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Preschool: How much is too little?

As Truman is heading to kindergarten next year, he's going to be ending his preschool journey in June. He's in an MESD program at Grout, meant to provide an opportunity for children qualifying for early intervention to learn alongside "peers," kids who don't qualify but love the $5-per-session (and less for those on low incomes) rates. It's lovely: close to home, with caring teachers, FREE. But it's on a two-hours-and-twenty-five minutes timetable, three days a week. Just barely enough to give him a chance to learn a little bit about letters and numbers and seasons and how important it is to follow rules about cleanup and sharing: not enough to give me a chance to actually get anything done in the meantime.

Typically, I treasure the days, like today, that he's off school; in order to get him in the door at 11:50, I'm feeding him a snack at 11 and doing the get-ready dance for him and Monroe for the next 20 or 30 minutes. By 1:45 I'm looking at my watch every two minutes, interrupting any train of thought I'd been able to establish what with Monroe, longing for the human interaction he craves, holding his hands on either side of my face asking me to look at something -- his nose, a Pokemon card, a Hot Wheels race car.

As Monroe will be three this summer, when his big brother is heading for kindergarten I'll be left to decide whether to put him in preschool. I definitely don't have room in my budget for any longer, less public school-y preschool program; it's the MESD seven or eight hours a week, or nothing. Today, loving the flexibility of my time and the space I have to let my trains of thought play all the way out before I interrupt them for snacks and bike rides, I'm leaning toward foregoing preschool altogether for my third kid.

But... Truman's definitely benefited; he really needed the "discipline," if you can call it that, preschool provides; the structure is something he craves and I'm not great at affording; the social opportunities are hard to live without. Life without preschool for my youngest would require at least a little investment in playdates and a mama who could promise herself to dedicate a little time each day to crafts and books. (I love them. I just don't always manage to fit them into writing-housework-bills-errands-bread baking-chicken feeding-etc.)

What do you all think: how much preschool is too little? Have any of you let preschool be when faced with such a decision (and only one child still at home)? How much "curriculum" (hah) do you do? Crafts and books and seasons, oh my? Do you paint with your young child? Schedule many playdates? I'd love to hear how you've organized your life around preschool, if you too have decided "that much is not enough."


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To be honest, I really didn't do preschool for any sort of academic or socialization reasons. I did it because I needed a break - even more so with a 7mo at home - and because I thought my 3yo would enjoy it.

Other reasons: it was 5 blocks away and charged under $200/month for three mornings, 9-12:30, with a four day option when he turned four.

This was a good amount of time for me and for him. He thrived there and I was able to accomplish something at home while the baby napped. When he went off to "half day" kindergarten two years later, the schedule was definitely an adjustment. 8:45 to 11:30 is no half day.

Maybe it feels like too little because you're thinking of it as time for you to be alone/get stuff done/be free, etc. I don't mean that with any disrespect or judgment, just simply that a 2.5 hour a few days/week program isn't really going to offer you that. We are part of a co-op and go two mornings/week for 2.5 hours (age 3, next year it will be 3 days and same time frame). I find myself frustrated when I think about it offering me some respite, because it really doesn't, and I didn't go into it wanting that as the primary purpose, so I just have to remind myself of that when I go there! What I do like about it is my boy gets to be with other kids, other adults, and begin to develop his sense of self away from me. For me, that's what I want preschool to be so I'm happy with it. I also don't have another little one to get out the door as well, so maybe it feels simpler in that respect, although I enjoyed it just as much last year when his older brother went and I still had the little guy at home. Just having the house to myself for an hour and a quick solo trip to the grocery store is worth it! Yes, skipping preschool would probably mean you have to do more of the things you mention, which may mean you invest just as much time and effort without getting that hour alone now and then. Food for thought.

And, just to drop this in the mix for you, when it comes to cost, consider a co-op. They're all over town, and the cost is far less than a more traditional preschool, although $5 class certainly can't be beat in terms of dollars. And it puts you in the classroom with the child, which is priceless in my opinion. I've loved being a part of my little ones' first schooling experiences. It's not for everyone, but for those that can do it, it's great.

