On why we said no to preschool

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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.”

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23 thoughts on “On why we said no to preschool”

  1. You are too adorable. I love it! Even with preschool in Utah being $60-80/month I question whether preschool is right for our family. My biggest struggle is that I am jealous of my children’s time. We have wonderful teachers and my children learn a great deal that I can’t teach them when at school, but I worry that they are only young ONCE and I am missing it! This often motivates me to ignore household chores (unless my kids are helping) and SIT with my little ones. Puzzles and books become my priority. I am proud of you for choosing to home-preschool your kids. It is not easy. And let’s face it, you’re doing a GREAT job… any kid who asks for a “trapezoid shaped” snack is obviously learning. 🙂

  2. We’re home schooling transitional kindergarten this year- it’s really incredible! I feel like it’s the halfway house- we’re at home learning together, there’s stimulation, co-ops etc AND we’re still together…until the fall at least:)
    I appreciate the correlation with needs and wants:)

  3. It’s not an easy decision weighing up the pros and cons. Especially when you can recognise the pros of the choice you’ve not made! 🙂 I think you’ve been particularly hard on yourself here. Or overly gracious to the pros of preschool. 😉 don’t get me wrong, I agree that preschool offers lots of great things and kids tend to love it on the whole, but there’s a lot of documented evidence that says being at home with mom in those early years sets a solid foundation for the well-adjusted child and future adult. So, whether you do play with playdoh or get messy with paints or are simply modeling home- and family-care, by virtue of the fact that your boy is secure at home in his loving nurturing environment, you are doing him a great service.

    1. Thanks, Taryn. I hadn’t thought I was looking at it with a “grass is greener on the other side” viewpoint, but perhaps I am. My stay at home mom friends whose kids go to preschool a couple of hours a week seem to stlll have the many hours of time-with-mom at home, and so I sometimes feel they are getting the best of home as well as the best of preschool (as opposed to getting none of home and the best of preschool). I think the fact that we go to church on Sundays and bible study mid week, both of which have well developed children’s programs and provide structure and social connection does a lot to alleviate my concern that they are “missing out”.

  4. How dare you tell me not to send my kids to preschool … oh wait … that’s not what you’re saying?

    Good job presenting the need/want rubric, Bronwyn.

  5. Yes, it’s amazing how we have to explain these types of decisions as if they need justification. But very family, even every kid, is different, and you just need to do what seems right. Our oldest didn’t go to any program until senior kindergarten, and for her it would have been an unnecessary luxury: she was a happy homebody who learned avidly on her own. Besides, she was 4 when her brother was born and since I was home with him we thought she might as well stay home too. Her brother, by contrast, is developmentally delayed and benefited greatly from the structure of a preschool program; it met a definite need for him. So I suppose my title for your post would be “Why we said no, and then later said yes”! Thanks for posting about this.

    1. Jeannie, thanks for weighing in. I was talking with a friend about this last night. Both her boys have autism, and preschool has been a lifeline for them in supplying things they absolutely could not get at home just with mom. The combination of therapy and preschool has done a world of good for her boys: I would definitely put that in the “need” rather than “want” category for her two!

  6. Good post.

    My husband and I struggled with the decision to put our daughter in full-time daycare during my 2nd pregnancy. I was mentally unstable at the time (thank you, Bipolar Disorder!) and couldn’t care for her. (I wrote about it here: http://wp.me/pC6q5-g0) Thank God that her preschool (run by a Baptist church) also had a daycare program, so it wasn’t a huge deal for her; a lot of her preschool friends did the fulltime program, she already knew the teachers and staff, and they were loving and nurturing. Expensive, but it was worthwhile for us during that time. If you’d asked me several years before if I would ever put my child in daycare, I’d answer with a shocked “No, of course not!” But time and circumstances changed my mind. So it’s kind of the reverse situation of what you described to Jeannie; I’m the one that has “issues” and she greatly benefitted from being around “normal” people and her peers during that time.

    I can definitely identify with having to “justify” certain parenting decisions, too. When my older daughter was born, I was constantly having to justify (to myself, at least) feeding her formula instead of nursing. I found myself explaining (over and over) how I was on medicine and couldn’t nurse, as if the listeners were going to judge me and deem me an unfit parent for not breastfeeding.

    Just my thoughts as I read your post.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Laura. These are such personal decisions. They are hard to make, and then hard still to bear when others challenge or even just gently ask about why you chose what you did. We mamas need to work hard at phrasing our questions and comments in such a way that we give other parents the benefit of the doubt – even if we have chosen differently, our default position should be to assume that they chose what they did because they love their kid and thought it best for their family. I know I’ve screwed up in this area many times – but I’m pressing on to the way of grace.

  7. Hi Bronwyn! It has been a long time and I just want to say that I love reading your blog and all of your thoughts on life! I am excited about this particular post because after caring for and teaching other people’s children for the last decade of my life, I just want to encourage you that keeping them home with you and not sending them off to “bigger and better things” so early is a wonderful gift you are giving them. Personally, I do not believe it is a bad thing for children to experience boredom or simple routines instead of constant “enrichment”, structured-stimulating activities, or even incessant socializing. And if they don’t appreciate being home with you most days, that’s because they’re kids. Or rather humans. It takes us a long time to appreciate the greatest gifts we’ve been given.

