Let’s talk about preschool

In preparation for writing this month’s column, I spent considerable time skimming articles online about the benefits of preschool.  

And the prevailing wisdom seems to be that preschool probably has the biggest positive impact on kids who don’t have the advantage of super-engaged parents. Preschool for those kids is crucial.

But for kids with more “stimulating” homes during early childhood — filled with books, puzzles, positive reinforcement — preschool is less of a factor in their overall schooling success. 

Of course, one of the great paradoxes about this wacky American life is that those who (allegedly) need preschool “the least” are the ones who have the most access (and by access I mean money). 

So let’s talk about preschool — the options, the schedules, and of course, the bathroom dramas.

The ‘style’ 

When I went to preschool (then referred to as “nursery school”) I’m pretty sure the prevalent “style” was “let’s give this kid’s stay-at-home mother a break.” 

I vaguely recall horsing around in a play room, eating snacks (including a disgusting mini-cheeseburger that haunts me to this day) and learning letters and numbers in a group setting. 

These days you may be presented with options such as Montessori, Waldorf and “play-based.” For me, when it comes down to it, I just want my kids to go outside sometimes, get some exercise, have some “free play” with other kids and have caretakers who are kind and fun. 

My advice: Tour the places that interest you and see what feels right.

The schedules 

Perhaps your child has been attending a daycare that operates on a straightforward schedule —Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. — for example. If so, you may be in for a surprise. 

Most preschools have very complex schedules, including half days (mornings or afternoons), full days and full days plus before and/or after school care. Some schools are strictly half-day operations, which presupposes the existence of a stay-at-home parent. 

Some require that you send a lunch. For working parents, this can all add up to a lot of money and extra effort. Always read the fine print. 

‘Must be toilet trained’ 

There is probably no phrase that inspires as much parental anxiety as this ­­— except, perhaps, “Before and after ‘school’ care will be an extra $50 a day”. 

It is these strict potty-training requirements that drive some parents to stay at home for days on end prior to the first day of preschool, following their pants-less child around the house, wheedling him to give the old toilet a try. 

I would urge you to hold off on such extreme interventions and take a step back. Talk to the director of the school: Does your child really need to be fully toilet trained before the first day of class? If the answer is an emphatic yes, take a look at the price tag and give this decision a second thought. 

Talk to your pediatrician — is it really appropriate to force the toilet training issue to meet a preschool requirement? 

Remember, you’re the parent — not the director of the preschool. In my case, our preschool was flexible about the issue. Our daughter was “promoted” from the toddler room to the “preschool” room before she was fully out of diapers, and no one was worse for the wear. 

In fact, many children will “catch on” to the whole bathroom thing when they see their peers doing it. 

Of course, you might be one of those #blessed parents with one of those kids who was potty trained before she could walk. If that’s the case, hats off to you! 

But I don’t want to hear a word about it. 

Shannon Keough lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to skeough@mnparent.com.