And, if I can add, with respect to a "curriculum." I know you value play and having books around. Seems to me that's sufficient at this age. Monroe will know his letters/numbers/colors/scientific theories/etc. just by exposure/osmosis and, if he doesn't, they'll teach it to him in kindergarten. Whatever you decide to do, relax, don't worry, and just expose him to the world around him. That's really enough. Unless of course you're looking Ivy League, but that's another discussion!

When my daughter was three I enrolled her in a three day Montessori program and thought that it would be great for both of us. After about a month or so we were walking home and she asked why the other kids got to go five days and she only got to go three. I added the extra days. When my son was three I tried to enroll him in the same three day program and he wanted to know why he had to stay all day and we ended up going to three half days. I think so much is dependent on the child and their individual personality and temperament.

I agree with a lot of what's already been mentioned. I think that especially on the younger end (2.5-3 years old) preschool is certainly not a requirement but can be seen as a win-win--kid gets a little social interaction and mama gets a small break. I also agree that it really depends on the kid and his/her individual personality. My 2nd is 2.5 and cried nearly every morning for 6 months when we dropped his older brother off at school and was seriously thrilled when I finally got him into a Mom's Day Out program one day a week recently. He was definitely ready although I know a lot of 2 year olds who might not necessarily be ready for too much.

For my older son, he just turned 5 and will also be headed to Kindergarten in the fall. We have had him enrolled in a very low key preschool this year--2.5 hours each morning, 5 days a week. It's a very nice community and he's had fun, although I definitely think he needs more than what he's getting at school. He comes home and is bored and then stirs up trouble with the little brother. I wish I signed him up for a different program that offered either a longer day or a bit more focus "academically" just to keep him a bit more engaged. I made this choice based on location--a quick bike ride--and affordability. We're all looking forward to Kindergarten.

Have you considered Portland Public Schools Head Start program? It think it is important to remember Portland is a town that places too much emphasis on preschool. Let children enjoy life - be concerned with exploration not academics. They are young for such a short period of time in the blink of an eye it's gone.

Can you please tell us more about the program at Grout? I looked at the MESD and Grout websites, and I can't seem to find any info about how to enroll a child, what the eligibility is, etc.

mamanomnom: for the Grout MESD preschool, first, you should know there is a waiting list for the current year's session. so, that out of the way :) you have to pick up an application packet from the preschool or MESD. I think the easiest way to do that is to go to the MESD office at the old Edwards School on 1715 SE 32nd Ave. oh -- I just found the packet in pdf form on this web site: http://www.mesd.k12.or.us/ece/Peers.php and you can call Paul, at 503-262-4260. good luck!

Our daughter is at Head Start at Creston this year and absolutely loves it. The downside is that there's so much demand for the program that they only have room for four year olds for the most part (there's one half-day classroom that seems to have some 3 year olds in it, so I'm not positive, but I was told they didn't really take kids until they were 4). It's free and you can choose half or full day.

When the kiddo was 3 she went to Childswork at 41st and Salmon, which offers pretty generous scholarships on a case by case basis, meaning there's no strict income cut-off. There was a huge amount of choice in the schedules and times you could pick.

Before that we were a part of the Eastside Family Co-op and it was the perfect amount of time, 3 days a week for 4 hours where you have to commit to working one of those mornings. Anything less than three hours seems like too little time for mom or dad to get anything done, so I loved it. Plus, it was only $95/month. Of course, being a parent co-op means you spend lots of times doing all those things like coming up with crafts and going to meetings that maybe you were willing to do with your first, but maybe by your third . . . not so much?

Anyway, I needed to be in a more social setting for my own sanity, and I think my kid got something out of it, too. I love that she's comfortable talking to adults outside of her family, and giving her opinion (often loudly) to large groups of people, (not something I do often) and I think she's more well-rounded than she would be if she'd spent her first 5 years at home with me all day, but obviously, every kid is different.

Well, seems I am the odd mom out. My children are enrolled in a 5 day/week Montessori school. Our 5 year old is doing her kindergarten year and it is 8:30-3:00 and our 3.5 boy is there from 8:30-12:00.

