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Debate Club: Do Kids Need to Attend Preschool?


What kids learn at preschool that they cant learn at home

by Jackie Semmens

“Do you want to stay home from preschool tomorrow, honey?” I asked my son. ”Grandma is here, and we can spend the morning playing with her instead.”

“No!” he answered emphatically. “I have too many important things to learn!”

I chuckled. It takes a lot to convince my son to miss a morning spent with a grandparent, but if anything can, it’s preschool.

A few months ago, I had been wavering on whether or not to send my oldest son to preschool. What was he going to learn that I couldn’t teach him at home? He knew most of his letters and numbers, and I figured he would pretty easily pick up the rest by the time he reached kindergarten. I exposed him to a wide variety of activities – hiking, music hour, trips to the science museum, art, and of course, reading plenty of books.

Ultimately we decided to enroll him in a small, affordable preschool close to our house. “If he doesn’t like it, we can always take him out,” my husband reminded me.

So what can a children learn at preschool that they can’t learn at home? And is it really so important that they learn it before kindergarten? I decided to start looking into the matter, and as it turns out, children can gain a lot from a quality preschool experience. It’s also critical that the learning happens early.

As parents, we tend to be concrete thinkers, looking for measurable benefits. When I asked my husband what our son could learn at preschool that I couldn’t teach him myself, I had been focusing primarily on the academic side of the matter.

The academic benefits for attending preschool are certainly numerous. Preschool programs geared towards disadvantaged children have been shown to increase the intelligence quotient (IQ) by an average of eight points. Preschool also prepares children better for kindergarten than their peers who did not attend.

Preschool is about more than playing with blocks; it’s about gaining the building blocks needed for academic success down the road. A multi-state study of children who attended a state preschool found that kids in preschool programs had stronger vocabularies, improved math abilities, and better print awareness, setting them up for success in elementary school.

But that still wasn’t enough to convince me. I had heard critics of preschool point out that the early academic boosts wear off by mid-elementary school. Looking into the matter, I discovered that, while some studies suggest that boosts to IQ fade out by third grade, many of those studies were methodologically unsound and could also be attributed to teachers having to play “catch-up” with children who didn’t attend preschool.

But the real benefit to preschool lies in the “soft skills” that children develop, in addition to the academic ones. Our brains are at their most malleable and impressionable in early childhood, and by developing social abilities at this age, children gain skills that will follow them for the rest of their lives. By interacting with other children outside of their typical home environment, preschoolers learn to socialize with other children their age, manage stress, and problem solve.

Learning how to “play nicely with your friends” is perhaps the most important skill that preschoolers develop and the one I have the hardest time teaching at home. While my son has a younger brother and we play with other children frequently, I couldn’t provide him with an environment where he would have to independently learn to share, compromise, and follow directions from people who weren’t his parents.

These soft skills are best learned in preschool, and translate to success in the workforce down the road, according to Noble Prize-winning economist James Heckman. Decades after attending a preschool program 1960s, the kids in the study were employed more, had higher salaries, got sick less often, and also went to jail less often than those who didn’t attend preschool. The earlier kids learn to cooperate and resolve conflicts with each other, the better.

These benefits were all starting to sound pretty enticing. But a part of me was still skeptical. Most studies about the benefits of preschool focused on inner city, low-income children. We are college-educated, middle class, and live in a small town.

I had read headlines proclaiming, “If you are reading this article, your kid probably doesn’t need preschool” (an argument that assumed disadvantaged families weren’t even bothering to research preschool, which sounded a bit presumptive to me). But I was curious if a middle class child like mine would actually gain anything from attending.

While low-income children see the most progress from attending preschool, middle class children benefit as well. These children, just like low income children, gain pre-reading skills, social-emotional skills, and even see an increase in lifetime earnings. Perhaps most interestingly, a multi-state study showed that all children gained increased listening and comprehension skills when they were in a classroom with greater income diversity. Treating preschool as if it was something only for disadvantaged kids means that everyone misses out.

In the end, we decided to send our son after seeing how bored he got on the days that we were stuck in the house catching up on chores. I figured my younger son would benefit from a little one-on-one time with mom as well. The best part has been seeing how much he enjoys preschool, spending time with his friends, and seeing his teacher.

Like he says, he doesn’t want to miss out because there are too many important things for him to learn. Having done my research, I know he is right.

Preschool can happen at home, with great results

by Kathryn Trudeau

Blink once. That’s about the time it takes for your newborn baby to be picking out his back to school shoes and a Paw Patrol backpack for preschool. Preschool is a big milestone for any three- or four-year-old, but in some places the hyper focus on preschool does actually begin in infancy.

