Does My Two-Year-Old Need Preschool?

Dear Janet,

I have a different type of question and very much value your input.

Where I live there is some social pressure to start one’s child in a daycare/preschool at the age of 2. The school we selected is considered one of the best and has been around for 30 years, so I know we will be in good hands. They have a special program, routine set up that includes independent play, group play, outdoor play and a group meal.

My dilemma: what do think is the optimal age to place one’s child in a daycare/preschool setting? Should it matter that 80-90% of his peers are already in such a setting? Will he be behind socially or emotionally if I wait 3 months, 6 months, one year?

If I do start him, I would only put him in for 1/2 day and he would take his afternoon nap at home.

I am anxious for your response.

Thanks for your time and consideration.


Dear Molly,

I laud you for giving such careful consideration to this decision. I have to admit, hearing the words “social pressure” immediately gets my back up. Making choices for our children is hard enough without dealing with the opinions of other parents! If you have doubts about any decision that affects your child, don’t be swayed by pressure from others. Ever.

If a particular school tells you that your child cannot enroll unless he begins at age 2, or urges you to start your child earlier than you wish to for any reason, run for the hills. The school is not a good philosophical fit for you. And when your children are teens (like two of mine are), you’ll hope and pray that they don’t give in to social pressure either.

Since the parent-child guidance classes I facilitate wind down when the children are 2 to 2 ½ years old, I’m often asked about preschool/daycare readiness. My personal opinion is that group socialization is helpful and positive for a child of 3 or 4, but toddlers 2 years of age or younger do not need to socialize in a group setting.

Group care adds stress to the life of a preverbal child (which is not to say a baby cannot handle it and thrive — just something to consider). If we can’t yet communicate all our needs verbally, combined with the fact that we are being cared for in a group, it will be more stressful for us than being cared for at home, even in the most ideal setting. Playing with one friend from time to time, going to the park, meeting the plumber and saying “hi” to the mailman is plenty of social interaction for a child 2 and younger. If you have the choice to keep your son home for another year, he will only benefit.

For many families, group care is a necessity. Needing (or wanting) child care and having access to an excellent facility like the one you describe are good reasons to begin daycare or preschool.

It’s curious to me that age 2 is now considered the time to begin preschool in some circles. It used to be 3 to 3 ½. Children aren’t maturing any faster now, but they are expected to be ready to begin school earlier.

Whenever you decide to start your son in school, whether now or later, be certain about your decision. Know for sure that you are choosing the right time and place, so that you project conviction.  That will make the transition much easier and smoother for you and for your boy.

I consulted an associate, Roseann Murphy, who studied with infant/toddler expert Magda Gerber and directed a child care center for infants, toddlers and preschoolers for many years. She kindly offered her professional opinion:

“My first instinct is to suggest that she wait for at least six months. There is much development that takes place between two and three. My optimal age would be three or older.  Children this age have a command of the language and are usually toilet trained (depending on the child). Separation is a little easier. (The caregiver-to-child ratio in daycare/preschool averages 4 children to 1 adult from 0-24 months….then magically at two years the ratio changes from 8 to 14 children with 1, possibly 2 caregivers.)  

If your reader is worried about not securing an opening …that is alright….there will be a place when the time is right.  If she does not need child care because of work, then I would cherish the time she has for the next number of months and go to a few Mommy and Me groups where she is present.

David Elkind (psychologist, author of “The Hurried Child”) believes a later start is better.  My dear friend Lois Robbert wrote a book in 1984 about preschool readiness and subscribes to the preschool age as three and above. She says, “Each child grows at his own natural pace and in his own time.  It means respecting the child’s developmental level and not pushing him into school before he is ready.  From a developmental view, it is understood that there is as much as a two-year difference in the development of children.  Boys, in particular, are slower to develop than girls.  A bright child may appear capable intellectually, but may have physical, social or emotional immaturity that would make it beneficial to spend more time at home” (“What is a Good Preschool Education?” Lois Robbert, UCLA 1984)

Magda’s approach would be very similar, as we know. 

Children have a long school career ahead of them…years of socialization and academia. What a gift for a child to have the relaxation of home if it is possible…to spend time with Mother, bake, shop, play, etc. Socialization comes regardless. 

For all of us in my age bracket, we can testify to how quickly time passes, how if we could get it back we might spend more time doing the relaxing/exploring thing with our children.” — Roseann Murphy

Ditto everything Roseann said, especially her last thought. And if you decide to keep your son at home and don’t know what to say to your friends… how about, “Just need a bit more time with him… before he’s off to school for the next 15 to 20 years.”

Molly, thanks so much for asking these questions. I hope this helps. Hopefully others will share their thoughts here as well…

All the best,




Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. This was a great question and response. Unfortunately I was not in a place to keep my son home at all times when he was younger than two, however, I spent much time looking for the right fit and could not be happier.

    I commend the Molly for questioning conventional practices about preschool and asking you for your thoughts. I have high regards for RIE and Janet’s educated, logical advice.

    Fortunately the preschool we chose has the same philosophy as RIE, which is in line with our family’s.

    However, I completely agree with Janet and Roseann’s comments about what we’d do if we could turn back time. Last month, my accountant said she wished she had spent less time working and more time with her kids when they were younger.

    Her comment has become my “work from home” momma mantra!

    If I can let something go so I can spend time rolling on the floor with Henry, then I do it. His smile makes it all worth it.

    So cheers for you Molly and best of luck.


    1. HELLO – people have to work – sometime 2 years old for preschool is going to have to work – sometimes it cannot be the perfect situation – yeah we would all love to stay home and pay peek a boo and ice cupcakes – but reality for most of us mothers and fathers and that we have to commute to a job and work at least 40 hours – especially here in CA – if we lived in Iowa or something maybe we could afford to stay home – we don’t want to live in Iowa. we live in the real world

      1. Wow, I know this is old, but what a mean-spirited and pretentious comment! Janet, I wonder why you don’t address it when people leave these sorts of nasty and judgemental comments on your blog.
        In fact, places outside of California and New York are “the real world” too. People have different priorities and while a priority for you may be living in an expensive area, other parents may choose to prioritize being with their kids full time. By the way, it’s not “playing peek a boo and icing cupcakes” (?) it’s the WORK of childcare (which is work, if it was not then you wouldn’t pay someone else to do it!!)

