Whether you have one child or ten, you will eventually face the preschool decision. Do you send them to a private preschool, hope they learn a bit at daycare, do a neighborhood co-op, just try to teach them on your own, or do nothing and wait until they reach Kindergarten?
We always sent our children to a private preschool close to our home, but when we moved to a new town, I suddenly faced a dilemma. I wasn’t so thrilled with the private preschool I found and didn’t know if any of the in-home preschools were good. Besides, I was tired of paying for preschool. I also didn’t know anyone well enough to coordinate a neighborhood group. I found myself at a loss. Maybe you can relate to this.
It was this circumstance that finally motivated me to try Upstart. You may have heard of this online preschool program. I live in Utah, and Upstart is a state-funded program that helps your pre-K child learn their alphabet, letter sounds, and eventually learn to read. Upstart also has pilot programs in various other states.
I tried it last year with my daughter, and while the experience is still fresh in my mind, I thought I would share with you my honest review of it in case it’s something you’re considering too.
First, the PROS of the Upstart Program
- It really does work. Your child will learn to read if they do it consistently as they say 15 minutes a day for their reading time. My daughter only knew a few letters and sounds at the beginning of the program, and by the end she was sounding out words and started reading.
- Upstart also has a math and science curriculum, so not only does your child learn to read, but they’re also doing math and science, learning fun and interesting facts. Along with that, if you have other children in your home that would benefit from some reading, science, or math help, the program will create personalized accounts for them as well. Even for grade school children, the curriculum can be tailored for their level as well. Pretty awesome, huh?
- Because it’s state-funded, there is no additional cost to parents to have their child in the program. They can even provide a laptop and internet connection if you qualify for assistance. This is huge considering the cost of private preschool typically ranges from $75-$250 a month. Your family income also isn’t a limiting factor in enrolling.
- Another major pro is that your child can complete it in the comfort of your own home. No waiting in line to pick up or drop off your child from preschool. Also you may live in an area where there aren’t many preschool options to choose from, so this becomes a lifesaver if you live in a rural community.
- You are assigned a representative that you can contact if you’re having any technical issues or difficulties or need help motivating your child.
Now for the CONS of the Upstart Program
- Perhaps the biggest reason to keep you from participating is that it’s a huge commitment for parents. At the graduation program every single parent unanimously said that finishing this program was a challenge. You begin the program late summer, and your commitment doesn’t end until your final assessment in June of the next year. It’s 5 days a week (Saturday and Sunday can count as part of your 5 days) and a minimum of 15 minutes each day. That doesn’t sound or feel like a lot until you are about half way through and your child has lost enthusiasm and excitement to do their preschool. Welcome to the world of additional power struggles, my peeps.
- Another con is one I also listed as a pro–having an assigned representative. While it’s a beautiful concept to have someone checking in with you and helping to resolve issues, there were more than a few times I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the college-age employee trying to give me parental advice about establishing routines and “Do you think you’re going to be able to get all of your time this week?” I admit it was totally my own perception that caused me to be annoyed by this, but I never really felt genuine concern or interest from the representatives. It didn’t help that they switched our rep halfway through the year and never notified us. If your time is under by even 1 minute, prepare for a phone call.
- Another con I would mention would be the obvious lack of social interaction or experience being in a school setting. Besides reading and math, the private preschool my other kids attended gave them the chance to also learn cooking skills, complete art projects, and learn music theory in a school setting where they made friends and worked with other kids their age.
- You may not get accepted. Some people want to do this program and send their child to preschool. On Upstart’s website, it says that isn’t a determining factor in who is accepted, but I have heard that if there is limited space, a child not enrolled in preschool will take priority.
Upstart Tips and Advice
If you decide this program is for you, here are a few tips from things I learned after doing this program last year.
- If the option exists, use a laptop over a desktop or place your family computer in a place where you can manage and help oversee their work. You are only allowed one computer license, and there were so many times I wished I would have put it on the laptop so I could have my daughter work where I was in the house–from the kitchen to the bedroom or the office. It would have saved me a ton of time and hassle.
- Capitalize on the parts of the program that work for you and ditch the others. They definitely provide a lot of extras to help motivate your child and keep parents informed. My daughter loved the medals (paper tokens) that came each month in the mail to see her progress, but I felt like the text messages were more discouraging than helpful for her. I also liked the suggestions for parents on the weekly emails but didn’t find it helpful to see my child’s time after the fact when it wasn’t possible to do anything about it (I’ve already discussed my feelings about the representative follow-up calls).
- Your child may love the repetition of the program, but if you find that they don’t thrive on that, don’t be afraid to ask Upstart to switch up the software to re-engage your child. My daughter started saying things like “I did this yesterday.” “Why is it always the same?” There were a few weeks where it was a battle of wills to do preschool until we changed up the software. I even had to cut out the math and science for a time as well and have it go straight to the games to help her willingly finish the required reading.
- Get into the habit of routinely logging onto the system to check your child’s usage before the week is over. Typically I would check on Thursdays so that she could make up her time if there was a day she missed or didn’t get her full time. Like I said before, by the time the emails came, it was too late to do anything about it. A few months into the program, my daughter figured out how to navigate into her favorite computer games instead of doing her preschool, so I would think we were on track only to realize she still needed 3 days…ughhh. Hence, my tip #1 again.
- Become a good cheerleader. Because there isn’t as much interaction with teachers or peers, it’s critical that you take the lead with encouraging and supporting your child in the success of this program. If you have a bad attitude, your child will also feel and pick up on it. Positive interactions and feedback will breed positive experiences with the program.
- Try to do it at the same time each day. It’s a powerful cue for you and your child to know when preschool will be happening, and it takes away the struggle if they know it’s going to happen at the same time every day. I played around with the best time for me and found that first thing in the morning or at the beginning of nap time worked ideally because those were natural transitions in our routines. You just don’t want to wait until right before bed when your child declares, “I didn’t do preschool today.”
You can bet we celebrated big time when my daughter graduated from this program. We went out to lunch and made a big deal about it similar to her sibling’s private preschool graduations in the past.
Overall, if you put in the time, Upstart works. It meets the needs of parents who don’t qualify for Head Start but also don’t want to pay a hefty preschool bill. In my book, the pros outweigh the cons, and you can always supplement your child’s education in the areas you feel are lacking, if that’s a concern.
Hopefully my experience gave you an honest and realistic look at Upstart and will help you and your family make an informed decision if you’re accepted. Good luck!
Have you or others you know tried this preschool program? Do you have any feedback you’d like to share?