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The Growing Trend of Toddlers in School Uniform

By Heather Turgeon |

preschoolers in school uniforms

School uniforms creeping younger

Today in the Wall Street Journal, Sue Shellenbarger talks about the growing trend of preschools and even daycares requiring their little attendees to wear uniforms.

The benefits: even three-year-olds are comparing dresses and judging each others’ fashion choices. The interest in clothes detracts from kids being able to focus on work.

“Children come in comfortable and prepared to focus. They’re not worried about what their neighbor is wearing or what their mom didn’t let them wear today,”…Uniforms reinforce feeling part of a group for children. Even in preschool, “if you put a blue shirt on a child, he or she knows ‘I’m getting ready for school.’ ”

I may complain sometimes about negotiating the day’s attire with my three-year-old, but there’e something kind of depressing about the idea of sending him out the door in a blue polo shirt and khakis every day:

First of all, I agree with some of the Manhattan educators interviewed — picking out clothes is one way that little kids start to express their individuality and personal identity — too early to put a lid on that. My preschooler feels so good when he hikes his Spiderman socks up to his knees and pairs his blue shorts with white and blue race car shirt. He just started to get a kick out of dressing himself, I wouldn’t want to take that away from him.

I also shy away from the idea that my son needs to “stay on task” while at preschool — that’s the part that feels sad — don’t make it feel like school yet!  I like that I send him in clothes that I know will get trashed: our preschool is play-based and the kids pay attention because the curriculum is based around their interests (bugs, gardening, clay). It’s not formal academic time, it’s digging in the dirt time.

I’ve never given much thought to uniforms for older kids, but I can see the logic. Toddlers and preschoolers, though – I say let them wear their superhero socks.

What do you think of the idea of requiring little kids to wear uniforms? At which age do you think it’s developmentally appropriate?

Image: flickr

Long live the magic! The Specialness of the Three-Year-Old

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About Heather Turgeon


Heather Turgeon

Heather Turgeon is currently writing the book The Happy Sleeper (Penguin, 2014). She's a therapist-turned-writer who authors the Science of Kids column for Babble. A northeasterner at heart, Heather lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two little ones. Read bio and latest posts → Read Heather's latest posts →

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22 thoughts on “The Growing Trend of Toddlers in School Uniform

  1. goddess says:

    Mine wouldn’t attend. I don’t even like the idea of uniforms for ANY schools. Maybe 12 years in them gives me a different perspective. And I WAS the poor, disadvantaged kid you didn’t have name styles, had hand-me-downs and home-sewn clothes. Still hated those uniforms.

  2. Ri-chan says:

    I think theyre cute :) , the preschool my friends daughter goes to has uniforms and she loves wearing her special school clothes.

  3. goddess says:

    My daughter thought they were cute around kindergarten age too. Now that she’s in middle school she doesn’t think so much, LOL.

  4. Sara says:

    God forbid we ever allow kids to display any individuality

  5. Gagagolly says:

    Uniforms for school suck at any age. Give me a break. If people are too shallow to not judge each other for their clothing, a uniform is just a band-aid and they’ll find other things to judge.

  6. Rosana says:

    I think uniforms is a great idea, specially in this economy. I wore uniforms from Pre-K all the way to high school and many days I hated them but learned to appreciate them once I went to college and had to spend time deciding what to wear the next day. We had special ocassions when we could wear regular clothes (Valentine’s Day, etc) and we were able to express ourselves. I am a very independent individual with a very strong sense of who I am.
    As a mom, I would love that for my 3 year old since worrying about clothes for school, will be one more thing I will not have to do. Also, he will be more thrilled about picking out regular clothes and he will always know what to put on in the morning

  7. goddess says:

    I’ll never understand how people think it’s economical to buy EXTRA clothes that don’t hold up well and cannot be worn outside of school. When our eldest went to parochial K-8, the uniforms AND the shoes, were ADDED expenditures for us.

