Regardless of childcare arrangements for their earlier years of life, the time will come when you’ll think about whether or not you should send your child to pre-school.
Depending on where you live, this might be called nursery school, pre-primary school, playschool, kindergarten or some other name, but it’s essentially a centre offering early learning in the year or so before your child starts compulsory education.
It can be publicly or privately operated, full or part-time, and you may or may not receive some level of funding for your child to attend. So – should they go? This is why we think pre-schools are generally a good thing.
1Preschool will give your child confidence
Starting ‘proper’ school can be scary. It’s big, it’s busy, it’s full of strangers and a child who’s spent their life so far at home with a parent can feel overwhelmed and anxious.
The pre-school child is likely to find the transition easier – in fact, there’s every chance they’ll already know some of their classmates from that earlier setting.
These are the kids who run happily into class after giving their parents a hasty kiss and don’t look back. There’s a lot to be said for giving your child this kind of self-assurance.
2There’s nothing wrong with early learning
By the time your child starts school, he or she will more than likely know their alphabet, have started to read, and be able to write their name and do some simple maths. They might even know a few words in a different language (assuming your family isn’t already multi-lingual).
There’s nothing stopping you teaching your child any or all these things at home of course – and there’s a wealth of advice and resources available online to help – but it can be hard to set a routine and stick to it. For most children, pre-school is a great way to gain a head start.
3It will help develop their social skills
Kids at pre-school acquire a wide range of abilities that will help them both at school and in later life. As well as getting used to meeting new people, they’ll learn to get along with different personalities and see how conflicts are resolved.
They’ll learn to take direction and follow instructions from people in authority outside the home, and the importance of politeness, consideration for others and good manners will be reinforced.
4They’ll get sick
Yes, we know this one sounds weird. Nobody wants their child to be ill, and it can be difficult to make alternative arrangements if you need to work.
But once kids start interacting, they’ll also start picking up bugs. And the anti-bodies their immune systems produce to fight the various viruses they’re exposed to will stick around – meaning they’re less likely to get sick once they’re at school. Studies have found the effect wears off over a few years, but it’s not a bad start to have.
There’s also an argument in favour of kids catching diseases such as chicken pox while they’re young, as these illnesses can be more severe and very serious if contracted in later life.
Of course, pre-school isn’t for everyone, and there are a couple of points to consider when making your decision.
It might be better to keep your child at home for an extra term (semester) or two and then send them, rather than let them start and then take them out again.
6Is your child ready?
If your child is ok with spending time away from you, can communicate with others, is able to concentrate on projects and gets bored and restless at home, chances are they’ll be just fine.
Most centres will insist on children being out of nappies (diapers) and pretty much potty-trained, although they understand accidents can happen and some children might still need help.
Your child also needs the stamina to cope with the demands of pre-school – it takes a lot of physical and mental energy, and kids who aren’t used to being so actively engaged can have a hard time adjusting. If your child still takes long morning and afternoon naps, this could be an issue.
7Is it affordable?
It could be argued that money shouldn’t come into it and of course it’s worth investing in your child’s future, but the truth is that preschools can be expensive, depending on where you live.
In England, all three and four-year-olds are entitled to some level of free early-years education, but this isn’t the case everywhere. If your only choice is a costly or privately-run centre, you’ll need to work out how to absorb the fees into your household budget.
8Is it convenient?
If the nearest suitable preschool is some distance from where you work or live, you’ll need to work out travel arrangements that fit into your schedule.
Or perhaps you’ll be offered morning sessions when you really wanted those in the afternoon, or a full-time place when you wanted a half-day.
If what’s available doesn’t work for your family life, you’ll need to think about whether it’s something you can do right now.