Is this the preschool for the kids who are going to be brain surgeons?

My wife is starting to gear up her search for a preschool for our son. I think there is a lot of peer pressure on moms to get their kids started in the education rat race early on. I’m not sure the pressure on dads is so quite so bad, though I must admit, it is starting to hit me too.

No mom wants her child to be the laggard. No dad ever believes that his child will be the laggard. Dads understand the value of a head start, but the typical father is confident that his child will catch up to all the kids who got a head start on him within the first few laps.

There is a core cockiness in a dad that tells him that his kids don’t really need the extra help that other people’s kids do. A little voice inside says, “I never went to preschool, and I turned out fine.” Well, maybe he did, or maybe going preschool would have given him the extra little boost he needed to really understand the definition of the word fine.

I find myself conflicted between my own core cockiness about my son and my understanding that there are no actual test scores or other hard data supporting this cockiness. Every confident dad can’t be right. There are definitely kids out there in desperate need of extra help, regardless of how high up over his belly Dad pulls his belt when considering his brilliant seedling. This fact is the pin-prick hole in my own cockiness. It lets in the peer pressure to formally educate at once.

It is true that I never went to preschool, but neither did any of my peers. Entering kindergarten, no one was behind because no one was ahead. We were clean slates, basking in our own ignorance. My slate is much dirtier now, but sometimes I still like to bask in my own ignorance. It’s what a boy does. Sometimes my son and I just sit together and bask in our collective ignorance, and wonder if preschool is really right for either one of us.

The first time we ever sat down together to bask in our own ignorance. Nobody does slack-jawed yokel like Daddy does.

For his part, my son is eager to go to school, if for the wrong reasons. I told him that he would go to school to learn to read. “No,” he said. “I think in my school we’ll just play all the time.” That’s okay. Kids are allowed to have the wrong reasons sometimes. And there’s nothing wrong with a three-year-old wanting to play, as long as somebody understands that he needs to learn to read on his breaks from playing.

I’m beginning to believe that there are two types of parents who send their kids to preschool. The smaller group are the ones who buy into the preschool-as-a-stepping-stone-to-Harvard ideal. Since I don’t think the right preschool is going to get my son into Harvard, I belong to the second, larger group. This group is made up of parents like me who don’t want to feel guilty about their kids starting off kindergarten behind the Harvard-bound children.

As a ticket into Harvard, I think preschool is worth nothing. As a salve for assuaging the guilt and fears of a parent, it is worth maybe half of what it costs. Since my son has two parents with guilty consciences to soothe, I guess it adds up to what it should.

Here is what the balance sheet looks like:



Cost of preschool tuition First step to Harvard = 0

Soothing Mommy’s conscience = .5 x tuition cost

Soothing Daddy’s conscience = .5 x tuition cost

The fact that I have holes punched through my natural fatherly cockiness actually makes preschool a better value for me. If that cockiness were in its original, unblemished state, the value of soothing Daddy’s conscience would only be something like .25 x tuition cost. This would make preschool more costly than the total of its value.

At 2 months: It's never too early to begin practicing for your Harvard yearbook photo.

The odds say my son will probably not attend Harvard. I don’t think anything he does at age four will change that. If he grows up into a well-balanced, happy person, I don’t really care about Harvard. I just don’t want him to be subject to the same weird looks I get when I say, “I never went to preschool and I turned out fine.”


8 comments on “Is this the preschool for the kids who are going to be brain surgeons?

  1. I don’t opt for academics for my toddler. It really, really, really, really doesn’t make that much difference in how they do academically. I want a place where my kids can make friends, play, learn to take turns and listen to someone who is not Mommy. That’s what they need to be ready for real school.

  2. I couldn’t agree with becomingcliche more! I like preschool for the social skills they teach, but it just seems that we are putting so much pressure on our kids at younger and younger ages.

    I didn’t go to preschool. My kids did not go either. My youngest daughter graduated Magna Cum Laude from Northern Arizona University. She majored in science and minored in chemistry. She’s the brainiest person I know.

  3. Sandi Ormsby says:

    Unfortunately, they NEED preschool just to prepare them for kindergarten. Kindergarten is so hard now…it’s not painting pictures anymore and sharing about your favorite toy.

    You have a definition “word of the week”- something hard like Scrumptious. They have 10 lists of (24) site words each they have to learn, they are writing letters, and bringing home books to read with packets(s) (notice the plural) of weekly homework, where they have reading comprehension.

    With the volume of work they do in just one day, they already have to know all their letters and sounds, and count to certain number, write their name (hopefully, your sons is not long) poor Samantha and a whole host of other things, rhyming, it’s over-whelming to the parent. Their share day is ORAL REPORT- not kidding, they are assigned a word or topic and they have to say 3 sentences about that item. Difficult for the shy child, or one that doesn’t have the greatest memory- my son hated it, but my daughter is doing quite well. 🙂

    Unless you/wife are homeschooling, preschool is necessary. Otherwise, contact your local school to get the list of what you need to be working on…if not, you’ll be sorry later. My son started kinder at 4 (fall bday) and he had to repeat.

    Lake Forest, CA

  4. stacybuckeye says:

    Jackson is Gage’s first friend and he is almost 18 months. At which time, I was told by his lovely nanny he will be starting preschool. Because that’s what a lot of parents do now. She calls it preschool not day care, but I’m not sure of the difference except cost. After I picked up my slack jaw I decided that this might just be for mothers who need a break. I get that.

  5. Scott Nagele says:

    Lots of good points made here. You can see why the issue leaves me confused.

  6. Deb says:

    Hi Scott ! I see where you are coming from and I totally agree about wanting your child to be a happy, well-balanced kid. I want that for my daughter too.
    In France, most parents send their kids to school from age 3 (sometimes 2 and a half) – it is called La Maternelle, the first years are equivalent to nursery and the last years are equivalent to preschool. Preschool introduce them to reading and prepare them for the equivalent of grade 1. Because La Maternelle is free, it is cheaper to send your children to school than actually send them to a babysitter…I guess it is just a culture thing but I am actually excited for the years of learning to come ! Learning is fun !

    ps: Your boy is adorable !

  7. I’m pretty sure they have the free preschool idea in Hungary too. I agree with the learning social skills and mom needs a break reasons for preschool. 😉 We’re not too worried about the book-learnin’ around here.

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