That is the question, at least for families with a stay-at-home parent. And it’s not a simple answer. Parenting hardly ever involves simple answers, beyond meeting the most basic needs. It will probably take me a few posts to say all I want to say, all that I think parents might want to know or hear, but here goes…
It would be insensitive if I didn’t acknowledge that many families don’t even have the choice. In single-parent homes or if both parents work in a two-parent home, and if there is no other family member that can provide childcare during the day, then the question to enroll a child in daycare or preschool has an obvious answer. And let me say, I hope NOBODY is judging those parents for putting their children in daycare or preschool in order to provide for their families.
For some families, the birth of a child, especially after the first, raises the question of whether it’s more cost effective for a parent and child(ren) to stay home. Sometimes the family would simply be cutting even, so parents decide that it’s better to have a parent in the home tending to baby, toddler, or preschooler, than to juggle the stress of a job and the hectic routine of prepping meals and personal items for daycare, rushing a child to school in the morning sometimes through hectic traffic or extreme weather (I’m looking at you North East winters, New Jersey traffic, and South Florida rains!), and dealing with pesky germs, etc. while for some families, also taking care of a younger child.
Sometimes that second income is a joke compared to childcare provider costs, so the question of whether a parent should stay home during the early years is just as simple as the first scenario above when a parent HAS to work. That’s what the addition of twins meant for my family. For 4 months, we were a family with 3 under 2, and we’ve only recently moved up from having 3 under 3. The cost of QUALITY daycare that provided the adult-to-child RATIO, RELATIONSHIPS, and ENVIRONMENT that we valued for our children, far outweighed my salary as an educator.
Plus, this is my dream! I always imagined that I would stay home for a few years when my children were young, as long as it was a financial possibility. As a passionate early childhood educator, nurturing and educating my OWN children is the only thing that beats the rewards of educating children in general. (Read more on my previous post Profile of a Daycare and Teacher.) I don’t think I know everything, but hubby and I still think I’m the best qualified teacher for my kids at this point. In fact, when we toured daycares during my first pregnancy, the ever-pressing question on our minds was “Is this as close to the nurturing environment that we could provide our sweet boy if I were able to stay home with him?”
As I mentioned in my previous post, a parent doesn’t need over a decade of experience in early childhood education in order to be the best qualified early childhood teacher to their child. Bottomline, if your family has opted to keep your children at home and your are a loving, mindful, and nurturing presence in your child’s life, NOBODY should judge you for the decision to keep your toddler or preschooler home. After all, you are also simply providing for your family in the way you best see fit, just like families who provide for their families by working and choosing daycare. (Sidenote: I am not talking about homeschooling here. I have pretty strong opinions about NOT homeschooling, even though I am asked all the time, if because of my professional background, I plan to homeschool my children through elementary school. No. The answer is no, but that is for a different conversation.)
And while we’re at it, let’s also not judge stay-at-home parents that choose to send their child to some form of daycare, whether it’s a brief Mothers Day Out program or a full-fledged school program that meets five days a week, and whether its to tend to another child, tend to other matters, or simply to get a break. Let’s just stop judging each other period, and spend some time gaining a better understanding of school readiness, preschool, and how to enrich your children’s live during those early years.
It used to be the undisputed norm for children to stay home until Kindergarten, hell, even First Grade, once upon a time. I know times are different, but what children need in those early years really isn’t. There’s a lot of talk about Kindergarten being the “new First Grade”, and there’s an insane amount of pressure to have children “school-ready” with a focus on academic skills like knowing their letters, colors, numbers, etc. But if you ask most early childhood educators and pediatricians, they’ll tell you that school-readiness is about a slew of other skills that include physical well-being and development, social and emotional development, language development, and overall approaches to learning like being curious. Even a child’s temperament is a crucial part of school readiness.
I want to stress here that true school readiness has absolutely NOTHING to do with ROTE learning, and that workbooks, worksheets, and electronic programs that are basically just digital versions of such, simply miss the mark. You won’t harm your child by doing some of these things every now and then, but these will not ensure school readiness or meaningful learning and connections. Please read more about the “Worksheet Dilemma” here.
As a Pre-K and Kindergarten teacher, I will say that I worked with MANY children who had no previous school experience but were great learners and scholars. I also worked with children who had experience in a variety of childcare settings. Sometimes those settings were great at fostering school readiness, and sometimes they were not. Sometimes children with previous school experience need to relearn a lot of the behaviors and skills that make for a successful learner, and that task is often MUCH more challenging than the task of teaching a young eager child with no previous academic knowledge.
For more info on school readiness, check out:
School Readiness by the American Academy of Pediatrics
School Readiness by Zero to Three (They’ve got SUPER useful tips, videos, and resources.)
NAEYC’s position statement on school readiness
School Readiness – Parent Guide from the E3 Alliance (This really breaks it down for us!)
Next Up: A Brief History of Preschool (Coming SOON!)
And if there’s anything you want to pick my brain about, please leave a comment here or on the Facebook Page.