Some preschools in big cities such as New York City have cutthroat application processes, wait lists, and tuitions as high as college tuition. It may seem silly to fight so hard for a spot in a preschool, but there is an underlying truth. Kindergarten readiness is important.

Little children are sponges in what they can absorb. What children learn at this age affects them on many levels: academically, socially, emotionally, and physically. But despite the sheer importance of preschool, a good preschool education does not need to be stressful, expensive, or elusive.

In fact, you don’t even have to leave your home! If you have a little one nearing preschool age, keep in mind these four benefits of preschooling at home.

You’re in control

Even if you don’t plan on homeschooling your child throughout elementary school, choosing to do preschool at home has one huge advantage: you’re in control. As the teacher, you plan your child’s day, what your child eats, and what technology she is (or isn’t) exposed to. Being in control also means you’re in control of what your child doesn’t do.

My son regularly requests to work in his math workbook. I never try to force it on him. Rather, I let him lead. I doubt he would get such a personalized, one-on-one approach with this specific interest in a traditional preschool. Being in control means I can focus specifically on my son, his interests, passions, and unique skill sets.

Sibling bond

One morning, as I sat at our school table, I watched my preschooler as he colored a picture of different plant parts. I was explaining to him how plants grow, their need for water, and how sunlight helps them to grow. My toddler took a green crayon and said, “Help brother. Me help brother.”

At the moment, I thought it was sweet and how great it was that he was sitting so nicely. Then it really hit me. When we “do school” we have routines, and one habit is that my two boys always sit next to each other. My toddler doesn’t have to sit there; he has a whole room of toys to play with, yet he chooses to sit next to his brother.

As we venture into homeschooling, I am continually made aware of just how much their bond is strengthening. They are friends, companions, buddies…and sometimes partners in crime. You know how much a toddler loves someone if they are the first name called upon waking up. How lucky I am to help my boys learn how to love each other! Even if you end your homeschooling journey after preschool, that extra year of sibling bonding will take them far into their lives.

It’s easy – no rocket science degree required

I’ll be the first person to admit that when my husband and I committed to homeschooling, I panicked. The question “How could I teach a child to read?” quickly turned into

“How will I be able to teach Advanced Algebra IV?” Clearly, I was in panic mode.

The thing is this: teaching preschool is easy. It’s an extension of what you’re already doing as parents. Parents teach colors, shapes, animals, manners, and preschool is no different.  Preschool is about “kindergarten readiness,” not learning to read chapter books or multiplying fractions by age five. 

In fact, some studies indicate that such rigorous “academic” studies do not really benefit the littlest learners. Interestingly, the age of compulsory attendance in Finland is seven. Prior to that, their preschool is all play-based. Play-based learning is easy on mom and amazing for the kids. Without strict expectations to learn to read by age five, children have the freedom to explore their world and learn through creativity.

This type of learning fosters a rich way for children to focus on their own personal and social development. Reading books to your child, playing imagination-based games, and teaching basic life skills (things like eye contact or greeting someone when they come over) are all easy things to do. 

It’s important to remember that just because an experience is categorized as play doesn’t mean it’s not an educational experience. A walk through the zoo is fun and opens up a whole new world to children. Making play dough cars can quickly become a counting game. I learned through experience not to overthink or overcomplicate preschool.

Socializing is on your schedule

When I tell someone we homeschool, you can bet they will make some comment about socializing. Socializing with peers is important for any human in any age group. Humans are social animals. It’s why moms join mom groups, why men attend poker nights, and why Grandma never misses Bingo. Likewise, our kids need socialization, too. But there’s no rule that says it has to happen at school.

My son has regular play dates with friends and attends a weekly gymnastics class. He also regularly sees extended family. He is one of the most social people I know, and he is definitely more social than many adults. Chatty Cathy (as I sometimes call him) does not lack socialization because he preschools at home.

The educational decisions we make on behalf of our children are not to be taken lightly. No matter which route you choose, there’s nothing quite as rewarding as feeling validated in the choice you do make. For me, it’s hearing my preschooler excitedly say three little words, “Let’s do school!”

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The temperatures are dropping and that can only mean one thing. Whether we like it or not, winter's cold chilly months are upon us. As a born-and-raised Alaskan, and mama of three, I've got a lot of cold weather experience under my belt, and staying inside half the year just isn't an option for us. As my husband likes to say, "There's no bad weather, just bad gear."

Here are some of my favorite picks to keep your family toasty warm this winter.


1. Bear bunting

This sherpa bear bunting wins winter wear MVP for being a comfy snowsuit for your littlest babe, or base-layer under another snowsuit for the chilliest of winter outings. Bonus: your baby bear will never look cuter!

Sherpa Hooded Bunting, Carter's, $15.20

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2. Patagonia Capilene base-layers

Speaking of base-layers, for any prolonged winter activity outside in the cold, it's best to layer up to create air pockets of warmth. These moisture wicking base-layers are a family favorite.

