BY: Joy Pullman
In the United States, 42 percent of three-year-olds, 68 percent of four-year-olds, and 84 percent of five-year-olds attend a pre-primary program. But if you’re reading articles titled “How to Pick a Preschool,” your child does not need preschool. That’s just a fact. The preschool research field is aimed overwhelmingly at children in desperate, emotionally abusive and intellectually starved home situations, because the children outside these situations already have all the help they need inside their families.
Back to this in a minute, because I know just saying this, although it’s the gospel truth, will not convince you. All the other moms are putting their three- and four- and five-year-olds in gymnastics, swimming, tap dance, piano, Lego STEM camps, and the like, besides evaluating this Montessori preschool or that Kumon tutorial. If you don’t have a similar list to tick off, you feel sort of naked during these discussions.
You also may feel that your family needs a child to be in some sort of program. Perhaps mom wants to work more. Or you feel the crushing, maddening social pressure I just mentioned. Perhaps, like my one friend, you need to get your most intense child away from your home for a few hours a day so you can focus on your other children (they homeschool). Perhaps, like me this past year, you have a new baby and two toddlers, and you need a temporary lift.
Notice that none of these will address your child’s own needs, because your family is already meeting them, but they may address other legitimate family needs. Preschool is typically more about family convenience and suburban virtue signaling than it is necessary to help the kids themselves ahead. People are just not that honest about it, probably because it feels better to say “this is helping Susie get ahead” than it does to say “mommy is tired of this little kid stuff.”
So if you are going to put your child in a program, you first need to be honest about why. If it’s mostly to make mommy feel less awkward in grown-up conversations, you may decide it’s not worth $6,000 to $15,000 and the risks of damaging your bond with your child, or turning him off to academics and increasing his aggressiveness, to ease a collective hour of odd-man-out feelings. Remember, this decision, like nearly every one in your adult life, is about tradeoffs. You may be getting something out of preschool, but in exchange you are giving something away, and a lot more is on the bargaining table than tuition money.
School Readiness Means ‘I Had a Mother’
To evaluate whether your family or child needs preschool at all and prove that yours doesn’t need it for academic reasons, let’s learn a little about childhood development.
The first, most important thing to know is that ever since there has been research on early childhood development, it has backed up traditional wisdom about young children: Most of all, they need married parents who treat each other decently. They also need a deep, close trust bond with one caregiver from birth to at least age three and preferably through age five or six. Because of plain biological reality (pregnancy and nursing), that deeply bonded caregiver is optimally mommy.
Sorry, not sorry, moms. You’re the big thing to your babies. Whether you think it was God or science or both, you’re the baby incubator, not your husband. They don’t stop being babies who need their own mother, with her familiar smell and heartbeat and voice, after they’re born or even three years later. No matter how kind your chosen alternate caregivers are, those wee ones in their deepest heart just want, and are biologically keyed to want, you.
Just watch them scream when you leave. It’s not all an act when they’re that little. By responding to them instead of walking away day after day, you are cultivating in them the emotional stability they need to begin reaching out and exploring the world in ways that ultimately lead to advanced learning. If a child’s emotional needs are not met, it will be extremely difficult for him to feel the internal locus of safety and confidence necessary to contemplate the world around him, to explore, to learn. This is a non-negotiable precondition for lifetime mental strength.
So when you run around all day wiping noses and kissing boo-boos and responding with love at the five-thousandth interruption, you really are preparing your children for school—and, far more importantly, life—in the best way possible. Your wee children truly need nothing but you there for them.