  8. Momster says:

    Oh, thank goodness my kid doesn’t have to wear a uniform to preschool!! It’s not so much that I mind the idea. The problem is that she has some sensitivity issues that make her VERY particular about what clothes she’ll wear. No seams, no pleats, no ruffles, no buttons or snaps, super soft cloth only, etc. etc. According to her doctor this isn’t that uncommon, things really do feel horrible to her, and as she grows up she’ll learn to deal with it better. But if she had to wear a certain type of uniform to school right now — and from what I’ve seen, uniform clothing would not pass her “feels funny” test — we’d have a horrible battle every day.

  9. jros mom says:

    For my preschooler, wearing the blue & khaki signals ‘school day’. When those clothes come out, he knows there’s little utility in asking to watch a movie, start a project or dawdle over breakfast. At least that’s the expectation. :) That said, he’s quite the fashion plate, so I leave him to the accessorizing-spiderman socks, monster sweatshirt & hair.

    Once at school, uniforms promote a sense of team. Seeing that sea of more or less matching shirts creates order, calm. Crucial when trying to organize a room full of 3-5 yr olds.

  10. Rosana says:

    My mom always made the school uniforms for us. Soooo, it was economical.

  11. Alison says:

    Wow. The idea of uniforms is extremely depressing to me, but much more so on a preschooler. If I had to choose a phase of life to get sentenced to wearing a uniform, I’d choose now for work rather than my school years. Back then it was so fun to get to pick what I wore for the day – as a kid you have so few opportunities to choose things for yourself.

  12. goddess says:

    Can’t sew for the life of me. Perhaps a ripped seam or button, but that’s about it, LOL!

  13. renita burwell says:

    So now we need to start the brainwashing as soon as they are potty trained. Order? Calm? How about embarrassment that my school was so ghetto that they couldn’t handle a bunch of kids! Economical? What a joke! Only if you bought from Lands End and never grew another inch. Walmart? Get ready to tell the teacher where to go because you out grew your skirt and there is no hem to let down or there are holes in the knees of your pants and the school didn’t like the repair job your mother did.

  14. nutterbutter says:

    I’d rather my kids worry about expressing their individuality through language arts, music, visual art, or drama than through what they wear to school everyday. I wore a school uniform for 12 years, many homemade, some expensive store bought for private school (blazers and hats, winter and summer uniforms) and always lace up black leather shoes. We also wore our hair tidily, no make up and very minimal jewellary was permited. It sounds so last century but at least it wasn’t convent school! It needn’t be so strict nor expensive these days but it would be a huge improvement on the sloppy unattractive mess I see at my daughter’s school everyday here in the US. The school’s dress code is an effort in futility. They look like they have just crawled out of bed, are going to a nightclub or to the beach.
    Goddess I can tell you why people think it economical to buy uniforms… because properly chosen uniforms do hold up well, they are passed down within families and are sold second hand through schools. The other issue… the cost of clothing in general here in the US is ridiculously cheap because of the huge economies of scale. It isn’t the case in Australia for example, clothing is relatively expensive compared to the US, so uniforms make definite economic sense to us and in particular, uniforms that can be homemade using a simple pattern. We don’t have big retailers like GAP, Children’s Place etc offering generic khaki/navy “uniforms” for all budgets…and I wish we did.
    Momster, your child’s issues aren’t unusual at all…and a parent school uniform committee should allow sufficient flexibility to accomodate such children because their discomfort is very real. There are several clothing manufacturers that specialise in clothing for kids with sensory issues.

  15. Tameka says:

    I don’t like it because I waste money uniforms get stains and I have to keep buying them over and over because they have to wear such light colored shirts at first my 5year old liked it now she wants to wear her clothes in her closet and I don’t make her wear uniforms anymore save more not buying uniforms I’m a sale shopper and sometimes they cost more

  16. Melissa says:

    My son wears uniforms to Pre-K and it has saved me alot of money on clothes and alot of time on fighting about what to wear in the morning. As an added bonus Daddy always knows the appropriate clothes to put on when he has to dress him. There is nothing wrong with this. While they are expensive, they are quality and if you use a little Tide pen, usually everything comes out just fine.