        1. Ladies I am a preschool teacher of 19 two year olds. It is completely demanding, but rewarding work. I work from 7:30am until 5:30 pm with my toddlers. My and their days are Mondays to Fridays. I can tell you that yes it is stressful for these babies to leave home and come to us for such a long day. Minus the top-of-the-line toys and the beautiful child decor that you can place in any childcare setting, the most important thing of all is the teacher who loves them. If you can find that when your child is ready to go to preschool, you have found the gold mine. I’ve done this for 30 years and sometimes I’m in bed by 6:45 pm to prepare mentally for the next day. When one of my precious babies tells me he/she loves me it makes it all worth while. Yes I can make more money doing something else, sleep better and have less pressure at school. But I owe it to God to have placed me in the very place I am needed and can make a difference. Be kind to each other when thinking about someone else’s reasoning for choosing a preschool. No not all children are ready for school at such a tender age but if you find a good one if you look hard. Choose someone who can hold them and make them a feel loved and secure then you can rest easily that you have make the right choice for your family.

      2. I feel like it’s really a personal choice and I’d more than likely make the same choice wherever I live. We live in the very centrally situated part of Oakland, CA. The rent is crazy high and we cannot afford to move. Luckily I’m not a single mom and has a partner who is earning our living but we live pay check to pay check, student loan, credit card debt and no saving or whatever. We live in a tiny studio with 2.5 years old. I chose to stay at home to cherish this early years of our daughter’s life. I could be making lots of money but that money cannot buy the time with our child. We chose to make less, being very lean on expenses but we have had quality time raising our child.

      3. Wow you sound bitter and triggered. Guilty even? This response was intended for the poster… i live in the real world and in Texas. Cali? Now, idk how you manage to stay living in that crazy state… I digress, maybe if you shared that same values and Jane Lansbury and the moms AND fathers who cherish the same family values, you could have made it work. But personal ego and pride always gets in the way. Im sure you’re there are plenty of moms in the big state of Cali staying home and soaking up all those precious moments with their babies.

      4. Wow… just wow. It’s comments like yours that discounts good-intentioned parents that wants to spend more time nurturing their children but feel guilty. Seriously really uncalled for. And I don’t ever leave comments but this really strikes a chord. Grow up.

    2. A home daycare setting is often the perfect compromise to needing childcare but retaining a small intimate experience where there is one reliable adult who comes to know your child very well.

      1. Yes! A great option if people can find one in their area. Thanks for mentioning that, Rose.

  2. I am a Waldorf preschool and parent/child class teacher and I totally agree with Janet and Rosann. At 3 years old children are developmentally ready and able to be in a social setting. I have taken children as young as 2-1/2, who seem ready for it, and whose parents need it, but I strongly recommend waiting till 3 if possible.

    Socializing is hard work! There are so many cues, rules, and subtleties to learn. You can see how exhausted the children are sometimes at the end of the day. The younger the child the more likely they are to be apprehensive, confused and overwhelmed, whereas a child who is developmentally ready will meet the challenges of socializing with relish.

    I do find that children who have been to a parent/child class prior to preschool are way ahead of the game when they begin preschool. They’ve already begun the process of socializing with their peers, but with the support and security of their very own parent. In my parent/child program, they’ve also been exposed to many of the preschool rhythms: inside play, tidy, circle games, snack, story, play outside, etc. If you are interested in getting a head start in the ‘schooling’ department this is a wonderful way to begin.


    1. Anonymous J says:

      I am just curious, my daughter started a Montessori preschool at 2.5 in September and she seems very overwhelmed each day. She went to day care before but not full time. I am at home with a new baby so i feel that i need her to be there in order to heal my body after childbirth, but what can I do to help her with the transition? Also, in the country we live she actually only goes 4 days a week (9-4:30) and has Wednesdays off. And every 6 -8 weeks she gets two weeks off with us. Are there things we could do to help her with being overwhelmed and ease her sense of instability? She has had a lot of changes in the last 6 weeks so maybe it is just waiting it out?

  3. I quit my 10 years job at school 8 months ago and I can´t stop praising my decission. My 3rd boy is 2 1/2 now and we are enjoying an incredible time together. No preschool for him! I have to addmit it was not easy in the begining, though. It took me some months to slow down and start enjoying my little boy´s rhythm. I look back and I can see myself surfing the wave of social pressures (to be a working professional, to earn my own money, to be active and “free”). Now I´m SO grateful and I know it was the best decision I could make.
    I also realized life is much easier when you have less money available because there are not so many choices to distract your attention from what really matters: my dear child needs me and I need to be with him! We role play, hide and seek, we shop, take naps, bake and paint. Can life be more beautiful?

    1. Fernanda, thanks for your response to this post. <3 I recently quit my 8+ year career to be with my son. There are times I feel "socially pressured" to make my "own" money, be socially active, or think of my next career move.
      After a few minutes of this, I go back to reality!! I have the BEST career any mom can ask for..Motherhood! Making my family my priority is so rewarding. I play/teach my almost 2 1/2. He's a smart kiddo and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to closely watch how well he is developing mentally, emotionally, and physically. <3
      Money is TIGHT in this household but God's blessing (my son) is priceless!

    2. Fernanda I love your response! I couldnt agree more

  4. My 3 year old started school at 2. It´s a nice school that I would say goes along with some phylosophies of RIE, Waldorf and Montessori, quite like a mix of “modern” education.

    My biggest reason to put her so early was that I´m a single mother and we live alone. I needed to share the time caring for her with someone (in my case this school). I needed some time on my own and I wanted her to be around other kids since she is my only child.

    I wouldn´t just put her in any day care for the sake of being on my own, I really trust those caregivers I got to know more with time.

    It´s a nice enviroment I see her in. She is there from 8-12 and after that she is all mine 🙂 I loved Fernanda´s comment: “my dear child needs me and I need to be with him! We role play, hide and seek, we shop, take naps, bake and paint. Can life be more beautiful?” I guess this pretty much translates the joy of being with our little ones the more we can.

