Why I took my son out of preschool.

This mother realised she’d made a mistake when the teacher’s advice about her little boy felt all wrong.

My three-year-old son started preschool this year. Because I’ve spent the past seven years working from home while looking after my children, this was a big deal for me. It meant I would have two days a week to myself. I would be able to do all those self-indulgent, girly things. You know, like having a pap smear and completing my tax returns.

In New South Wales, preschool is an optional thing, to help prepare kids for school. It’s all about learning through play. My daughter loved it. Even though she’d been at home with me since she was born, she barely glanced up when I left her there on the first day. Toys. Books. Bikes. What was there not to like?

Toys. Books. Bikes. What was there not to like?

I thought my son would love it too. He was a bit on the young side – I could have waited one more year to start him – but I didn’t think being young was a bad thing. I’d been the youngest in my class too, and I’d been so thrilled to be able to leave my nun-run school behind at the age of 16 and escape to uni.

At first my son did love preschool. On day one, he ran around at nap time, trying to wake everyone up, but after that, he settled down. He kept to the rules, helped tidy up and told other kids off if they were fighting. When I picked him up in the afternoon, he’d report to me what toys he’d played with and how many friends he had (“Four friends!” “Ten friends!” “Twenty friends!”)

I congratulated myself on raising such a well-adjusted child, and began looking ahead to the next 13 blissful, trouble-free years.

Then one day, after about two months, my son told me he didn’t want to go to preschool any more. I took him anyway, and once he saw the sandpit, he decided maybe he would stay. He ended up having a good day. The next time he said he didn’t want to go, I took him anyway, thinking he would change his mind. The teacher rang me a few hours later, saying my son had gone on a hunger strike – he’d refused to eat his strawberries for recess – and it might be best if I took him home.


I asked him why he didn’t want to go to preschool anymore. His answers were different every time. Because I’d put a banana in his schoolbag. Because he didn’t like some of the toys. Because preschool was messy (if you could see the state of my house, you’d… well, best you can’t see it).

This time he really, really didn’t want to be there.

I didn’t want to give up on preschool. I tried again. This time he really, really didn’t want to be there. He shook the bars of the preschool gate like a very small, determined gorilla. The teacher’s aide offered to hold him so I could get away, but I didn’t want to do that. I took him home with me.

My husband didn’t want to give up on preschool. He took my son in the following week, and spent 15 minutes patiently trying to convince him to stay. In the end, the teacher’s aide held my son so my husband could leave. I could see from the look on my husband’s face that it was breaking his heart to walk out while my son was crying. We agreed that if he didn’t have a good day at preschool, we’d pull him out.

I rang the preschool later that morning, and the teacher told me that my son had stopped crying and trying to break down the gate, and was silently watching the other children play.

That afternoon we went to pick him up. I asked him if he’d had a good day, and he said, “Yes.” It was the saddest, quietest “yes” I’d ever heard. My son is not a sad or quiet child. The last time I’d seen him that sad and quiet was when he had a fever that developed into croup.


The teacher’s aide told us that preschool children were often like this. She said my husband and I needed to be united. She said I should show the same kind of strength as my husband, and be able to just leave my son without looking back.

My husband and I looked at each other. We were thinking the same thing. Strength as a parent doesn’t mean ignoring your child. Anyone can block their ears and walk away. Strength as a parent means doing the right thing for your child, even if it’s not the easiest thing for you to do.

Sometimes you have to be Mean Mum. Your kids don’t like being clipped into their seats in the car? You do it anyway. But preschool? My son doesn’t have to go this year. We can try again next year, or put him straight into school. Hopefully, by then, he’ll want to go – or at least be able to tell me what he doesn’t like about it.

Would I do the same thing if my son was six and didn’t want to go to school? Maybe. If he was truly, deeply unhappy, and I couldn’t change the situation, I’d try another school, or another type of schooling.

The following day, my son stayed at home with me. We read books, did jigsaws and had a picnic on the front verandah. We went shopping together. We had a good day.

Would you take your child out of day care or preschool if they didn't like it?