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Free, universal preschool exists in DC—so why not the rest of the country?

The U.S. Constitution puts the responsibility of education on the states, but state constitutions vary. Some explicitly protect the rights of preschoolers to public education, while others are arguably more open to interpretation on this issue.

Free, universal preschool exists in DC—so why not the rest of the country?

It sounds too good to be true: Free, universal preschool for 3 and 4-year-old kids. For working parents, and those who wish they could go back to work (or even just go to the grocery store alone) the idea seems like a beautiful, if unrealistic, dream.

Except that some places—including America's capital city—have figured out how to make universal preschool a reality. In Washington, D.C., 90% of 4-year-olds and 70% of 3-year-olds attend a full-day preschool program for free, according to the Center for American Progress.

Preschool for everyone. For free.

Those two years of no-cost, high-quality preschool have a huge impact on families.

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First, the preschoolers are reaping the benefits of preschool. High-quality, center-based care has a ton of benefits, but surprisingly, they're not academic. A recent study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found children who attended high-quality center-based care for at least one year had lower rates of emotional, conduct, relationship and attention problems later in life than kids who were watched by a family member or babysitter. These benefits last longer than any temporary boost the kids get in academics.

The second benefit is economic. The incredibly expensive cost of childcare is a huge barrier to paid work for many parents who simply wouldn't be able to afford day care. When D.C. tore down this barrier, the city's maternal work force participation rate increased by more than 10%.

Universal preschool for 3 and 4 year olds has been proven to be doable and beneficial for families and the wider community.

So why isn't America moving toward universal preschool?

Well, for one thing, money.

The ways in which states and school districts fund preschool programs vary across America.

Funding for preschool programs can come from the federal, state and local governments, and even the private sector, but the ratios depend on the state you're in.

Basically, universal preschool programs have to be championed at the state level, and different states have wildly different ideas about how important preschool is, who should have access and how to fund it.

Some states fund preschool programs with gambling revenue. Others have funneled money from tobacco settlements into educating 4-year-olds. Utah famously made a bet with Goldman Sachs to fund preschool for kids from low-income homes.

The U.S. Constitution puts the responsibility of education on the states, but state constitutions vary. Some explicitly protect the rights of preschoolers to public education, while others (looking at you, Idaho) are arguably more open to interpretation on this issue.

D.C and several other states include preschool or "voluntary prekindergarten" funding in their education funding formula, a model that research suggests is the best, most stable was to fund these programs. In the 2016-17 school year, D.C. spent $16,996 in state funding per child, as overseen by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. The national average? Just $5,008.

But where do those thousands of dollars come from? Federal funding typically makes up a very small piece of the pie for K-12 funding, usually under 10%. The next biggest chunk of funding is from the state but and local governments make up the bulk of funding for K-12 education in America. So if universal preschool is part of a K-12 funding model, taxpayers are paying for it.

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, 18 states got federal Preschool Development Grants in 2017, while seven states didn't invest any state money in preschool at all.

As Steve Barnett of the National Institute for Early Education Research told NPR, "The growing inequality between states that have moved ahead and invested in quality preschool programs and states that have done nothing is really stark."

In the Dakotas, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and New Hampshire, state dollars don't go to preschool programs (Montana just recently got its pilot program up and running).

But in Florida, voluntary prekindergarten has been free for all 4 year old children for years, and Georgia also boasts a long-standing free-to-all prekindergarten program. It's the same story in Oklahoma, where 74% of four-year-olds attend school.

Vermont, California and Wisconsin also offer Pre-K programs, and West Virginia, Alabama, New York, Michigan and Rhode Island have all increased pre-K enrollment rates in recent years. So too have Mississippi and New Jersey.

But pre-K isn't always universal preschool

What sets such state programs apart from D.C.'s universal preschool programs is that in some states, not every child will qualify for enrollment, making the preschool not "universal." And, pre-K is often just for 4-year-olds. Eighty-six percent of kids in state-funded preschool programs are 4 years old, but there are plenty of 3 year olds who are ready for preschool.

There's another layer here too that makes D.C.'s system so enviable: In D.C., preschools must offer at least 6.5 hours of care per day, but in many states pre-K is just a half-day program. In some states pre-kindergarteners might be in school for only a few hours a week. There are few jobs parents can work within that small window of time.

Still, economists estimate the potential benefits of such pre-K programs are several times greater than the costs, not because parents are getting back to work, but because of lower societal costs (like lower spending on the criminal justice system and social support programs) and greater future earning potential for pre-K graduates.

If the economic returns of one year of half day pre-K is good, then imagine what a full day of care for two years could do if expanded nationwide.

Universal preschool in other nations

It's not surprising that many other countries have already figured out what D.C. did and implemented it on a wider scale.

Since 2000 all British 4-year-olds have access to part-time preschool, and the plan was extended to 3-year-old children in 2005. No surprise, maternal workforce participation rates went up there, too.

In Norway, almost all preschoolers go to free preschool and the practice is regarded as a citizen's right after 30 years of steadily increasing enrollment.

France has it. Finland has it. Spain has it. Mexico has it. China is aiming for it, with a goal of getting 85% of 3 to 6 year old kids into preschool by 2020.

Closer to home, the Canadian province of Québec has something that's not quite universal preschool (the demand is too high to get all the kids into the high-quality center-based care), but rather a steeply subsidized childcare program that saw women's workforce participation go from 74% to about 87% over a couple decades, CBC reports.

The rest of Canada is still waiting for relief from sky-high day care costs and so, of course, is America. But the blueprint for it is right there in the capital city of the United States.

Universal preschool has made D.C. a better place for families, and it's time to make it truly universal for all Americans.

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

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Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

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Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

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Detective set

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This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

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Wooden doll stroller

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Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

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Water play set

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Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

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Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

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Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

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Wooden rocking pegasus

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Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

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The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

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Wooden digital camera

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Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

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Wooden bulldozer toy

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Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

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Pull-along hippo

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There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

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Baby forest fox ride-on

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Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

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I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.


And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3

$35

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Errands and showers are not self-care for moms

Thinking they are is what's burning moms out.

A friend and I bump into each other at Target nearly every time we go. We don't pre-plan this; we must just be on the same paper towel use cycle or something. Really, I think there was a stretch where I saw her at Target five times in a row.

We've turned it into a bit of a running joke. "Yeah," I say sarcastically, "We needed paper towels so you know, I had to come to Target… for two hours of alone time."

She'll laugh and reply, "Oh yes, we were out of… um… paper clips. So here I am, shopping without the kids. Heaven!"

Now don't get me wrong. I adore my trips to Target (and based on the fullness of my cart when I leave, I am pretty sure Target adores my trips there, too).

But my little running joke with my friend is actually a big problem. Because why is the absence of paper towels the thing that prompts me to get a break? And why on earth is buying paper towels considered a break for moms?

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