    1. Sounds like you’ve found a great facility, good balance and a joyful appreciation for all you have.:-)

      1. Olivia Beckett says:

        Hi Janet this has given me some food for thought as we have been contemplating putting my almost two year old son into Kindy ( New Zealand term) for a couple mornings a week. We have an almost three month old at home and my son is a very verbal, bright little button who lacks the stimulation I think he needs at home, I’m finding it difficult to get anything done at home and have no interest/ energy in planning a myriad of activities in and outside our home for him to do at the moment. What’s your thoughts on care for a two year old for a couple mornings a week? Would that be really detrimental to his development?? I don’t want to do the wrong thing for him just because I need my own time( not that I really will with a three month old baby anyway)

        1. Olivia,
          I’m not Janet, but I will say that I’ve been there before. I put my son in preschool a few months before 3 yr old because I was in the same situation with a new baby and didn’t feel like I was providing an educational environment that met my 3 yr old’s needs. Looking back, I see now that really I just needed a break and some help. Putting my “big kid” in preschool a little early gave me the space I needed to be a better mom to both my kids. He went for 3 hours two times a week. I used the time to workout, attend a mom group, and do a music class with my baby. I wish I could be “on” for both my kids literally 24/7, but we all need an occasional break for basic self-care and to gain some perspective. Hope this helps!

  5. Thank you for this info. I have a 2 year old and feel the social pressure of not sending him to school. He gets to socialize with his brother at home and we meet up with cousins or friends one day every week to play so I feel like he has plenty of socialization. It just seems like there is such a push to do everything earlier. They are trying to start public school earlier here (at age 4 instead of 5). I don’t know why people just assume earlier will be better for formal schooling. I appreciate the professional advice your post offers!

    1. I agree, everything is getting pushed earlier even though earlier is seldom better…especially for babies. Magda Gerber used to say, “Why, when people are living longer, do we push children to develop faster and earlier?” Thanks for commenting!

  6. I’m curious to know if Molly (who asked the question) thinks her child is ready for preschool/group care.

    Personally, if I felt like my daughter was ready for and/or was interested in doing something, I’d give it a shot. If Molly’s child is super-social or asking to go to preschool, seems like it might be a worthwhile activity, despite what other people are doing or saying.

    Thanks for the great post, Janet!

  7. Just wanted to add my thoughts. Molly, I think you should do whatever you think is best. I agree with Janet, that it is not a good thing to bow to society’s pressure. It sounds like you want to have your son home with you for at least a while longer, so that is what you should do, so long as you have that option.

    My perspective is that kids can thrive either way. Some people have a choice if/when to start their kids in daycare and they should make whatever choice feels right to them. Some people don’t have a choice, and have the choice made for them by financial or life circumstances. So if you can make the choice, take that opportunity to make the one that feels right to you.

    I generally agree with the sentiment that we shouldn’t push kids toward things at earlier and earlier ages. That being said, there was a time when most kids grew up in big families, so I don’t think being in a social setting at an early age is a determent, any more then it is advantage. Sure, kids shouldn’t need to be in ‘school’ any earlier, pushed to read, or walk or anything else before their ready. But I also think kids are much more capable then we give them credit for. If they are in a care situation we feel good about, then they will be just fine. Societal pressures blow both ways on this one, and I think the right answer is individual.

    1. Kathleen, thanks for sharing this….I couldn’t agree more.

  8. Jacklyn Hishberg says:

    The rush to push children at a young age into a “learning school comes from two problems:
    First parents who have to work and can not have money to take care or their family should not be judged as harsly as the women who are allowed to stay at home with the children. If you can stay at home with your children =-ENJOY IT as they wll be away before you realize. STOP JUDGING EACH OTHER AND ENJOY YOUR CHLDREN-STAY AT HOME WITH THEM OR BE SURE YOU CAN GIVE THEM FREE TIME WITH YOU AFTER WORK. NOT EVERYONE FITS INTO A ROUND HOLE-SOME GO INTO A SQUARE ONE BUT BY 3RD GRADE THEY WIL ALL BE DOING FINE.

    1. Seattle Mom says:

      Totally agree! Thank you, Jacklyn.

      I understand people’s enthusiasm for being able to spend more time with their little ones but some of the posts have been a bit insensitive to those who don’t have a choice. I have had the great luxury of being able to work at home for the past two years and we are now putting our 24 mo in daycare for a half day or more 4 days a week. I’m still very conflicted about it and am worried about her attachment to me becoming insecure and our bond suffering. I wish neither my partner nor I had to work and we could spend the first three or more years with her all day, every day.

      I love her so much and hate having to hand her over to strangers. Not looking forward to it in a few weeks to say the least.

      Everyone else reading this and posting here, please keep in mind that you are not the only mothers and parents who love their children and want to spend as much of their precious childhood with them as possible.

      1. Agree. Just started my 16 month old and it was heart wrenching. Coming across this article makes me feel terribly guilty about it.

        How is your little one adjusting?

  9. I know this is an RIE group and I’m a Montessori teacher so a little out of my zone, but I work in the toddler room at a Montessori school so I have quite a lot of experience with two-year-olds attending school. Here’s my take: If the parent respects the child (and obviously you all do or you wouldn’t be reading on this particular site)and is able to show him/her how to do things independently, then home is better for the child under three if that’s possible for the family.
    However – some schools are great places for a two year old to be and really help the child develop himself personally. There is a huge difference in school philosophies – a school where the children are expected to be in control of themselves at all times, sit still for more than a minute or two, and do worksheets (or even coloring sheets) is not appropriate for a two year old. It’s not really appropriate for anyone under 6. Other schools, such as Montessori ones, understand the toddler’s need to move and do things and learn how to be independent and develop his will. That’s a great place for a toddler to be. In fact, depending on the parenting style and busy-ness of the family, it may be more in tune with what the child needs developmentally than his parents could offer at home. So it really depends on the circumstances and the school options.

    1. Megan, you aren’t out of your zone at all! The Montessori philosophy is similar to Madga Gerber’s approach in many ways and I appreciate you sharing your perspective. I definitely agree with: “a school where the children are expected to be in control of themselves at all times, sit still for more than a minute or two, and do worksheets (or even coloring sheets) is not appropriate…”

    2. Megan, thank you so much for your comment! We’ve been thinking about enrolling our son (who will be just over 2 by then) in a Montessori school for September. For some reason I was under the impression that Montessori aims to encourage children to be control of themselves and sit still for long periods of time, etc. even at that young of an age. I think maybe I misunderstood something that was said on our tour of the school. This ‘school’ is better than every childcare center we have looked at so far though and seems very in line with many of our values and parenting practices. So this really helps make me feel better if we need to send him there full-time, as I was slightly worried about that part.

