We’ve all heard that early childhood development is important. But how early is too early? I empathize with the many working moms who face a heartbreaking struggle when maternity leave is over and it’s time to leave that tender-sweet infant at daycare, followed by preschool soon after.
When it came time for me to return to work as a marketing writer, my husband and I checked out a couple of daycares—one of which was run by a family friend. They were impressive, yet the thought of leaving my three-month-old with anyone turned my stomach into steel knots. I made a desperate call to my boss, pleading to work part-time. Bless her, she said yes. My husband worked nights, I worked days, and we remained the sole and only caregivers for our son.
Initially, that took care of the daycare issue, but when would we start cutting the apron strings and enroll him in preschool? Many of my friends, including stay-at-home moms, enrolled their children in preschool at age two. Would those children be more successful in life than mine? Would my son be at risk of a prison sentence (as statistics imply) because he didn’t get his jump on early childhood development while he was still in diapers?
A very close friend turned me on to the Dr. Laura Program (when she still had her daily radio show). While we constantly hear that preschool is necessary, Dr. Laura insisted that it was unnecessary, harmful even. She believes that many parents enroll their children in preschool or daycare because they aren’t committed to raising them themselves…ouch. I know that many parents feel they have no choice, financially speaking. Dr. Laura feels that parents should cut back as much as they can, live as simply as possible and raise their children at home until kindergarten. She also notes research that counters preschool’s educational advantage.
For decades, I’ve read the studies about Head Start. Those studies indicate an immediate gain on IQ tests and other cognitive measures, but show that in later years, those scores become indistinguishable from non-Head Start kids.
A 2005 study from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley (neither of which is known as a conservative institution) found that kindergartners with 15 or more hours of preschool every week were less motivated and more aggressive in class than other kids.
Dr. Laura does note that children with neglectful or addicted parents do indeed benefit from early education, but that for the rest of the population, “Common sense should tell you that small children are best served by a loving mommy.”
The steel knots that churned in my stomach upon separating from my son—even for an overnight with his grandmother—told me that Dr. Laura was right, at least for the time being.
So for the first three and a half years of his life, we raised him at home where he built train tracks daily, attended mommy-and-me events and as many museums we could pack into our busy schedules.
At age four, with slight mixed feelings, we enrolled him in a daily three-hour preschool program. I made the decision because he wanted to go, and I wanted him to interact socially in a structured environment. He was thrilled. I have no regrets. And I will do the same for my youngest son when he turns four next year.