Baby Capilene Bottoms, Back Country, $29.00

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3. Arctix Kids limitless overall bib

These adjustable snow pants keep kids warm and the bib style keeps snow from going down the back of their pants. Bonus: the price is excellent for the quality and they can grow with your child. The Velcro strap also makes bathroom breaks for kids so much easier.

Arctix Kids Limitless Overall Bib, Amazon, $14.99-$49.99

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4. Hooded frost-free long jacket

Keep your little one warm and stylish in this long puffer jacket. Great for everyday outings.

Hooded Frost-Free Long Jacket, Old Navy, $35.00

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5. Patagonia reversible jacket

This jacket is windproof, waterproof and the built-in hood means one less piece of gear to worry about (or one more layer for your little one's head). It's a best buy if you live with cold winter temperatures for many months of the year and still love to get outside to play. It also stays in great condition for hand-me-downs to your next kid.

Reversible Down Sweater Hoodie, Nordstrom, $119.00

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6. Under Armour Decatur water repellent jacket

Made of waterproof fabric and lined with great insulation, kids will no doubt stay warm—and dry—in this. It features plenty of pockets, too, so mama doesn't always have to hold onto their items. We love that the UGrow system allows sleeves to grow a couple inches.

UA Decatur Water Repellent Jacket, Nordstrom, $155.00

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7. Stonz mittens

Ever tried to keep gloves on a 1-year-old? It's a tough task, but these gloves make it a breeze with a wide opening and two adjustable toggles for a snug fit they can't pull off! Warm and waterproof, and come in sizes from infant to big kids.

Stonz Mittz, Amazon, $39.99

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8. Sorel toot pack boot

Keep their little toes warm with these cozy boots from Sorel. With insulated uppers and waterproof bottoms their feet are sure to stay warm. They're well constructed and hold up over time, making them a great hand-me-down option for your family.

Sorel Kids' Yoot Boot, Amazon, $48.73-$175.63

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9. Stonz baby boots

These Stonz stay-on-baby booties do just as their name says and stay on their feet. No more searching for one boot in the grocery store parking lot!

Stonz Three Season Stay-On Baby Booties, Amazon, $29.99-$50.29

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We make a lot of things this time of year. Gingerbread houses. Christmas cards. New traditions. Babies.

Yes, December is peak baby making season. It's a month filled with togetherness and all the love felt in December is what makes September the most statistically popular month for American birthdays.

According to data journalist Matt Stiles, mid-September is the most popular time to give birth in America. He did a deep dive into the birth stats from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Social Security Administration collected between 1994 and 2014 and found that the most common American birthdays fall on September 9, 19 and 12. In fact, 9 of the 10 most popular days to give birth fall in September.

If we turn the calendar back, we're looking at Christmas time conceptions. Stiles illustrated his findings via a heat map, which presents the data in a visual form. The darker the square, the more common the birthday.

The square for August 30 is pretty dark as it is the 34th most common birthday in America. It's also 40 weeks after November 23, and the unofficial beginning of the United States' seasonal baby boom.


And while the Christmas holidays are common times to conceive, they're not common days to give birth, for obvious reasons. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Day and the fourth of July are all represented by light squares on Stiles's data map, meaning they're among the least popular days to welcome a little one into the world (Boxing Day is just a smidge darker, still a pretty rare birthday).

OB-GYNs are not likely to schedule C-sections on major holidays, so that might point to the low birth rates on these special days.

As for the September baby boom, it probably has less to do with the magic of the holiday season and more to do with the fact that many Americans take time off work during the holiday season. It's not that mistletoe is some magic aphrodisiac, but just that making babies takes time, and at this time of year we have some to spare.

This Christmas be thankful for the time you have with your loved ones and your partner. That time could give you a gift come September.

[A version of this article was originally posted November 21, 2018]

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When I gave birth the first time, I had two doulas—one for me, and one for my husband. (I wasn't messing around!) They worked hard to support me in what ended up being a long labor. About 20 hours in, I remember hearing my doulas whisper to my exhausted, hard-working husband, “Go lie down. We can take care of her."

This was absolutely true. They were more than capable of helping me through contractions, which up to this point I'd been handling really well. So upon their urging, my husband walked about three feet away and lay down on the daybed in the labor and delivery room. And then the strangest thing happened—

I completely lost my rhythm and my ability to breathe through contractions. It was as though I'd lost my way. The next handful of contractions were unbearable and caused me to cry out in anguish. My husband hurried to my side and held my hand once more.

And then, just as quickly, I found my rhythm, my breathing returned, and I was able to to handle my contractions until I gave birth several hours later.

