Preschool Isn’t Babysitting


Here are the facts:

  1. I’m a stay-at-home mom.
  2. I send my kids to preschool.

Part of the reason I chose to stay home was to share all the little moments with my kids.

So it might seem contrary that I send them to preschool.

In fact, another mom in the neighborhood and I were on a walk meeting a new neighbor when she chimed in about me, “Well she’s not really home with the kids. She ships them off to preschool.”

Implying that part-time 9am-noon preschool is some version of toddler boarding school.

I will fully admit that preschool is not a dire need for our family.

Other than isolated instances of me filling some emergency teaching gaps, the occasional appointment, and the year I went through cancer treatment, preschool isn’t filling a huge childcare void for us.

Sure it’s convenient. I can get a week’s worth of errands done in a single morning without kids in tow freeing up the afternoons for true quality time with them. I can schedule doctor appointments without finding a sitter. I can volunteer at the elementary school and use my passion for teaching. I have a few hours to remember who I am outside of sandwich-maker, laundry-washer, and boo-boo kisser.

But I don’t send them to preschool for convenience. It isn’t just regularly scheduled babysitting.

I send them to preschool because I know it is what is best for them.

I was a teacher, but they get things from preschool they could never get from me. The social-emotional development of being with peers can’t be matched. The idea that people other than Mom have rules is invaluable. The ability to make friends and navigate relationships without me micromanaging is a life-long skill. And let’s not forget the ever-important “just play” without needing me to structure every second.

A friend of mine that is a speech language pathologist tells parents that one of the best things they can do to improve speech with toddlers is put them in preschool – it forces them to communicate and it allows them to hear others their age speaking.

My oldest thrives on structure. I signed him up for preschool when we knew his sister was coming. Two mornings a week. He started in September and life at home turned upside down in February of that first preschool year. A new baby changed all the things except for those two mornings a week.

My youngest thrives on people. She needs more daily relationships than just me. She needs blossoming everyday friendships of a chit-chatty four year old.

Each year, the kids have had a teacher who is the perfect fit.

Last year, our goal for our daughter was to grow her empathy and awareness of others – her teacher kept a kindness jar that they filled with a cotton ball each time she observed kindness and then threw around the room when it filled up.

My son struggled with writing and his pre-K teacher worked with him on “building” his letters all year. She also worked with him at focusing on the task at hand.

My daughter’s pre-K teacher this year illuminated all her wonder and curiosity for learning. Transforming the dramatic play area each week to fit the theme, challenging her with themed STEM explorations, and bringing specific level readers for her to expand her desire to read.

Preschool, y’all. It has changed who they are.

My structure-loving son learned that not everyone likes to follow rules and how to cope with that. My vivacious daughter has learned how to use her love of people to partner along with friends that are on the shy side.

When my son went to kindergarten, he was so ready.

Sure, he was academically ready. But more importantly, he was socially ready. Not because of me. Because of preschool.

My youngest heads to kindergarten next year. I will be sad to be graduating our family from preschool, but so excited to see what builds on the strong foundation preschool made.

If that requires shipping them off for a few hours, it’s worth it.

Most area churches have morning preschool options, many with scholarship opportunities. Additionally, some public schools have PreK programs available to families that qualify: Henrico, Chesterfield, Richmond.