Encouragement Corner: Should My Child Go to Preschool?

Encouragement Corner posts are sort of a mini-seminar for the busy moms who can’t spare the time or expense to go to a major homeschooling conference, but who still need answers to their biggest questions. We’ll be grouping a few of the most-often-recommended articles around a central issue and making those articles easier to share on Pinterest by adding a photo or graphic as needed.

I’m seeing a disturbing trend. More and more families are sending their babies off to preschool at younger and younger ages—sometimes as young as two years old. Now tell me what skills a preschool teacher could possibly impart to two- or three-year-olds that Mom couldn’t do better, faster, and cheaper? Spare me the argument that Mom has to work—that’s another topic for another day (besides, that simply means that the preschool is a more expensive version of day-care, yet another topic for yet another day). I’m really confused by why any parent would think a child of 2 or 3 needs preschool, or why that parent needs to shell out their hard-earned paycheck for someone else to teach their child of 2 or 3 to identify the red ball or the blue square or to count to 10 or sing Old MacDonald Had a Farm.

Yes, my children did both attend preschool, but not at age 2 or even 3, and if I could do it over again, I wouldn’t send them anywhere. My daughter was 4, my son was 5 (late birthday), and they each went for only one year before moving on to Kindergarten. (We also weren’t planning to homeschool at that time, and homeschooling hadn’t even become legal in our state yet.) I’m not sure that my kids gained anything from their preschool experiences—my daughter’s preschool teacher remarked that she often felt that she didn’t need to show up, since my child was a suitable substitute. My son’s preschool class included our friends’ brother-sister twins, who had just turned 3, and my son could be a teensy bit resentful at times that those little kids were in his school class. It was a small class with a wide age range, but there is a huge difference between what 3-year-olds can do and understand and what 5-year-olds can do and understand.

I had sent my kids to preschool as preparation for Kindergarten, for the group experiences of sitting in circles and learning to wait for their turn. As it turned out, I shouldn’t have wasted the money—they were already much better prepared than most of their classmates. The things we had done at home as normal childhood playing were excellent preparation for preschool, for Kindergarten, and for learning in general. I had been holding them in my lap for “story time” from the moment they could focus on a picture book, and it was our daily settling-down session before naptime. I talked about the pictures and pointed out colors and shapes and girls and boys and bears and mice and bowls and hats long before my babies knew what I was talking about, but they loved the lap time, and they learned vocabulary and language, as well as colors, shapes, animals, and objects. We had played games at home, and they had learned to take turns, even when Mom was their only playmate. We had played make-believe with toy dishes and toy tools and dress-up clothes. We had played on swings and walked on a balance beam (a board lying flat on the ground) and climbed on monkey bars and jumped on hopscotch squares on the sidewalk. We had kicked balls, thrown balls, batted balls, rolled balls, and caught balls. We had drawn and colored and painted and sculpted and glued and cut with scissors. Seriously, what else could they possibly have learned at preschool that they didn’t already know? That Mom was too busy to spend time with them? That Mom’s job was more important than they were? That children are supposed to be shuttled off away from home and locked in an institutional classroom for so many hours each day to be looked after by strangers?

Here are the most important things to know about teaching your children:

  • Children can not learn more at school, even preschool, than they can learn at home, and no advanced degree is necessary for teaching a child to sing the alphabet song.
  •  The theory that “Everyone sends their kids to school” is mob mentality that deserves to be questioned. Why does everyone else send their kids to school? It certainly isn’t for the superior outcome.
  • The theory that “If you don’t send your kids to school, you’re trying to hold onto them as babies, and you’re afraid to let them grow up” is also flawed. I happen to think that 2- to 3-year-olds (for preschool) or even 5- or 6-year-olds (for Kindergarten) are much too young to take on the world. Those children need to be at home with Mom, discovering who they are and learning how to react to the world at large under Mom’s protective care. Yes, I’m saying it blatantly: children need to be kept under Mom’s wing until they are ready to be on their own. It certainly didn’t hurt George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Edison (or countless others throughout history who didn’t go to institutional schools) to stay home with their mothers.
  • Those uncomfortable knots in your stomach do not mean that you will succumb to loneliness and despair during the 2 ½-3 hours while Little Darling is gone to Preschool each day. That anxiety is trying to tell you that sending your little one off to school is a bad idea in general. Preschool is essentially a “gateway drug” to get parents accustomed to the idea of giving up their children to the control of the institution—why else do you think it’s being pushed for younger and younger children?
  • Yet another theory says “That school has good teachers—their values are just like yours.” I had 30+ different teachers and administrators from Kindergarten through 12th grade, and very few of them portrayed the value system I have now. There may have been a small handful of them who were concerned about me personally for the brief period when I was under their authority, but the system in general defeated any efforts on their part to connect with me. My kids had more than 15 different teachers in only 6 years at church-sponsored preschools and public schools, and the values exhibited by most of those teachers were dramatically different from our family’s values.
  • Mommies are excellent teachers, primarily because they are the mommies of their students. Mommies can tell instinctively when their child is bored, tired, hungry, or jealous, and can tell which of those feelings is responsible for him acting out.
  • A child’s home usually has a ready supply of educational equipment, including building blocks, measuring cups, and empty bathroom tissue tubes.
  • Anything else you need to know can be found in the following articles.