They are beyond thriving there and the staff offer way more than I ever could dream to provide at home. At their ages, they are sponges and are capable of so much more than we give them credit for.

Many neurons in the brain are 'use it or lose it' in the preschool years. My husband and I joke that we have decided to pay for this instead of college when we won't be able to make the choices for them.

I'd like to hear more about the Moms Day Out program.

I'm with H, We just get this one small window - before we turn six - that we aren't obliged to a schedule.
It's the random, the unstructured stuff that really lets us be us. I've always loved the character that goes with that preschool age. But I think it's just that...Once kids start school they are learning social behavior, and suddenly it's about what other kids think or have. And self discovery gets benched.

So, I am all about holding my kids out til the last possible moment.

According to my husband and the statistics, attending preschool greatly increases the odds of attending college. I'm sure that's true for some populations. But we read, count, add , subtract, make art, explore with our children. They'll be fine when I send them off to school,... at the age of nine!

I just have two, and I struggle to find the focus to devote to each one. If I had more, I would probably feel that they would have a better learning experience in pre-K than from their over-stretched Mama!

I agree with Suki . . .sponges. My son is 2.5 and in preschool 4 3/4 days a week. Already pretty well knows numbers, letters, and defintely gets the crafts that I wouldn't even consider doing. Loves the social interaction and constantly wants to read books and play outside. We don't force the learning he just loves it. His memorization of books amazes me and breezes through a new stack of library books every couple of weeks. Each kiddo is different and if they seem bored at home maybe preschool is the way to go. Just a thought.

We just get this one small window - before we turn six - that we aren't obliged to a schedule.
It's the random, the unstructured stuff that really lets us be us.
I agree here--
"I've always loved the character that goes with that preschool age. But I think it's just that...Once kids start school they are learning social behavior, and suddenly it's about what other kids think or have. And self discovery gets benched."

If you really look at the research, there is no difference between kids who went to preschool and kids who didn't by the time they're in 3rd grade.

The money we are saving by NOT doing preschool is allowing us to go on family trips, travel internationally, and save for college. Oh, and have a zoo membership! We get our "structure" (which IS important for this age, yes!) from library storytimes and regular times with Grandma and even a weekly outing to the coffee shop. And playdates with the tiny handful of other kids who don't do preschool.

I wouldn't trade it for anything. Just wanted to reassure anyone else out there who feels like they can't afford preschool...not everyone does preschool, and it can work out just fine.

lea, we're not local anymore...I never did hear about a Moms Day Out program in Portland, but it sure has been nice. I drop my son off one day a week from 9-2PM and have a good chunk of time to go home and get some cleaning and laundry done, take a shower and even run a few errands before I have to pick him up again in the afternoon. The teacher does really nice things with them--they go for nature walks, play outside, do crafts and have a snack. They have an early lunch and a nap before pick up time. The best part is that it's only $35 so I think it's a real bargain and a sanity saver for me.

Interesting topic given my situation here in Sweden. My children (4.5 and 3) are enrolled in a Montessori preschool which they attend from 8:30 to 4:30 as I work full time. Expecting a third child in June, my children will be "forced" to cut back to only 15 hours a week given that I will be at home on "parent leave". Nothing at all to really complain about, given that preschool is completely subsidized and does not cost us a dime (or a krona in this case).

I am a bit worried that my children will miss the full time stimulation. I am not certain that they need to attend almost 40 hours per week, but perhaps at least 20 would be nice.

So, in short, I am worried, in our case, that it could be "too little".

I find this conversation interesting as I am an owner/teacher of a preschool. "How much time?" is a weighty consideration, and finding the balance between what stay/work at home parents need and what is best for the children depends on several components.

One very real piece of the puzzle is the cost of providing childcare. I won't bore you with the details, but a high-quality program costs more than the average person would think.

Many of the things children learn in preschool can be taught at home. As a mother, outside of 'school time', my son and I do a lot of on-the-spot learning, just by my noticing and following his interests. While we offer a curriculum at preschool, make no mistake: children need more time and attention in learning how to care for themselves, get along socially and become a positive part of their community than they do learning about seasons, numbers, shapes, colors, etc.: to me, this is the "gravy" of preschool. At this age, we can't begin to address our children's intellectual needs until their social/security needs are addressed. This is how we best prepare kids for kindergarten.

