As soon as we become parents, the pressure starts: "Have you signed your baby up for preschool?" "Where have you applied?" "Have you budgeted preschool expenses for the next few years?" At the beginning, most of us assume it is just another one of those competitive issues among parents who compare the brand names of strollers, boast about attending more "Mommy and Me" classes or make you worry because your baby doesn't have as many teeth at 3 months as their kid did.
But when I started doing research, much to my surprise I found the preschool issue was much more than just a fad.
For a number of reasons, including political movements and populist presidential decrees, the Kindergarten curriculum in the United States has become increasingly academic over the last 20 years. So much so, that unless our kids develop a good foundation of certain basic skills beforehand, K-12 has the potential of becoming an up-hill battle for them. Skills that used to be taught in Kindergarten 20 years ago, such as social abilities, impulse control, emotional functioning, efficient communication, separation from parents, non-spoken classroom rules, sharing, following teacher's directions, raising our hands, making friends, working in teams, compromising, empathy, compassion, independence…Ahhh!, all of them have to be in place by the time our kids arrive to their first day of Kindergarten!
Many comprehensive U.S. studies done in the last 40 years show children who attend a high quality preschool program are better prepared to start Kindergarten. They have a much easier time learning to read. They develop positive social traits like discipline, overcoming distractions, following directions, and curbing impulsive and aggressive behavior during adolescence. In the long run, these studies also show these patterns continue for life so these well-adapted children turn into well-adapted, productive and functional adults.
The High Scope Foundation followed two groups of kids in the same neighborhood from the time they were 3-years-old until they turned 40. The group that went to preschool was 80 percent less likely to be arrested, earned 59% higher salaries, and owned a home at rate three times higher than kids who did not go to preschool.
And in the context of societal impact, the Federal Reserve Bank Of Minneapolis estimates the American taxpayer would get a payoff of 8 to 1 for each dollar invested in preschool from money saved on things such as publicly-funded special education, lower teen pregnancy, and productivity in the workplace.
Needless to say, both of my kids bared the product of my persistent (my husband would say obsessive) personality and attended a high quality preschool from the time they turned three. Maybe you can relate to memories of those wonderful preschool years full of our kids' huge achievements, milestones and emotional growth. It still warms my heart to remember the face of my little boy after he finally was able to let go of my hand, no tears nor fears, during his first weeks of preschool. I also remember the day he was called a ‘good friend' for helping his little pal catch up after she had missed a day of school, or when he realized the power of his effort after delivering a difficult preschool homework assignment the next day. Now 14 and 11, my boys would not be the amazing students they are had they not learned those valuable lessons before they were immersed in their K-12 academic years.
So fellow parents, as Americans of the 21st Century, in the quest for a better future for our families and our country, what will you answer the next time new parents asks if Preschool is an option or a need?
Ana Valdez is a Director on the Board of Los Angeles Universal Preschool, and a Board Member of Children's Bureau on Twitter: @AnaTRValdez