Why We’re Not Doing Preschool With Our Four-Year-Old This Fall

Why We're Not Sending our Child to Preschool“Is she starting school this fall?”

“Oh, no. She’ll only be four in August.”

This is how many conversations have gone over the last year about our daughter. But after enough confused looks at my response, I finally started to realize something. These days, it’s normal for kids in North America to start school when they’re four. Even when moms stay at home with the kids.

I honestly didn’t know that before this summer. I thought five was still the standard age to start formal education (that’s when I started school), and that preschool was just free daycare for working moms if they wanted to take advantage of it. What confused me most, then, were families who did something called “home school preschool.” What? What does that even mean?

I imagine the only difference between “home school preschool” and “just being at home with mom/dad” is the addition of some formal lessons to the daily routine. Worksheets and the like. Probably primarily in reading and math. That sounds all right.

I just don’t plan on doing it.

Here are a few reasons why we’re not going to bother with preschool for our four-year-old.

  • I’m planning on home schooling. I’m planning on being at home with my kids regardless. So there’s no pressure to start anything official this year. And if I don’t need to go through the effort of planning and organizing a curriculum for another year, I’m not going to. I’ve got enough going on this year. (To be fair, I’m interested in unschooling, so I might never do a curriculum or formal lessons. I haven’t decided yet. But I especially won’t be doing them before our daughter is at least five.)
  • Kids in some of the highest-ranking countries for educational outcomes don’t start formal lessons until the age of seven. In fact, some researchers believe that pushing children to read too early (i.e. by five) can be detrimental to their academic outcomes. At the very least, it can’t hurt her to wait. I’m going to follow the lead of educators in Finland and elsewhere and wait a few years with the reading and math lessons. (Though I’ll definitely explore reading and math with her, casually, if she’s interested.)
  • Instead, kids (of all ages but especially before seven) need plenty of free play time. Time for running around, climbing things, dressing up their dolls and teddy bears, dancing, drawing, painting, and listening to stories. I can provide all that at home. (And in order to make sure she gets time to play with other kids, I plan on doing lots of outings with friends, trips to the park, and hopefully swimming and music lessons, too.)


  • Through informal games, activities and conversations, Lydia already has lots of fundamental reading and math skills under her belt. She knows that letters make sounds which form words, and she knows what a lot of those sounds are. She can count and do some basic adding and subtracting (“I ate one of the three bananas. How many are left?”). Anything academic she’d learn at preschool she already knows. So I’m not worried at all that she’ll fall “behind” her peers academically (although that shouldn’t really matter. Life is not a competition. But she’s my first child, so of course I secretly kind of care.)

So we’re just going to skip the academics this year. I am not even a tiny bit worried that she will miss out on learning opportunities. She can learn all she needs through play at home.

P.S. – I just happened to stumble across this article on Slate before publishing mine and thought I’d share it: If you are reading this article, your kid probably doesn’t need preschool.

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  1. Great choice.
    My four year old is going to preschool, for the third year. Because it works for us. I am at home, but my husband works long hours and this is my break. She is far more of an extrovert than me and this gets her lots of play time without wearing me out. My two year old is joining her part of the time, she was lonesome at home without the big kids.
    I picked a very play based school. I chose this one because the four year olds build castles from cardboard boxes and honestly, I want to too. Lessons include putting your own coat on, washing your hands, waiting turns, and working out how three kids can play with one costume.

  2. We’re starting “preschool” in a few weeks – our old daycare offers it for free and it’s a few hours in the morning. But we’re doing it with the mentality that’s it’s a trial basis and honestly I’m already feeling like I’d rather just enroll him in some fun classes at the rec center so I have a feeling this might be short lived. We’re trying it because it’s there and I just want to know “hey he loves it lets do it” or “hey this is awful let’s stay at home”. If Henry was Lydia’s age (August birthday instead of February) we wouldn’t even be doing this for another year. Freshly four just seems way too early.

    Even looking at head a kindergarten next year I’m happy to enroll in part days instead of full because full days for my 5.5 year old seems ridiculous and extreme.

  3. Oh Kathleen! And the journey begins. I’m a mama to four with age ranges from 5-14. We live in Alberta and homeschool them all. I LOVE the confidence that flows through your words. Keep it going because you are going to have all kinds of opinions thrown your way when you tell others who send their children to school, that you have decided to keep yours home….oh the opinions. Homeschooling was the best decision we could have made for raising our family! I don’t ever pretend to know it all but I always seek out the answers to the questions my kids ask. What an EXCITING journey this is. I look forward to reading all about it.