I loved what Chambu posted, her experience of parenting is exactly to the point. I think that parents really need to consider what they are wanting for themselves out of their preschool/child care situation and only when that is met do they seem to be really, truly happy...at least from my experience.

We just pulled our 3 year old out of a top-notch, top-dollar montessori program. He was not thriving there, he was crying for us most of the day, beside himself-upset every morning, and had become a disciplinary case. We thought he was ready, and would like the leaning and socialization and structure. He didn't, he was overwhelmed, thought all of the kids were too loud, and he wants to poke around in his pajamas in the morning.
I was sad initially and questioned if we did the right thing by pulling him out of this program we had our hearts set on. Vanished were my dreams of fancy brunches with my ladies. But, I don't have to make elaborate lunches, be on top of all laundry at all times like a madwoman. And, best of all, we don't have to fight in the morning about getting up, getting dressed, washing up and eating. We have been enjoying poking around in our pajamas and deciding what to do spur of the moment. I think the best we can do is understand and respond to the child/ren we have.

I have a 3 year old who we started in a co-op playgroup this last fall made up of 6 other stay-at-home parents in need of some breaks and socialization for the kids. We alternate which two parents work, and the kids go Tues/Thurs from 9 to 1. This was in my mind perfect for this year-- offered a decent break for me, great socialization with his existing playmates, and no cost since it was just a more organized playgroup, which was all we could afford since I don't work.

Then this winter, my son was given a diagnosis of aspergers and they offered us a space in a MESD classroom on Mon/Wed mornings from 7:50-10:10am. Since we were already committed to our co-op through June, we started doing both-- but it hasn't been working well for either of us. 2.25 hours is not a lot of time in the classroom for the kids or much of a break for the parent when you consider how early you have to get your kid started to get out the door (let alone if you have multiple kids to get out the door). And as far as the benefit to my child, I think that the 4 hours at playgroup are better as he gets to really warm up to the group and do more (they have time to do something that each of the kids really enjoy-- art, outside time/exploration, circle time, reading, etc). 2 hours isn't nothing, but in comparison, I like 4 better for both of us.

We've recently decided to get services only at our existing playgroup instead of at MESD, not because MESD isn't great (it IS great-- and amazingly free), but the time they offer (7:50am! and just over 2 hours) is harder for me and my child.

Come summer/fall when my co-op playgroup is ending (most parents are moving onto more formal preschools), we could go back to MESD for free, but the time still isn't what I'd like. I am looking at some co-ops as well, but don't know what we'll do in the end.

Our oldest went to a small preschool class at our local community center. Inexpensive and just fine for our tastes, with a great teacher. It was just a couple of hours a few times a week - in the morning.

Our youngest isn't going at all. We take fun inexpensive classes at the community ctr (art, little kid games, cooking etc) and go to library times, omsi, and have lots of playdates with friends. Like we did with our oldest too. Good enough. He's got an older sibling and he soaks up tons of stuff from his brother and his brother's friends.

Formal preschool just isn't right for our family. We learn in the world, with books, with community, outdoors, with arts events, etc. The kids are thriving. We couldn't afford a fancy preschool even if we wanted to and I don't see the need.

I agree with Chambu. Again!

I agree with timetoplay. These early years really do fly by and then *poof* they are school age and you can't get back that time.
Enjoy the early years with your children. A few hours a week at a low-key preschool when they are 3 and 4 is perfect.

I am both pro-preschool and pro-home. :) How's that for democratic?

Financially, it's never worked for me to send my kids to preschool, and especially with my oldest--I didn't want to be on the school's schedule while I had two younger kids to take care of. We ended up doing preschool at home starting at age 4 -- nothing fancy, just reading and covering the basics. He's 8 now and is not behind his peers and I have no regrets about keeping him home.

