Dear Dr. Debbie,
I have a two-year-old who will be three-years-old by the next school year. Friends and family are bugging me about putting her in a Pre-K class. Covid-19 exposure aside, what are the pros and cons of just waiting until she’s five to start school?
The pandemic has added weight to the con side of enrolling children in school while they are still too young for the Covid-19 vaccines. The past two years have certainly contributed worry and disruption for the families who have enrolled in preschool programs anyway. Families and faculty have had to contend with the challenges of masks and quarantines while hoping to dodge a dangerous infection.
Finding Playmates and Friends
A huge pro for enrolling in a preschool program is that your child will find a friend, or two, or three. If you choose a part-time program, you’ll have a pool of possibilities for playdates for the rest of your week. With lessened restrictions for parents to come into the building by next fall, let’s hope, there will be opportunities for you to meet the other parents and establish lines of communication to arrange these mini meet-ups.
On the other hand, socially distanced parents have gotten creative about reaching out on social media to find families with whom they can connect for playground playdates. A little initiative is all it takes to get some connections going if you forego the ready playmates that can be found at school. At the point in time when it’s safe to have friends over, you will have cultivated some on your own.
Benefits of a Quality Learning Environment
A quality early childhood program includes a warm and engaging teacher with enough assistants to assure that the children’s needs for guidance and support are met. The state allows a ratio of one adult to ten three-year-olds, but the better programs do much better. Your child will also find child-sized furniture, including toilets, and classroom and playground equipment to stimulate preschool minds and build fine and large motor skills.
However, you can always supplement what you have in and around your home to promote active play in a child-safe environment. As it’s safe to do so, take your daughter for outings to: parks, museums, libraries, pet stores and grocery stores, and the post office to help her learn about the world. Check out some of these reference books for activity ideas:
Bonning-Gould, Krissy (2019). The Outdoor Toddler Activity Book: 100+ Fun Early Learning Activities for Outside Play.
McDonald, Kerry (2019). Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom.
Rucci, Barbara & McKenna, Betsy (2016). Art Workshop for Children: How to Foster Original Thinking With More Than 25 Process Art Experiences.
Stories and Conversation in Preschool
Literacy and language development are usually key goals in a preschool program. A classroom for three-year-olds should have a daily group story time as well as picture books for solitary enjoyment. There may be added emphasis on letter recognition, although this is something that most children will pick up with no instruction by age seven. The schedule will also include ample opportunities for children to gain conversation skills with each other.
You’ve probably observed, and enjoyed, the amazing development of language skills since your child’s infancy. There are infinite occasions during everyday activities to model proper grammar, add vocabulary, and engage in the give and take that is essential to interpersonal communication for sharing ideas and feelings, and gaining information. If your home has plenty of picture books, with fresh reading rotated in and out from the public library, you are giving your child an essential enjoyment of good stories that come from books. Don’t be too concerned about “teaching” reading until your daughter shows interest.
There’s really no urgency to starting school by age three. A few congenial playmates, stimulating activities at home and beyond, and lots of rich language will yield the same results.
Expert opinion on the trajectory of this pandemic suggests that we can all put aside urgent concerns about exposure to Covid-19 as time goes on, especially with the protection of vaccines and boosters. Mask mandates have proven to be helpful and can be reinstated as needed. In two years’ time the Covid-19 vaccine may be among those required for school admission. Even in the unlikely event that a vaccine for children under 5 is still awaiting approval, by then your daughter will be old enough to be vaccinated.
She will be presenting a workshop for parents and professional caregivers entitled, “Why Do Children Misbehave?” on Monday, March 7, 7-9 pm. Register in advance for this and other upcoming Zoom workshops.
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