Should you be sending your toddler to school?

When your child is no longer an infant, there comes a point in time when you will start wondering if you should be sending your child to school. For working parents who have no one to take care of their toddlers, the answer is a little clearer. Sending the toddler to a full-time childcare centre is often the only choice. However, what about parents who do have a choice between sending the child to full-time school vs keeping the child at home either because they are stay-at-home parents, or because there are grandparents or other trusted adults to babysit? In that case, should a toddler go to school? Btw when I say school, I don’t mean some academic oriented thing. Nowadays, everyone knows that the best way for toddlers to learn is through play, so most schools provide a play-based learning environment.

As a Stay at home Mom (SAHM), I’m always wondering about the best way to engage my toddler on a daily basis. These are the usual available options:

  1. Home-school
  2. Enrichment classes
  3. 2 or 3 hour Play Groups
  4. Full-time Childcare Centre

Home-school

You would assume that as a SAHM, I would naturally want to “home-school” my 2-year old toddler until perhaps Kindergarten or something. Why stay at home to spend more time with my kid, only to have him sent to school on a daily basis for a substantial period of time? Well it’s not as simple as it sounds.

Lots of mothers do spend their entire day with their toddlers. They fill their days with crafts, reading books, playground visits and lots more. Ideally, I would love to do that too. The best part about home-schooling, aside from the fact that it is probably the cheapest option, is that you can tailor the activities that best suit your child’s interest. The minute your child loses interest, you can either change the topic, or try and make it more interesting to engage him further. The schedule and activities are always fluid, it is child led.

There are tons of material on the Internet these days. There are so many free printables for you to download to engage your child with. There are also many Instagram moms with lots of ideas on how to engage your child in sensory play, crafts and what have you. (You can check out my toddler’s Instagram here, and take a look at the many Instagram moms I follow) For those who don’t have time to print stuff, you can even purchase learning kits, which come with all the materials you need to engage your child in a particular topic. You can even purchase “educational programmes” that give you ideas for learning projects for every single day of the year, so you don’t even need to do the planning, although you still need to print out the materials (and laminate if you want to reuse often) or get supplies.

With so many resources out there, you’d wonder why anyone would need to send their kid to school. However, despite all the online resources and stuff that can be bought, the perfectionist in me still wonders if I am doing enough. I am not a school teacher, and neither am I the most organised person in the world.

I am not that keen to be spending hours and hours printing out all those stuff. Yes it’s not all a bed of roses, you actually have to prepare stuff to engage your toddler in!  Actually because there’s so much resources online, you still have to spend time sifting through those resources and getting to the ones you think will interest your kid, unless you really spend money to buy those educational programmes and stick to the given schedule strictly (these are more costly of course).

So, there are still many instances during the course of the day where I “don’t have material prepared”, aka the fearsome idle time. Or what about when I need to do some housework? It’s just impossible to be spending every waking hour tending to my kid so inevitably I end up asking whether going to school would be more productive for Edward. My toddler is particularly sticky, and I basically have to sit next to him in order for him to be engaged in the materials, otherwise its a cue for him to tear down the house.

And of course, there’s this issue of mess. Lots of activities for toddlers involve arts and craft and sensory play. This usually spells a huge clean up, for most of us who live in apartments. If you have the luxury of a big garden or backyard, it’s not too bad because then you can relegate all the messy play to the garden and just simply hose down the place later.

 

Enrichment classes

One way to help to “cover all bases” is to enrol in enrichment classes in areas you feel you could have been doing better. For example, I’ve sent Edward to a number of Mandarin classes, because my Mandarin is sorely lacking. I’ve also thought of sending Edward to art classes for him to get his fill of messy art. The problem with this though is most art schools don’t admit students until they are at least 3, or older. You often have to go for play groups, that happen to have some art activities incorporated into their curriculum, to have the art input.

I think this home-schooling + enrichment classes is a good way to strike a balance. This way, he gets to learn from the experts, as well as socialise a little with other children of his age. I’m not too bothered about toddlers learning socialising skills at this age. At this age, it’s more of parallel play rather than playing together.

If the enrichment classes are the drop off kind, that may be good for mothers who need to get a breather, and it’s actually vital to get a breather so as to be able to recharge your batteries. I personally like parent-accompanied enrichment classes. Maybe I’m OCD, but I really like knowing what my toddler is learning, and actually seeing them learn new things. I’ve also sent Edward to classes where I don’t get to sit in, and I start wondering if the classes are teaching what they claim to be teaching. I mean these lessons don’t come free, so you want to know that your money is being put to good use or you’d want to consider changing classes to find the appropriate ones.

