Daycare Is Not School, and That’s Okay

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Daycare is not school. It is daycare, care for young children during the day. And that’s totally okay.

A few months ago, another mom at the park asked me if my two-year-old is in school. I answered no, that I stay home. Her reply was to encourage me not to worry, that she was sure he’d catch up in kindergarten. I was so surprised that I didn’t really respond, I just kind of smiled and moved on to follow my kid on the playground.

As this question continues to repeat itself – “Is your son in school?” or “where does he go to school?” I have found myself giving replies that have come to feel defensive like I need to explain my choice not to put my two-year-old in school yet. They are completely flabbergasted when they realize my four-year-old daughter also is not yet in school. (We do a little homeschool preschool program with her, but that’s an entirely different article.)

So why are we calling daycare school anyways?

For one thing. If we are totally honest with ourselves, daycare gets a bad rap. It has since I was a kid in the 1980’s, and maybe it did even before that. Only working moms put their kids in daycare, and there was plenty of judgment dished on them, I’m sure (unfortunately, judgment is timeless).

Times have changed.

As times have changed, so have households. Two-earner households have become more normal, as have single-parent homes, both being scenarios that require care for the wee kiddies. Unfortunately, daycare still seems to be a taboo word. We are all too familiar with the opinions of our parents, or in-laws, or grandparents and of how wrong they think we are to put the daytime care of our children into the hands of another adult. (To be clear, in my opinion, it’s not wrong to put your kids in the care of a qualified adult so that you can provide for your family.)

While all this transitioning was happening, so was our understanding of education, and pre-education. Kids who get a head start are in a better position for their future endeavors. So true! But that doesn’t mean pushing them to learn things beyond their cognitive development. In other words, two-year-olds don’t need to be in a formal learning environment. They need to be loved on, cared for, and allowed to play. That’s how they’ll actually best be prepared for success.

Recently I met a mom at the library who was there with her kindergartener for him to be tutored. He wasn’t quite reading yet, so she decided to hire an after school tutor. After a full day at school, of which only 20 minutes included outside recess time, he was sitting at a table for an hour of tutoring. And I totally understand why she was doing it. She didn’t want him to be ashamed that he was behind other kids. That’s a powerfully negative emotion for a kid his age.

Let Daycare be Day Care and Kindergarten be Kindergarten

At this specific point in American culture, most of us adults find ourselves in a rat race. We try to squeeze every moment out of every day, being as productive as possible. We have come to believe the weariness of a long day is a normal part of getting ahead or even just getting by. But is it right for us to sign our kids up for this rat race starting at age two or even age five? Can’t we let daycare be daycare and kindergarten be kindergarten? My five-year old’s reading level doesn’t have to be an indicator of her future college success. Daycare is not school, and that’s okay.

For more on this topic, I’m linking below to some other great reads.

The Case for Old-School Kindergarten: Why We Need to Let Our Kids Play

Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful?

Starting School at an Older Age Might Be Better for Kids

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