The truth about preschool

The following is a guest post written by Carletta Sanders of Successful Homeschooling.

I absolutely love reading blogs written by well-organized, energetic moms who are creative enough to dream up fun activities for their preschoolers, and disciplined enough to follow through with their plans.

However, for all my reading… and dreaming… and planning… I’ve learned that I’m just not one of those moms.  In the haze of multiple pregnancies, post-partum fogginess, regular household duties, and everyday life caring for four children ages 18 months to 10 years old, I’ve never consistently taught preschool at home.

The good news for those of you who are like me is – you can set your guilt and fear aside.  My older children are excelling academically despite their mama’s shortcomings.

I’ve finally relaxed and embraced the truth about preschool – preschoolers can learn everything they need to know in the school of life.

Preschool in Our Home

If you peek into our home on an average day, you won’t find my preschooler doing circle time, reciting the days of the week and months of the year, charting the weather, exploring sensory bins, or playing with carefully crafted learning trays.

You’ll probably see him running around in a super hero cape or jumping from the couch to a beanbag to avoid the hot lava floor.  You’ll see him helping mom with chores and making hot dogs in his toy kitchen.  You’ll see him comforting his baby brother, pestering his sister and complaining that his big brother is cheating at Candy Land.

And, somehow, after a couple of years, he’ll just know all of the letters, numbers, shapes and colors. He’ll know how to write his name and count past 10.  He’ll know that dark clouds mean rain is coming and tadpoles turn into frogs.  He’ll know how to stand in line and take turns, and he’ll know it all without having been in preschool at home or otherwise.

Once again, I’ll be amazed that in the joyful mess of our lives together, my child managed to learn everything he needed to know.

How Children Learn

In a society that emphasizes early childhood education, it can be easy to forget that children are curious, inquisitive and wired to learn.

If you feel stressed, overwhelmed, guilty or afraid your preschooler will be behind, consider the following ways children learn naturally in everyday life:

Math

You don’t have to use worksheets to teach shapes, colors, comparisons, counting, addition and subtraction.   Even the youngest preschoolers know how to figure out who got the most M&Ms or the biggest piece of cake.  They scramble to be first in the line for ice cream.  They only eat sandwiches that are cut into triangles. And they wear the same red shirt 5 days in a row.  Math is, quite simply, everywhere.

Calendar

Words like yesterday, today and tomorrow are a natural part of everyday conversation.

“Mom, what are we doing today?”

“Honey, tell grandma what you did yesterday.”

“Time for bed, kiddo, we’ll read the rest of the story tomorrow.”

Weather

You don’t have to use elaborate charts and graphs to teach your children about the weather. Just open up the blinds and take a look outside.

Weather is another topic that’s easily addressed in daily conversation.   “We better take the umbrella with us.  It looks like rain.”

Community Helpers

Children see firefighters, policemen, postal workers, and medical professionals as a part of everyday life in a thriving community.  They have moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles and cousins.  Why rely on worksheets and projects when you have access to the real thing?

Art

Do the crafts we plan for our preschoolers really encourage creativity?  Or are our kids just cutting what we tell them to cut and gluing where we tell them to glue?

Don’t succumb to the pressure to micromanage every activity. Make paper, crayons, scissors, glue and other craft materials available, and see what your children can do on their own.

Reading

If you live in a literate household where books are available and children see others reading, your children will WANT to learn to read.  Read to your children because reading is useful and pleasurable – not because you’re afraid they’ll be behind.

And remember, you don’t have to run to the library for stacks of books about every topic you discuss with your children.  Out of all the books I’ve brought into my home, my preschoolers have always tended to gravitate toward a few favorites.

Learn from My Mistakes

I spent way too much time hovering over my oldest child, pushing him to do more, to know more, to be more.

And when my second child was a preschooler, I was too busy teaching my oldest and nursing a baby to do much of anything other than feel guilty about what we weren’t doing for preschool.

However, by the time my third child became a preschooler, I think I mostly figured out the winning formula – love, laugh, encourage, and get out of the way.

What does preschool look like in your home?

