What Percentage Of Children Go To Preschool In America?

The percentage of American children going to preschool has remained steady since 2000. As of 2021, here are the following percentages by age of children who go to preschool in America:

  • Roughly 88% of 5 year olds attend preschool.
  • Roughly 69% of 4 year olds attend preschool.
  • Roughly 40% of 3 year olds attend preschool.
The percentage of 3, 4, and 5 year olds who attend preschool
Percentage of 3, 4, 5 year olds who attend preschool in America. Source: The National Education Center For Education Statistics

Research has discovered that preschool helps children learn, develop social skills, as well as emotional intelligence. But the problem is that preschool can be very expensive.

With the cost of childcare and preschool ranging from $800 – $2,500, depending on quality of care and amount of care, not every family can afford to send their toddlers to preschool.

The reason why there's a higher percentage of 5 year olds and 4 year olds going to preschool is large due to cost. But there is also a thought process that says that children only need one year of preschool before entering kindergarten at age 5-6.

The Cost Of Preschool By State

As you can see from the chart below by Fatherly, the average monthly cost of full-time childcare ranges from as low as $865/month in Alabama up to $2,452/month in Massachusetts.

Average monthly cost of childcare and preschool by state
Source: Fatherly.com 2019

$865/month isn't exactly cheap in Alabama given the median home price in Alabama is only $135,000.

We pay $1,950/month in San Francisco, where the median home price is roughly $1,600,000. Although our absolute dollar amount is higher, income levels in San Francisco are much higher as well.

Related: How To Get Into A Great Preschool

Preschool Attendance By State

Here's another interesting about preschool attendance by State for 4-year-olds. What's interesting is that some states like Wisconsin, Vermont, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Florida are zooming ahead of others due to the passage of universal preschool.

While some states like Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Mississippi, and Utah have a shocking 0% of 4-year-olds served in State preschool.

Preschool attendance by state

Preschool Attendance By Parental Education Level

The parental education level that sends the greatest percentage of children to preschool is a Bachelor's degree at 47%, followed by a Graduate or professional degree at 46%. It's interesting that parents with graduate or professional degrees don't have a greater percentage of children going to preschool given they are in school longer.

Preschool attendance by parental education level.
Preschool attendance by parental education level. Source: The National Education Center For Education Statistics

The greater your education, the greater your income. The greater your income, the more you'll be able to afford sending your kids to preschool.

But one of the greatest costs is not being able to spend as much time caring for your children as you would like.

Related: Navigating The Preschool Admissions Process

Preschool Attendance By Race

The final interesting chart shows preschool attendance by race. It's great to see that Black folks have the highest percentage of children attending preschool.

Hispanic folks have the lowest percentage of children attending preschool, partially due to the prevalence of a larger support network to care for their children.

Preschool attendance by parental race
Preschool attendance by race. Source: The National Education Center For Education Statistics

Why Preschool Is Worth It

Although we pay $1,950/month or $23,400 a year for our toddler to attend preschool, we believe it's worth the cost for the following reasons. You can get an in-depth read on why preschool is important and worth every penny here.

  • Preschool can save your sanity as a parent and improve your mental health.
  • Sending your child to preschool will help him/her learn to be more independent.
  • Your child will learn valuable social skills when they go to preschool.
  • Preschool teaches kids conflict resolution skills
  • Kids who go to preschool learn healthy new habits
  • You'll get a better gauge on how you're doing as parents.
  • Your child will learn new types of play and won't be “dumbed down”.
  • Build a strong network of fellow parents.
  • Get welcome relief if you or your spouse is pregnant.

Of course there are also some negatives to consider. You and your child will get sick. It's inevitable but a necessary evil. There's also more chance of accidents. Even with a low teacher:child ratio, there will be incidents between kids like biting. Or your child could get hurt wandering off when the teacher is busy with another student.

Your interactions and activities at home with your kids may change too. And of course cost is the biggest one.

The Percentage Of Americans Attending Preschool Should Grow

Cities are slowly rolling out universal (free) preschool because local governments recognize the benefits of helping education children during the first five years of life.

There is also a need for parents to send their children to preschool as more households have dual income-earning parents.

I'm very much in favor for preschool if you can afford it. If you can't afford to send your child to preschool, look at having them join preschool-like classes at places like Gymboree. Take them to your local public library where they host free activities. There are also other city-sponsored activities for children as well.

Good luck! And bless your children! They will grow up incredibly fast.

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