One alternative you can consider is to find a like-minded mom (or two) to switch kid-sitting with a couple of days a week. Then you can each give yourselves a larger chunk of time to focus on your work, and a dedicated chunk of time to focus on the kids. And whoever has the kids does preschool-like activities: reading, crafts, numbers/letters, free play. It really doesn't take a whole classroom full of kids to learn things like manners and group behavior. Just a thought.

My middle daughter attended an MESD preschool at Sacramento Elementary as a typical peer. We didn't feel she really needed academic experience (we give them plenty at home), but that the social environment might be good for her, as she was rather shy. I think it did help her prepare socially for kindergarten, especially since she'd always been at home with a parent before.

I also really like the whole integrated preschool idea. I think it benefits both sets of kids, and teaches typical children they can be friends with kids who are maybe a little different.

Our youngest is four, and isn't in the MESD preschool; we're both working now and she's in daycare. I'm kind of sad that she won't have that experience -- but I never looked at it as a necessity anyway.

I agree with Chambu and Stretch Mark Mama.

This posting is timely for me. I have a 2.5 year old and was thinking about preschool in the fall. Currently we have several activites planned each week including play dates, swimming, commmunity center drop-in activities, volunteer work. It is nice to make up our schedules each day together and I decided I am not ready to send him to preschool. I want him with me for as long as possible.

I like the idea from Stretch Mark Mama on finding a mom to switch off kid-sitting. It is nice to have a few hours to yourself during the week.

I'd like to add a new spin on this conversation of how much is too much:

I'd really be interested in hearing from other parents who have had their kids in full-time childcare, and how they are considering pre-school options. Our son has been in full-time (or almost full-time) in home childcare with one other child since he was 8 months. So, at 2.5, looking at pre-schools seems a logical option for him, since he still has to go somewhere while his dad and I work, and it might as well be a school. Intellectually and socially, he is totally ready. And since his dad and I work, I can't take him to most weekday classes and playgroups that others in this thread have mentioned as optiont to pre-school. Yet, I am a big fan of unstructured/unscheduled time. That may be one of the reasons I am not totally sold on Montessori yet.

So, for you other parents who have/had kids in childcare, did you move to pre-school at some point, and if so, what were your reasons for doing so?

Excellent and timely topic! Our son is just over two, and has learned his letters, numbers, colors at home. We do classes, zoo and storytimes, which adds some needed structure to my day, as I quit working a couple of months ago to be with him. He was in daycare for about 3 days/week when I worked, and seemed to be OK with other kids.

The one element that he's missing now is socialization -- he gets upset when other kids get too close to him. Preschool could help with that, unless we just up the ante on classes and playdates. Like other mamas here, I want to treasure this time with him before formal education kicks him, but am worried about him getting too tied to the home, and not socialized enough. (My spouse and I are both introverts, and could happily stay at home all day long.) I may see if he warms up to other kids in the community center classes before we commit to preschool.

One thing is for sure, I'm grateful that we have so many options in Portland, even if the act of deciding is sometimes crazy-making!

SJ ~

The two daycare locations our son has been in (since 18 months old), progressed to pre-school, pre-K and K.


When we chose a preschool, we went for the
look and feel of the school and teachers, looked for a gelling of personalities, pedagogy, philosophy, and most of all a sense of humor. We asked ourselves if the room was too hectic? Was the room clean? What toys are available? Was there enough art on the walls? Was there enough communication going on in the school?
We asked about discipline and what if situations (what if our child is very sad, very mad, hungry, wets himself, sick, you are sick)
We also asked about how conflict and other common issues were handled,like fighting, biting, falling, not cooperating, not participating, and if time outs were used, etc.
We visited when the school was busy and observed the other children and the flow of the day.
We asked for a copy of the schedule to see if there was enough outdoor time.
Then, we took our child to the top 3, and let him help us make the final decision.

