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What are the advantages of preschool?
Preschools are inspected for licensing purposes, teachers are supervised (many groups and classrooms have more than one teacher), and a director oversees the entire operation. This regulation and order can be very reassuring. And your child benefits from this formality, too.
Other benefits include clear-cut rules for parents to follow (specific pickup and drop-off times, for example), low-fuss installment payments, and the opportunity to meet other parents, who may be able to lend support and babysitting time.
Good programs feature a wide variety of fun activities – including singing, dancing, arts and crafts, storytelling, free play, and both indoor and outdoor games and projects – designed to teach children different skills. Children may also learn some academic basics such as counting and the alphabet.
Plus, most preschool teachers have training in early childhood education, so they know what to expect from your child developmentally and are able to help her along accordingly.
Children in preschool also have the opportunity to socialize with other kids their age, an appealing advantage for parents who used a nanny or relative care when their children were younger.
"Our private day school has turned out to be the best setting for our 2 1/2-year-old daughter," says Andrea Shah, a our site member from San Mateo, California. "She now has a core group of friends who will move with her to a new classroom each year."
A final advantage – especially when compared with nanny care, home daycare, and relative care – is that a sick provider doesn't mean a last-minute scramble for emergency childcare. Your child may miss her favorite teacher, but when Miss Jones gets the flu someone is always available to step in.
What are the disadvantages of preschool?
Children benefit from interacting with their peers, but in some preschools, emphasis on groups can overshadow the individual attention kids need and crave.
This is a particular risk if the preschool doesn't follow the National Association for the Education of Young Children's recommended teacher-child ratio of no more than ten preschoolers per staff member. Even that number is on the high side – the organization recommends one teacher for every eight to ten 4- and 5-year-olds, one for every six to nine 2 1/2- to 3-year-olds.
Though many parents appreciate the clear rules and guidelines imposed by preschools, understand that, as with any kind of group care, those guidelines may sometimes be inconvenient for you.
If your preschool is closed for holidays or for any other reason (such as staff training), you'll have to find backup care; if they require children to be toilet trained and your daughter isn't ready for the potty, they may not let her attend.
You may also have to pay high fees for late pickups and end up having to stay home with your child if the preschool says she's too sick to be there.
Finally, some schools' programs may not leave room for your child to explore and learn at her own pace. If the schedule seems inflexible when you visit, keep looking.
Read more about beginning preschool.