      1. Amy Appel says:

        Megan, I am a Montessori teacher as well and I love the philosophy, but I will caution you that there is a HUGE variance between Montessori schools b/c there is no copyright on the name. I would encourage you to visit a few Montessori programs (if possible) to get a feel for the myriad of ways that Montessori can be applied. A good Montessori (or any preschool program, for that matter) should feel warm and nurturing and have a natural and organic flow to it. In Montessori, concentration and focus are fostered in a natural way by allowing children long periods of uninterrupted time to move freely about the classroom and to choose their own activities from a wide array of attractive options; this allows children to follow thier own interests and to become deeply engrossed in “work” of thier own choosing. There are limits and boundaries, of course, but the general rule of thumb is that you may do anything that does not infringe upon the rights of others. If the environment feels rigid or you see children that are being forced to sit still, do worksheets, read at a very early age, etc., then it is not a good Montessori!

        1. I agree with you, Amy. My daughter attended a Montessori school when she was two and absolutely flourished! Now, 25 years later and in a rather remote part of the country, we’ve looked into Montessori for he two-year-old. Believe me, we’ve found NO true Montessori school within 100 miles of us. But many use the name. It’s quite a disappointment.

    3. Hi Megan. Your comment really resonated with me.

      Just started my 16 month old in a Montessori daycare last week. Drop offs are hard and I know that gets easier with time but I’m having serious Mom guilt about it all. I’ve been reading about how at her young age it’s stressful to be in a group setting versus having one-on-one care.

      Multiple sources say group care is better when they are 3-4 years old. And that contrary to popular opinion, they don’t need to socialize until later.

      I feel sick to my stomach thinking about this. The alternative would be staying home with her and quitting my job but that would be hard on my mental health. I just started a new gym. #selfcare

      Nannies are very expensive where we are.

      How do I know if she isn’t happy there? I’m so conflicted. She just started 3 days ago.

      They say she stops crying after I leave but is she under a lot of stress throughout the day? When she sees me again she grips me tightly and cries. Breaks my heart.

  10. I do disagree with certain aspects of this article and accompanying opinions. I think every parent needs to look at each child’s needs individually.

    Having the opportunity to socialize and learn empathy can be a wonderful thing for older toddlers. Preschool settings providing large blocks of time to explore, create, and engage in dramatic play is something I’d be looking for in an early childhood setting for the 3 and under group.

    1. You can do that at home with your child. Everything they do in a daycare you can teach at home. How do you think this worked before daycare was an option? Honestly it sounds like modern day living has made a lot of us too lazy and uninterested in actually raising our children. It is much easier to just throw it on someone else and claim it’s for “socialization”.

  11. My 20 month old started at a small daycare 4 weeks ago. She attends for 3 hours 4 days per week. Although she no longer cries when I leave she is still sad when I leave and again when I arrive to collect her. She asks to stay at Mummy’s house when I tell her we’re going to ‘school’ and asks me to come with when we get there. She doesn’t eat much of her lunch at daycare but eats everything out of her lunchbox when we get home. The teacher tells me my child asks to lie down and asks for her comfort blanket periodically during the morning between playing, and will ask to be left alone to rest and suck her thumb while watching the goings on from a quiet corner. She doesn’t ask for her blanket or suck her thumb at home during the day. She also does not ask for a morning nap at home. When I’ve watched her at daycare without her knowing I’m there she seems to enjoy playing quietly with the new toys and sandpit etc.

    My question is to ask whether my child’s reaction to daycare indicates a certain temperament or whether most children start this way? And whether the age a child could start morning daycare can be better decided based on their temperament?

  12. My husband and I enrolled our 19month old in a very relaxed ‘preschool’ type program, and she’s thriving in it, in our opinion. But, it is 2 days a week, and I would not have her go more often or for longer. I asked about her behavior in the beginning and her teachers said she’s always happy and interested in everything, and she certainly seems to be having a ton of fun. Most of the day is play time and she eats lunch and naps, but she is learning so much. She’s a very curious child, and energetic and this seems to be a perfect outlet for her.
    Now, with that being said, is it for every child? Probably not, and we’ll address it when our other daughter reaches that age. I certainly won’t put her in the same program just because her older sister was in.

  13. I totally agree, having a degree in Early Childhood Education and working in a variety of settings for the last 15 years, 3 year olds are completely different than 2 year olds. Toddlers (12mos-36 mos) do not “socialize” and the only thing that I can say from experience is that my daycare only accepts 4 children at a time and in that small, small setting (which is more like a family), even the youngest kids interact with the older ones but it is still very limited. When people call me for care because they want their young children to “socialize” I don’t accept them here.

  14. This question comes at an interesting time for us.
    I’ve been home with my son up until recently – he is almost 19 months – and is now with my husband or grandparents or myself during the day (depending on our schedules). We will need to put him somewhere beginning in September though, when he’ll be just over 2 years old. It’s been a huge struggle for me. I wish I could stay home with him, but financially it’s just not an option right now. My job is flexible and I work from home but it’s still full-time hours. We’re debating putting him in a Waldorf nursery for half-days, bringing him home in time for his nap, and then he’s with me once he wakes up. I love the idea of him being home for his nap. Or the alternative is to put him in a toddler program at our local Montessori which is also very lovely and caring and warm and a very creative and nature-based center. He would be in there full-days though, napping there as well. I hate the idea of him being gone all day, but I’m wondering if it will be better to put him in a full-day program which will allow me to get all my work and other things done so that when I pick him up, I am 100% there, completely hands on, and not having to work all night or make up hours on the weekends, etc. which will inevitably take away from my precious time with him. I don’t know if I feel hesitant about full-days because I’m not ready to let him go or because I’m rightfully worried he is too young to be gone all day. Do you think full-time programs for a 2 year old are too intensive?
    I find this post really interesting as well in stating that children don’t really need the socialization until 3 or 4. I feel that even having been home with him until now full-time, I felt a certain pressure to get him more regular daily socialization, from parents, friends, even myself. So thank you for this reminder that being home with family right now is still a good thing for him (obviously we get out for playdates and other events at the library and such, and park outings, etc).