 

2 or 3 hour Play Groups

These are similar to the enrichment classes in that they help to plug the gap if you feel like you’re not doing enough. The only difference is that the enrichment classes are more specific, eg Chinese class or Music class. Play Groups cover more areas but not so in-depth. A usual Play Group will have singing, dancing, crafts, reading and free play, usually in 15-minute blocks per activity, thereabouts.

The one issue I have with Play Groups is that sometimes you feel like you could have replicated all of those activities at home for a fraction of the cost. Play Groups charge a fee of course, and brand name schools could be charging in excess of $70 per 2 hour session! The cheapest I’ve come across of is $175/month for 5 days a week, 2 hrs each day. But you kind of get what you pay for because the cheap ones could be packed with students, like 16 rowdy kids to 1 main teacher and 1 teaching assistant! I wonder how much can be done in that 2 hr session, and if the kids can even focus. Currently, the kiasu parent in me has signed Edward up for both a brand name play group as well as a more economical playgroup. Email me if you wish to know the pros and cons of both, or maybe I’ll do another blog post about this topic once I have time.

The other issue is that of cost. These enrichment classes and play groups also cost money, and if you go for more than 1 class, the costs add up, and you’re left wondering if you should pay for full-time childcare instead. Sometimes, the full-time childcare works out to be cheaper, if you include subsidies you will get as a working mom!

Full-time Childcare Centre

When Edward was 18-months old, I decided to put him into full-time Childcare even though I wasn’t working full-time. It was at a time when I felt that I really wasn’t doing enough to engage him, and as a result causing him to be idle for long periods. I felt that a proper school with teachers doing their job as a full time job, a proper schedule, resources and ideas ready at hand would be able to do a better job than I could.

Alas, it’s not as simple as what I’ve just described. Can your child focus? Because this is not parent-accompanied, and if your child is the playful kind, or passive, or cannot focus, they may not receive the full benefits of the programme. Of course the teachers will try to guide them, but they also have the other kids in the class to attend to, so there is only so much time they can spare with each individual child. If you don’t believe me, just go peep into one of those HDB void deck childcare schools. You’ll see that for the toddler class, there will be some toddlers who will be roaming around aimlessly. My guess is you could solve this problem somewhat if you pay for a more expensive school with a lower teacher to student ratio.

There is more “idle” time built into the daily schedule than I would have liked. Based on the school that Edward went too, the most productive part of the day was from 9.30am – 11am. At 11am it was lunch time, and at 11.30am – 12.30pm it was bath time. The teacher accompanies each toddler for his/her shower one at a time, so the rest of the toddlers are left to watch YouTube! Yes I kid you not. And I’ve enquired with some more expensive childcare centres, and they too resort to this method, because there’s just no spare manpower to be doing something more productive. So much for the advice of not having screen time before the age of 2. From 12.30pm – 2.30pm it’s nap time, followed by diaper change and snack time. Around 3.30pm – 5pm would be outdoor play and some arts and crafts. This period is also productive but we’d usually take Edward home by snack time because I do want to also be spending some quality time with him. So really, in the end I was paying for an entire day of childcare but only getting about 2 or 3 hours worth of productive time for Edward.

I have to say though that one huge plus point for sending Edward to this school is his access to a Chinese teacher! One of the assistant teachers only speaks Chinese and I liked the fact that he could hear the language throughout the day, instead of just for a specific lesson. I fear his exposure to Chinese has stagnated after I withdrew him from this childcare centre.

If you want to send your child to a full-time childcare centre, I highly recommend grilling the centre on the activities that make up a day. Just a summary is not enough because I bet you it’ll sound fine on the surface. Sad to say, I feel there is a difference in the programme between the expensive schools charging eg $2k a month vs the neighbourhood childcare centres charging about $700. The expensive ones tend to have more arts and crafts, messy play, outdoor play (water and sand play) incorporated into their programme. They can do so because there’s more $$$ for resources and materials, and more manpower since the teacher student ratio is lower. But I leave it up to you to decide if a child will benefit more simply due to more exposure to such stuff.

Feel free to email me or leave a message if you would like to hear more of my experiences in the above areas. I would love to share more and help!


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