I like this photo because it’s from when I was in preschool, and my experience of preschool was pretty good.
I went to a daycare center for families that had some sort of problem. This was in the early 1970s, when my mom was programming with punch cards and her job counted as a family problem. No one had a working mom. So we went to the closest daycare center, an hour and a half away from our home.
The last year at the daycare center was, essentially, my year of preschool. The teacher was great, there were only five kids in the classroom, and she taught us to read and write. Even as a four-year-old, I’d rather have done that than anything else.
My favorite memory of preschool is when the teacher had us sing the alphabet and she said, “Does anyone know what LMNOP means?”
None of us raised a hand.
When she told us I remember being amazed that I didn’t know it, and I remember wanting to be around her all the time so I didn’t miss any other good stuff.
1. Preschool is for kids from broken homes.
My memories of preschool are nice, but maybe that’s because prior to that, my parents hired babysitters who beat me and my brother, or neglected us, or both. (Interesting thing about neglect: it is not over as fast as beating, so my memories of it are much worse.) And being home with my parents wasn’t much better (by preschool I had already seen the police break up multiple fights between my parents.)
My experience is consistent with the data that says most four-year-0lds want to be with their parents more than they want to be in a classroom. But that data assumes the parents are capable. My mother did not want to have kids, and she let that be known to us. (She was just being informative.) But either way, if a child has a parent that does not want to be a parent, preschool will be a safer place for the kid.
2. If you think your preschool is a good one, you’re probably wrong.
In NYC when my first son was two, I started investigating the preschool scene. I hired a consultant ($10K) to help us get into a top preschool. (In NYC top preschools have a 4% acceptance rate vs Harvard’s 6% acceptance rate.) I didn’t even get as far as the playdate coaching before I left NYC, realizing how even though I was making $250K, I could never afford to support the family in NYC.
When people tell me their kid is in a preschool that’s great, I think to myself: they don’t know what great is if they have never tried to get into Trinity.
3. Preschool is better than babysitting.
In Madison I launched a startup with very demanding investors on my board. In an effort to get free from my kids, I sent my youngest son to a preschool I really liked. It’s the preschool next to a bunch of University of Wisconsin science labs, so the classrooms are full of children of professors. This is not to say that the preschool was great so much as the preschool was great at appeasing concerned parents with high IQs.
So my son learned to write his name at age three. Totally unnecessary. And started reading at age three. Not just unnecessary but maybe detrimental. And at $10K a year, the price seemed like a bargain. Trinity is $40K per year.
4. Preschool is unnecessary for toddler learning.
I wouldn’t send my kids to preschool again.
Preschool is structured much more than a kid that age needs. There has to be a lot of structure in place to manage even a teacher/ student ratio of about 1:9. You can’t have 9 kids all doing radically different things. (Yes, even in Montessori.) And a kid that age doesn’t need 20 kids around him all the time. (For example, kids don’t need preschool for social skills, kids learn social skills by osmosis.)
5. Sending kids away sets a bad precedent.
Why get used to having time away from your kid? If you are sure you’ll be sending your kids to elementary school, then that’s one thing. But if you’re on the fence, you should appreciate that you’ve gotten through four years of being home with your kid. Keep going. If you get all your mornings free, you won’t want to give that up.
Instead, set a path for homeschooling. Get involved with those families early. And make friends early. Those will be the people you travel through your kids’ childhood with—not the preschool kids whose families are going to be chained to the school system.