  17. goddess says:

    @nutterbutter: Is your daughter an untidy unattractive mess? Cause really, that’s your only concern when it comes to clothing. Worry about yours, and let the schools enforce some decency/safety dress codes – and then you can even buy YOUR child uniforms if you choos. Just don’t push to impose uniforms in a PUBLIC school system.

  18. Amanda says:

    Goddess – Schools – even PUBLIC ones – are for education. They are not a place where it is necessary to express one’s individuality through fashion. I basically agree with a previous poster about expressing individuality by what activities you participate in, what subjects you are passionate about, how you intereact with others, etc. There’s plenty of time after school and on the weekends to wear what you want.

  19. nutterbutter says:

    Goddess… yes, sadly by the standards I was taught to abide by at all of the PUBLIC and PRIVATE schools I attended in Australia and PNG (that would be about 10 schools as we moved almost annually…and yes, most years my mother made our new school uniforms), much of the time my eldest daughter IS an untidy unattractive mess. She’s 11 and it’s a difficult, awkward age. My point is that the school does diddly squat about enforcing it’s own written standards of dress.They are supposed to dress with good taste, respectfully with regard to the fact they are attending a place of learning. Since the school won’t enforce their own rules I’m left to spend my mornings in painful negotiation with my daughter trying to counter the peer group pressure to look like she slept in her clothes, doesn’t own a hairbrush, can’t fit her feet INTO her shoes …because apparently there are other parents who are Ok with this.

    Tameka I get frustrated with stained clothing too. This happens uniform or not. However my observation is that the the school staff do not insist, encourage or even suggest that the kids actually wear the protective art smocks that we are asked to provide for situations where stains are likely ie art!

    I really don’t understand why PUBLIC schooling is somehow off limits to imposing a school uniform requirement? Perhaps there are values that differ between us because our notions (as in those of the US vs the Commonwealth) of the relative importance of the school years and the place of a school in the social structure , are different? High School in the US seems to have a lot of uniforms that have everything to do with extra curricular activity – football, cheer leading, band etc that recieve a lot of community attention. It genuinely puzzles me that the suggestion of a uniform creates such hostility in a parents that will happily pay for elaborate sports uniforms (naturally kids don’t love the idea of uniforms in general, but they aren’t paying).

    As for preschoolers, my twins would happily don a uniform if that was what was required, and I would be happy for them to do so provided it was simple, comfortable and was age appropriate. At their age a brightly coloured T shirt would be sufficient. my girls are actually having Wacky clothes Day tomorrow. Having a uniform for most of the school days doesn’t exclude opportunities to have fun with their attire occasionally.

  20. marj says:

    I think its cute. Plus im in favor of school uniforms in general. I do agree though tha they should be comfortable and practical.

  21. mbaker says:

    When my son’s school switched to uniforms I saved money because the choices were pretty general and I was able to find good deals on multiple polo shirts that qualified on the Wal-Mart website. The white polo shirts I bleach so they always look clean in the morning even though they belong to a little boy. The school didn’t specify which socks to wear so I buy him silly animal socks to wear. It’s a lot easier for a kid to choose their socks in the morning than to choose their entire outfit.

  22. Kris says:

    Amanda, school uniforms are hard to enforce in the public schools because you basically have to have a 100% agreement from parents. Then if parents decide on uniforms but can’t afford them the schools have to provide them. With such a hit on schools and teachers during this time, no school wants to put the money into something that is so minor. Money is better spent on teachers, books, and other classroom supplies.

    As to uniforms in general, I disagree with them. It is part of childhood to learn to become comfortable with yourself. School is awkward for most children at some point and fashion or the lack of it helps them find their niche. I’ve also seen fellow peers of mine who go to a school with a uniform who dress inappropriately when they are not at school. Their choice of clothing outside of school is so raunchy go to fine schools and come from well respected families. Let kids wear what they want. Enforce a dress code at the school which keeps the students descent.

    What are we protecting our kids from anyways? It’s not from dressing inappropriately for I have seen women my grandma’s age shopping in the same juniors department as myself. You know what they say, lead by example.

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