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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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Going back to work after having a baby is hard. Regaining your footing in a world where working mothers are so often penalized is tough, and (just like most things during the postpartum period) it takes time.

The challenges we face as working women returning from a maternity leave can be so different from those we faced before, it can feel like we're starting over from scratch. But mothers will not be deterred, even if our return to the working world doesn't go exactly as planned.

We are resilient, as Serena Williams proved at Wimbledon this weekend.

She lost to Angelique Kerber in the final, just 10 months after welcoming daughter Alexis Olympia and recovering from a physically and emotionally traumatic birth experience.

Williams didn't get her eighth Wimbledon title this weekend, but when we consider all the challenges she (and all new moms) faced in resuming her career, her presence was still a huge achievement.

"It was such an amazing tournament for me, I was really happy to get this far!" Williams explained in an emotional post-match interview.

"For all the moms out there, I was playing for you today. And I tried. I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

The loss at Wimbledon isn't what she wanted, of course, but Williams says it does not mean there won't be wins in her near future.

"These two weeks have showed me I can really compete and be a contender to win grand slams. This is literally just the beginning. I took a giant step at Wimbledon but my journey has just began."

When asked what she hopes other new moms take away from her journey, Williams noted her postpartum recovery was really difficult, and hopes that other moms who face challenges early in motherhood know that they don't have to give up on whatever dreams they have for themselves, whether it involves working or not.

"Honestly, I feel like if I can do it, they can do it. I'm just that person, that vessel that's saying, 'You can be whatever you want to be.' If you want to go back to workand to me, after becoming a mom, I feel like there's no pressure to do that because having a child is a completely full-time job," she said.

"But to those that do want to go back, you can do it, you can really do it."

Thank you, Serena. You may not have won, but this was still a victory.

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Since baby Crew became the newest member of Chip and Joanna Gaines' family three weeks ago, his proud parents have been keeping the world updated, sharing sweet snaps of their youngest and even giving us a glimpse into his nursery.

Now, Chip Gaines is showing off a pic that proves there is nothing cuter than a floppy, sleepy baby.

"My heart is full..." the proud father of five captioned the photo he posted on his Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Earlier this week Crew's mama shared how she gets him so sleepy in the first place, posting an Instagram Story showing how she walks around the family's gardens on their Waco, Texas farm to lull her newborn boy to sleep.



The couple are clearly enjoying every single moment of Crew's babyhood. As recently as 7 days ago Chip was still sporting his hospital bracelet. Joanna says with each child he's worn his maternity ward ID until it finally wears off. We can't blame Chip for wanting to make the newborn phase last as long as possible.

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It was a changing table must-have a generation ago, but these days, many parents are forgoing baby powder, and now, the leading manufacturer of the sweet smelling powder was dealt a big financial blow.

Johnson & Johnson was just ordered to pay almost $4.7 billion to 22 women who sued, alleging baby powder caused their ovarian cancer.

A St. Louis jury says the women are right, but what does The American Academy of Pediatrics say about baby powder?

It was classified "a hazard" before many of today's parents were even born

The organization has actually been recommending against baby powder for years, but not due to cancer risks, but inhalation risks.

Way back in 1981 the AAP declared baby powder "a hazard," issuing a report pointing out the frequency of babies aspirating the powder, which can be dangerous and even fatal in the most severe cases.

That warning didn't stop all parents from using the powder though, as its continued presence on store shelves to this day indicates.

In 1998 Dr. Hugh MacDonald, then the director of neonatology at Santa Monica Hospital and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Fetus and Newborn, told the Los Angeles Times "Most pediatricians recommend that it not be used," adding that the consensus at the time was that "anybody using talcum powder be aware that it could cause inhalation of the talc, resulting in a pneumonic reaction."

Recent updates

A 2015 update to the AAP's Healthy Children website suggests the organization was even very recently still more concerned about the risk of aspiration than cancer risks like those alleged in the lawsuit. It suggests that parents who choose to use baby powder "pour it out carefully and keep the powder away from baby's face [as] published reports indicate that talc or cornstarch in baby powder can injure a baby's lungs."

