Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Deciding How Much Time a Toddler Should Spend in Preschool

I received a n e-mail from the father of three kids, who is struggling to choose between sending his three and a half year old daughter to school three days or five. With a six year old going to the same school his daughter will attend, it will be convenient to take both kids every weekday. Having a two year old at home also means that it would be easier to have the two older siblings out of the house each day.

Yet, five days just feels like too much school to this dad, and he wonders if three would be better. Here’s what I told him:

I love that you care so much about doing the “right” thing, but I will tell you right now that whatever decision you make, it will likely be right - and the best part is that nothing is irrevocable in the chance it doesn’t work out. I would equally weigh two factors. First, your daughter’s temperament. If she’s a go-with-the-flow kind of kid, she will likely thrive whether she goes 3 days or 5 days. The second factor is your wife’s well-being. If she is not ready to give up her time with your daughter and she would love to spend those two days with her, that is really important.

On the other hand, if the baby is keeping your wife busy and it will be difficult for her to keep both girls occupied in a really positive way, five days might be a better choice for the family. The fact that your son will be in the same school will make the transition even easier for his sister, knowing that her big brother is in the building if she needs some reassurance.

The bottom line is that you can start out putting her in five days and see how she does. Give it a few weeks though before pulling the plug. If after three weeks she seems irritable or overwhelmed, back her down to 3 days. In my opinion the decision is less about age than the child’s temperament and the family’s needs.

The last thing I will tell you is that while this decision is very important now, and I admire your research in trying to do the right thing, whatever you decide will not affect your daughter in the long term. Kids adapt. The school you choose is more important than the amount of time she spends there.

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