    1. I realize this post is years old, but figured it was worth commenting anyway for the benefit of others in this situation. Just wanted to say that I have been dealing with the same problem as you – wanting to put my 2 year old in the highest-quality care for as few hours as possible.

      I’ve had him at a center I like since he was about 19 months old. We started three mornings a week and when my work responsibilities increased, moved him up to five mornings a week (15 hours). He doesn’t seem particularly distressed by the experience and, despite what others say about how two year olds don’t really socialize, I know he has two friends in his group that he plays with (directly, not parallel) every day.


      I think it’s really important that you’re thinking realistically about how many hours you *need* vs how many hours you “should” have him in care. This website and many others – especially forums where opinions are coming from anonymous SAHMs who may not be speaking from the most objective, educated perspective – give one the impression that putting your kids in childcare before age three is tantamount to neglect.

      I disagree, and in my experience, trying to be a supermom actually made me a worse caregiver (and person) in the end. Because I wanted to have my son at daycare as little as possible (largely owing to advice I read on this website!), I didn’t sign him up for enough hours to cover my workload (never mind allowing myself a buffer to get chores done or – the horror – any *free* time!) So what ended up happening is I worked while he was home with me. I’m really not proud of it, but that often required using the tv as a babysitter because at this age that’s the only way to hold his attention for more than 10 minutes. Instead of having him in a child-friendly facility with a variety of age-appropriate activities lined up for him and several adults on hand to pay attention to him, I convinced myself that simply being home with me was somehow better for him.

      And still the chores piled up, work was never truly done, I felt constantly guilty for not spending more quality focused time with him, and I was paying zero attention to my own well-being (a tendency I’m sure many mothers can identify with).

      And then guess what happened? The candle I was burning at both ends to try to be a great mom, a great employee, and a great wife burned out. Though I honestly do my best and love my child fiercely, I hit the maternal wall and crumpled. Someone once said of modern women, “You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at once.” It’s true – something has to give. You cannot simultaneously give your all to your child, your partner, your employer, and yourself.

      In my case, because I refused to “give in” and let someone else care for my child for a few more hours a week, everything suffered. Some mothers are not pulled in quite so many directions, and some of them love spending their days coming up with enriching activities for their two year olds. Good for them! They should not put their kids in childcare if they don’t 100% want to.

      But for those of us who want to fit a job and some personal time into our lives, I really feel like it’s a mistake to be unrealistic about the sacrifice that requires. You can’t do everything. And you know what? If you’re reading this right now you’re probably already a very caring and involved parent. Your kid is going to turn out great almost no matter what – whether they stay home with you through high school or go to day care in infancy.

      After hitting that wall and admitting that a few extra hours in day care isn’t going to ruin my little love, I’m confident that one of the best things you can do for your children is to find a way to be happy yourself. Because when mom is happy, everyone’s happy, right?

      1. Thank you so much for this reality check. I’ve been staying at home with my 22 months old but it’s hard so I’ve been contemplating a few hours a week in a preschool. Your post really resonated with me.

      2. Wonderful explaining.. this is so true made my decision easy

      3. Thank you!!! Yes. Totally agree and I was there where you were. Working makes me happier and a better person – and much better mother. My 2.5 year old has rich relationships with those at her school and she directly plays with those kids and has since she was 2 (and not parallel play either). She’s happy and thriving. So am I. So is my husband. Sharing care beyond the nuclear family can be a godsend, whether at 2 years old or much earlier.

      4. I appreciate your comment very much. Reading this article I have tremendous guilt about just starting my 16 month old in daycare. I keep thinking she’s too young and maybe I should quit my job and gym and just stay home with her.

        I know how detrimental that would be to my mental health. I also feel sick about the idea of dropping her off with strangers who can’t give her 1:1 attention.

        It’s a tough place to be.

  15. Thank you for this post! I am struggling (in my mind) with a similar question. We are a dual-income family, so my 2.5yo has been in day care since he was 7 months old. It has been a WONDERFUL experience…both of the day cares he has attended have been in-home, small (5-6 kids), and run by amazing women (we had to switch a year ago due to a move). I honestly feel like he has learned more at day care, socially and cognitively, than he ever could have at home with me. It was truly a decision that was best for our entire family.

    Now, my question: is an in-home day care, with some sit-down instruction (crafts, letter/number activities) and loads of open play time “enough” to prepare him for kindergarten? I’m not thinking of moving him to a formal preschool until he’s at least 3.5 or 4, but I sometimes wonder if it is worth it. Do kids really need that more-structured approach to prepare for kindergarten these days? (BTW, our local schools have all-day kindergarten.)

    I guess it depends on each individual child as well, and their temperament. I was cared for by a neighbor in her home while my parents worked, and she had me reading the newspaper and doing math problems when I was four. I never had structured schooling until kindergarten and did fine…but I was reserved, shy, bookish, and not incredibly active. My son, however, is VERY active and outgoing, and I wonder if he’s going to need a transition period from the less-structured day care to the more-structured kindergarten world.


    1. Hi Lisa! My thought is that you’ve found an ideal situation and that this is definitely more than “enough” to prepare your boy for a more-structured Kindergarten. At home, follow your boy’s interests, whatever they may be (with the exception of screen time) and he will learn all he needs to know.

  16. The one thing that always seems to be missing from these discussions – the elephant in the room – is that keeping one’s children home for several years requires one parent to stay home instead of working. And in our current society that is most often the woman (when we are talking about opposite-gender relationships). Leaving aside that this is simply not feasible for many, I would even say most, families, what implications arise from asking women not to work so that their children can stay at home instead of go to preschool? As a mother and a feminist, I find this very troubling.

    1. Amber, all parents have to make lots of hard decisions…it comes with the job. We weigh our options and do our best. No one here is “asking” parents to do anything, we’re just giving our best advice — from what we have observed and experienced. If you have the choice to stay home, but a child care center or school director tells you that the best place for your two year old to spend his day is at their center, you can be certain they do not have your child’s best interest at heart. But children can adapt well to all kinds of situations. Personally, if I needed group childcare for my under-three, I would want to gather all the information I could, so I could be well-prepared.

