COLUMN: The preschool predicament

When it comes to long-term benefits, it’s not so much which preschool a toddler goes to, but whether they attend at all.

COLUMN: The preschool predicament

I’m fairly certain I spent less time researching post-secondary programs (undergraduate and graduate studies combined) than I have looking into this next educational stage in my life: my daughter’s preschool.

Yes, Elise is 22 months old and will not attend preschool until she is three. But after hearing stories of year-long wait lists and first-come, first-serve registration frenzies, I started my hunt two months ago.

I tend to fall on the more obsessive side of the parenting spectrum. My husband worried for my sanity while I was pregnant, scouring the Internet for reviews of everything from cloth diapers to safe sunscreens.

With preschools, I’ve had to rely on other parents’ recommendations and, in the end, my gut.

Since January, I’ve inquired into seven schools. I eliminated two due to cost and schedule (I want a two- or three-mornings-per-week program, not five days), and have visited or plan to visit the other five.

One preschool my husband and I dismissed as a little shabby and under-stimulating (we own more kids’ books and toys than they had), and another that took learning a bit too seriously for my liking (the little ones were working so quietly, I felt the need to whisper).

While Elise’s cognitive development is obviously important, I’m not looking to give her an academic head start in kindergarten. She has the rest of her youth to go to school – my main goal with preschool is that she benefit socially and emotionally.

For me, one particular preschool has stood out. I’m also following up on another contender thanks to a flyer wedged into my front door frame and a suitably impressive website.

But by the time Elise is an adult, will what preschool I chose even matter?

It turns out it’s not so much which preschool a toddler goes to but whether they attend at all. And even then, more benefits have been found among those who come from the most disadvantaged circumstances.

A few articles I read referenced a study published by University of Texas psychologist Elliot Tucker-Drob. Tucker-Drob looked at more than 600 pairs of twins to evaluate how genes, their shared home environment, and whether or not they went to preschool contributed to their achievement scores.

He summarizes: “Preschools may reduce inequalities in early academic achievement by providing children from disadvantaged families with higher-quality learning environments than they would otherwise receive.”

In looking at studies from the U.S. and abroad, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) found that high-quality preschool education tends to have more benefits for disadvantaged children (but still benefits other children).

NIEER analyzed the results of 123 studies and found that a high-quality preschool “does produce substantial long-term gains.”

“More broadly,” the NIEER fact sheet by director W. Steven Barnett states, “long-term effects include gains in achievement and in social-emotional development, less grade repetition and special education, and increased high school graduation.”

In an article published on earlier this year, Melinda Wenner Moyer (who looks at the Tucker-Drob study) writes, “If you’re providing your child with a stimulating environment at home – and if you’ve read this far, you probably are – don’t stress about preschool. Hell, skip the whole damn circus if you want.”

I won’t go that far, but all this obsessing has actually eased my mind a bit.

At the very least, I won’t be crestfallen if I don’t get my first choice after all.

Kristine Salzmann is a former Black Press reporter and mom to 22-month-old Elise. She writes monthly for The Leader on parenting issues.











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