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Background: My parents only put me (and all my 3 siblings) in a school when each of us were 5 years old. We turned out fine and I assumed it's the normal thing to do. Now I and my wife have a 2 years old, and see other families with children similar age already trying to find schools for their kids to go to. I'm confused, what's with the rush?

So my question is, what important benefits are there from sending your kids to a school in an early age? Are they worth the investment? (e.g. your and your kid's time & effort, reduced flexibility due to the commitment and schedule). Can the benefits be obtained elsewhere or when the child is a little older?

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    We have our child (3) in a preschool, largely because he needs to be in daycare anyway while we both work. We decided to go with a setting that gives him some practice for what he'll do in kindergarten (coloring, light homework, writing his name, learning the alphabet...) Do I expect it to give him some edge for college or adulthood? No :) And I'll also note that if one parent stays home full-time with the kids, such educational activities can readily be done at home -- or even in the evenings after work, if you're both employed. – Acire Feb 14 '15 at 19:03
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    i) trained adults might spot problems that you miss and thus you get early intervention (for example, parents usually don't have their children's eyes tested) ii) good schools have a lot of competition so you want to look early and learn what they want in applicants. I think a motivated home environment is more important ( if the school is adaquate.) – DanBeale Feb 14 '15 at 21:50
  • Really depends on what you are trying to get out of it. Do kids benefit? Some do, some don't. Socialization is good, I have serious doubts about it makes them better scholars later in life in some fashion. Most of the studies that say they do is the same, "we have money here's our conclusion now get the study to agree". As in they have a financial and vested interest in a yes answer. I have seen kids with and without early education do just fine. – DCook Sep 1 '17 at 16:50
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It can be, yes.

Preschool Education and Its Lasting Effects: Research and Policy Implications quite nicely summarizes and analyzes the majority of the major studies regarding early childhood education, including studies regarding children under 3 years of age.

Children in these early programs generally:

  • Are more likely to graduate high school
  • Are more likely to attend a 4 year college
  • Are more likely to have highly skilled jobs
  • Are less likely to commit violent crimes
  • Are less likely to be "held back" a grade
  • Are less likely to be placed in remedial special education classes

Other benefits seem to depend on the ethnicity of the child's family.

However, a couple things should be noted about these studies:

  • Most of them involve children from low income families, so they are not truly randomized
  • They all only compare children in the educational programs to children not in educational programs, which means none of them compare school-style education to structured parental education in the home (That is, they don't compare home-schooling at those ages to preschool)
  • The studies do not compare children who don't receive early education but more specialized later education against children who do receive the early education (That is, they don't compare kids who go to private schools, have private tutors, or go to "better" school for K-12 against those kids who go to preschool in the studies)

Finally, as the paper I referred to suggests, parents looking for a preschool education program that will yield the desired benefits should look for these things:

  • Policy makers should not depart from preschool education models that have proven highly effective. These models typically have reasonably small class sizes and well-educated teachers with adequate pay.
  • Teachers in preschool programs should receive intensive supervision and coaching, and they should be involved in a continuous improvement process for teaching and learning.
  • Preschool programs should regularly assess children’s learning and development to monitor how well they are accomplishing their goals.
  • Preschool programs, in order to produce positive effects on children’s behavior and later reductions in crime and delinquency, should be designed to develop the whole child, including social and emotional development and self-regulation.
  • Because an earlier start and longer duration does appear to produce better results, policies expanding access to children under 4 should prioritize disadvantaged children who are likely to benefit most. More broadly, preschool education policy should be developed in the context of comprehensive public policies and programs to effectively support child development from birth to age 5 and beyond.

I can't speak as to what such a preschool would cost. If the cost is high enough, the child may benefit as much as, or more, from that money being saved for private schooling or tutoring at later ages. Other studies show that private schools can be much more effective than public schools. I don't believe any studies exist to compare children than are exclusively privately schooled against each other based on whether or not they attended preschool.

Generally speaking, the lower the income level of the family, the more beneficial the effect of early childhood education.