Preschool Is Not Brain Surgery
Social Skills—What Should I Teach My Preschooler?
Preschoolers’ Educational School-Time Activities
Teaching with Preschoolers Around… and Under… and on Top… and Beside
The Importance of Play in Education
The Value of Supplemental Activities
“Stealth Learning” Through Free Play
Don’t overlook this one—even though it says Kindergarten, it is equally applicable to Preschool…
Time for Kindergarten Round-Up?
And finally…
The Myth of Age-Mates


  1. Vanessa says:

    I love this article and totally agree. I feel like going to school is all about trying to fit in to our consumerist narcissistic culture. Sometimes I’m afraid my daughter won’t fit in even at extended family gatherings. We are a pretty “strange” family in that we don’t watch tv and aren’t glued to our computers. We read the bible and look forward to church on Sunday. Before our child was born we were just like everyone else and didnt even attend church. What are your thoughts on a parent wanting to homeschool but has an illness that takes some of their energy/motivation/brainpower from them?

  2. CarolynM says:

    See “Holiday Survival Tips for Toxic Family Gatherings” (http://guiltfreehomeschooling.org/?p=211) for coping with family problems at any time.

    See “Pregnant & Homeschooling” (http://guiltfreehomeschooling.org/?p=187) for tips on homeschooling when you’re not quite up to your “normal” self. Also check out “Top 10 Benefits of Homeschooling with Grace” (http://guiltfreehomeschooling.org/?p=200) and “Guilt-Free Homeschooling Means Freedom” (http://guiltfreehomeschooling.org/?p=188).

  3. Thank you for this very informative, interesting article. I am a stay-at-home mom of two young boys (ages 1 and 3), and, because of my husband taking a pay cut at his new job, we are unable to send my son to preschool this fall. I didn’t feel strongly before that we HAD to send him, but, like you mentioned, there’s that societal pressure to do so. I’m actually now very glad that we’re not sending him, and I’m really starting to feel strongly about homeschooling both of the boys. I’ve looked into Sonlight for Christian homeschooling curriculum, and I actually purchased the P3/4 package (it’s not a rigid school program for the preschool ages, just a lot of good books with recommendations here and there for fun, enriching activities to do with your children as you read). Would you recommend Sonlight as a good homeschooling curriculum once the boys are out of preschool? Are there any other curricula you would recommend? Thanks for your help! :o)

  4. CarolynM says:

    I don’t do curriculum reviews, and I have only recommended products we specifically used ourselves and loved. Even those recommendations may now be invalidated by many homeschool publishers aligning with the Common Core Standards to be used in public schools. (Research that if you’re unfamiliar — it’s not a good thing; it will take the one-size-fits-all method to an unhealthy extreme.) That said, you can find a WIDE variety of activities for all age levels and academic subjects right here on my website… for free!

    PS–We enjoyed finding storybooks we loved at yard sales, book stores, the library, etc. Many of the children’s books that wind up on “Must Read” lists were not up to our family’s standards, and our favorites were seldom included. If a book meets your parental approval and your kids like it, it’s a good book — whether it’s on anyone else’s list or not. ;-)

  5. Rebecca Cunningham says:

    I’m so anxious about sending my daughter to school. I’m getting pressure from in laws and other family relatives to send my 2 year old (almost 3 in September) to school or headstart. I don’t think she needs to go. She is already so smart and knows so much, way more than other children her age. I think I could almost just take get straight to 1st grade when she is 5 or 6. Is that even possible?

  6. CarolynM says:

    Rebecca, the possibility of putting her straight into 1st grade probably varies with each school district, but that can cause more problems than it solves. A young student who is academically ready for the challenge may not be ready for the emotional stress, and that only increases as the young student advances through the grades. HOWEVER, teaching that same child at home allows the student to progress at his/her own pace, whether super-speedy or slow-and-steady, without the emotional challenges of competing with older students.

    As for being pressured by outsiders regarding your child’s education, check out “Discouraging Families” (http://guiltfreehomeschooling.org/?p=70) for some tips on handling unwanted comments. There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying (politely, but firmly) “Thank you for your input, but my husband and I will be handling the decisions regarding our child’s education, and we will do what we feel is best for our family.” Then change the subject.

