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.