About Carletta

Carletta Sanders is a homeschool mom of four and editor of the website Successful Homeschooling. You can follow her family’s adventures in home education by visiting her blog.

Comments

  1. This was so helpful to me! I’m in the middle of obsessing over preschool for my 2 1/2 year old. Now I know to hyper down a bit, and just let her be. :)
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  2. This is a great post!!! Thank you. I am sure it relieves many moms from guilt.

    With my first she is very much into workbooks and sitting still and learning that way (which I find wierd for her age, but I go with it). At 3, she simply LOVED sitting down and learning about the letters, which came naturally to her, and was fun for both of us. There was no pressure, and she loved it. So that worked well for us. I did this because SHE asked me to teach her about the letters. She is simply wired that way and still is.

    My 2nd child I don’t think will want to or be ready for that at 3, in 6 months time. We’ll see. If she asks, or if I want to try it and its fun for her, I will do it. But I think kids pick up these things just day to day like you said. She already knows the letter A since its her first initial and she watches her sister write it (my youngest asks my oldest to write it for her sometimes).

    I find the funniest thing is that I didn’t realize my youngest knew some things she did. I didn’t formally teach her. I think she picked a lot up from life, reading, and from having an older sibling who likes to teach the younger one, and its done in a fun way.

    I do remember all of a sudden realizing that my oldest child didn’t know ANY shapes and we did at that point have a reason to know them. So I simply filled in that blank when I needed to. It was easy and simple for her. She learned it when she needed to!

    I think we need to let kids be kids and not put so much pressure on them. Which is hard to do especially in our society in North America. Where I live its BIG pressure for preschool and I have been told by several people that because I did not do preschool and am not doing kindergarten and homeschooling for at least a few years that my child is going to be disadvantaged. Which is simply not the case at all, she is doing great.

  3. Thank you! I needed this today! I think I’ll throw away all the “school” crap for my two preschoolers and just play dolls tomorrow! Bless your heart!

  4. Kris M. says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I’ve been obsessing over my almost 4 year old not going to Preschool this year and worried he won’t be where his older brother was at his age. A little bit of “mommy weight” just lifted off my shoulders!

  5. I just have to say…AMEN!!!! It took me three kiddos to figure that out, but you are totally right. I wish I would have understood that much earlier.
    Preschool at our house is a lot of observation, lots of talking, lots of playing in the elements and lots of reading. I firmly believe that’s all you need but find myself feeling guilty that I haven’t added much more than that at times. Thanks for the reminder!!!
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  6. Wonderful timing!! Our first day of “official” homeschooling is tomorrow…LOL! Even though we are mainly using the CM/AO y0, which is very informal for my 4.5yo DD, I have still been alternately worrying & praying for guidance.{{{smiles}}} So glad I hopped over to this site–guess I got my guidance,didn’t I??
    Thanks & God Bless!

  7. wow- this was a great post to read as a mom that has her son in preschool outside of the home 3 days a week. He is my first and only and oh boy do I get caught up in making sure everything is “just right” – this was a great exhale to read, Thank you!
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  8. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…..that’s me exhaling. I’m so feeling this post. Every year I start jumping through the “open house” hoops signing my youngest up for every new charter school that looks promising. Why? Because I’m afraid I’m not “doing enough” with him at home … not enough art, not enough circle time, not enough this or that. Thank you so much for this affirmation.
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    • Monica, I had to laugh because every spring I would panic and actually enroll my son in school, feeling like I was a slacker! The main character in my novel sort of goes through this progression too, of feeling like she has to do everything perfectly to learning to relax and let them learn more naturally. And Carletta, this is a GREAT post! Loved it!
      CharityHawkins@TheHomeschoolExperiment’s latest post: Not Quite Ma Ingalls

  9. When my oldest was pre-school age, I was thrilled that she “got into” the expensive, beautiful nature pre-school that I had hoped for. It was a nice experience for her and she had a lovely, nurturing teacher, but it also added many logistical stresses to our day (including messing up nap-time for my youngest which had a negative trickle-down effect for the rest of the day). When my youngest hit pre-school age, our situation had changed–we had moved to another part of town, and both the drive and the cost made this coveted pre-school prohibitive for my son. I was so distraught, thinking that he was going to miss out on this amazing, life-shaping experience that his sister had. In the end, the three of us spent far more unurried time in nature, TOGETHER, than we ever would have if I had managed to enroll him in that pre-school. In the end, it was that realization that was life-changing for me, and for all of us, really–it led me to postpone (and then skip) kindergarten for my oldest–and ultimately to shift my whole perspective on formal education (I was formerly a public school elementary teacher).