    As a nanny I have found that the constant enrichment approach to child-rearing these days encourages children to believe they are the center of the universe and must always be entertained. It feeds them the message that life should always be exciting and designed to suit their interests. Let us all just be honest and agree that that does not turn out to be the case. Well meaning preschools and programs promise that each day should surpass the novelty of the previous day, which cultivates a habit of always wanting more. I am guilty of this novelty seeking myself when assessing summer camps and after school programs to enroll my charges in. If the curriculum doesn’t seem varied enough, diverse enough, or exciting enough it’s off the table. After all, we are paying for it right? Shouldn’t it be more than what I can offer them myself?

    In my experience, children who are intensely exposed to this kind of enrichment scheduling have a diminished ability to go with the flow and participate in what the family unit or community around them is doing without demanding that it be specifically satisfying to their current interests. Alternatively, children who are sent off because a stay-at-home parent is not available often long painfully for their parent throughout the day and sometimes feel unseen or unheard. These are just reminders that limits, be they financial or otherwise, are gifts from God. We just live in a culture that does not accept them. May we be brave enough to embrace the constraints God has put on how we are able to raise our families, as they are exactly how He intended it.

    Even though I currently spend much of my week volunteering in a fantastic (by California standards) elementary school, I find that the benefits of mass, structured, public education do not outweigh what I believe will be the benefits of teaching my children at home and supplementing when it makes sense for our family with extra curricular activities, field trips, local volunteering, smaller co-op opportunities with other families, church community, and a more flexible home life. Granted each child’s personality and energy level will dictate a different game plan. As you mentioned is the case with your son, keeping them at home is not without it’s challenges and ultimately may not be the right choice for your family. But at this point in time, I am grateful that when my children arrive I will not only have the choice to stay at home with them in their younger years, but also to facilitate their character building and home education until their career path has become clear and they embark on vocation specific training or general higher education.

    I realize this has turned into a plug for home education, but this is a topic I have become passionate about in the last year. Please be encouraged that choosing to keep your children home is not only an okay or necessary decision, but it is a beautiful gift you are giving them.

  8. Interesting article. In my personal experience, I guess many articles focus on normal families where kids have luxury of having a mum and dad in one roof with often the dad financially providing. Some of us can’t even dream of this choice as we would starve being single mums so our kids goes to pre-school, the question cannot even be asked. I do however feel if I had a choice, I would personally still privilege some sort of part time pre-school as am convinced mums ought to have quality time to themselves while kids get some social life too:-)

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  10. Thanks for this. Rather thought provoking, we done things so differently for both boys. I did not put much thought in whether we should or shouldn’t do preschool. As we get 15 hours a week free schooling once 3 so I just took it up as no family nearby the childcare was so welcomed but if I was paying and if they started school (845 till 315 )at 7 rather than at 4. I think it would of been for 2 mornings a week at 3.

  11. veronica forest

    We said no to preschool as well. All my friends had their kids in, and kept talking about socialization. I never understood that argument. What did they think we were? Our daughter played with her cousins and friends from church, took a dance class, and ice skating class. She learned to be quiet when mommy was on the phone with a client. She read to her dolls, and figured out how to entertain herself. She excelled in school academically and socially. She is extremely independent and thoughtful. I am so glad I didn’t give those precious years to a preschool. I understand there are times when it is necessary, and certainly don’t judge anyone who puts their child in preschool. It just wasn’t something we wanted to so.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting Veronica. I suppose the challenge for all us parents (whether we send them to preschool or not) is to love our kids as best we can, and meet the needs as best as we are able to identify them. You mention the need for socialization, and that has been the hardest for me to try and fit in with my boys. They have each other (and siblings totally count as social company), but I need to be mindful that they need to make friends and learn to work with peers (and people who have different house rules) too. Like you, I”m grateful for these years I have them at home.

  12. Love this. We made the same decision for the same exact reasons :). And, yes, we have had to justify our reasoning to many. Thankfully, two of our kids have made a smooth and easy transition to full day kindergarten and so there isn’t a need for the justification anymore. We just point out how well our second grader and kindergartener are doing:)

  13. I really enjoyed reading this and seeing your perspective on the matter. I do, however, disagree with you – having your child be at home with you and learn from YOU, is the luxury, not preschool (not saying you are saying this, but I don’t think preschool should be seen as a luxury). Perhaps luxury money-wise, but at the end of the day, your child soaks up and learns from the people he is surrounded by. For you to have this influence over your children on a daily basis is a complete luxury and blessing. A wise older friend of mine from church challenged us on teaching Bible verses etc. to our children from a young young age… she said her mom has always said to people that if you don’t indoctrinate your children, someone else will – SO true. You’re doing an amazing job – keep going & thank you for all your ENCOURAGING posts – you are the only blogger on the internet that I read and respect.

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  15. Great post! We chose to send our kids to preschool, but agree with you that it wasn’t a “need” but rather a “want”. And for my shyer kids, who were pretty ambivalent about the whole affair, it was a “want” of mine – a desire for some breathing room, and some slack in the crafting department (didn’t you do some neat, messy, creative art project this morning at school? yes you did, so I’m off the hook on some elaborate DIY type thing for this afternoon!). 🙂 I also really like the logic of investing in their preschool education VS investing in their college education. I don’t even want to think about how much money we’d have in their college funds if we’d foregone preschool and put the money in there instead – wow! I’m enjoying your blog – thanks for posting.

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