It’s that time of the year. Yes, most of my friends with 2-5 year olds are stressing over how to camp out overnight comfortably, in a line-up, in order to snag a preschool enrollment spot for their child.
I considered preschool when I had a 4, 3 and 2 year-old at home. I would watch my neighbor send her children off and the resulting space and quiet she got for two hours a day was enviable, but when I looked at the cost of sending 3 children to preschool, it came just short of $800 per month. I figured that amount could be better saved for tuition at university rather than a few hours of wonderful peace and quiet.
I felt the peer pressure of all my friends sending their children off to preschool, so I was surprised when I found out that only about 50% of preschool aged children attend a formal preschool in Canada according to the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). And we are still in the top ten of rankings in the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results. So half of Canada’s young children do not attend preschool and they are doing fine academically.
Are preschools absolutely necessary? They are a “nice to have” change for your child, but are not necessary for building social and active learning skills. Your child can do just as much at home as the average child at preschool and excel in arts, sports, friends and academics when they get to school or homeschool. The key is in you as facilitator, and your home as the environment, and your willingness to endure a wee bit of mess. In fact, research supports that a child that has a huge hand in their own creative endeavors, builds more brain connections than a child that has to be told what to do. If you can’t afford the cost of preschool, here are some alternatives that will foster your child’s social, physical, cognitive and emotional development just as much:
- Have a sand/rice/lentil table
- Set up painting twice a week – all you need is newspaper, paper, paints, brushes and lots of patience
- Go on field trips to different places
- Set up water play in the sink or backyard pool
- Have play dates in your home, in the other parent’s home or meeting at an indoor play-place – you control length, company and activities
- Have as many toys on hand as possible, but rotate them often, so every week is a new bucket of theme toys or old favorites
- Have a building block station with wooden blocks, Legos, K’nex or Meccano pieces
- Assemble a dress-up tickle trunk with hats, shoes, belts and shirts obtained from the local goodwill store
- Set up a play dough table with cutters, rollers, pans, etc.
- Talk, sing and read to your child every day. He needs you to build his language skills.
The ratio of one-to-one adult-child time will be invaluable to your child’s progress as he grows and you will love not rushing out the door three times a week. Even if you choose to send your child to school instead of unschooling, he only needs to be able to write his name. Kindergarten and preschool are voluntary, so Grade 1 is the big leveler in terms of abilities. He will learn taking turns, lining up, colors, letters, and shapes in Grade 1, if he hasn’t done so already at home. You don’t have to worry that he will be behind his preschool attending peers. If anything, he will be excited on field trips that he hasn’t been on 3 times already, and engaged instead of bored in the classroom setting as everything will be new and exciting.
Small children grow up fast. Enjoy them while you have them all to yourself!
Do you do any activities with other unschoolers and homeschoolers? Are there homeschool groups in your area? You’ll feel a lot less peer pressure when your peer group all homeschool and/or unschool too! The homeschool groups that we participated in became my main social groups, for years!
Yes, find your tribe!
Yes, it really helps to hang out with like-minded people who also homeschool and unschool. It’s when I get into my workplace social groups who don’t homeschool and stress over school choices, that I can’t believe the incredible pressures these parents face. I just want to shout, “Relax! Enjoy them while they are young!”