      1. Alexandra says:

        I haven’t seen anything about employing a nanny vs daycare for 2-3 year old. Janet, do you have an opinion on that? Is having a nanny in your home for 1-1 care as good as a parent, or at least preferably to a daycare (Montessori or otherwise)?

    2. You’d think after all these years, we’ve moved past the expectations of the 1950s housewife, and even then some had nannies and housekeepers to help with the home workload. The modern-day mother has completely evolved. As a feminist, I’m offended that you would even suggest staying at home is anything but. These women are working, sometimes on a very modest budget. That’s a choice. As a mother and feminist, I’m surprised you’re even taking sides here. Shouldn’t we have each other’s backs regardless?

      Just had to give my two cents.

      1. Toria King says:

        I’m a stay at home mum, and I feel like the odd one out in my circle of friends, the majority of them work. We all respect each other’s choices and support each other when needed. That is feminism. We all work, but in different ways. Some of us get paid financially, some of us don’t and have to live off less as an outcome. We all care for our children and do what we feel is right. We are equal.

    3. Personally I think everyone’s situation is different and I agree you do what’s best for your family. I would have to disagree with keeping my kids home. Everyone says that they would do better but in my case I tried with my second child and it caused me to have severe post partneum depression. I needed to work. I personally can care for my child better when I have my time away from them and that’s ok. Not everyone is a stay at home mom.

  17. I have been debating this exact question for the past few months. My daughter will be 2 in August and she will have a brand new baby brother at home in July. At first I scrambled to find a school for her for next year. I even sent in a deposit to a school near our home. And of course, I started to reconsider my decision the minute I mailed the check because I decided that she will be too young for such a big class setting. By some stroke of luck, the check got lost in the mail! I feel relieved and I take it as a sign that she doesn’t need to be in a school setting for another year. She can just hang out and chill for another year.

  18. I hold the ideal of protecting childhood and am concerned with the growing practice of earlier school and academics for young children. But, I also feel that each family needs to assess their own needs and options when making a decision about preschool placement. For some families, a quality Nursery program can offer essential support to both the child and parents, even for those where a parent does not work outside the home. It can offer time for the parent to have self-care, connect with their spouse or friends, run errands alone (instead of having the child sit confined in a car for long periods) or have time with younger siblings. For the child, it can offer a gentle expansion of their world with another trusted caregiver, a consistent rhythm and beautiful environment to explore, and the beginnings of connection with other children their own age. For the family, it can offer support, understanding and education of child development from both the teachers, school community and other parents. I find that it is always an incredible gift to have someone else really know and understand my child.

    I made the decision this year to lead an early Nursery class for 1 – 3 years at Whidbey Island Waldorf School. This was done with the needs of the whole family in mind. It is a part-time program from 8:30am – 12:30pm three days each week. There is a 1, 2 and 3 day option. There are 10 children with 2 adults. For our small, rural community this is enough time for some parents to have part-time work, while others use this time for other needs. I have also found that our very simple rhythm that focuses on caregiving and play is a healthy environment for the child. The children are mostly 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 years old and are definitely already exploring social play. It is a great honor to be with them and to support their families. It is also such a pleasure to see the families connect through this shared experience.

  19. Dear Mothers hold your children close to you for as long as you will. You and only you have a particular ingredient that is essential for your baby’s well being and development. It is unique to your relationship. If you are not there that resource is not there for the little one to draw on. They are forced to withdraw into themselves and search for something that is not yet developed. Go to play groups and other gatherings but stay with your child. When they are ready to leave you they will let you know and they will joyously embrace that new stage of their life. Be patient. It is well worth it in the long term. Value yourself.

    1. Rachana,
      Your words hit home for me. I researched schools (would have loved a co-op or Waldorf school, but none are near our city), and found an excellent one for my almost 3 year old. She is a brilliant and active little girl and I felt like she needed a little bit more structure and activity than I was providing her while also caring for her baby sister. My older daughter is very aggressive with the baby and it is physically exhausting and emotionally draining to try to get any tasks or chores accomplished in the house because I am almost always trying to keep them safe (and the baby is never truly safe near her older sister). My daughter enjoys preschool 2 mornings a week, but she tells me that she wants me to stay there with her. She cries a lot while I am not there. I wish I could stay there with her, and I did for part of one morning so that she would know that I felt comfortable with her teachers and the cute, little school, but her teacher acts all flustered and basically asked me to leave because my daughter would not learn to follow her directions or rely on her if I remained there. This sirened my “mama alarm,” but the teacher was very friendly to me the next day when my drop-off was quicker. I don’t think my daughter likes her teacher. She has a strong accent and mispronounces my daughter’s name, which my daughter quickly pointed out and said that she does not want to be called “Carrots” (her name is Carys). The teacher is very nice, but she is not used to children of this age being so verbal or sensitive, so she isn’t very open to really listening to Carys when she talks. That bothers me and I am positive that it bothers my daughter and is a block to her developing trust in this teacher. I don’t know what to do. Maybe I should take her home? I don’t want to change with the wind and create chaos for my daughter. I really wish we could move back to my old hometown and enroll in Waldorf!!

  20. My observation for the parents who bring children to my program at 2 (we are Montessori and serve 2-5 year olds) is that the children are suddenly very busy and need/want more stimulation than the parent feels that he/she can/enjoys providing.

    Many of these parents say that they would have never thought they would have considered preschool for a two, but find themselves and their child needing something. If the child is not engaged, he/she might “get into trouble” or ask for undue attention or engage in power struggles.

    In addition, parents with a new child feel like a child might benefit from “their own place”. In any case, the children who come at two, who attend 4 or five days, adjust beautifully, seem deeply content and work and play hard.

    I would say that you know if you and your child need something else or not; nobody else does.

    1. Hi. I’m really struggling and on the fence about continuing to take my daughter to the Montessori daycare she just started last week. She’s 16 months and this article has made me question if she is too young and if I’m harming her psychologically. I am contemplating keeping her home but I work and have no family around so it would definitely be hard on me mentally. Wondering if I can talk to you about this one on one? Thanks

  21. My daughter is 20 month and will be 2 in November. A lot of my friends that also stay home are starting their children in a childrens day out program that is 1-3 days per week. I am trying to decide if something like this is right for my daughter. We do a lot of different activities with other kids so she gets interaction with others her age. She talks a lot and is very verbal (she asks for things, tells you what she’s doing, and uses sentences with up to 5-7 words). My husband thinks it would be good for her to be in a setting where I am not there. Up until now she has only had her grandma babysit her. How do you know if your child is ready? What are some questions to ask potential schools? I want to make sure they follow more of a RIE philosophy but I’m not sure what to ask. Thanks!!!

