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Does preschool make a difference?
Preschool is a milestone in a child’s life. For many families, it’s the first time a child leaves his parents for an extended period. For that reason, many parents are filled with mixed emotions about it. Consider, for example, a few of the responses I have heard from parents anticipating the big day:

“She’s not going to make it. She won’t let me out of her sight.”

“I can’t wait to send him to nursery school. He’s driving me crazy!”

“I’m feeling depressed just thinking about my last one going off to preschool.”

“My son just can’t wait to go, and I’m so excited for him.”

Some parents feel like they’re doing their children a favor by sending them to nursery school, while other feel like they’re abandoning them. Still others fear that their kids aren’t up to leaving home to, in essence, live with other people for part of the day.

Probably the biggest developmental task children face is separating from their parents and standing on their own two feet. This is an ongoing challenge that takes up a good portion of an individual’s life. Over the years I have talked to many adults still struggling to separate from their parents. Some live across the street from their parents, or in the same house. Of course, these living arrangements don’t always signal separation issues. But they’re often signs that dependency on parents persists even in adulthood.

Preschool is one step in that long parade toward independence. And when it comes to their children making such a step, parents need to realise that separation can be a two-way street. If mum or dad is not ready to separate, the child may well pick up on this reluctance and resist the whole idea of nursery school. On the other hand, mum and dad may be ready to separate, but the child, for any number of reasons, may decide he wants to stay home. Of course, there are also situations where both parent and would-be preschooler are hesitant about separating. In these situations, it’s likely that nursery school will be postponed or skipped altogether.

Should parents pass on preschool?

I don’t think so.

Some people look upon preschool as an option, or a luxury. Others think it’s unfair to send children to nursery school when they have so many years of schooling ahead of them. I have come to look upon it as a special favor parents can do for their children. A good preschool offers children many valuable experiences. It helps kids become independent. It feeds their amazing curiosity and appetite for learning. Even the best home can’t always provide the tremendous stimulation young minds need. Nursery schools also offer children a great opportunity to practice interacting with other people. The essence of life is getting along with others; you can’t develop those skills without “mixing it up” with different personalities. Last but not least, a nursery school prepares a child for kindergarten. The current kindergarten curriculum is so much more advanced than it was in previous generations that, in my opinion, the child who misses preschool enters kindergarten at a disadvantage.

For these reasons, I strongly believe in preschool. Parents do their children a valuable service when they find them a quality, affordable nursery school and then encourage them to go forth. On the long path toward independence, preschool is one important steppingstone.
Kenneth N. Condrell Ph.D Child Psychologist