Do You Need to Pay for Preschool?

Christine Ryan Jyoti

is preschool necessarySince President Obama proposed making high-quality preschool education available to every American four-year-old in his 2013 State of the Union address, the debate over the benefits of preschool has been thrown into the national spotlight.

As every parent knows, preschool must all too often be purchased for a hefty price. In fact, for many parents, preschool expenses are one of the most surprising costs of having a young child.

So many of us pay the asking price, but is that cost really necessary? Are there less expensive options? And is preschool itself really all that important?

We spoke with the experts to help you decide how to best invest in your kids.

How Much Will It Cost?

About 30% of the country’s three- and four-year-olds are enrolled in private preschools and childcare centers. Prices can vary radically depending on what kind of program you choose and where you live.

Getting a firm number on cost is difficult. “Data on the amount that parents are paying for private preschool programs is not collected in any nationwide effort,” says Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University.

According to a recent report by Child Care Aware America, parents, on average, are paying anywhere between $3,900 (Mississippi) to nearly $11,700 (Massachusetts) for full-time, center-based care for a four-year-old.

Those numbers are even higher in urban areas. Live in New York and want to send your little one to Fieldston in Manhattan? That’ll cost you $39,525 a year. Maybe you want your offspring to rub shoulders with the Obama girls at Sidwell Friends School in D.C. You’ll be looking at $33,268 a year for the lower school.

The Benefits of Preschool

“Children need to develop a healthy and strong brain architecture,” says Todd Grindal, an education expert at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “The experiences kids have in the early years have profound effects on their futures,” he says. Considering a child’s brain grows to 90% of its adult size by age five, the first few years are critical.

Preschool aids this development in the following ways:

  • Claire

    It doesn’t have to be all or nothing! There are very good part-time (two-three mornings/week) preschool programs that can meet the objectives without breaking the bank. And a good part-time preschool program is more than a glorified daycare center. That being said, I don’t think that preschool is essential for all children. I needed it because my son is an only child and I have yet to find an adequate network of families with stay-at-home moms to adequately meet his social needs. But that is not the case for everyone.

  • faye

    Do children not learn in preschool. Both of my kids learned to read and write in preschool. Why is everyone referring to it as a virtual playground. Maybe you all are putting your kids in bad programs. The point of preschool is preparation.

  • Andrea

    This is when living outside a major city helps. Both our kids attended really lovely pt preschool programs (it’s 3 mornings a week when they’re three, then 5 half days the year before k) — it’s a few grand a year, the kids learn about taking turns and sharing and listening and sitting in a circle, have some fun, etc. and then they’re home to hang out or do other stuff.

  • Rachel

    My son is 5 months old, and he will be attending pre-school as soon as he’s eligible, even though my husband is a full-time caregiver and more than capable of teaching my son and providing structured play. I think the article noted the most important (to me) aspect of pre-school: giving the child the opportunity to learn to take direction from someone other than a parent or close family member. This single skill is worth it (to me), whatever it may cost, in long-term benefits. From listening to teachers to following bosses/employers instructions, he is more likely to excel academically and in work life if he masters this skill early.

  • Anastasia

    I went to preK as a child. I’m pretty social and graduated with honors (barely). I do believe preK has wonderful advantages and yes your child will gain great social skill (for the most part) and knowledge going into kinder. But to me, it’s no so much pre-school that “prepares” kids for their future. It’s obvi their parents. Kids are presented with new knowledge and learning opportunities everyday, I think it’s up to the parents to be as involved with their children as much as possible. Continue to work with them after school hours. I mean as humans we all learn something new everyday of our lives, but most information we let slip away because we’re not continuing to expose ourselves to it. I’m all for new and better opportunities to expose my kids to social surroundings and learning environments I just TRULY can’t fathom how important it is for the parent to continue their child’s interest by working and learning with them. My parents weren’t really involved with me, so I became lazy and did all my work half a**. I’m just blessed I actually have a good memory which is why I graduated with honors(like I said though, BARELY). I just think some parents might rely TOO much on schools to do their job for them.

  • Stephanie

    I will spend the money now on my children to increase the chances of scholarships or at least not living with mom and dad after they graduate! It can be costly to not put your kids in an environment where they learn how to focus and behave in a class setting. That being said, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t take your kid to preschool and choose to work with them at home instead; I just see the best scenario as putting your child in a decent program at least part-time and then giving them one-on-one attention at home as well.

    On a side note, you can also catch things earlier that your child is lacking, because they deal with so many children and know what to look for. My son has poor fine motor skills, and I would have just thought that all 4 year olds couldn’t trace if I didn’t have him enrolled.

  • stayathomemom

    I am a stay at home mom. I would like to work but sadly, we cannot afford childcare even with combined income with my husband. We have a 4 yr old who we enrolled for Pre-K at our city’s district run school. Unfortunately also, my husband’s 3k net income which we use to pay our utilities, medical, association dues, insurance and food and basic necessities does not qualify us for free tuition. As we cannot afford the almost $500/month tuition fee for M-F 1/2 day school, we opted to put her in T-Th setting us back with $200/month. Sadly, almost 75% of the children in that school do not pay tuition. These are the families who also enjoy WIC benefits…free medical benefits, the single young mothers with 5 children…parents who do not have jobs because they have a long list of drug and criminal records. Dishonest people who knows how to work the lawed government system in their favor. The very same people who benefit from the taxes WE PAY!!!! How sad that their children can enjoy full time Preschool, while we struggle o put ours in one!!! :-(

    • Guest

      Ummm… so do you suggest or oppose preschool?

      • Bridget

        What state do you live in? You need to check into your options.. Without assistance I pay almost $400 per month for 3/days a week. Don’t be upset. Your husband makes more than the average person. Look at some of the things you buy, high bills being payed and work out a budget.