Is Preschool Essential?

No, it’s not essential … but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good thing for toddlers. 

Think about it this way. Here’s a short list of things that should be part of a toddler’s life:

Opportunities to Play: Play is a broad concept. Toddlers need time to play alone, and also play with other kids. They need to manipulate things to develop their fine motor skills. Being very inclusive here, we can extend this perspective to activities like drawing – which is known to support the later development of cognitive skills. They need to run around and be active. Pretend play is often thought to be at the root of creativity, but recent research shows that it has a large social benefit when done with others.

Opportunities to Socialize: Toddlers need to be around other kids. It’s fun for them. It’s a way to start to learn how to be social creatures and function with peers. They also learn a lot when they disagree with each other, when they don’t share, and when they don’t get along (as long as there is proper guidance from adults). They learn that they are not the only person in the world and sometimes need to take turns – which means waiting their turn now and then.

Opportunities to Regulate Their Emotions: Toddlers have to continue learning how to regulate their emotions. Whether it’s a full blown tantrum or just handling being mad or angry or scared, kids have to experience their emotions in multiple social contexts and develop ways of regulating themselves and functioning around others.

Opportunities to Talk: Yes, talk. Kids can develop their language by being around different people – it helps them learn how to use language to communicate socially (which requires integrating behavioral and emotional and cognitive skills). They should also hear a lot of talking.

If you consider this list, you have a sense of the richness that should characterize a toddler’s life. It’s another way of saying that lots of experiences are needed to give a well-rounded platform for social, emotional, cognitive, and language development. Notice I haven’t said anything about getting a leg up academically, or ensuring top grades later in school. I’m talking about fundamental developmental goals. And kids need to have fun. A lot of fun. A lot of the time.

Now, a toddler doesn’t need to go to preschool to achieve all this. If a preschool isn’t focused on the developmental tasks that characterize toddlerhood, then there is not much utility to it. But a great preschool is a great way to give your kid opportunities during the week to be around other adults and other kids. It’s not essential. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good if you choose to go that way and you find the preschool that delivers what you should be looking for.

Preschool Children via

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  1. by Keri Turner

    On February 1, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    I thought that’s what parents were for?? And my toddler gets plenty of “socialization” thru church, library, the zoo, and play dates that I arrange!

  2. by Mitch Kramer

    On February 1, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    Oh the ever-present judgement. The whole point of this article is that some children may benefit from it, not that it should replace parents.

  3. by todd

    On February 1, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    agree 100%. Its not saying thatbparents are lazy and put the reasonsibility on someone else so if thats what your reaction is…then shut it. I dont think kids can have TOO MUCH learning and stimulation so playing with different kids, different races, different sexs and learnin from other teachers other then mom and dad is always a good and positive thing, it cant hurt. I think all kids schould go to preschool and feel bad for those kids who are trapped in their home 20 hours aday.

  4. by Tina

    On February 1, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    I agree with this article. My son currently attends the daycare/ preschool I work at once a week. He just turned one and he probably will gradually go more often. My older son started an in-home daycare at 18 months and full-time all day preschool by 3.5 yrs old. He does very well in school.