We too have been debating preschool. Being in the 'burbs (happy Valley area) I've found my choices limited and very pricey. My 3.4 year old daughter loves any opportunity to be with other children and would adore it, but I can't find an affordable option. We also don't know many people with little girls (we have a 9 year old boy and a one year old boy), and I'm really-really not good at sitting and playing... So we are frustrated!! I long for the mommy day out options from my Midwest days:)

our daughter has been in (nearly) full-time childcare since babyhood, so SJ's question drew me in.

we liked our daycare well enough until our girl was 2. then, her natural inclination toward what i can only call academics forced us to think about preschool. we found one that we liked and she loved. after meeting her, they agreed to let her begin at 2.5, and it has been a great fit.

i don't know if her demand for a more school-like program would have been the same if she hadn't had a year and a half of institutional day care, and to be honest it's not something i ever thought i'd choose. but she does need care pretty much full-time, and this is how it has evolved. we're all happy, and she's thriving (now 4). i do feel a little funny that she'll have had 3 full years of preschool when she starts kindergarten.

I'm with Suki -- our daughter is in a 5-day per week Montessori, and it is wonderful. We're fortunate to have gotten and spot and figured out how to make it work financially -- it's a stretch that is totally worth it. She gets so much quiet space to focus on the materials and activities in that beautiful room ... with just enough "structure" (gentle guidance and lessons from her delightful teachers) to keep her engaged, inspired, curious, challenged. She often seemed to be at loose ends at home, bored, with a real desire to focus but without a mama who knew exactly how to feed her in every way she needs. And it isn't that I don't try -- library books, crafts galore, helping me with chores and baking and so on ... but it was so obvious that a school could give her some of the enrichment and socialization that she was craving. PLUS -- I have found that being part of this preschool community is doing a LOT for me as a mother. Support over parenting challenges, and teachers who are real partners in nurturing our child. I LOVE that I can call them to talk about potty accidents, her explosion of interest in pre-reading, how to think about her personality when it comes to transitions/independence/making friends ... the list goes on. Her teachers have given me such wonderful, objective, caring, experienced perspectives. We chose our daughter's school not only for the fit with our daughter, but for the fit for us as parents. So, if preschool of some kind can be financially managed and logistically achieved, go for it. It can become an extension of your household and such a rich part of your family life.

Amy, may I please ask which Montessori preschool you sent her to?

Thanks much


We've had our child in FT daycare. When she was 15 months, we moved centers (for a variety of reasons) and our current center (she's 3.5 now) has mixed age preschool program for the 3-5 yrs. She loves it and it works for us. Our center (which has openings in the preschool, btw) has a diverse curriculum, long-term teachers, outdoor time every.day.no.matter.what.

SJ: There is a difference between kids who start preschool after having been at home for a couple of years vs. kids who have been in daycare their whole lives. And then there's a difference between kids who've been in home care vs. kids who've been at a group center with a professional staff and curriculum. Just ask my kid's kindergarten teacher, who gets them all. I'm not saying any one of these is "better" than the others; just that kids with one background will have different needs from the others.

I'd suggest talking to the directors at your top-choice preschools about their demographics, their missions and their goals. Then pick what works best for you and your child.

And: The very fact that you are putting this much thought in how your child spends his days bodes well for him!

Wow. Lots of comments. Maybe this has already been said but I think its more important for kids to be socially ready for kindergarten. Preschool &/or play dates/ story times/ church can provide this. learning to share, follow directions, etc. Learning letters and numbers is also important but I was the one that taught my children to write and count, and recognize numbers and shapes. Of course seeing all the letters and numbers at preschool and singing songs helped to emphasize this.
My kids both went to co-op preschools two or three mornings a week until full day kindergarten. My oldest had a smooth transition to elementary school and I expect the same from my 5 year old who will be starting kindergarten in the fall. So while I don't think its absolutely necessary for kids to go to preschool, I think the social interactions are the most valuable. You will choose what's best for your family and your kids will be fine :)

Lots of good info about how to look at and think about schools, which is something I'm having trouble with.

Re Mom's Day Out programs: Portland Parks & Rec calls it "Parent's Time Off." There's one at Fulton CC and I think Southwest CC (they both also have a Parents' Night Out on many Fridays from 5-9pm for $25). I'm sure other CC in town have it, too.

And Montavilla Community Center in SE has a "Preschool Adventures" - a non-academic 2 hour drop-off class where the kids make crafts, socialize, and play in the gym. Its tues and thurs afternoons. The kids love it - very low-key and fun!


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