  7. So, I’m also getting some pressure about sending my daughter, she’ll be 3 in Oct. She has to go to a babysitter 3 days a week so my thought is, “if I send her to a pre-school 2 mornings of those 3 days it will give her a change of scenery and will get to start working on fun arts and crafts and get to meet more kids to socialize with”. Am I wrong? I don’t want to stress her out. I know I can be doing this with her but I find I’m not doing a great job with it. My time management is something to be desired.

  8. Karen,
    The links at the bottom of this article provide plenty of ideas for how and what to teach your daughter, and the time you have with her is more than enough. At her age, she needs to learn through play-time anyway, not structured lessons. Remember that education is a marathon, not a sprint, and she has several years ahead of her before starting Kindergarten. Relax, play, enjoy.

  9. Thank you for such an “educated” outlook. I read a Facebook post today of a friend (who is a stay-at-home-mom and employs a nanny) sending her daughter to her “first day of school.” I did the math and realized her daughter is only 3 – a year younger than my son who does not attend school, other than weekly Bible Study with me. Worried that maybe I am doing something wrong by not sending my child to preschool, I found your article. Thanks for making me realize that there are other people out there who find preschool to be a waste of time and money.

  10. Charlotte Quevedo says:

    My 3 year old daughter has never been to school and I am never planning to send her there. I did send my son with autism to preschool, kindergarten and first grade under the promise that he was going to make magical strides. To this day he still hits and he is still not potty trained. As a result my daughter is not even near sitting on a potty. I personally do not really see why she needs to be forced to do it though. I think she is bright. One day she will figure it out. Her dr is baffled that I do not want to ship her off to any experts when they did not deliver on my son. She is far easier to teach, and that is why I can handle her myself. But one thing is, I try not to force my kids to do things…I mean I push my son quite a bit due to his lack of interest in everything under the sun. But even with that I have a cut off point.

    I know my daughter is missing out on a lot and that is precisely my intention. I do not think parents can be overprotective enough…especially in these times.

  11. I agree with everything that has been said and I hate the fact that society pressures us ( patents) to ship our kids to school so young!

  12. January Oliver says:

    I can respect and appreciate all of the educational and supportive activities you suggest for young children..many I myself do with my kids.However, I find your attitude about working mothers offensive.My husband is disabled and I am the only income source.
    I guess due to “life circumstances” my kids will be damaged by the institution..??
    Some of us dont have the luxury to stay home…even though we would love to.
    Any suggestions?

  13. January, I’m sorry you felt slighted. Many times on my blog, I have made the distinction that my articles can apply to dads as well as to moms. There are many stay-at-home dads who do the homeschooling, working dads who help with homeschooling, and parents of kids in school who read this blog for the tips they can use to help with homework or use as parenting advice. My personal choice was to be a stay-at-home mom, even before I became a homeschooling mom. Perhaps you should read the *Disclaimer* for this blog, which can be found under the “Contact” header in the right sidebar.

  14. I really appreciate this. I’m struggling. Really struggling with this. Everyone we know has children in preschool. My son is 4 and no preschool ever. He has sensory issues and anxiety so I never felt it was fair to push him to go to school so young. But everyone has their kids in school and not just regular school either. Many can speak Spanish at 3 years old after being in Spanish immersion school. Many can read and write at 3 or 4. We spend all of our time outside and play learning games and read lots of books. I just don’t want to make a mistake with this. I’m questioning myself and my goal to homeschool. He loves his momma. He loves being home. But without siblings or cousins, I feel I’m not giving him all he needs.

  15. Jwalker,
    Check out “Homeschooling an Only Child” (http://guiltfreehomeschooling.org/?p=110) for more encouragement!!

  16. Khat Missig says:

    This subject has been bothering me a lot lately. Six years ago when my boy was three, all his friends were shuttled off to pre-K to “get ready for kindergarten”. I actually tried but as it turned out, he has special needs and didn’t last. I feel bad about even trying as I could observe his terror and was told it was normal. He ended up in a special needs pre-K and again, I would not have sent him had I known what it was like for him.
    We started homeschooling in first grade and never looked back. He had everything he needed at home and with friends; as you know, a lot of homeschoolers are never home.
    Now I’m seeing a strange trend. Our homeschool groups are inundated with parents who are “homeschooling” their two and three year olds, asking what curriculum they should use. I had someone with an 18 month old tell me her baby wanted to learn to read. Ok. But strangely, these people are all sending their children to public school when they are five. So I don’t really get what they are doing, unless they think homeschooling is for pre-K now.
    Oh, I wish I had done things differently. Just glad to have the joy to homeschool mine, all three, now. Schools have changed so much with advanced curriculum. My son in kindergarten was expected to be reading and writing complete sentences in kindergarten. In December, they had a writing day where parents came in to view their children’s written work. Mine couldn’t write and they weren’t actually helping him learn how. How sad and confusing for him!
    So, thanks for a great article. I noticed the prince in England was just sent to preK at 3. Wow. Even him!

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