The Right Preschool: Why it Does and Doesn’t Matter

Choosing the Right Preschool

Picking a preschool can be a giant stressor for many parents these days. From insane pricing, long wait times, and competitive entrance exams for both the child and parents, it can take years for some to choose their top choices and months to hear back about whether or not their child will attend. Others still spend weeks touring and interviewing and calling to make sure they are choosing just the right place for their child to succeed.

So what’s the big deal? How did we go from a nation of being lucky to graduate from the 8th grade in the 1800’s to being doomed for life if your 4 year old isn’t in a rigorous learning program?

And the biggest question of all – does it really matter? Does preschool really make such a huge difference that it changes your child’s future forever?

According to this article, the answer may depend on one simple factor: What socioeconomic status a child is being raised in. And as cringe-worthy as it is to break it down to that, it’s been proven time and time again. Children of middle and upper class families with or without early schooling can later easily be placed in an educations setting with peers and do just as well. Of course, there are always exceptions to this.

It’s not to say that middle/upper class kids shouldn’t be in preschool or can’t possibly need any of that. In one sense, know plenty of wealthy parents whose children do not get the time and attention they deserve. And then there are the kids who just thrive on structure regardless of what their home lives are like.

However, the same general “they’ll be fine” scenario isn’t true for the majority of children in families who earn below poverty wages, children who live with an uneducated mother, or children of racial minorities. These kids tend to have an unequal shot at the same opportunities for education, thus making preschool an important part of their childhood development. A quality preschool evens out the playing field – and even if the educational benefit only goes so far, the skills and lessons learned from interaction with the adults and other children leaves a lasting impression.

Ultimately, as a nanny to upper class families, and a preschool and kindergarten teacher to children with huge income gap divides in the same classes, I know that preschool can mean a world of difference to any child. Each child in our school gained something different and special, but the biggest leaps in learning and social skills came from the 3 and 4 year-olds who didn’t have the home advantages of their upper class peers.

In my mind, our thinking is backwards about preschool. Because instead of worrying if a child is accepted to a top Montessori or Waldorf school, our society should be more focused on the children that may never get a quality education; children that truly need preschool and the benefits it provides. Where it becomes less about Harvard bound and more about giving them an equal chance to succeed.

And in recent years, legislation has even been put before congress to have the government take on Universal Pre-Kindergarten to help level the playing field for those children whose families can’t afford to send their offspring to preschool. Unfortunately, though, this bill is hanging in limbo as it was referred to the House Education and Workforce Committee  in 2011 after dying in session.  However, many public school districts are finding the money in their already stressed budgets to offer free preschool because they know how this early education will set students up for successes later educational years. But the problem again arises where there isn’t enough space and it becomes an “application” process, where the lucky are chosen. Most recently, though, there’s been a lot of chatter as Obama begins his new term about what he’s going to do to bolster early childhood education.

So yes, choosing a good preschool, a place your child is safe and loved and has fun is important. It should be for any parent considering them. But when all your choices look pretty amazing, it’s time to let the stress of the “right” one go. It shouldn’t be a competition and high prices. It should be about making preschool available to everyone and less about being a privilege. Because really, it does matter most to those children who deserve an equal education but may never receive it otherwise.



  • Mary Beth says:

    Diana – This is my fave post of yours so far on LWM! It’s so true. People lose sight of what really matters, and forget there are so many families out there struggling to have a safe place for their kids to spend the day, while they’re deciding whether to go montessori or not. Investing in access to qualty early childhood education *for all children* is what we should really be focusing on.
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  • TheNextMartha says:

    Being informed also has a lot to do with it as well. Two children of the same ability will probably “be fine” no matter what. (though that’s not the line of thinking I buy into) People of a higher economic status are probably more aware of government mandated programs and are more likely to seek them out or demand them. Early intervention, Preschool grants for children of disabilities Program, and special education all have laws to educate those children at risk.

  • Suzanne says:

    Cheers to you on this great post. What a good reminder as I stress of how mine are in “just” a three star center when I should be thankful of our situation & knowing they’re in a great place with good learning opportunities at home & at “school”.
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  • Jamie says:

    In Illinois, there are many state-funding preschool programs that are run through grants (not to say anything to the dismal state of our budget in Illinois… but a lot of money does go towards education). Our community does have one of these programs and it can actually be difficult to get a spot for children with high-income parents or that do not have any developmental issues. I went through the application process for this program for Bo, but couldn’t be assured of a spot – so we went ahead and did the private school option for preschool and like it so much we will continue for their elementary years. Because we live in a rural area, there isn’t a lot of competition for spots — but there also aren’t many options.
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  • Katie says:

    I totally wrote about how we are signing Eddie up for preschool next week. My post wasn’t about our choice though…although we chose the public school preschool (public in that it’s run through the district, but it’s not funded by public in that we have to pay for it).

    Like Jen said, it’s really about being informed. I work in a district that is the opposite of the district where we live. Most of the kids here do not go to preschool simply because their parents don’t know about it…or about the programs available. They just know it’s not mandatory and it’s not free (even though it might be for them).

    I would love to see the government start funding and focusing on early childhood education and lower el ed. THAT is where the real work needs to start.

  • Kim says:

    Maybe I did it wrong, but I just went with our local public preschool. No interviews. I guess there was an application, but it was really more of a form. Being in the district my son was guaranteed in. He was already learning fundamentals from his home daycare, so my priorities were to give an opportunity to make friends with kids his same age (since his peers at daycare had moved away living him with older and younger kids) and to introduce him to school-like structure before kindergarten. And since he’ll go to kindergarten at the same public school it gets him used to the building as well. I will say it is an IB school. I might have thought differently if the place seemed sketchy.

    The main reason why my kids will go to public school is that I don’t want to divert funds that I’m paying for college to pay for pre-school. Hopefully this doesn’t end with some absurd irony of my kids not getting into college because they didn’t go to Montessori or Waldorf.
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  • Donna says:

    I feel very blessed that my daughter recieved a spot in the Pre-K program in our state. However, she only got the slot because I am a working mom and she had been at the day care since shortly after birth.

    In our state Pre-K is paid for, but there are a limited number of slots. The public schools slots are reserved for speical needs children (hearing, vision, family history of learning disabilities etc). Children in the foster care system get an automatic slot.

    The private day care centers can apply to have free Pre-K classes. These classes are generally filled with current students in the school which is why my daughter got her slot. Our center has 44 slots. Over 75% of these slots were taken by current students. The remaining slot winners were determined by a lottery drawing of all of the outside applicants. Each January our center has a huge increase in part time enrollment because parents have figured out if they enroll even as part time at 3 years old they can get a FREE slot in the Pre-K program for the next year. This is very frustrating to parents who can not afford to enroll thier children in a daycare center even on a part time basis. It has also been called unfair by these parents (and I think to some extent it is unfair).

    Kids are expected to enter K knowing so much and so many parents just don’t have the resources to teach thier kids on thier own. In a perfect world Pre-K would be available to ALL students, not just to those with disabilites or 2 working parnets, or those lucky enough to win the pre-K lottery slots.

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