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So… your SuiteBaby is growing up. *hugs* To say that this time is a mix of emotions would be a gross understatement. Long gone are the days of midnight feedings and diaper changes. Your little one is about to start SCHOOL! While this phase of their life is one of the briefest, it can also be one of the most stressful for parents. There are countless decisions to be made and very little time to make them- which, in the moment, feels super overwhelming! Well, Mama, we’re here to help! Let’s take a few minutes to discuss one of those difficult choices: Preschool.

Research has shown that children who attend structured, education-based preschool programs are often better prepared for kindergarten than kids who don't. Specific benefits from such programs include better overall early-literacy & math skills, as well as improved social skills, when compared to test results of peers who did not attend a preschool program. Obviously, this will not be the case with all children, as every child is unique. Similarly, every family has unique circumstances and needs that must be taken into account. In the end, your family has to choose what works best for you and your child. 

If you are leaning towards enrolling your child in preschool, here’s the best advice I have: START PLANNING EARLY. Talk to friends with older kids and get their opinions on programs in your area. Then, get online and research the crap outta those programs. As soon as you have settled on one or two that you feel work best for your family, reach out to those schools to find out about enrollment procedures, pricing, etc. That way, if you need X, Y & Z to happen by {insert date here}, you can plan for that and prepare accordingly. 

As someone who did not personally attend “traditional preschool” as a child, when the time finally came for me to enroll my son, I was left with a million questions and concerns. Namely, WHO KNEW THAT PRESCHOOL CAN COST SO MUCH!? I went into the process 6 months early, thinking *surely* that would be enough time to both find & financially plan for my son to start preschool. Seems reasonable, right? Wrong. Almost immediately, I discovered that all of the best programs are fully booked, sometimes a full year in advance, and the ones that remain are either EXPENSIVE or do not provide what I would consider to be acceptable levels of care. 

Woman doing educational crafts with two small children.

In my case, we were simply not in a financial position to be able to afford a paid preschool option. At that moment, this fact completely broke my heart. I told myself that my baby would be socially and academically behind as a result of our poor planning. I beat myself up for weeks, certain that I had just signed our son up for a “mediocre” life. Looking back, this was silly of me, and I wish I could hop in a time machine and give my past self a hug. Tell myself how amazing our boy is turning out- how smart and kind he is. Sadly, I don’t have a time machine. But, what I do have is this blog. If even one Mama reads this and takes a breath of relief because of it, I’m happy. So, here’s what we did instead of preschool...

I should start by saying that I am blessed to have lived near my parents when my son was young. My Mother, who had been retired for several years by the time my son came around, very kindly offered to keep my son at her home on days when I had to work. During her time with him, they would have fun and play games, but also, he would learn. In our case, we ended up purchasing access to ABCMouse.com in an effort to prepare our son for Kindergarten. While not exactly “cheap”, when compared to what it would cost to enroll him in traditional preschool, it seemed like the obvious choice. Thankfully, he LOVED playing on ABCMouse! To the point that we sometimes had to pry him away from the computer for his eyes sake! By the time he began Kindergarten, my son knew all the things he would have learned in preschool and more. As far as the social aspect, I am forever thankful that my sister has two wonderful children whom my son ADORES- so he was able to socialize quite a bit before kindergarten. It may not have been a perfect situation, but in the end, it worked for us. Today my son is 11 years old (mind blowing to me, but okay…) and still tests above average in most school subjects, especially Science! 

Clearly, 10 years later, the world is a different place and there are countless online preschool programs available. While the only one I’ve used was ABCMouse, I know plenty of people who have chosen other programs and had similar results. As with selecting “traditional” preschool, do your research, and choose what works for you! 

Now, let's talk about the most important thing no matter what options you choose: STRUCTURE. If you are opting for a more traditional preschool option, a lot of that will be ingrained into the program- so that’s one less thing you have to worry about! (NICE!) It’s still important to have a routine at home, so that your child can adjust to the idea of adhering to a schedule. For example: “We wake up at 7am, have breakfast, & get ready for the day. (Teeth, hair, clothes, etc.) We leave for school at 8:30am and I (or whoever) will be there to pick you up at 4:00 pm…” While this may seem like second nature in your mind, for your child, this is a new concept. Getting them used to having a structured day is one of the hardest parts of early-learning and the earlier you get started the better! This article published by Southern Savers entitled B is for Broke, has some fantastic ideas for creating a preschool-like environment, even on a shoestring budget. 

In our house, due to work schedules, times varied a bit but generally the schedule of activities always remained the same. Breakfast, personal hygiene, educational activities, playtime, lunch, reading/drawing/craft time, playtime, dinner, playtime, bath, bed. It can (and will) feel like Groundhog Day sometimes, but I assure you, their Kindergarten teacher will be eternally grateful for your efforts! 

No matter what you choose, the important thing is that you make the choice that works best for your family. If that means preschool- awesome. If it doesn’t- that’s okay, too! DO NOT let your local school district (or anyone) make you feel like a “bad parent” for choosing what's best for you and yours. You are doing awesome, Mama! Just keep loving your babies, everything else will sort itself out in time. 

You Got This, 

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