If you have a young child, you’ve probably considered whether you’ll send your child to preschool. The reality is preschool isn’t mandatory, so it makes sense to consider your options.
I appreciate parents who understand that a specific method isn’t ideal for their family. As parents, we know what’s best for our kids, and it’s okay if it’s not what others expect we should do.
We can all agree that socialization is good for kids, but they don’t have to attend preschool to find it.
There are plenty of reasons why parents seek alternatives to preschool, including:
- Preference for one-on-one attention
- More control over studies
- Scheduling conflicts
I think it’s important to note that any cons could be perceived as pros, depending on the right fit for your family. So, keep that in mind while you are navigating through this article.
Home-Based Learning Alternatives
Homeschooling has become even more popular over the past few years as parents see the opportunity to tailor their child’s education to their specific needs.
A preschooler is at the age where their most significant leaps in life are through developmental milestones and engaging in imaginative play. Luckily, these are skills you can foster in a homeschool environment.
A common myth is that homeschooling has no socialization, which is untrue. Many homeschooled families get together throughout the week, and while it may not be the same as in a preschool, it’s unfair to say homeschooled children receive no socialization.
- Greater education freedom
- Build strong relationships with your children
- Parents must plan school time and activities
- Potential stress by taking on additional responsibilities
- Less time for yourself each day
Reggio Emilia Approach
The Reggio Emilia Approach is popular amongst homeschool families, focusing on self-directed, experimental learning. After World War II, the Reggio Emilia community, a small town in northern Italy, banded together to invest in early education.
While over 1200 schools in the United States use the approach, there’s no reason why you can’t implement it at home. The core beliefs are:
- Children should participate in creating the curriculum
- Young children are capable of initiating their own learning
- Children should have the opportunity to express themselves in various manners
- The classroom environment is a “third teacher”
- Encourages communication and self-expression
- Nurtures holistic development
- Fosters critical thinking
- Builds resilience and adaptability
- A study found no significant impact of the Reggio Emilia Approach (but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value to the approach methods.)
- Lack of accountability
- Not suitable for every personality type
I couldn’t have lived without playgroups when my kids were preschool-aged. It was a fantastic opportunity for my kids to play with others their age and allowed me time to talk with the moms.
Many moms find a local group on Meetup or through Facebook, but you can also check the Mom’s Club website for a group near you. I joined a Mom’s Club in California and it was a great resource since I have zero mom friends.
It helps to join a group that schedules playdates, and you just have to show up. Sometimes, we are in the thick of things, and convenience is key.
- No or low-cost
- Introduces you to local moms
- They can be challenging to coordinate with varying schedules
Many parents send their preschoolers to a Montessori school instead of a traditional preschool. In 1907, Dr. Maria Montessori opened her first school, which would pave the way for her belief that all children are unique individuals and teachers should use materials that fit the needs of each specific child.
You can send your child to a Montessori preschool or adopt the principles at home. While many myths about the Montessori teaching style exist, it doesn’t encourage parents to let their children play all day without structure.
Instead, Dr. Montessori loved sharing the quote, “Help me to do it by myself.” Children are encouraged to share their voices, with the teachers guiding them.
- Promotes independence
- Encourages creativity
- Instills a love of learning
- Enhanced social interactions
- Hands-on learning
- Disregard for emotional skills
- Can be pricey
- Difficulty in transitioning to traditional school
- Inconsistent research results
Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS)
MOPS began in the 1970s when a group of mothers with young children got together to share their parenting journeys. The faith-based program is designed for mothers with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers and is typically held at local churches.
Meetings are a time for moms to come together for discussion, support, and crafts. You can check with your local group to see if you can attend a meeting before you take the plunge and join.
- Social interaction for moms and children
- Not available in every city
- Potential scheduling conflicts
Mother’s Day Out Programs
My mom still talks about the Mother’s Day Out Programs she used to attend when I was little. It was an excellent opportunity for her to meet other moms and allowed me to socialize with other kids.
Finding a program through Meetup or Facebook is a great alternative if you aren’t ready to send your child to a traditional preschool. You may also be able to find a Mother’s Day Out program at your church, which is a great way to connect with other moms.
- Flexible schedule
- Kids learn basic school skills
- Usually not accredited educational institutions
- Not ideal for working parents
- Lack of programs in your area
During the pandemic, parents became too familiar with online learning, but some realized it works best for their families. Luckily, there are several online learning opportunities for parents to explore. Finding one that works well for you and your family is always best.
In addition, online learning is ideal if you are on a tight budget and don’t want to spend the money on a traditional preschool. While fees are usually associated with it, it’s far less than you would pay on a preschool program.
ABC Mouse was always hit when my kids were in preschool, and I liked that you can adjust the program as they get older. While there is a fee, I’ve always had success finding coupons online to help soften the cost.
Always keep an eye on when your subscription is due for renewal in case you don’t want to continue your commitment.
- Thousands of individual learning activities
- Over 800 lesson plans
- Customizable for your child’s age
- Monthly charge even if not used
- Lack of social interaction
Khan Academy Kids
Khan Academy Kids is another popular online preschool program that puts the classroom at your fingertips. What I like about Khan Academy Kids is it is completely FREE! What’s not to love about that?
Aside from being no-cost, the app engages preschoolers in core subjects like writing, language, reading, math, and literacy. I firmly believe it’s never too early to start learning!
Children will also love the five whimsical, charming characters that guide them throughout the activities and stories.
- Free (No ads and no subscriptions!)
- Individualized learning experience for every child
- Variety of learning topics
- Can track child’s progress
- Less interactive than a face-to-face teacher
- Exposed to one teaching style
- Complaints about lack of captioning, written instruction, and language options
I have heard more and more about parents choosing nature-based learning, where the classroom is frequently held outside. Generally, nature-based learning programs are held at least 30% outside, where it’s encouraged to learn through hands-on experiences.
You might need to check your local area for the closest nature-based learning preschool. I recommend checking with the county parks to see what they offer. Our local park has a great outdoor-centered preschool that emphasizes outdoor learning, but also brings lessons inside.
You can also check the Natural Start Alliance website for a nature preschool near you.
Remember, you can create your own nature-based learning experience at home by engaging in outdoor activities, including gardening, hiking, and nature walks.
Benefits of nature-based learning include:
- Increased activity
- Improved confidence
- Reduced stress levels
- Promotes imagination and creativity
Tinkergarten is a great resource for parents and teachers who want to engage in nature-based learning. The program allows you to find a local teacher or implement the methods at home.
You can try the program for free to catch a glimpse whether it is the right fit for your preschooler. Once you subscribe, you’ll receive weekly lessons and easy step-by-step guides to help your child develop critical thinking skills for every season.
Tinkergarten is targeted towards children ages 1.5 to 8 years of age, as they earn badges while learning essential life skills.
- Available at-home or in a classroom setting
- Tight-knit community
- Provides interaction with other children
- Encourages children to use their senses while exploring
- Reasonably priced
- Class schedules may not be convenient
Kelly is a mom of three who finds joy in writing about her parenting experiences and filling in others about the must-have products and the ones you can leave on the store shelf. With a bit of humor, Kelly tries to laugh off the messy side of parenting and, instead, focus on the beautiful moments it brings. Originally from South Florida, she now calls Northern Virginia home and looks forward to connecting with readers through The Place for Parents.