On why we said no to preschool

In the past few weeks, our 4-year old has been keeping us entertained. I’ve been posting side-splittingly funny quotes and anecdotes on Facebook, and noticed that in a number of them I’ve referred to him as our “preschooler”. Except, he isn’t in preschool. Nor was his sister (who is now in kindergarten). And at the moment, it seems unlikely that our youngest will go to preschool either. For us, ‘preschooler’ is a handy way of denoting this phase of life when they are older-than-toddlers but not-yet-school-goers. They are pre-schoolers only in the sense that they are not yet in school.

Dirt school

Dirt school

Every year we consider whether preschool is something we could or should do, and every year we have landed up saying “no”.

Now before I go any further, let me say this:

This post is not about whether YOU should send your kids to preschool. This post is about our personal choice which I find myself explaining to people fairly often, since it seems we are in the minority in our decision.

Also, this post is not about whether preschools are great places for kids. I absolutely believe they are. I believe my kids would LOVE preschool and would benefit from it. I know a number of preschool teachers, and a whole host of kids who are in neighborhood preschools, and I admire their curriculum and kind of envy that experience. I think preschool is amazing.

However, year after year, I keep finding myself saying no. And more than that, every year, I feel I need to justify my ‘no’, because there is pressure (I don’t know where it comes from) to do what others do and enroll our kids in fabulous preschools with their fabulous friends. But the reasons for our annual “no” remain.

1. We don’t need preschool, because I get to stay home with my kids. Chaotic and messy as that choice may be, we have built-in child care at home. We count ourselves fortunate that we have a choice in this matter and don’t need day care. For us, preschool is a want, and not a need.

2. It was important for us to recognize that preschool is a want, and not a need, because it helped us with the math of household budgeting.

  • Mortgage = need.
  • Food = need.
  • Ice-cream = want.
  • Coffee = need
  • Clothing = need
  • Shoes = want
  • Gas & electricity = need
  • Netflix = want
  • Preschool = want

Families the world over have limited budgets, and we are no exception. We choose where and how to spend our money: taking care of needs first, and then weighting our wants if we have the luxury of indulging any of those. We choose to give money away, we ask “should I buy this?” of almost every purchase we make, we are grateful for the things we have. We have spent time discussing whether $7.99 for Hulu plus is worth it, when we already pay $7.99 for a Netflix subscription.

It was irrationally hard, then, to look at the cost of even a modestly-priced preschool. 3 hours a day, 4 days a week would run us between $200 and $325 per month, per child. The cost is fair, given the quality of the teachers and the rich environment these schools provide… but oh my hat! That’s $3000 per year, per child!

I’ve looked this over again and again, and I just can’t do it. If I had $300 a month to spend on my child’s enrichment (and I don’t, really), I choose to put that towards their college enrichment rather than their preschool enrichment. Again and again, I’ve had people ask curiously: “why wouldn’t you send your kids to preschool?”, and more and more I wonder, “would would I?”

In that moment, I know why I would: because preschool is wonderful. They would learn social lessons and scissors skills and have circle time. They would make friends and get invited to birthday parties and go on field trips. They would mix paints and experience conflict and be under the guidance of an adult who actually knows what kindergarten readiness looks like, as opposed to my blindly feeling my way to the school start line.

But I just can’t do it. For us, preschool is a luxury: one my children would enjoy and learn from, but a luxury nonetheless. And so my children are at home: knocking about, perhaps sometimes a little under stimulated, perhaps sometimes a little jealous that they don’t get invited to as many birthday parties as other 4-year olds… but we’re doing our best. I try to remember to make play dough. I try to create opportunities for social interaction. We read, we play in the dirt, we work in the garden and we bake cakes. Also, sometimes they watch too many shows and complain that they are bored.

I second-guess this decision constantly. I suspect my son would thrive with the schedule of a preschool and the learn-to-respect-another-adult’s-rules atmosphere of a classroom. We are finding it “challenging” to have him home, to say the least. But not for $3k a year. Nope, sorry. I just can’t do it. In the mean time, I let the guilt of our “no” try to motivate me to get more organized and try a little harder at home; and I look forward to the day that we can one day send them off to college and say: “here you go, kiddo, here’s a little something we saved from your preschool days. We’re sorry if you missed out then, but we didn’t want you to miss out now.”