  10. Hi Carletta,
    I have 5 kids, ages 2 to 9. It’s so nice to find someone that does preschool just like me. I too have felt the guilt for not “doing” preschool. But honestly my kids never liked much of the “preschool” type stuff. And I have too many to micro manage a craft. I put it on the table and let them have fun. When new homeschoolers stress about preschool I tell them that preschool in my house is learning to unload the silverwear from the dishwasher, learning to make their bed and dress themselves. My kids have learned to check the weather everyday by walking outside before they get dressed. No need to chart it.

    • I agree completely that the over-scheduling of 3 and 4 year olds leaves those out of preschool without playmates. In fact when I had my then 4 year old daughter at home and was meeting a new mom, I mentioned this fact. I was hoping that our same aged daughters could become playmates. What really happened was that this mom became so worried at lack of playmates, that she signed her daughter up for preschool! Funny now, but we had a difficult time finding people to play with us. Now that some of my children are older and in a homeschool co-op, we have many children for my younger ones to play with.

  11. I have no academic worries about not putting my daughter in preschool — but I do have social worries. She loves to play with other kids and since all the other 3 and 4 year olds are in preschool or daycare there aren’t many kids left for her to play with :(. I’m going to check out my local homeschool group this summer and see what it has to offer and I might even do a day or two a week of preschool this fall. Not because of the academics but because it gives her a chance to meet more kids. We love family time, too, but I don’t think 1 or 2 half days will cut into that too much;

  12. Great post Carletta! It’s amazing what my children have learned over the years that I have not purposely taught them. Kids are like little sponges. They are watching everything around them.
    Heidi’s latest post: Homeschool Curriculum Kindergarten

  13. I love this post! This is sooo where I am right now. I have a 3 year old and twin 17 month olds. I don’t have the time to give my 3 year old an activity let alone plan one!!! My 3 year olds says and does things all the time that I don’t intentionally teach him, he just picks up. Thank you for this!

  14. May I please say “Thank You”. I used to teach art in the public education sector. I now am a WAHM freelance artist, art educator, and an arts in education advocate. I find most folks really afraid of trying to teach art because they are not crafty or talented. It is true what you have written above about art and it really is a “if you build it they will come” or in this case make art. To parents, please just buy the materials and the kids will be fine. Talk to them about their artwork, “tell me a story about this picture” is one of the greatest gifts you can give your kids.
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  15. Thanks for the great post! My 4 year old and I do a lot of crafts, but I don’t push a formal curriculum on him. He likes to make lapbooks (folders with tons of info in there) to take on road trips, but mostly we just read together, cook together and play. A lot of play. It feels good to know I’m not letting him “fall behind” while other parents are pushing their kids to count to 100 and be able to read before going to kindergarten. I like the laid back approach. Well, as laid back as you can be with multiple kids running around the house. :)

  16. I love this post, and agree completely. Our homeschool preschool sounds a lot like yours, love the simplicity and it is amazing how much they learn with no pushing. Thank you.
    pepper’s latest post: backyard dance

  17. MommaGina says:

    I love your article and totally agree with letting kids be kids. Learning will happen through play and daily life experiences, so why pressure them at such a young age. Just enjoy their childhood with them.

  18. our preschool at home is beginning to look a lot like this! :D i’m slowly learning to let go and follow a rhythm that we are all comfortable with. we started last year with a printed lesson plan and a set time to start our “lesson.” now, with a baby in my arms and more time on the bed nursing, my first child is still learning and greatly enjoying her childhood we have envisioned for her: magical and joyful.

    wonderful post!

