Determining whether your child should attend preschool is a very personal and important issue. Many children who attend preschool do show better readiness to attend kindergarten, and from grades K-4, are more likely to be successful in the traditional school environment. These achievements tend to level off from grade four on, and children who have not attended preschool may be equally as adept as their peers from that point forward. Preschool success or value also depends upon the quality of the preschool, the readiness of your child, and your ability to afford a preschool program.
In the US there has been a significant push toward allowing all children access to preschool, and some states have passed measures for universal preschool. These programs are not always met favorably by parents, who may feel that their children are more likely to learn at home in a supportive environment. On the other hand, parents who must work, or who want their children to have broader social and interactive opportunities are often grateful that preschooling programs have been established for their kids. It’s really a matter of perspective; not all home environments are equally capable of providing the best start for kids.
Part of this push toward school prior to kindergarten has been the rising standards of what must be taught in the kindergarten environment. Children who do not attend preschool and are experiencing their first separation from parents may have a very hard time adjusting to school for the first time. Where kindergarten used to be the place where simply learning to be in school was paramount, many schools now presuppose that children have already learned this, and carry on with a program heavy on academics. This doesn’t tend to work for kids who really haven’t learned yet what school is all about, and they may lag behind peers in early reading and academic accomplishments, though this varies with each child.
There is nothing inherently wrong with preschool, just as there is nothing inherently wrong with not having a child attend preschool. It does seem though that with curriculum changes, children who haven’t had much experience with parental separation or interaction with other children may not be ready for kindergarten, and parents may feel their decision to send kids to a school before kindergarten is being forced by greater expectations in kindergarten curriculum. No parent wants their child to have a harder than usual time adjusting.
Perhaps the most helpful advice as you consider whether a child should attend preschool is to really gauge how well you think your child will respond and do a lot of investigation. Observe classes, talk to teachers, analyze costs, see what programs you may financially qualify for, and get a sense how each school might fit with your child. Find out if schools have requirements (like potty training), and the teacher to student ratio. Ask about things like rate of employee turnover, programs offered and teacher and staff experience.
If you decide your child is not ready to attend preschool, then do look into some options that will help them engage in learning and have contact with other kids. There are often plenty of low cost "mommy and me" (or "daddy and me") courses at local park and recreation centers. Plan playdates, trips and get-togethers, and let your child know there is a world that exists outside the family home. Read to your child frequently, and let them take advantage of their tremendous learning capacity by treating each new day as a learning opportunity.