly I don't feel that my son needs a preschool at all. This blog post conveys my attitude about what preschool aged children (and their parents) should know. One of the best things I can do to help my son learn is to read to him. I love reading and have thoroughly enjoyed reading to my son. (It's the only time he sits still!) So, I figure why pay for a preschool when a library card is free? It doesn't have to cost anything to provide learning experiences to your child. I think reading to your child is one of the most important things you can do for them. The following are some lines from one of my favorite poems: The Reading Mother by Strickland Gillilan.

"You may have tangible wealth untold;

Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.

Richer than I you can never be-

I had a mother who read to me."

My husband and I are fortunate to have work schedules that enable us to each work outside the home without needing daycare. Lou is always home with at least one parent. The downside is that he is an only child and has limited social opportunities. There just aren't many preschool aged children nearby. My main reason for researching preschools is to help fulfill my son's social needs. I am not concerned with finding a school with challenging curriculum or schools that claim high test scores or better "kindergarten readiness." I just want my little guy to get to meet and play with other kids his age. I know this need can be fulfilled in many ways like playgroups and other activities. Due to our work schedules and location, preschool is the easiest and most consistent place to facilitate social opportunities.

Although the social aspect is appealing, I still wasn't convinced that enrolling my son in preschool was the right decision for him. There are so many things to consider. Am I ready to expose him to a classroom environment for learning? Am I comfortable with the things preschools will be teaching? Do I agree with their forms of discipline? Can I afford it? Would my money be better spent buying materials to enhance learning at home? Does my son even want to go to school? I could go on and on. Decisions like this are tough.

Long story short: I wasn't able to find a preschool that was the right fit for us. The right school, found us. Not long after I had made up my mind about keeping Lou out of preschool, a close family friend opened a preschool in her home. Since I know her personally I was better able to ask a multitude of questions without her getting defensive or trying to "sell" the school. She shares my same views on discipline and age appropriate curriculum. She keeps her class size small and the "classroom" still feels like a home. (And when you have connections like this, you just can't beat the price.) Call it fate, karma, answered prayers or whatever you choose, but I am so glad I was finally able to find something that combined a non-traditional school in a home with the social opportunities my son needs.

Is preschool important to you? Why or why not? What factors helped you decide whether to go with a traditional school or a non-traditional alternative? I'd love to hear your feedback!


Kayce Pearson said... [Reply to comment]

We chose not to do preschool. Glade doesn't get as much social time with kids her age, though around here it seems like we were the only ones that had a child in 2007 since all of her friends are a year younger, so that wasn't part of the decision. She talks about how she wants to go to school, but she has never been to a daycare or time away from us so she didn't know what it entailed. For us, waiting until kindergarten next year or even first grade the year after worked. The social aspect is all they really learn in preschool, everything else they learn as they get older without going to school. For her, I felt it was more important that she keep learning from us for the next year, so we can gauge her progress and learning and then decide how to proceed with kindergarten, which is still eluding us as to how we want to go forward with that. Maybe "homeschooling" for preschool is the kick in the pants we need to make a decision for next year.

Great post! That is really cool you found a school like that near you. My brother went to one of those (I never went to preschool) and he had a lot of fun.

Mandi Spencer said... [Reply to comment]

My sons are 3.5 and 5, and we plan to homeschool--for preschool and beyond. We don't really do formal preschool at home though. My mentality is this: they have been exploring and learning and soaking up knowledge since they were born. It seems to be working so far, so I don't see any need to change it.

Now that my older son is of Kindergarten age, we do a little formal instruction in math, but that's about it. He is motivated to teach himself reading (he uses, and the rest kind of just falls into place in the context of daily life. I can't imagine him in a traditional classroom, really. He is a high-spirited little guy, and I fear we would be pushed to medicate him or at least use discipline strategies that I don't agree with.

I'm not too concerned with the social aspect. The boys are only 17 months apart, and they are very close friends with each other. We also go to parks and the occasional library or YMCA activity. In the future, we'll probably join a homeschool co-op, 4-H, etc.

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