  4. I think whatever you do is going to work out fine for Lydia and that there’s no reason to crank up the pressure at such a young age. But I’m not sure that reading early is bad for kids. I know plenty of kids who were early readers and most grew into exceptionally gifted adults. I guess it’s more problematic if you are shoving “reading lessons” down their throat, but I really do think it’s an empowering skill, assuming your kid loves reading storybooks. I know my 3-year-old son loves loves loves to go through books and wishes he could read them on his own. We don’t have the bandwidth right now to teach him, but I am pretty sure that if I taught him to read, it would only help him because he could then occupy himself a little more when I’m dealing with the younger son.

    • Oh definitely — there’s nothing wrong with reading early if the child wants to; but if he/she doesn’t, studies suggest that pushing it is a waste of time at best and harmful at worst. Forcing kids to stay in their seats to learn phonics when they want to play doesn’t get kids anywhere and can be harmful to their long-term health. I suspect Lydia might be an early reader, too. I was chomping at the bit to read by the time I reached kindergarten and would have loved to start earlier. I just find it liberating knowing there’s no hurry.

    • Also interesting to note that a child who learns to read (self taught or otherwise) before age 5 is actually considered “hyperlexic” with the average of reading occurring between 6-7 and sometimes, thought not always, hyperlexia is often seen to accompany being somewhere on the autism spectrum or accompany a processing disorder. So while a child can learn to read before age 5 just from being neurotypical, but slightly above average most mode of education (from Montessori to Waldorf, Classical, Mason, etc) recognize an average learning period for reading starting at 5, but averaging out between 6 or 7. =)

  5. I agree, we aren’t doing preschool either with our 3-year-old. (homeschool or otherwise) I’m kind of disappointed, because all but one of her friends are in preschool this year, which means fewer days of the week we can make play dates.

  6. Kathleen,
    You are wise to let her learn through play, and just be a kid. We had 5 boys, the youngest 2 were home schooled. None of them had preschool and they have grown to be wonderful men who follow their passions. One is a physisist, one a chemical engineer, one a cook and gardener, 2 talented musicians, one a copper artist like his dad, and all very versatile and happy with their work.
    I loved having them home when they were little and just watching their wonder.
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  7. I love this and I’m so on board with everything you said except:
    I’m a scheduled person who thrives on meeting the practical needs of my loved ones (ESFJ) – I just read this morning about the importance of preschoolers being around other kids – I live kind of rural and while I’m totally down with having 2-3 playdates a week for my daughter (we’re a half hour outside of Austin, Tx so there’s a lot to chose from), we’re hoping to get pregnant soon and the idea of juggling her social needs with the new baby’s nap needs makes start to freak out. A lot.
    *sigh* I guess that’s part of living far out and in a less communal society. Would love to hear how you might tackle this.

  8. I take “homeschool preschool” to be exactly the sort of Montessori activities you’ve been doing for these last few years (minus these last few months, of course). At least, that’s I what thought it was. You’re creating a prepared environment for her to have her learn things at her own pace, a curriculum of sorts, albeit very loose, but opportunities for her to learn if she wants to. I think that’s an intentional type of “preschool”!
    alison recently posted..A completely frivolous post about hairMy Profile

  9. I live in the UK sand here it is normal to send your kids to “nursery” (basically preschool, attached to a school) at three years old! THREE! I also started school at 5 (though I already knew how to read, I always love books and learned to read just before my 4th birthday). My little girl is 16 months and we are feeling like homeschooling is a strong possibility for us, but we will decide closer to the time (she is super social and LOVES being around other kids, so that might play a role in deciding what her education looks like). So so happy that Felix is coming home with you guys! He is such a little cutie and I often send good thoughts to you guys across the ocean!
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  10. My daughter started preschool just before her third birthday last winter. It wasn’t my ideal but my husband is the pastor at the church the preschool is s part of. We always went to the weekly chapel services and often got invited to field trips. Sometimes we would just hang out a bit after chapel. Other times she would visit when I was helping with church stuff. She started begging to go to preschool and we finally let her last winter. I’m still mixed on it. It was good that Sammy got two mornings a week that he could have a decent nap. But other things I’m not sure of. She was always good at sharing until preschool where she started saying “mine” and taking things away from Sammy when she got home. She brought home lots of colds too, so Sammy was sick more than not from 8mo – 1yr

    Overall, I’m not thrilled with the trade offs. I wanted to keep her home this year. However, since the church preschool officially starts at 3 (the normal age people start preschool around here, with 2-3 years of preschool before kindergarten) and my husband is the pastor he feels it is important to show support for the school. :(

    My daughter loves to learn right now and I’m afraid the official school system will kill that in her.

  11. Sending your child to school is one of the hardest moments for them and for you. So you have to be be very supportive.
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  12. I can remember the first time I left my son to school. It was hard and overwhelming moment.
    Liveitthebest recently posted..I want to be a part of my child’s lifeMy Profile

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