When to Start Preschool & the Curriculum of Life

I’m a pretty big believer that children learn through play. At Lucas’s age of two-and-a-half, (gulp) I don’t really focus, or even worry (too much), about him learning things. (Things “school -like.” There was a period of time, probably a few months ago, where I started to really think about how I could teach him, what I should be teaching him at this age and what is he learning.

Does he know enough, is he smart enough, should I be doing more?

I think this comes from reading other blogs, written by moms that have their two year olds enrolled in their at home preschool and spend a precise amount of time each day having “learning time.” They have these kits and books and all this material and they are teaching their two year old that A means Apple and, not only are they teaching them with those “fill in the blank” sheets, but after their child has scribbled – or colored in the lines, either way – they laminate said sheet and place it on the wall. Doing so highlight the advanced artistic ability in their young child but it also acts as a daily reminder of all the letters of the alphabet.

These parents make me feel lazy.

{Nothing against them. They are awesome. Amazing, and so on top of things.}

So, the other weekend, I printed out some letter sheets. I thought, I am going to teach Lucas the letters! I am going to have him color the sheets and I will go over the letters with him. Then, I will frame each sheet and put it in his room for a cute art-sy decoration. We will do a letter a week, maybe, and I’ll have toys and books that correspond with that letter. This will be fuuuuuun. 

Week one: Letter A: How in the sweet earth to you explain to an active two year old that you are suppose to color on this piece of paper and — see that letter A? That is THE LETTER A! Say it with me. Aaaaaaa. And, see that apple? That is because apple starts with the letter A! Don’t pay attention to the other five letters in that word (do you know what a word is?) because we are just focusing on the letter A right now. Mkay? Please color in your sheet. What letter is that again? No, not M. It’s an A. Like an APPLE!! Isn’t this fun? You want to play with cars? No, it’s time to learn the letter A. No you are suppose to color on the paper! No, you are suppose to color in the letter A. Okay, let me assist you with this. See? I colored in the letter A. Okay, so what is this letter?

That is so not happening.

One of my co-workers stays at home with his boys (ages 2.5 & 4) during the day while his wife is at work.  He is a good man, and by the way that he talks about his day with his boys, it’s so obvious that he spends a good amount of time working on school work type things. I am usually pretty impressed with him and with the things that he and his two year old do.

In our conversation, after I got some great learning ideas from him and he told me about their schedule (and as soon as I was starting to feel a little weird for not doing any of this with Lucas) I asked him if they went outside to play or went out and did things.

” We go for a walk around the block after they finish their homework.”

Obviously, our parenting ways are a little different. And, of course, that’s totally fine. Just different. He is doing formal learning time with his kids and spends most of the day at home, and I’m spending a good chunk of our day outside the house and spending next to nothing on formal learning time.

I feel like, at this age, isn’t LIFE a good ‘enough’ curriculum for our toddlers and preschoolers? This thing called life — helping mama make lunch, cleaning up the table, helping mama fold the laundry, playing outside, learning how to share and be nice to other humans, learning what eating healthy is about and what different types of food are, taking care of your younger sibling, learning how to be respectful, baking cookies with measuring cups, cleaning your bedroom, playing in nature — isn’t that a pretty important and big enough thing?

I want my children to be happy, healthy, kind, caring, nice, respectful individuals. Right now, that is my main focus. I am not worried about wether my kid learns the alphabet at the age of 2.5 or 2.75 or 3.25 years of age. Even though I feel pressure at times and feel guilty sometimes, this is really the truth. I remind myself that. I want him to know all these things by the time he is in Kindergarten. (Whatever age that is.)

With all this thought, comes a very important and hard question, when will we start Preschool?

My husband and I go back and forth about Preschool and when Lucas will start. I honestly have no idea what I want to do. We have days where we say he will start next fall (he would be  3.5 years. He turns 3 in March) and then we have days where we say we’ll wait another year to put him in. Some days I call Preschool a “glorified daycare” with a little more structure and other days I say my child needs it so he can learn his letters and numbers and have some more social time. He will love it, playing with other friends and doing something new.

As of this current day, we think we are going to put him in Preschool next year. However, that plan could totally change next month, so don’t hold me to that it. It will be part time, most definitely, just two days a week for 2-3 hours. I think he will really love it and honestly, I’m very excited for him.

(putting craft balls (found at dollar section in Target) into holes in the top of a tupperware container.)

