Preschool vs. Staying at Home – Which Is Better?

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Let me preface by saying that some families don’t have the luxury to choose. When one parent is working and the other isn’t, and they can’t afford nursery or kindergarten, it makes sense for the child to stay home with the parent who’s not working. Other families, like ours, have two working parents who don’t have extended family or a nanny to help, so preschool is the best option.

Having had Alex in preschool for about a year and a half now, I’ve noticed its influence on him, and have reflected on how he would be different if he’d been home with a caregiver. For me, the overall impression is unequivocal: he has clearly benefited from being in school. Here’s a rundown of different aspects to life and how preschool has measured up:

Eating habits
At home Alex is quite picky and refuses certain food, especially vegetables. At school, however, he eats anything placed in front of him, and even asks for seconds. The school sometimes posts pictures of what they serve for lunch on their blog, and once I was convinced Alex hadn’t had a bite of it, so I rang them up. Yup, cleaned his plate. There’s no way he would eat a mound of broccoli, peas and carrots on quinoa at home.

Manners and ‘good’ behaviour
Classrooms are a place where teachers strive for good behaviour, of course, otherwise it would be chaos. As such, it has provided welcome reinforcement for things we try to teach him at home, such as tidying up, sitting quietly, and basic manners.

I’ve put ‘good’ in quotation marks because my husband sometimes sees this as making kids conform and submit to authority, whereas he would prefer some rebellion and challenging of norms, but I reckon that probably comes naturally. In any case, isn’t it an oxymoron to cultivate anarchy?

Alex is an only child, so he has mostly adult company when at home with us or at the weekend. Being in school has meant the ups and downs of being with one’s peers. That means sharing scarce resources, laughter and fun, being popular and then unpopular, and not being the centre of your parents’ attention. Alex can be quite shy at times, and school has made him more open to other kids his age.

Of course there are always play groups, parks and playgrounds for kids who don’t go to school, and that would play the same role as school, though perhaps with less preparation for real world institutionalisation, for lack of a better word. Not that kids necessarily need that before primary school, but some kids may need a¬†stepping stone in between unstructured play and rows of desks facing a board so it’s not too much of a shock to the system.

Peer influences
While you can more easily select your kid’s friends i.e. arranging playdates with kids and parents you like or avoiding playgrounds with kids and parents you don’t, putting your kid in a school means you have no control over the kids your kid is exposed to.

Alex wasn’t in the least bit aware of or interested in Disney or Marvel characters before, and then all of a sudden he was identifying them more readily, and so my intention to keep things as generic as possible in our household got waylaid by his classmates who are obsessed with those cartoons and toys.

Another thing I was less than thrilled about was when parents were allowed to hold little birthday parties for the kids at the school, and Alex had a spate of afternoons with cake and chocolate, normally something we reserved for special occasions. It seemed churlish to insist he be deprived of them, so we didn’t, but that definitely contributed to his demanding more sweets at home too.

So, all things considered, I think I would still elect to send Alex to preschool if I had the means to do so as a stay-at-home parent. What about you?

Uma is a Malaysian working mum with a French husband and a toddler named Alex living in their fourth country together.

Image Credit: Flickr user Surlygirl

Uma is a Malaysian mum who has travelled around the world as a teacher and teacher educator. She currently lives in Singapore with her husband and son.