There's no doubt that the first five years of a child's life are formative and indicative of later success throughout their lives. As an educator, I know preschool can play an important part in the cognitive and social development of toddlers. However, in this unprecedented time of pandemic life, social distancing and remote learning, sending your child to preschool is a personal decision that varies by family. And our family has decided not to send our daughter to preschool.
The research on the benefits of preschool is irrefutable, and there have been incentives for families to enroll their children in preschool since the 1960's and 1970's. Many BIPOC families have actually been targeted and encouraged to send their children to preschool, with HeadStart and other free programs available. According to a DOE report, access to high-quality preprimary education can be the key that unlocks education equality across races, geography and income.
With all of my experience and credentials in education, I never imagined I would be one of those families sending my daughter to kindergarten without having attended preschool first. In fact, when Maya was accepted into the Spanish immersion preschool program I was so excited, because I knew my precocious little bilingual would thrive there. But then the global pandemic hit, and I was faced with the excruciating decision as to whether I wanted her first exposure to school to be remote, then six feet of separation and masked all day. After deliberation and soul-searching, we decided it was best for her and safest for her to remain at home for one more year. (See my blog post from August, "Paralysis: the undiagnosed side effect of Corona Virus.")
Now as enrollment deadlines for next year's preschool class loom on the horizon, we are faced with the same decision once again. With vaccines readily available, slowly our state is lifting capacity restrictions, but masks are still required in all public locations, and although there is an economic push to return to "normalcy," the threat which sent the world into a shelter-in-place last spring is nowhere near eradicated.
As the preschool application date grew closer and closer, I weighed the pros and cons in my head. I knew Maya would love preschool, because she is friendly, playful, social and loves to learn. She's artistic and a problem solver, and the learning experiences and activities she would do in preschool would expand her background knowledge and vocabulary, especially in Spanish. Preschool would be an opportunity for her to grow and develop academically, socially, and emotionally. However, my concern remained about Maya's first exposure to school being shrouded by COVID-19 safety protocols. And since Maya spends time with her cousins and plays well with her siblings at home, she does get practice in interpersonal exchanges and life lessons, like sharing and taking turns. She also attends a gymnastics class and a dance class, so she has some experience taking directions from other instructors and teachers besides me. Preschool would be an additional expense, since we will need someone at home to care for Mateo, anyway. So what was the right choice???
I asked my group of mom friends--six of us who had all birthed our first babies within a week of each other--whether they planned to send their four-year-olds to preschool in the fall. It surprised me to learn not one of them was enrolling their first-born in school. By now, all of us have two little ones at home, and most of my friends said they were going to keep both of them in daycare together, because two separate drop-offs in the morning wasn't realistic for their families. They felt like their current caregivers provided enough enrichment and learning activities, that they weren't concerned with their little ones being behind when it came time for kindergarten at age 5.
Since my children have always been cared for in our home by a family member, friend, or myself, we weren't quite in the same situation. But I wondered if for the first time since the 1970's there might be a social shift, and families might begin to decide not to enroll their children in preschool, for one reason or another.