I guess, if I were working during the day or felt like I needed a break, then I might consider preschool differently or want to start sooner. It’s not that I don’t need a break, but even if Lucas was in preschool right now, I would still have Joshua. So basically, I would go to the zoo or the indoor playground, but only take Joshua. Then my thought is, well why not just take Lucas, too? You know what I mean??

We don’t want to put Lucas into Kindergarten until he’s 5 or 6 (we feel like later is better, especially with boys. My husband is a teacher and feels strongly about this and also has support and research to back this up. I’d rather have a child in school that is ahead than behind) so I guess we don’t want or need 3 years of preschool! Kinda forgot about that. Maybe we won’t put him in next year! See, I have no idea. Really.

(I am hoping to find some more structured activities for him this winter though. Unfortunately most things like gymnastics, soccer, arts, etc doesn’t start until age 3.)

For right now, I am feeling very happy and content with the stage that Lucas is in and the things that he is learning and the way that I am teaching him. With lots of free play, encouraged independent play, trips to the park, museum ,library, grocery store, zoo, indoor playground, I know my kids are learning as they go and being exposed to many different environments.

I do feel the pressure sometimes, to teach him more or work with him more on his letters or colors. Sometimes I feel like I have the only two year old who doesn’t know all his colors or who can’t identify all the letters. I know that’s not true, of course, but I can’t help but feel that pressure when I see other kids who are doing such structured activities at this age. I have to remind myself, that I do truly believe that children so young learn and thrive best in a world of play and being outside, and learning through natural every-day activities.

And what about reading books! Don’t they say that reading is possibly one of the best things for a child? Good thing I have a huge collection of books and my kids and I love reading.

I think kids have the rest of their life to be learning. From the moment I put him in school, he is going to be in school every year for the next 15+ years of his life. I want him to have fun. I want him to be a kid. I want him to be smart, too! Of course, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t want him to be too smart too  fast, you know what I mean? He’s already talking in this grown up tone when he says “Ooookkaaaaaaay mom” and I just need to freeze time a little bit and spend our days playing cars in the playroom floor and walking around aimlessly at the zoo for two hours.


I know this was a very wordy post! Thanks for hanging in there with me. I obviously have a lot of thoughts about learning and preschool! Wow, didn’t realize I could talk about it so much. I would love (love, love love!) if you would share your thoughts. It’s so interesting and helpful to hear how other moms view learning in toddlers, specifically.

What age do you plan on starting (or when did you) in preschool? 

Are you one of those parents who do lots of structured learning with your toddler? 

How do you feel kids learn best? What are the most important things? 

Published by Samantha Mellen

Certified personal trainer & health coach helping women transform their lives through fitness, abundant mindset coaching and internal peace. Mom of two boys, living life in Alaska.

15 thoughts on “When to Start Preschool & the Curriculum of Life

  1. My middle daughter was born the same day as Lucas. I have never done in structured teaching with her. She has an older sister to learn from. Even with my first daughter I never did any “learning” time. She's four now, and we don't even do it every day.
    However, we are going to homeschool, so no preschool here. IF we weren't going to homeshchool I would put my girls in preschool for one year at 4 years old.
    Toddlers definitely learn through life and play!

  2. I'm not a mother (yet), so I'll preface this by saying have no idea what I'm talking about! Even so, I love love LOVE the idea of being outside and letting kids, well, just be kids. Whether a child knows their letters/numbers/colors at 2 or not until kindergarten, I can't imagine that it makes a whole heck of a lot of difference! I went to “play school” for two years before kindergarten (when I was 3 for two hours twice a week and when I was four for two hours three times a week). When I talk to my parents about it now they describe how the emphasis was on social, not academic learning. I like to think I turned out okay… Thanks for sharing your thoughts–it has definitely got the wheels turning in my brain thinking about how I would/will approach that topic when the time comes.


  3. I have to say, I am so glad to see someone post this. I too feel guilty sometimes that I am not doing “enough” structured play with my 2 year old Emma. I compare her a lot to others her age that know more and I think “am I not doing enough!?” But we go on so many outings together and do fun activities and she is such a great kid and learns new things every day. But I just have never been super structured and sat down with either of our kids every night to learn specific things. When I first checked out this in-home daycare that I now use as a back up, the lady told me “we don't teach the kids” or something to that effect and I was like WHAT!? lol But then they explained to me like how you say, they feel kids learn best through play. Obviously the kids learn things, but she just doesnt make all these 2-3 year olds sit down and do “learning time” which makes sense. We go for walks, to parks, to the youth pavilion, museum, the zoo, library, etc. I am always on the lookout for fun things to do in the community. And if we stay at home, Emma LOVES helping me do laundry :)We also have TONS of books! We started our son Ethan in pre-k at 4. We never thought to start ours before then, though even if we did we couldnt have because they only offer 3 year old pre-k here for families with low income (i know, weird.) We plan to do the same with Emma.

