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The Informed Parent

Pros and Cons of Preschool, Part 2

by John H. Samson, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on May. 14, 2001

Frequently mothers are led to believe by senior relatives that in the past children were not “farmed out to be raised”. They fail to point out that in times past families were closer and relatives were around to entertain offspring while mothers accomplished their tasks, or simply had some alone time. It was not uncommon for grandma to be living with the family and would, in fact, provide preschool-type experience.

The point I am trying to make is simple. It is perfectly justifiable to use a preschool setting to allow the primary care-giving parents some alone time. Parents should not feel guilty. Moreover, if they said to themselves and others, “I am sending little Mike to preschool primarily to have some free time” and understood how the now differs from the past, no guilt or resentment would develop.

Some parents tell me that today, but too many do it with an apologetic tone. For the reasons mentioned, it is legitimate, and no apology is needed. I must add, a preschool experience does not replace the necessary one-on-one nurturing a child needs. Most parents who are motivated by this reason do not have their child in preschool for eight-to-ten hours per day, five days per week.

The second reason is self-evident. If the family is composed of parents plus one child and the extended family or neighborhood provides no social interaction on the child’s developmental level, preschool then affords such an environment. Again, the preschool exposure should not be at the expense of parent-child interaction. It is critical for the offspring to learn how to be your child rather than a generic child.

Reason number three is debated by educators in an ongoing dialogue. What basic skills, if any, should be carried into kindergarten? Should preschool be unstructured with no focus on specific skills? Can the conscientious parent impart the basic academic skills at home to prepare for kindergarten?

I’m afraid I will have to leave the debate to the educators for a definitive answer. But after seeing many children make the transition it seems that most parents, with a little guidance, can tune-up their little ones for kindergarten from the aspect of basic academic skills. Furthermore, the time needed does not seem enormous.

Number 4 on the list is self-evident. The parent is making a choice for survival. I, personally, wish this reason did not exist because the parents I talk to who are in this position are torn between work and childcare. They do not relish their plight and feel their parenting is suffering. Let me say that many of these parents caught in this situation are doing a great job of parenting despite the demands placed upon them. Many times they are doing a better job than the half-hearted full-time primary parent.

The last reason is obvious. Children with special problems need specific help that most parents do not have the skill to give.

As you can see, preschool per se is not the critical issue. The child needs a caring environment with the chance to experience the give-and-take and warm experiences of sharing with another child. The little one also needs some exposure to academic skills so that kindergarten will not find him totally unprepared. The best way to find out what these may be is to talk to a kindergarten teacher in the school he will attend. Notice I did not say ask a friend or relative; I said ask a teacher!

If you can provide that, as it seems you can, do not feel guilty. Also, be sure in your situation you can get some alone time by utilizing relatives or friends. The preschool experience is not a place but an environment. He will be as bright when he gets to kindergarten as he is now. I can think of many moms who would gladly trade places with you. Always remember, you are giving your child your most valuable possession, yourself.

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