  22. So thankful to have come across this. I have been almost depressed seeing all of my fellow mom friends posting first days of school pictures for their kids who are my sons age (just turned 2) and even younger. Suddenly I have been second guessing the way I mother him, am I enough for him at home? Does he deserve better than being stuck at home all day with me versus with other children in a school setting? I needed to read this. I never even thought about preschool before the age of 3 was neccesary but all of a sudden our play groups are obsolete partly due to the kids being in school, this then started a depression and anxiety within myself about what I am missing. Thank you for posting this, truly.

  23. My son is 19 months now. I am thinking of enrolling him in a day care because I want to go find a fulfilling job and earn more for the family. But I agree that its best that my husband and I take care of him at home at this age. This means, I have to put my son’s needs before my own – which is basically what we willingly do as parents.

  24. I’m trained as a psychologist and so I am aware of the theory that age three is a good age to start preschool/kindergarten, however what is one to do when your third child, aged almost two and a half is very keen to stay with her older sister at kindergarten. She even said to me ‘Bye Mum’ today and had a meltdown when we had to leave. They are happy for her to start two mornings a week, and I think she will thrive (and I would benefit from a little break). However it is hard when there is alot of social pressure from one’s friends to delay kindergarten entry, as this is the ‘right thing to do’. Any pearls of wisdom?

    1. Sarah – as others have noted, these choices are individual. There will never be a more important time to ignore “social pressure” than when raising your child. Two of my children are late fall birthdays. One entered Kindergarten at 5 3/4 and the other at 4 3/4. My third child has a January birthday and ending up skipping 1st Grade, so is the youngest in her grade by far. These have turned out to be the right decisions.

      My only thought for you before you commit is to be aware that your two year old may change her mind… 😉

  25. My elder son just turned 2,he stayed home with me all day but now when we put him in daycare(because the younger one 2 months old and my old mother in law,whom I have to care of).
    He does fine,listens to what the teacher says but doesnt play with other kids at the day care and as soon as he gets home he cries over every small thing and just won’t let me leave his side.
    I don’t know what to do,should we take him out of the daycare.
    Also all of our friends this he’ll turn out stupid he doesn’t start any preschool or daycare.

  26. I’m so glad I ran into this post. My son is a little over two and has two grandmother’s that care for him during the day, however I have felt sociality pressured in the past few months to get him enrolled in a school. We decided to postpone enrollment until he’s two and a half because of financial reasons, but to me that has been secretly a relief because deep down in my gut I don’t feel he’s ready and would really benefit from a school environment so much. His grandmothers take him to the playground daily and he also goes twice a week to mommy and me classes at the library, however compared to the other kids his age that are in school, he doesn’t know how to count, doesn’t know colors and has no interest in letters. This sometimes makes me doubt myself on whether I am doing him a disadvantage by not enrolling him, which is why I am very glad to have read this post because now I feel better about my gut feeling. Thank you!

  27. This may not be the exact place to post. However, in brief, my question is what kind of contact should a private nanny continue once the parents decide to put a child in preschool, 5 mornings a week, at 2 yrs. 2 months?

    I have been a private nanny for a little boy since he was 4 weeks old. He was adopted and the adoptive parents did not know they were getting him, hence the need for nanny care so early.

    I was made aware that he would no longer be in my care a year before he would be going to preschool.

    As he is an only child, to help prepare for the transition to preschool we changed our routine when he was 15 months old. He began coming to my house rather than me going to his house. Also, 3 mornings a week I had a 2 year old child with us at my house. After 5 months (when he was 20 months old), I added another 2.6 year old to our little playgroup 3 mornings per week.

    Then came summer and I had the little boy just 2 or 3 mornings per week along with several other children ranging in age from 3-8 (as many as 4 other children.)

    Now it is fall, he is 2 yrs. 2 months, and today started in a preschool classroom with 6-8 other 2 yr old people and 1 adult.

    I believe that up to this point I have done what I reasonably could to prepare him for the preschool setting.

    What I don’t know is what kind of transition I should now be doing. Should I go see him after school once or twice each week? Or maybe just babysit when the parents occasionally ask on the weekend? The mother has said she would like me to babysit one saturday evening per month. My own feeling is that I would like to see him everyday. But my question isn’t about my feelings. It is about what is good for him.

    Thank you in advance for any thoughts.

  28. Marcia Walker says:

    My twins started at a Waldorf toddler group this year at 2.5 y. I drive 40 minutes there and back, and work shorter hours to ensure they can go to this specific toddler group, because everything near where I live was pushing academic achievement. They have flourished, mostly my boy. He suddenly sees himself as separate from his sister, and it’s given them both more space to be themselves. At home if one of them played with something, the other would immediately come over to break up the game. At school they play separately, and there seems to be quite a lot of (albeit brief) interaction with other children, especially with my boy. They enjoy it so much that they both cry on the days that they don’t go to school, and even ask to go on weekends. I think I’m very lucky, it’s the most incredible, peaceful space and the teacher and assistant are both amazing. I think if I wasn’t working… I might have considered keeping them at home though.

  29. Since I have not seen it here I will add my reply to Janet’s thoughts:

    Even if I wanted to, it would not be possible for me to quit my career and stay home with my daughter.

    But I do not want to. I like what I do! I enjoy my career, I have ambitions and plans for my future, and I enjoy having an adult community at my job to socialize with.

    I would be miserable staying home with my daughter, not because I don’t love her but because from all the stay at home moms I know it seems staying home and be very isolating.

    I love my daughter more than I could ever say, and as an early childhood educator with three teaching certifications and a Master’s degree I know exactly what she needs. Could I create this environment in my home and keep her here alone with me all day every day? Certainly. But I don’t want to. I feel she gets far more out of her Montessori program than she would at home every day, even if I was organizing it like a Montessori classroom for her. And I get far more out of going to work every day than I would staying home with her.

