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Deciding whether or not to send children to preschool is a big choice for parents. Most preschools in the United States are not free and the expense can make parents think twice about whether early education is worth the investment. In some states, preschool even costs more than the average college tuition. If you have your childcare needs met—maybe you're a stay at home parent or you have a nanny—you may find yourself asking if it's critical that you send your child to preschool.

Early education is important for children's development and that can happen at home or in a school setting. Children who attend preschool can be more prepared for kindergarten and better setup for the rest of their lives, too.

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Here are some of the benefits of preschool that contribute to that outsized impact:

1. Teach independence.

For some children, preschool is the first time they are away from their familiar caregivers for an extended period of time. While there, they learn to do new things on their own, whether it's making friends, practicing letters or tying their shoes. They'll also practice making choices, like what toys to play with and who to sit by at snack time. This independence can create confidence as they become more comfortable.

2. Develop social skills.

Often preschool provides children with a lot of social skill development. While parents can teach their kids at home, it can be easier to have peer interaction while attending preschool. Children learn cooperation and how to resolve conflicts with other kids. And, about social norms, like raising their hands and following line leaders.

But social skills go beyond just learning to be social with other kids in the class. Preschool can be a time when kids learn to develop trusting, consistent and safe relationships with adults outside of their families. This sets them up to be able to trust and learn from adults throughout their schooling career. On the flip side, it means it is super important that these adults be kind, loving and supportive as this builds a foundation for establishing healthy relationships in life.

3. Curate language skills.

At preschool, children advance their communication abilities. For example, their vocabularies grow from hearing new words and talking to new people. They spend time working on writing, following multi-step instructions, and correctly labeling objects, such as animals, colors and letters.

Preschool teachers are trained in implementing activities that can successfully improve their communication skills, whether written or verbal.

4. Gain experience in a structured environment.

Most preschools, including those that are play-based or child-led, have a structure and rhythm to their day. Kids often thrive with structure and preschool can provide them with an organized schedule. Additionally, preschool helps children develop self-discipline, understand what is expected of them, practice organization and understand boundaries.

5. Prepare the immune system.

Any parent of a preschooler will tell you that there are germs that float around classrooms. When you send your child to preschool or daycare for the first time, it may seem like they're constantly getting sick. While this may feel like a downside, these germs could actually be preparing your child's immune system and making it stronger for the future. If they aren't exposed to germs, studies show your child may have sick days in Kindergarten at a time when missing school can count against them.

Bonus: How to make preschool more affordable.

Unfortunately, preschool in most of the United States isn't free. However, with a few tricks and planning, the cost need not be prohibitive.

If cost is an issue, there are some ways to qualify for free or reduced-cost preschool. Co-op preschools are often much cheaper or even free and in exchange, you volunteer your time in the classroom. Some states and cities offer subsidies for parents who can't afford preschool and many preschools offer scholarships as well. Preschool provides children with an important foundation for their lives and there are a variety of programs out there to help you take advantage of preschool for your child.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.

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The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.



As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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My husband and I always talked about starting a family a few years after we were married so we could truly enjoy the “newlywed” phase. But that was over before it started. I was pregnant on our wedding day. Surprise!

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