The Preschool Dilemma

Choosing between home-care, daycare, and preschool can be a worrisome and gut wrenching decision.  We live in a day and age that places strong emphasis on education, and education is not necessarily an equal opportunity experience.  So it is no wonder that parents, more than ever, are pushing their preschool age children toward preschools and daycares that emphasize an academic environment in hopes of giving their child an extra leg up.  Other parents stay home with their children, and worry that they are not doing enough.  It seems that almost all parents at some point are left feeling guilty or second guessing their decision.  Today I'd like to help ease everyone's concerns about which option is best, and explore what aspects of any of these environments are beneficial, or not.  My intent is not to provide a comprehensive list of pros and cons, but to set out some important information to help you get thinking about what option is right for your family.  Spoiler alert, they are all good options!

The optimal commonalities of home-care, daycare, and preschool:

Caretakers and parents should provide "quality care", defined as frequent interactions that are sensitive, responsive, and cognitively stimulating.  This kind of environment is found in all three types of care, but is most common when the caretaker is caring for a small number of children. The environment that the child spends the majority of their time in should be clean, safe, and physically stimulating (with age appropriate toys, art, and activities).  The competency of the caretaker also matters.  Caretakers with rich vocabularies, or those who read and sing to the children often will provide for an environment that encourages cognitive and language development.  From a social perspective daycares and preschool provide for many opportunities to engage socially which builds empathy, self-esteem, and social competence.  Home-care can do a great job of this as well, but sometimes more effort is needed on the part of the parent to seek out social engagements.  The style of care matters.  Play-based care over academic teaching is more developmentally appropriate.   Children at this age are primed for social and play-based learning.  What I mean is at this age children are learning how to be social beings (sharing, turn taking, mutual imaginative play) as well as mastering gross and fine motor skills (jumping, climbing, dancing, drawing).  Although it is good to learn the ABC's and counting, all kids will get there.  In fact, children that are pushed academically during the preschool years typically are not any further ahead by the time they get to first grade.  By all means, this age group is learning all the time, they are soaking in everything!   Encouraging academic growth isn't a bad thing, but it shouldn't be stressed as more important than social experiences, play, and imagination.    All in all, these three options are most beneficial when the care that is given is stable and consistent.  

Some differences among home-care, daycare, and preschool:

One difference that should be noted is the relationship that develops between the child and it's parents.  Children that spend a lot of time in daycare may be less compliant with their parents.  Although they be more "school ready" when they hit kindergarten.  There are multiple reasons why this relationship dynamic may develop.  Sometimes a family is not equipped to provide a consistent engaging environment appropriate for this age, in which case daycare and preschool can be that place that provides consistency, predictability, and opportunity.  Some daycares are more preschool like in their orientation, and others are just a place for kids to be kept out of danger.  Preschools and daycares have a wide range in their approach.  Some are academic specifically, others are play based specifically, and some are a combo.  Home-care varies widely on the commitment of the care-taking parent, and their particular style of providing engaging activities and experiences.  When choosing the option that is right for your family, hopefully this information will help to guide you.  


To sum it all up, "quality care" is what matters most.  If you find a quality daycare or preschool that is great!  If you have confidence that you provide quality care from home, that is great!  So don't worry about which option is the right choice, but rather which option fits your personal circumstances.   

Ring-around-the-rosies on an outing with the grandparents.



Some information for this post was taken from the 9th Edition of Development Through Life: A psychosocial approach by Newman & Newman