  4. We struggled with this, too. The only reason Ingrid is in school now at age 3 is because we have public Montessori schools and they start at K3. otherwise we would be staying home, going to the park, museum etc, and living life. i think you learn a ton by living. We do not do structured things at all, just read and talk a lot and ingrid's known her abcs since she was 18mo and can count to 20. so…whatever works for your family and your kids!

  5. oh, I totally could have written this post. I have such mommy guilt when I read other blogs and their kids that are the same age as my Brayden (2.5) are recognizing letters, writing their names, etc. But I've had to learn to let go. brayden's just not a child who will sit still for things. So we learn on the go. Recognizing colors or shapes at the store, and the park, and so on. After researching preschools around here, I've decided to not put him in actual Pre-K until the year before he goes to Kindergarten. He's in a 1 day a week Mother's Day Out, but that's for my sanity… not for his learning 🙂 Most of the preschools that start at 3-3.5 say that it's a school acclimation process, not a learning year, and he's acclimating to a school environment at MDO without the price tag of preschool 🙂

  6. It's simple to teach “academic” things to children, even without formally “schooling”… sing the ABCs while washing hands, reinforce with an alphabet puzzle and books and they'll catch on soon enough! Count your steps as you walk, point out colors, animals, numbers, or letters as you read, play “can you find the…?” I find it hard NOT to teach my kids! Of course, it's not learning “at a desk”. As a former public school teacher and a current homeschooling mom, I have some rather opinionated ideas about schooling and learning… but I'll sum it up with this: the majority of our homeschool day is not spent at the table doing worksheets or workbooks.

  7. I'll let you in on a little secret – I'm one of those moms who is blogging about her 2 year old's letter of the week “curriculum” and making “letter crafts” that are going up on the wall . . .

    . . . and we're on X and she'll be 3 in 3 weeks, and when I hand her a coloring sheet with a letter on it, it is EXACTLY as you described!

    Seriously, the way she's *really* learned her letters has been by playing with letter magnets and bath foamy things, and talking about what they are and their sounds.

  8. We can't afford formal preschool so we're doing a preschool co-op with two other families this year. It's one morning a week with a routine but fairly relaxed atmosphere. It The children are all 4 except for our son who will be 4 next month. He will be starting school next fall and he is SOOOO ready for it!

    We do educational things each day but it's a lot of me giving him opportunities to learn and him taking what he wants from it.

    Our 2 and 1/2 year old is learning in the same way. One of our favourite letter things is the Fridge Phonic Magnetic Letter Set by Leapfrog- the both greatly enjoy this on different levels.

    I think preschool is more for the social interaction and learning how to follow guidelines and such than for learning in an academic way.

  9. Keeley is almost 3, so since all our preschools are state sponsored, she HAD to be 3 before going as of Sept 1st. At this point, she'll be almost 4 then by the time she hits preschool. She already knows just about as much as the 3 and 4 year olds in the day care that visit the library at the same time we do, do. You just have to coax it out of her instead of her yelling like they do. Shrug.

    Structured learning? No. Sitting on the toilet for months at a time waiting for her to pee? We used flashcards. At first, it was the letters she already recognized o like cheerios, then a few more. Then we added a few more. Pretty soon, she knew all of them, in order, out of order, and upper and lower case. We spent a lot of time sitting on the potty, but it was worth it. We know numbers 1-20 as well.

    Our girl learns best when we teach stuff 'off the cuff' — hey look there's (fill in the blank) it has this special quality about it.. etc. making it fun. seems to me like you could take Lucas outside and kick the ball to him and say A and then when he kicks it back say B and then C and so on. He'd love it and learn through osmosis!

  10. My 4 year old just started her first year of pre-school where she goes once a week. I came across this website,http://abcjesuslovesme.com/, and have been doing various activities each day with my 3 & 4 year olds. They love it!
    You can be as formal or informal as you want-I love that there is a focus on learning about the Bible.

