When I lived in the UK I would never have considered home preschooling my girls.
My 4-year-old would attend full-time school from September and my 2-year-old would be entitled to 15 hours of state funded preschool after her third birthday. I could use these hours at the nursery class at school, as I did with my eldest daughter, or for part of the week at an independent preschool and the remainder with a home-based childminder, as I did with my middle child.
I don’t think I appreciated what a huge benefit it was to have preschool education as a right for every child. When I moved here to the United States, my daughter kept asking me when she was going to start preschool. I had a notion that Montessori would suit her, but when I began to look into it, I found that it was really costly for short sessions and lacked flexibility on the number of days I could choose. It’s not that I don’t believe that money needs to be invested in preschool education, far from it. But for a non-working mother the huge costs seemed a luxury rather than a necessity.
I started to panic and look around at the alternatives. In the UK, before state funded preschooling came into force in the 1990’s, there were a number of voluntary preschools in church halls charging very low fees. They weren’t ground-breaking, but they gave a child a place to play with other children and begin to learn to follow direction from adults in a large group. I struggled to find something similar here.
I visited many ‘good’ pre-schools, but I always found something missing: They were too academic, didn’t allow free access to the outdoor classroom, were rigidly timetabled, or the fees were too high. In the end I compromised, choosing somewhere that wasn’t perfect but that offered flexibility on the number of days and hours she attended.
This year I have two children who are of preschool age. To pay out high fees for somewhere that didn’t quite meet my expectations seemed ludicrous. That’s when I decided that if I wanted to do it my way, I should teach them myself. I could run a preschool from home just as I would for a larger group of children, founded on my experiences as a teacher and early-education consultant in the UK. As if to convince me further, my daughter’s recent eye appointment showed that she has very poor eyesight and may struggle to learn in a busy classroom. A year at home building on her emergent literacy skills and concentrating on sensory activities seemed like it would be really beneficial.
The girls still needed to interact with larger groups of children, though, and this was a bit of a problem.
Luckily I discovered a new membership-based play space. It was beautifully resourced and here I could take the children for free-play sessions with other children. The owner also agreed that I could run some group activities, music, stories and crafts to give the children experience of large group activities. So it seems we are all set up to begin.
I still find myself in a battle with my conscience. How can someone who advocates the importance of preschool education decide not to send her own children to preschool? Preschooling is one of the most important financial investments to make for your child, so should I be looking around to find somewhere that balances cost against what I perceive as the best learning environment for my child?
I’ll continue to battle with myself, but for now I’m going to give my way a try.