  19. Amen, amen, amen! When my daughters were PK age, I searched high and low for formal curricula that would work for us…but I never actually found anything I liked, a fact for which I am exceedingly thankful now (must have been the Lord’s protection on my kids…because I did, in fact, pressure my oldest when she was K-age and that was bad/harmful enough!). We ended up doing what you’ve written about…and my girls mastered all the things of which you speak “by osmosis.” Then I witnessed the same phenomenon with the children for whom I’ve provided babysitting the last five years – I’ve not had time to do tons of structured activities with them, but somehow they know all of the above, and then-some just by being in an environment bathed in valuing books and learning. I am going to share this on my blog and many other venues, as I am SO dismayed by the numbers of moms I see who are stressing out their kids and themselves trying to do it as
    “the system” does instead of realizing that the system is just plain wrong!
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  20. Thank you! My husband has been talking about our 2.5 year old and that maybe I should start some ‘formal teaching’ (I’m 7 months pregnant). This is what I needed to read and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind either! I agree, kids learn so much on their own!
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  21. Love this post! I’ve been struggling all year to get into a schedule with my five year old, and prepare for Kindergarten (starting in Sept.). I finally chucked all (100) of our worksheets and decided to stop pushing. It’s going so much better. We don’t fight anymore over work, and I’m much happier about not being as organized as other moms.
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  22. I LOVE this!! I have 6 kids. The oldest 4 are all in grade school. Never had preschool. This year my friend asked me to do a co op. I am cringing at the amount of structure that is wanted. (we do routine but we don’t micro-manage) I am scared to death of how this is going to work. :)

  23. Love this post! love, love, love it! That’s all I can say!

  24. Homeschooler says:

    I totally agree! I am seriously the only one of my friends who isn’t enrolling my kids in pre-school at 2.5 years old! Even some of my homeschool friends go over the top with pre-k and stress themselves out! I do not have any fear my children will be behind. And in all honesty, my 1st grader seems MORE advanced than the other kids in her Sunday school class who started school at 2.5 years. I plan to continue my relaxed pre-k and kinder approach with my others.

  25. This was so refreshing to read. I have been stressing this year trying to juggle my 1st grader, preschooler, toddler and baby due at Christmas. This reminder to relax and let it happen is exactly what I needed to read.

  26. VERY inspiring! Thanks for sharing :)

  27. While my kids are well beyond pre-school age, I SO enjoyed this article! None of my children attended preschool (my oldest is 19 and youngest is 9), they all did very well in kindergarten. Let them be, they will learn.

  28. Love love love this post. I’ve just stopped working to do “preschool at home” with my 2 and 3 year olds. While I’m still chasing the fantasy of sensory bins, activity trays and circle time, your post does help silence all the anxiety I feel when I think of all the kids this age who are booked solid with soccer, music, and Mandarin lessons. And if/when I become pregnant again (and on the floor with fatigue), I’m going to want to read this post daily!
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  29. Love this post! Good reminders for me this morning.
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  30. AMEN to that post, I even extended this philosophy into Kindergarten and guess what,…. no losses whatsoever!

  31. Oh, thank you for confirming my own experience! I wrote this post: “Walter & Wilma, Pre-school Drop-outs” http://winebeforefive.com/2011/11/02/walter-wilma-pre-school-drop-outs/ about my own experience, more than twenty years ago.

    So very true – if we simply share life with our children, they learn so much! And, thank goodness, so do we.

    Emma Ann

  32. Preschool at our house looks like a coop. I have participated in cooperative preschools (which is parent participation preschools) with both of my boys and I love it. We don’t go every day and a fundamental principal in all of the coops I know of is play based learning – just like preschoolers do at home. Most coops include a parent education component which has been incredibly helpful. Most importantly, my children and I get the opportunity to be part of a caring community and have made some wonderful friends.