    What is best for our family as a whole might be two incomes, but I really feel it is important for my daughter to see me whole, fulfilled, satisfied. I can accept that some people don’t need a job to feel that way. I have a mission and a purpose in my work, much as Janet and Magda do/did, and I would not be modeling my genuine self to my daughter if I did not continue to do the things I love to do!

  30. Janet, I see you recommend no preschool for 2 yr olds but what would you suggest for a 3 year old that has the option of staying home with mom? I understand you think it’s ok for a 3 yr old but is it beneficial or necessary? I am now a SAHM of a 3 yr old and a 1 yr old. My children do not have any cousins yet and only have interactions with other children in small doses maybe every few months. We have a huge backyard and no nearby nice parks so we don’t get interaction that way either. Should I look into preschool for my older one before kindergarten? Or should I put this off as long as possible until she has to start school? She gets some socialization with her brother but I wasn’t sure if that really counted. (Side note-She was in daycare 2 days/wk from age 6 mo-2yr until her brother was born). Thanks!

    1. Hi Randi! You might want to consider one year of preschool (ideally, a play based program) before Kindergarten so that your daughter has a bit of experience socializing in a group setting.

      1. Would play groups and sunday school a few times a week count as enough group social time for this children older than 3?

  31. Thanks for helping me understand that three years old is the best time to send a child in preschool because, like you said, it will be much easier to separate with them. I will keep that in mind when I give birth to our first child. I know I am thinking in advance too much, but I just want to be ready for my child. We have been trying for years in conceiving a child, so I am really excited right now that we finally have an addition to our family. Thanks!

  32. Thanks for pointing out that it is a must to be able to assess whether the child is really ready or not because it will help the child to have a smooth transition in the future. With that in mind, I will observe my child a lot to ensure we are not rushing him to school since he is still 2 years old. My husband and I noticed that he can already identify some letters, but we are still unsure if his behavior is good for schooling already.

  33. Thanks for helping me understand it is important to choose the right time and place when sending your child to school so that the transition will be easier. I will keep that in mind so that my child will not suffer the consequences of my decision. Actually, my child is just turning one this month, but I just got curious about this because I am excited to see him learn soon.

  34. Wow this is so refreshing to hear. I am currently living in a remote Aboriginal community Australia where there are no preschool options available for my son (he is 2 years 7 months). I have moved from a big city where the pressure is definitely to have your child start in an preschool or early learning environment as early as possible. I have been feeling concerned that perhaps he isn’t getting the social interactions he needs as he is spending most his time at home with me and very limited time with other children his own age that speak the same language. However, we do have some opportunities to play with other children (often older than he is)… going on walks in the bush, making mud pies, watching them play basketball or simply sitting and drawing in the sand. Maybe this is all he needs right now? And of course lots of love and care and time to just be himself at home.

  35. Megan Sanders says:

    Yes, yes, yes to everything here!! I couldn’t agree more! I started my daughter in preschool just this year at 3.5 and up until the first week in, kept wondering if I was doing the right thing and had started her too early even then! She was beyond ready and is doing great but it is such a hard thing to figure out. They have the rest of their lives to drift further and further away…age 2 is far too young! Thank you for this great read!

  36. I totally agree with you when you said that for many families, child care is needed. My brother is a single father and he takes his son to my mom’s house, but my mom is prompt to get surgery. I will suggest to him to look for a preschool program where he can take him.

  37. Love this piece and couldn’t agree more. Any suggestions to ease the stress of a child who is going to daycare full-time at a young age? Unfortunately we don’t have many options.

  38. It’s silly for two year olds to be going to school. If you have no other option then ok but if someone is worried about what society wants of you that is ridiculous. Two year olds are still babies and i do not get the rush that they must start school asap

  39. Thanks for reminding me that I don’t have to be swayed by the opinions of other people when it comes to my own child. My friends are telling me that she’s too young for pre-school but I can already see her need to explore other places outside our home. Maybe we should just carefully screen the school and see if it’s the right choice for our kid.

  40. It is interesting that some places say that preschool should start at the age of 2. I want my son to learn but when he is capable of it. So I’ll see what I can do about finding a preschool that starts at 3 or 3 and half.

  41. Rebecca Murray says:

    Oh my goodness Janet I so agree with this!!!
    Every parents situation is unique and it is not always possible to keep children home. There should be no judgement or guilt for that. But there are many different options. I run a homebased childcare service in Aoteroa New Zealand. I have up to 4 children but I really believe for the children it is more like having 3 siblings, the relationships they build are so strong and often life long. Parents often face social pressure to move their children from me to a preschool when they are two to”socialise”. But over time I have managed to get parents to see the enormous benefits of keeping them with me for longer. I now often keep the children with me until they are 5. They will do two or three days with me and a couple at preschool.
    I strongly believe the children have more authentic opportunities to socilise with me in a smaller group that looks more like a large family than an institution.
    Above everything else parents need to make decisions that are right for them not what society thinks is right. But if you do need to return to work do look at what is available in regards to homebased care. I am a trained pre school teacher and feel incredibly passionate about it.
    Thank you Janet for your amazing work. I love that you always put forward a balanced view.

  42. This article popped up just as I was mulling over the exact same question Molly was asking…either algorithms now know how to read minds, or it was just coincidental! Thanks for the confidence boost and some useful links to research child development and what they really need at different ages. My LO has only just turned 1, and we are blessed to be able to have him at home with extended family caring for him while I work part-time, but part of me was thinking, ‘Every other baby I know is going to nursery at a similar age, maybe he’s missing out, maybe I should send him ‘just because’…’ I know that sounds silly but as parents, all we really want is the best for our children, right? I understand that for most working parents, keeping your baby at home longer is not an option. But when it is an option, I think it’s a blessing, and I’m going to cherish that for as long as I can, and as long as it suits my son.

  43. Hi,
    What about nanny vs daycare/preschool if one has to work?
    Thank you in advance for any suggestions/thoughts.

  44. I’m so grateful for this blog and community. I spend more time than necessary worrying about what I “should” be doing with my almost-three-year-old daughter, whom I stay home with, and I often come here to recalibrate my confidence in how I’m parenting her. My latest concern was when to start socializing her more regularly. This post really puts my mind at ease. It’s a never-ending job to be mindful and “unruffled”!

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