I am torn when thinking of early childhood education. Children’s’ experiences in their first three years of life are the most crucial to their longtime life outcomes. Ideally, all young humans would be allowed to spend those early years with one or more loving parents full time. That would be the gold standard. If our society valued the life of each citizen, they would find a way for parents of newborn children to be home full-time. Proposals like the Universal Basic Income would allow for that, and I believe this would have tremendous benefits for society. That being said, providing a high-quality environment for the children of working parents to spend their day is certainly better than the alternative.
By the time children reach kindergarten, the academic advantage of kids who received intensive early education at the ages of 3 and 4 has already receded, and typically by second-grade researchers can’t detect the kids who received it at all. With research showing that there isn’t an academic benefit, it seems logical that there is no point in enrolling a child into preschool.
However, a large amount of research suggests that there are benefits to early education programs, lifelong benefits in fact. Studies show that kids who were enrolled in intensive preschool programs are less likely to get arrested, less likely to deal with substance abuse as an adult, and more likely to graduate. One study followed-up with the participants once they had reached their 30s and found they were more likely to have gone to and graduated college.
One possible explanation for this benefit is the health interventions provided by many preschool programs. At Head Start, students are given meals, vaccines, social and parenting services, and thorough health screenings that test for anemia, diabetes, vision and hearing problems. This leads to long-term health benefits for the children who attended.
Children who attend full-time early childhood education programs are provided with a warm, safe and consistent environment for them to play and grow. This allows their parents to have full-time employment or pursue further education. Parents who don’t have access to childcare may struggle to work a consistent job, as they may need to call in sick when a babysitter is unable to watch their child or the child falls ill. The benefits these programs have long-term in children may be because the child had a place to be and parents were able to further their careers.
In 2009, Washington, D.C. began offering free preschool to all 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds living in the district. In return, labor force participation rates for women with young children went from 65 percent to 76.4 percent throughout a decade. In comparison, nationally, there was a 2 percent increase. For low-income mothers, the rate increased by 15 percent.
While there may be no need to try and get your child accepted into an exclusive preschool program, there are still reasons to enroll them in preschool if you cannot be home full time to care for them yourself. Besides giving them a place to spend the day while parents can work, preschool provides children the opportunity to socialize with other children their age, which helps children to language skills, empathy and teamwork.