  33. Love this post! It’s so true…people have always asked what we “do” with our boys when they’re this age and my answer is always….nothing….we just let them play and learn as they go. My oldest 3 have all turned into great readers and love math…my youngest just turned 3 and right now is into stuffed animals, super hero capes and light sabers…just as he should be! ;)
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  34. THANK YOU! My husband and I have decided not to send our children to preschool mostly because of the cost. Really, $200 for 4 to 6 hours of play a week?! Come on! In reality we cannot afford that. My oldest is in 2nd grade and without preschool he is excelling and reading at a 5th grade level. I wish more moms would give themselves credit and spend more TIME with their children. Yes, mothering is hard, moms need breaks. My advice is spend that $200 on babysitters and date nights with your hubby. As far as the socialization for children, there is Sunday school, play dates, doctor’s appointments, bringing your kids to grocery stores and restaurants. They need to learn how to act properly in a social setting. Thanks again, this was a wonderful post!

  35. Love it! Drives me crazy that in the ‘burb where I live, you are considered less than a good mom if you don’t send your kids to a preschool. I mean, people give you looks.

    At least now that DS is 5, I can say, “Oh, we’re homeschooling.” For some reason, that is okay, while keeping your preschooler at home is not. Go figure.
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  36. Kimberly says:

    I’ve tried to read the comments to make sure I’m not repeating – but there’s a lot of response to this. I work at a public elementary school which has a Pre-K program. I think those of you who have read the article and are concerned for your children – they will be fine. You are involved, you are talking to them, modeling behaviors for them to copy. Public Pre-K/preschool, in my opinion, is an alternative for those kids who are babysat by a television, who have less interaction with other people. It’s sad to see some of my students in Kindergarten who have no idea what to do with scissors, glue or even crayons. Involvement is what is most important for your little ones. Talking to them, letting them learn by doing or by imitating is so beneficial to their development. Now, I know there are hard working parents who are involved with their children who do need to use preschool. I’ve been there, had to choose if it was better to send the kids to preschool or just stay home with them. Here’s the key – when I was with my kids, I talked to them, I colored with them, I played with them. It was a difficult choice. After deciding about preschool, I remained involved with my kids. If you’re already involved with your children, they will be fine; they will grow and develop; they will learn. If you’re not involved with your child, get involved, crawl on the floor with them, cuddle with them, show them things you are interested in. They will model what you are doing. Most important is love and care. Each one will grow and develop on their own, at their own pace – just be there for them.

  37. Ah, this helps me with a discussion my hubby and I had about whether to send our son to preschool (when he’s old enough). I like that you help take away the guilt I feel about not sending him to school. We do plan on homeschooling, but even as a former preschool and elementary teacher, I was feeling inadequate as my hubby and I were discussing it. Where I live homeschooling isn’t very popular at all, so I feel a lot of pressure to send my child to preschool.

  38. Oh, yes. I agree! Pre-school isn’t about real learning in terms of knowledge of man, God, and the universe. It is what its name suggests: Preparation for School. Eeeeeeeew.
    Glory’s latest post: Steeping in American Independence & Freedom

  39. Thank you so much for this post. I know this may sound a bit dramatic, but it seriously made tears well up in my eyes. I am a SAHM, and my daughter just turned 2. It seems like all of her playgroup friends are going off to preschool (at age 2), and I often worry if her being at home with me will make her “behind.” I started looking into preschools, but in my area, it costs about $10,000-15,000 per year, depending on part-time vs full-time preschool. Finding out the cost has made me feel sick to my stomach, yet the guilt that I’m somehow making my daughter behind compared to her peers is eating away at me. Your past made me feel a lot better.

  40. This is great! With my first child, I spent so much time teaching her her numbers and ABC’s and animal sounds and sign language, etc. She is super smart and learned to read at the age of 3 and now at 5 is reading at a 4th grade level and doing math and science at a 1st grade level. But, what I have learned is that has nothing to do with me, it has to do with her love for learning and her inquisitiveness, etc. When my second came along, I didn’t have the time to focus on teaching him like I did with my first. And I just recently learned that it doesn’t matter. I’ve never formally taught him his ABC’s or numbers but we were at the library the other day and he went over to play with the magnetic alphabet and guess what? He knew every single once of his letters.