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    An additional note about how to read that study (at least in my opinion): Parents who send their children to early education are more likely to be focused on good education in general. I know this will only throw in more confusion about the question if it is worth it, but I do think it is important to consider. – Layna Feb 16 '15 at 7:12
  • Not necessarily. Some of the studies compiled here included siblings where only one was given the early childhood education. As far as head start and preschool programs, the parental incentive can often be free to cheap "day care", rather than education. Considering most participants are from lower income families, I think the monetary motivations should be considered. – user11394 Feb 16 '15 at 16:34
  • Wow. One of the best answers I have read. ever. – Mister Positive Sep 1 '17 at 18:43
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It depends on the alternatives. In many Western countries, there is an incredible push toward early academics, and this can put the child off learning especially if they're not ready for it. However in Finland, formal learning only starts at the age of 7. An early childhood program is more beneficial than sitting around and watching TV all day. However many schools have a one-size-fits-all approach to learning. Children have windows of development, and it can be detrimental to, for example, force a child to read before s/he is ready to do so. A Montessori, Waldorf or play-based program can hone the child's imagination and teach them practical skills. A stay-at-home parent can provide a strong foundation of care and support, just by playing together, going for nature walks together, cooking together etc. And the benefit of this is a small class size and a 'program' that takes into account the child's passions and burgeoning interests. It's rarely a good idea to react to fears that the child will be left behind, as many parents do, though it's understandable in our culture.

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    I think the studies show that a proper early education program is beneficial for all children. There's no metric of "readiness" for these programs. The formal early education is what gives them the readiness. Do you have sources for the claim that it can be detrimental? That's contrary to most scientific findings. I say this as a person who is not fond of education systems and an advocate of homeschooling instead. – user11394 Feb 16 '15 at 1:44
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My personal feeling on this is that the benefits are limited and depend highly on the specific situation. My understanding is that kids benefit most from stimulation and exposure to new things.

If your child's homelife features lots of stimulation, like outings to new places, interactions with other people, adventure and general childhood fun, they are probably not going to gain much from preschool. It could even be a negative if they are exposed to less stimulation at school than they would be getting at home.

On the other hand if their homelife is a bit more monotonous, staying in a lot, watching movies/shows/video games, playing with their own toys and not encountering many new situations, they might stand to gain more from going to preschool which represents a (limited) stream of new experiences and plenty of socialisation.

There is a general push in many circles to get kids into organized learning earlier, as if learning to read or count or do whatever at an early age automatically benefits them later, but there isn't really anything to back that idea up. There is something of a "race" mentality in a lot of people that I don't agree with.

The studies mentioned looking at low income children show a benefit for that group, but that may well be because parents of low income families spend all their energy simply trying to provide the basics, and don't have a lot of spare time to foster a stimulating environment with lots of child-focused activities like trips to the park, etc.

I am in no rush to get my child into organised learning, because I'm very confident that he is gaining more from his adventures with us than he would in a classroom.

  • The studies I've seen show, at least for reading, that early formal education has exactly zero long-term impact: the kid who learned to read at the age of two and the one who learned to read at seven will be reading equally well at the age of ten. – Mark Sep 2 '17 at 7:05
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I am a mom of 5, 3 still school aged, and I have read a lot about a lot of approaches over that time and tried varying approaches. I think it all boils down to being aware of your options, knowing your children, and making the best assessment you can for your specific child.

I do not think there is a best way to educate all children, because all children learn optimally under different settings. There are studies that look at statistical observation of what works out best for the majority of children. I don't know your child. I don't know if your child is within that majority or if they fall into the minority that may have the very same thing act as a detriment to them & their optimal development.

I really do believe this about all children. I have seen children where preschool seemed to really be great for them. I have seen other children find it to be way too much too soon. I have seen children start it and then have parents change their minds and pull them out. That is okay too. It is okay to change your mind. I think that is an important thing to always remember as a parent. I have pulled my kids out of situations where I thought it would be a good idea and then I decided "maybe not".

I would urge you to read up on what pre-school means to provide for your child, socially, educationally, etc. Then I would read up on those that are detractors of such a setting and then assess your family situation. The majority of children I know that do preschool, without exception, have both parents working. Where I live, that makes sense. Preschool here is much cheaper than daycare and most children seem to do well with it. It is considered to be the natural progression for daycare children to do preschool a few days a week and it eases the financial burden of childcare. For many, preschool is free, even when childcare is not. That would be a strong push and part of why they worked to get better funding for it. They wanted to make it more appealing to more families.

