Since 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: