I’m prone to start this little ditty with a lilting sob story about how I used to walk to school three miles, both ways…in the snow…up hill.

But I rode the bus. I did walk several hundred feet on a slight incline of sand and pea gravel, though. Hard times.

I guess it was my matriculation through the Piney Woods Preschool Academy that prepared me for that intrepid walk up the driveway and onto the bus.

Oh, and by Piney Woods Preschool Academy? I mean that I grew up in the piney woods of East Texas. Where there was no preschool academy, only piney woods.

Consequently, my preschool was a medley of backyard adventures, playing in the once-a-year snow, getting run over by my bicycling friend, cracking his skull open with a toy gun (the gun thing may have come before the drive-by cycling event), taking a claw hammer to my toy-train rocker, playing electronic football with my best buddy and a sometimes adventure with a mysterious imaginary friend.

All this is to say that we’ve come a long way, baby…I mean, Preschooler.

It probably cost my mom and dad about 97 cents to provide me with my preschool “curriculum.” Okay, $2.97. It was a cast iron gun and a pretty hefty hammer. It was the ‘70s. You could get a new car for the price of a tank of gas in today’s dollars. Almost.

These days, preschool is extortion…I mean expensive. Some would argue—and they might be right—that you get what you pay for. But some folks just can’t or won’t pay the hefty price to ensure that little Johnny isn’t crackin’ skulls out on the front lawn. Even so, there might be another option. Leave it to the generation of broadband internet service, smart phones and skinny jeans to launch online preschool.

Cue the naysayers.

Yes, there are some definite dangers with the online preschool approach: too little tactile learning, too much screen time and relying on inertia instead of engagement, to name a few.

I tried a semester of home schooling one year. It was clear after about 30 seconds that I’d be a lot better off just building a shrine to public education and paying some much needed homage. Some folks are amazing teachers. I’m not.

Some preschool parents won’t be cut out for guiding their intrepid 3 and 4 year olds through the process of online preschool. It’s okay. You can learn if you want, or you can outsource—the education, not the kids. No harm, no foul.

As you might imagine, researchers recommend limited screen time, so online preschool isn’t about plopping Junior in front of an iPad and calling it good. It’s no Ron Popeil “set it and forget it” preschool rotisserie.

Two main online outposts seem to be the most widely known and used purveyors: CHALK and ABC Mouse. Both serve well over 60,000 preschoolers. You’ll have to dive into their websites to see if either or neither is right for you and your little one.

There could be some amazing advantages if you find a way to pull it off. If you work from home, you may never have to get out of your pajamas again. (Okay, I didn’t have room for that in the con paragraph, so it snuck in here.) But, honestly, imagine the logistics of not fighting traffic, of moving at your own pace and of saving huge amounts of money.

Also, imagine that you control your child’s pace, gauge her own special context, direct her exposure to playground dueling and what and when she eats her snacks and lunch. I’m not poking fingers at traditional preschool. My son had a great one. But they are less individualized than what you can do at home.

Finally, lest you think this is some whack-a-doodle idea from a columnist who got run over by one too many bikes in his own preschool years, the state of Utah has successfully implemented its own state-funded, online preschool: UPSTART. It’s had reported success and continues to grow.

Obviously the jury is still out, but there might be a very bright future for parents who want to put in the hard work of guiding their children through their own preschool experience. At the very least, you have options, and for today’s busy, engaged and intelligent parents, that might be just what you need.


Richard Singleton, MACE, MAMFC, LPC, is executive director at STARRY in Round Rock.

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