If however you have a child at home with a parent who has no need to return to employment, etc and enjoys having that time with the child, you may assess that it isn't needed for your child.

My oldest 2 went my 3rd did not because he had in home care of a retired preschool teacher and was well ahead. My next could read by 3 (on his own, gifted child) and my youngest I likely won't because I already homeschool 3 & 4, so adding her on is simple and we just include her starting this year (she is 3). I don't think anything is ever wrong in the choices you make, other than it can be "not optimal" for that child.

TL;DR My advice to any parent would be, look at what the benefits might be, try it if you feel they might be good for you and your child and change your mind if you find it's not working out as you hoped. When discussing education and kids, there will never be a "perfect" answer.

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At this point I would say early childhood education is a must, and these are some of the key factors that would make it compulsory in the future IMHO.

There is a lot of research in resent years in game development and the field of education about the gamification of learning. One learning theory that I particularly like is known as "Flow" in psychology. Basically it says that things are fun because they are interesting, and interest comes from learning something new that is just right for the level of skills we currently have. I would argue that's the reason why kids are having fun almost all the time, it's because they are learning everything they can. Also the primary reason that drives curiosity and exploration is to find new things to learn.

On the other hand, the whole educational system is based on the premise that most parents can't be trusted with their kids' education. Basically they wouldn't know what to teach or how to teach it. Also there is a lot of evidence that shows that the more important skills we learn are learnt during the early stages of development, like language, communication and social skills, literacy and maths, or even artistic expression.

There is also the question about what to teach in early education. There are multiple curriculums, frameworks and approaches up there, and they are experimenting all the time with new and old material. I particularly like the STEAM framework because it resembles how I was educated, although I would say that the more important thing in all those systems is that they reinforce curiosity, exploration, and hunger for learning. Those things that come naturally to kids can be discouraged by some kind of reinforcement, or even pure neglect.

And finally, it's not just about your child, there is also evidence showing that early childhood education helps benefit the whole society. That's why everybody is rushing that way, not just the parents. While every parent wants to give the best available options to their child, it becomes clear that in the long run it will benefit everybody.

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My daughters are attending the same preschool I went to when I was a kid. My oldest was enrolled when she was 2, though she turned 3 a couple months after beginning preschool. You can probably tell whether or not your child is ready for the transition into programs like this. It began as a 2 day a week thing for 3 hours a day and each year after has a different schedule.

I have only seen positive things come out of it. They get exposed to a self paced, self interested and relatively hands off experience to let them grow and learn with other kids in ways that probably wouldn't have happened if they were kept home until kindergarten. Plus, when it is time for kinder, they wont be suddenly thrust into a 5 day schedule that's the opposite of what they are used to.

No doubt it depends on the kid. Some may have no problems transitioning since typically a kinder aged kid is around 5 or 6 depending on the requirements of the district or program. At that age they might be just willing to go to school. But mine, having been exposed to preschool, approached school as something they wanted to do and enjoy doing. I am confident they will have no issues transitioning into regular school and I think I base that largely on how they have grown in preschool, how they have learned to socialize, the routines of play, snack times, etc.

One thing to note is that our preschool in particular is pretty demanding. 12 days out of the year I have to be in the classroom, and volunteer for many of the school activities. The hours don't really mesh with common employment, and it is pretty expensive. Like second mortgage expensive. It's all worth it, I believe, but don't fail to consider how it will affect all aspects of your life as well as theirs. We're both working parents so it's somewhat miraculous we can manage this.

Ultimately, I would say I suggest it. It has nothing to do with "rush" per say. More to do with easing into social development and routines, as well as exposure to many more activities and friends than I could have delivered on my own.

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My daughter is 2 and a half, she used to be shy and timid, i put her in preschool after she first started walking and now she is way more outgoing and social with anyone and everyone. the educational benefits differ and depend on the situation, although the social benefits and changes are truly miraculaous. She has learned so much and now loves going to school which prepares her for kindergarten in the upcoming years.

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