  11. I totally understand where you are coming from. I have a 5 yr old and 3 yr old b/g twins. Both my boys have special needs and have been going to school since they were 3. My daughter on the other hand is fine. I take her to storytime, dance and gymnastics. We do not do any structured learning.. it's more structured play with ABC puzzles and such. My hubby and I had the preschool debate when she was 3. There is a lot of pressure where we live to put kids in preschool as soon as you can. But we feel that it is good to let her be a kid with playdates and activites and such. I do a structured learning, while her older brother is doing his homework but that only lasts about 5 mins.. so we decided that we are putting her in preschool next year. No need to rush. You need to make the decision that is best for your boys and your family! Don't let anyone tell you diffrent 🙂

  12. Pre-school should be just that…something prior to “school”. It used to be they started in 1st grade. Then, we added kindergarten. Now, everyone is on waiting lists to put their kid in a school especially for before their kids go to school. CRAZY! Don't get me wrong, I believe in educating young children, but a 2 1/2 yr old does NOT NEED TO LEARN HIS ABCs!!! By the time he is 5 yrs old, he will need to be learning how to sit still and work on a task for a few minutes. He will need to work on writing and on letter sounds. But to ask that of a 2yr old boy is expecting too much. Each child is different and although there are some boys that enjoy the sit-down type work that comes with traditional school setting stuff, that is not the norm. Boys are rumble tumble. God made them for ACTION. It is more important to follow his lead when it comes to structured learning. You can teach ABCs if you want to by singing the song while stomping around, or by throwing a bean bag at letters written on the sidewalk, or by just pointing them out throughout your day. You can cut out a bunch of letters and let him glue them to paper, or just incorporate them into whatever he wants to be doing. Trying to get him to focus on something for any length of time is a LONG process for most little boys.

    I have a 5yr old who can read most picture books and he would have nothing to do with sitting down and working on something until he was over 4yrs old. There is time. On the other hand, my 3 1/2yr old girl asks to do “homework” where she sits and writes and traces.

    What you don't want is for him to associate “learning” with boring time that keeps him from doing things he really wants to do. Just have fun! I doubt George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, or even Jesus Christ for that matter knew their ABCs or how to multiply at 2 yrs old.

    If I were you (and I know I'm not..haha!), then I would just follow his lead. If you are interested, try to incorporate things you want him to know into things he likes doing. Test the waters every now and then with “sit down” work to see if he's interested. If not, move on and try again later. What we need in this world is more well rounded, kind, Biblically minded, disciplined young men. Not smarter ones.
    -Jenny: Missionary mom to a 5.5yr old, a 3.5yr old, and a 20mo. old.

  13. I've attempted the at home learning and it generally goes much like your session did! We started formal preschool at 3 for just two days a week and now at four are going four days a week for 2 hours each. Its amazing how much she has progressed and is actually interested in learning more at home now. I let her be the teacher sometimes for me so then I see how much she has learned and she thinks its awesome.

    Pre-preschool we did lots of learning through everyday things such as naming colors/stuff at the grocery store, stop signs, etc. Nothing too formalized because the routines never worked for us (still don't!)

  14. LOVE LOVE LOVE our pre-school. It is non-denominational Christian church ministry and I LOVE the teachers and curriculum. I chose to start preschool for my daughter at the age of 2 because I am a military spouse and my husband is gone constantly. I live across the country from all my family and three mornings a week to myself while she was in a positive play and faith-based learning environment saved my sanity. My daughter was always well socialized so preschool has just continued to boost her confidence and independence and she is now three and goes four mornings a week. She learns so much, they play outside every day and even go on nature walks around the church owned pond. All the parents are very involved in the school's culture and I wouldn't have it any other way. I just am not the mom who wants to be with my kids all day, every day and I am ok with that. Having that scheduled time away from me for her to learn from other adults and be with other kids makes ME a better mom and makes us both appreciate each other so much more.

  15. So many thoughts running through my head about this post. I aslo have friends who only buy their kids books and puzzles and very little other toys. Not sure how I feel about that?!
    I always listen to kids music in the car (most of the time). Counting songs, songs with animal noises etc. Amazing what he learns from those! Lots of good books with numbers and letter learning but also fun for the kids.
    We debated preschool for about a minute! We def wanted Nate in Preschool. Nathan is an August Birthday and just turned 4. He's doing 2 days/week this school year and he'll do 3 days/week preschool next year and not start Kindergarten til he turns 6. I feel strongly about waiting. I know he could start at 5 but mentally, emotionally and physically boy develop differently and would rather him be the oldest in his class than the very youngest.
    Such a tough personal decision about preK. But the all the other formal learning will come. No need to force it…introduce it and familiarize them with it! That's me though…to each their own!

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