Is Preschool Really Necessary for Toddlers?

One of the hottest parenting debates is over schooling, but we’re not talking about private vs. public or which preparatory academy is best. No, the real concern seems to be whether or not toddlers need to go to preschool. There are varying arguments from parents who land all across the spectrum, depending largely on socio-economic status as well as the opportunities that are available where you live.

Many modern preschools (especially those in metropolitan areas) will now begin accepting children at around age two and a half, while preschools of years past only accepted kids in the year before they started kindergarten. The actions and attitudes of parents are startlingly different, ranging from those who wait in line for hours to sign their unborn children up on waiting lists for the best preschools to those who feel that school should begin after kids turn five. If you are undecided about where you stand and what to do with your little one, read on to learn the benefits and arguments for each side.  

Preschooler baby learns to count. 

Preschooler baby learns to count. 

Fighting for Preschool

Parents and education experts who feel that preschool is a necessary step for toddlers are making this decision based on a number of reasons, some of which benefit the child and others which benefit the parent.

First, we’ll talk about the benefits for the child. The number one reason many parents send their toddlers to preschool is to prepare them academically for kindergarten and beyond. Multiple

Studies show that high-quality preschool programs can give your child better basic math and pre-reading skills and a stronger foundation to build their education on. Children who are already ahead when they begin preschool can often be admitted to advanced programs that will put them above grade level from the very beginning. Parents argue that this small step can have a big effect on the opportunities they are given throughout the rest of their lives.

Next, some experts feel that preschool can help the brain grow during the most formative years. The Huffington Post claims that, by age five, a brain has reached 90 percent of the size it will be when that child becomes an adult. One expert states that having adequate learning experiences during the formative years will promote healthy growth and contribute to strong architecture of the brain. The benefits of this early stimulation can impact the rest of the child’s life, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Another benefit to your child comes in the form of social interaction. Your child will be able to learn social skills that relate to other children, like sharing, controlling tempers and playing, as well as those that affect his or her relationship to adults, such as showing respect and following directions. Preschool also offers a basic training ground for skills that will be used in school, including sitting still during lessons, completing assignments and handwriting. It can also prepare children to be away from their parents during school hours.

Besides the advantages given to children, preschool can also offer benefits to parents. Mothers and fathers who work during the day and do not want their child to simply go to daycare can feel better knowing their little one is learning in a fun environment while they’re away. For parents who stay home during the day, a few hours at preschool can offer a break and time alone.

Other benefits reported by the Huffington Post pertain to the child’s long-term future. According to some studies and research groups, children who are enrolled in preschool are less likely to be imprisoned or rely on welfare when they grow up. The odds of being arrested for a violent crime increase by 70 percent for those who do not attend preschool and the school drop-out rate is also 25 percent higher. These are just a few of the many benefits that have encouraged countless parents across the country to start their children in preschool as soon as possible.

Choosing to Wait

While studies and statistics report the aforementioned benefits of children who go to preschool, there are also many parents and experts who argue against them. Their claim is that the majority of the children who do not attend preschool do so because their parents have a lower income and were unable to provide the learning opportunities that more affluent families can. It is these differences that have more of an effect on whether or not a child will success in life, not the fact that he or she attended preschool.

Reports on the need for preschool spurred the government into creating the Head Start program, something some experts have labeled “one of the most… expensive federal program evaluations carried out in the last quarter century.” A few studies have revealed that children who attended this program did not benefit academically, but did get to enjoy a nurturing environment, something they may not have had at home.

While many argue that parents who are financially stable and have a positive home environment do not need to send their children to preschool, many others feel that preschool is just plain unnecessary. These parents feel that the environment in a preschool can be too structured for what kids this age really need to learn, which includes running, jumping, pretending and creating. While these activities are often incorporated into a preschool curriculum, some experts feel that even the most relaxed and open preschool environments are still too restrictive to allow children to really explore and gain the growth their brains need for proper development. Many experts, even those who support preschool for toddlers, explain that a classroom setting is not the right option. Instead, children need to talk about stars, build forts and be read to, which are the same things that generally happen at home, outside of a preschool setting.

Slate.com suggests that research has shown that preschool really only benefits children from low-income families. These children have generally not been exposed to learning and growth like children from more privileged families have, and therefore can have the chance to reach a more equal level if they attend preschool. This means that children whose parents’ incomes are above the poverty line would likely have reached the same heights with or without preschool. These children are less likely to spend their toddler years watching television and more likely to be engaged in adult conversation and extra-curricular activities.

After having taught in a preschool for three years, I agree with the anti-preschool group, but on the condition that parents are willing and able to teach their children at home. I saw many different types of parents. Some enrolled their child immediately after the third birthday just so they could get a break and had zero interest in them learning anything. Others were very involved and would read every book we sent home with them. The main determiner of whether or not preschool is needed is far more dependent on the parent’s willingness to teach at home. I personally taught preschool at home to all three of my elementary children and all of them were placed in advanced programs, but parents who lack the time and desire may need to place their child in a preschool to get him or her ready to start kindergarten. What did you do to prepare your child for school? Comment below with your opinions, thoughts and tips about the great preschool debate.

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