In a 2017 interview with USA Today, Dr. David Soma, a pediatrician with the Mayo Clinic Children's Hospital, explained that baby powder use had decreased a lot over the previous five to eight years, but he didn't believe it was going to disappear from baby shower gift baskets any time soon.

"There are a lot of things that are used out of a matter of tradition, or the fact it seems to work for specific children," he said. "I'm not sure if it will get phased out or not, until we know more about the details of other powders and creams and what works best for skin conditions—I think it will stick around for a while."

Talc-based baby powder is the kind alleged to have caused ovarian cancer in the lawsuit (which Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal), but corn starch varieties of baby powder are also available and not linked to increased cancer risks as alleged in the case.


Bottom line: If you are going to use baby powder on your baby's bottom, make sure they're not getting a cloud of baby powder in their face, and if you're concerned, talk to your health care provider about alternative methods and products to use on your baby's delicate skin.

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In the days since a The New York Times report revealed a resolution meant to encourage breastfeeding was blocked by U.S. delegates at the World Health Assembly, breastfeeding advocates, political pundits, parents, doctors—and just about everyone else—have been talking about breastfeeding, and whether or not America and other countries are doing enough to support it.

The presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians say the controversy at the World Health Assembly reveals that mothers need more support when it comes to breastfeeding, while others, including The Council on Foreign Relations, suggest the national conversation needs more nuance, and less focus on the "breast is best" rhetoric.

The one thing everyone agrees on is that parents need more support when it comes to infant feeding, and in that respect, the controversy over the World Health Assembly resolution may be a good thing.

In their joint letter to the editor published in the New York Times this week, the presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians, Dr. Colleen Kraft and Dr. Lisa Hollier urge "the United States and every country to protect, promote and support breast-feeding for the health of all women, children and families."

The doctors go on to describe how breastfeeding "provides protection against newborn, infant and child infections, allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and sudden infant death syndrome," and note the health benefits to mothers, including reduced risks for "breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

"Helping mothers to breastfeed takes a multifaceted approach, including advancing public policies like paid family leave, access to quality child care, break time and a location other than a bathroom for expressing milk," say Kraft and Hollier.

Certainly such policies would support breastfeeding mothers (and all mothers) in America, but some critics say framing the discussion around domestic policy is a mistake, because the World Health Assembly resolution is a global matter and women and babies in other parts of the world face very different feeding challenges than we do here at home.

In an op-ed published by CNN, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations suggests the laudable goal of breastfeeding promotion can backfire when mothers in conflict-riddled areas can't access formula due to well-meaning policy. Lemmon points to a 2017 statement by Doctors Without Borders calling for fewer barriers to formula distribution in war-torn areas.

"International organizations like UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) promote breastfeeding ... and provide infant formula, but only by prescription. We believe that distributing infant formula in a conflict situation like Iraq is the only way to avoid children having to be hospitalized for malnutrition," Manuel Lannaud, the head of Doctors Without Borders Iraq mission wrote.

The various viewpoints presented this week prove that infant feeding is not a black and white issue, and policy debates should not be framed as formula versus breast milk—there is more nuance than that.

A recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics found opting to supplement with formula after first breastfeeding improves outcomes for infants and results in higher rates of breastfeeding afterward, and while the benefits of breastfeeding are numerous, they are sometimes overstated. Another recent study published in the journal PLOS Medicine found breastfeeding has no impact on a child's overall neurocognitive function by the time they are 16. Basically, parents should not be shamed for supplementing or choosing to use formula.

This, according to Department of Health and Human Services says national spokesperson Caitlin Oakley is why the HHS opposed the original draft of the breastfeeding resolution at the World Health Assembly (although critics and the initial NYT report suggest the United States delegation were acting in the interests of infant formula manufacturers).

"Many women are not able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons, these women should not be stigmatized; they should be equally supported with information and access to alternatives for the health of themselves and their babies," Oakley said in a statement.

That's true, but so is everything the presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians presented in their op-ed, and that's why the U.S. should support breastfeeding policy.

Here's another truth: This is an issue with many perspectives and many voices. And we need to hear them all, because all parents need support in feeding their babies, whether it's with a breast, a bottle or both—and we're not getting it yet.

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