When your child is potty trained you have the option of sending her to preschool. Most preschool programs last a half day and provide structured activities and some preliminary studies to prepare your child for kindergarten. Preschool is not required: Your child doesn't need to go to preschool to get into kindergarten. For most children, however, preschool can be great.
The Benefits of Preschool Enrollment
From your perspective, preschool can be great because you have a guilt-free way to grab some hours for yourself. You can be confident that your child is doing something beneficial while you luxuriate in a hot bubble bath. Then again, you could use this time for household chores, but that's just silly.
The other benefit of a good preschool program is that it helps your child make the transition into an expanded world of people and experiences. Very few mothers can consistently provide a structured program of kid-centered activities like those you will find in a preschool. You would drive yourself crazy even trying. And in your immediate neighborhood it's often hard to come up with playmates of appropriate ages for your kids.
Finding a Good Preschool
A preschool does not have to be lavish or expensive to be good. You need to check references and whatever accreditation your state requires for preschool licensing. Many churches or synagogues have preschool programs, as do community centers.
If you work outside the home you can sometimes find preschool programs that also offer an “aftercare.” I was very lucky to find a preschool connected to another facility where my children could stay longer on some days and take swimming lessons. There are places like this out there—you just have to look for them.
Preschool gives children the opportunity to learn how to get along with other children. For an only child this can be a shock. These children are used to having free rein at the toy box, and in preschool they will have to learn the concept of taking turns. You will be surprised at what your child can do when in the hands of a neutral party. Your child will want to be completely babied by you but will act like a little lady or gentleman in the presence of the preschool teacher.
Coping with the Separation Blues
If your child has not spent time regularly with another caregiver before starting preschool, you may have to endure the inevitable scenes of separation anxiety. You take your cheerful child to the classroom door, say your good-byes, get ready to leave, and find the child hanging onto your legs. You slowly unglue her fingers from your kneecaps, only to discover that she has wrapped her legs around you in a scissor-like vise grip.
The best thing for you to do is to reassure her, give her another kiss…and leave. It's hard to do. That first day, she's likely to cry hysterically, hold her arms out to you, and stamp her feet in protest at your abandonment. The temptation is to go back and scoop her into your arms.
Don't give in to this urge. You know she will be safe at preschool and you know she will have fun. You know you want her to go. You have made plans (for yourself!) for the first time in years. But this first separation can be heartbreaking. So here's a little tip.
Once you've moved out of your child's line of sight, pause for a few moments before getting into your car and driving away. Then quietly walk back to the building and listen at the door of your child's classroom. You won't hear any screaming. In fact, you'll probably hear giggling. And if you peak through the window, you'll see your daughter happily engaged in playing house with another girl about her size.
The Bittersweet Process of Loosening the Reins
Sometimes it is appropriate to give in to your child's wishes to be taken home from a preschool situation. Children mature at different rates, and your child may not yet be ready for the big step that preschool represents. Monitor his progress for the first few days, and if he doesn't settle in, defer preschool for another few months.
There is nothing worse than hearing your child cry and call your name. You are going to want to rush to her and comfort her. Reassurance is a good thing, but when you bring your child to preschool you are trying to help her step beyond her own comfort level, and sometimes she is going to fight you on it.
The more you linger and seem wishy-washy about your decision to leave her in the capable hands of the preschool teacher, the more difficult it will be for your child to trust being left in the care of others. And keep in mind that your child is also testing her power to influence your behavior. Unless you think there is something very wrong with the situation you have chosen for your child, you must not cave in to her demands.
When the Preschool Is a Bad Choice
You don't want to be overly paranoid about your choice of a preschool, but it is possible that your child is not receiving proper care. If your child consistently resists going to the preschool and shows fear, pay a surprise visit to see what goes on when parents are not expected. Children should not be yelled at or spanked. Nor should they be left unsupervised and ignored. You are looking for a positive environment that will be an extension of all the good things you can give your child. You are the consumer. If the preschool does not meet your standards for your child's well-being, do not second-guess your feelings on the matter. Act.