In a recent study published in Nature, it was discovered that when a partner held the hand of a woman during labor, the couple would begin to synchronize their breathing and heart rate patterns, otherwise known as physiological coupling.

In addition, the women reported that their pain lessened while holding hands with their partners. If they were just sitting next to one another, but not holding hands, their pain levels weren't affected.

This study has obvious implications for the families I teach in my Childbirth Preparation classes, and it's important to share this news far and wide:

Everything you do for your partner while she's in labor makes a difference. Even if all you do is hold her hand.

Labor is not just something that a birthing woman experiences. Her partner experiences labor too, just in a very different way. For far too long, we've either diminished or ignored the partner's experience of labor—to everyone's detriment.

I realize that it makes sense to pay close attention to how a woman moves through her pregnancy, labor and birth. But if we're not paying equal attention to her partner's experience, we're not setting this new family up for success. In fact, we might be doing the exact opposite.

If partners don't realize the importance their words, actions and touch can have on the laboring woman's experience, many may freeze up and feel helpless as they witness the power and intensity of labor and birth. They may end up feeling as though all of their efforts and suggestions for comfort measures are without any effect. But this couldn't be further from the truth!

Every little thing a partner does to make the laboring woman more comfortable matters immensely. Every sip of water offered, every new position suggested, every word of encouragement, every reminder to breathe, every single touch, provides comfort to the laboring woman. And partners need to know this and believe in the power that their undivided attention and connection can bring to the laboring woman.

Here's why I think the findings from this latest study are so important—it's that feeling of shared empathy between the laboring woman and her partner that causes the physiological coupling and pain relieving effects that help a woman when she's experiencing pain.

That's why I've always told the partners in my classes that even if they hired an army of the world's greatest labor doulas, their unwavering, focused and empathetic attention during birth, is the reason why she'll tell everyone that she couldn't have made it through labor without her partner! Even if all they did was hold her hand.

It's a conundrum many parents wrestle with: We don't want to lie to our kids, but when it comes to Santa, sometimes we're not exactly giving them the full truth either.

For Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, lying to daughters Lincoln, 5, and Delta, 3 just isn't an option, so everyone in the Bell-Shepard household knows the truth about Santa.

"This is going to be very controversial," Shepard told Us Weekly earlier this month. "I have a fundamental rule that I will never lie to them, which is challenging at times. Our 5-year-old started asking questions like, 'Well, this doesn't make sense, and that doesn't make sense.' I'm like, 'You know what? This is just a fun thing we pretend while it's Christmas.'"

According to Shepard, this has not diminished the magic of Christmas in their home. "They love watching movies about Santa, they love talking about Santa," Shepard told Us. "They don't think he exists, but they're super happy and everything's fine."

Research indicates that Shepard is right—kids can be totally happy and into Christmas even after figuring out the truth and that most kids do start to untangle the Santa myth on their own, as Lincoln did.

Studies suggest that for many kids, the myth fades around age seven, but for some kids, it's sooner, and that's okay.


Writing for The Conversation, Kristen Dunfield, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Concordia University, suggests that when kids come to parents with the hard questions about Santa, parents may feel a bit sad, but can take some comfort in "recognizing these challenging questions for what they are—cognitive development in action."

Kids aren't usually the ones who are upset when they figure it out, researchers note. Typically, kids are kind of proud of themselves for being such great detectives. It's the parents who feel sadness.

Some parents may not choose to be as blunt as Shepard, and that's okay, too. According to Dunfield, if you don't want to answer questions about Santa with 100% truth, you can answer a question with a question.

"If instead you want to let your child take the lead, you can simply direct the question back to them, allowing your child to come up with explanations for themselves: "I don't know, how do you think the sleigh flies?" Dunfield writes.

While Dax Shepard acknowledges that telling a 3-year-old that Santa is pretend might be controversial, he's hardly the first parent to present Santa this way. There are plenty of healthy, happy adults whose parents told them the truth.

LeAnne Shepard is one of them. Now a mother herself, LeAnne's parents clued her into the Santa myth early, for religious reasons that were common in her community.

"In the small Texas town where I grew up, I wasn't alone in my disbelief. Many parents, including mine, presented Santa Claus as a game that other families played," she previously wrote. "That approach allowed us to get a picture on Santa's lap, watch the Christmas classics, and enjoy all the holiday festivities so long as we remembered the actual reason for the season. It was much like when I visited Disney World and met Minnie Mouse; I was both over the moon excited and somewhat aware that she was not actually real."

No matter why you want to tell your children the truth about Santa, know that it's okay to let the kids know that he's pretend. Kristen Bell's kids prove that knowing the truth about Santa doesn't have to make Christmas any less exciting. Pretending can be magical, too.

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