  41. Great and inspirational preschool ideas!!! We also LOVE our homeschool co-op! It is a great 1x per week way for us all to meet friends and to share ideas and fellowship! :) My Latest post
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  42. This is a great article and comes at a good time. My daughter just turned 4 and I too started to worry if I was doing enough to help her learn. I\’ll be honest I haven\’t spent much time teaching her because I want her to just have fun and be a kid, you only get to do that once! I see that she picks up things so much on her own and surprises me when she shows me something she can do that I had spent little to no time showing her how to do. She learns through life experience. I was told my daughter is advanced from the doctor and other people who have met her. She is just the type of kid who when she wants to learn something she will teach herself or have little instruction on how to do so and do it. She always wanted to do things earlier in life. I hadn\’t planned on starting her until she was older but outside pressures started to take its toll and I began to listen. This article helped put my perspective back into check. My daughter is doing just fine and actually even better than a child her age should be doing so why start her earlier? She gets interaction with other children, she is a happy child, and she is already learning and for free! My hubby is afraid she will fall behind if we don\’t hurry up and get her in the school system but how can she possibly fall behind when she is already ahead! Thanks for the article.

  43. Charlotte says:

    As a preschool director, I see many moms who do not have the luxury to stay home and school their children. Preschools can be a wonderful alternative than the babysitter or family friend/aunt/grandmother who more often than not, uses the television for “educational purposes”. Research has proven that children who attend preschool are more prepared for kindergarten than children who do not. Kudos if you are able to spend the time with your child … The activities you offer are fantastic. But, truth be told, this is not the norm. Preschools (the right ones) can offer fantastic opportunities to learn, play, explore and socialize. Hopefully, parents will gain from your post, that children need activities, conversation, guidance, exploration time and love (all which is offered at my preschool), not that preschools are all about circle time, repetition and standing in line.

  44. YES! And child development experts will agree with you! I have a Masters in Early Childhood Education and we spent much time in my program discussing how to mimic the home environment and a child’s natural learning in a classroom setting as that has been well known to be the best thing for young children, not just emotionally, but also for their long-term learning. Preschools are businesses and as a whole they’ve done a great job making the general public think that kids “need” them. A good play-based one will certainly help kids who come from an unstable home environment, but most kids do not benefit from preschool in the long term at all. Multiple studies have shown this.

  45. I so agree with this blog. Kids in public schools have so much structure that we wrongly feel that without it, we can’t be successful at homeschooling. However, sometimes these efforts hold them back.

  46. Thank you…. I stumbled across this post just when I needed to hear it :-)

  47. Carletta, I just LOVE your post here. I’m a 59 year young Mother of 3 GROWN children, now 30, 27, and 25. My niece wants me to help her with a little bit of learning for her 4 year old so I thought I’d look on line to help my remember what four year old can and like to do. I found your post and must agree that your philosophy about pre-school is mine and WAS mine when my kids were little. I never felt pressured even back then in the early 80’s to put them in preschool. Having never been put into preschool by my own mother and never needing it, I felt sure it was right for my own kids too; and their lives have proven it over and over again that “letting life” be their “preschool,” is the best thing. They didn’t feel pressured to learn. It came naturally. (Now if you don’t have the option to stay home with your chldren that’s a different story.) (But I will say that my best friend was a single mom who decided to stay home anyway with her kids and she took in other children to make ends meet. All three of her children are grown now and all three have hearts that stayed close to home and didn’t rebel — so if you are a single mother and want to stay home, or if your finances just won’t let you stay home I suggest praying with all your heart for God to make a way, because He loves to work out amazing miracles for those who ask, and I believe that most of the time He will work out a way, unless for some good reason it is not His will.) I will also suggest that Sunday School is a gentler way very to help prepare little ones for for their eventual entrance into some kind of classroom setting (IF you are planning on that.) In case you’re wondering, our oldest son is a high school English teacher, our daughter is a missionary overseas, and our youngest son works for Apple. — and I end with a prayer that God will bless and guide all who read this post with the path that He knows is best for your precious family. //// p.s. thanks again Carletta for your wise words.

  48. Yes! So, I recently contributed a post for ClarksCondensed.com about DIY Preschool Alternatives, and talked about how preschool is not really needed, or at least paying for it isn’t. And some people were definitely up in arms about it. It isn’t needed. Kids will learn when they are ready, and they pick up things like sponges.
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