Friday, May 8, 2009

Preschool Dilemma

I am a Dr. Laura fan, and today one of the calls reaffirmed my feelings on preschool. But, before I tell you what they are, lets go back to the day N was born. On a rainy fall morning, six weeks early, our little boy was born. Thrilled to have our premie healthy as any 40 weeker, we were in new mommy and daddy heaven (apart from our feelings of shock, fear, bewilderment, pain, and exhaustion, as are normal for any new parent). We made the huge adjustment that was parenthood and learned day by day what the heck we were supposed to do to raise our little guy to be healthy and happy. I thought my job was to love and kiss him, change his poopie diapers, feed him, bathe him, play with him, sing to him, read to him. Boy, was I naive.

Upon taking my little boy to play dates or other functions where mommies show off their adorable, brilliant babies, I would get questions like:

"What words does he say?"
"Does he know his ABC's?"
"Can he count to 20 yet?"
"Can he spell his name?"
"What are you doing for preschool?"
"Can he sing the Star Spangled Banner?"
"Can he count backwards from 100?"
"Can he spell chrysanthemum?"
"Does he know his 12 times tables?"
"Does he know and understand Einstein's Theory of Relativity?"

To which I would nervously reply, "Um, he's only 6 months old." The other mothers would then give me their fakest sweetest smile, turn up their noses and proceed to tell me all the amazing things their 6 month old has been doing for months. I sat their listening, pretending to be awed by their brilliant children and not at all embarrassed at my apparent brainless child. But inside my own brain was reeling- What have I done? I've failed my son already! I'm a horrible mother! Tomorrow we're starting on a strict schedule! Play time will now be replaced with learning time where we will learn every subject form reading to the history of America! Then we'll see who has the smartest 6 month old!

Well, I may be exaggerating a tad, but I wanted to portray the intense pressure I felt as a young mother. Some of you may understand me from your own experiences. Many mothers are pressured into thinking that if they're not educating their children academically every day and if they're children aren't able to do certain things by certain ages, then they are horrible mothers. At least, that's how I felt. That feeling took the fun out of teaching N. Instead, often it was very stressful. I felt like I should be doing some kind of formal learning time at home every day. To say that was overwhelming for me is an understatement.

Finally I came to the conclusion that I wouldn't worry about a formal learning time at home. I would just play with him, find teaching moments in play time, and let him learn and develop his brain by exploring the world around him and letting him use his imagination. I wasn't always confident with this philosophy. Often I would compare myself with other moms and wonder if I was doing the right thing. But I would reassure myself by saying, "He's not going to be twenty years old and not know how to count to 20."

Now that N is actual preschool age, I've wondered If I should send him away to preschool. N has just one year until kindergarten, but other kids N's age have already had at least one year of preschool. I didn't even bother looking into putting him in last fall because he had speech therapy and kindermusik. They're each only one day a week and no more than an hour and a half (speech is only 1/2 hour), but that's a full plate for a four year if you ask me. But, as this next fall- N's last year before kindergarten- has been approaching I've contemplated on what to do. He'll still be in speech and kindermusik, and really, that is plenty in my book. But, I've been comparing myself to other Moms again (Bad Marianne!) and wondered if he'd be behind all the other kids if he didn't do a year of preschool. Thanks to the advice of some older, wiser people in my life, I have come to a conclusion, which is my feeling on preschool that was reaffirmed today on the Dr. Laura show. It is this:

Let kids be kids. They're going to behind a desk for the rest of their lives! Don't start them any earlier than is necessary! This is the time for them to develop their imaginations, explore the world around them, be silly, and have fun! They'll learn so much more if they do all that with YOU! There will be plenty of time for them to learn the other stuff.
I love what Dr. Laura said to the caller who sounded as pressured as I once felt. She said, "Remember- you're raising a person, not a computer."
Now, let me explain that I'm not against preschool, ones that are at home or away. If you want to take your kids somewhere- great (just make sure class sizes are small)! If you want to do your own at home- great! I'm still not totally against me doing it at home. I've just discovered what my limitations are and what I can handle. Or, if you don't want to do preschool at all- great! There will always be learning opportunities. The main thing is to not feel pressured into whatever you do. That's what I learned. Find out what works for you and your child. Some kids want to learn things, but others don't want to sit and be taught (like mine). You might be a creative, organized mom who loves to come up with her own lessons or you might be like me who likes using the work of another mom's genius. Or you might also be like me in that you get easily overwhelmed, so you like to keep things as simple as possible.
This post is getting really long, and I'm getting tired. I hope this made sense. It did to me when I started, but my eyes have gotten heavy and my brain is working a little sluggish. I have more to say, though, so I think the rest will have to come later.


Mardee Rae said...

I feel the exact same way as you. I felt so unprepared and even socially handicapped at first when I started getting asked about my plan for preschool with a 16-month-old. I mean, what gives?!? Now, my oldest is only 2 1/2 and I still think the preschool question is way overdone. Here in Chicago people put there kids in private (read: college-tuition-charging) preschools at two. Not kidding. I firmly believe that kids this age should be learning from their own fun and their own experiments. Play is their work, they'll have school work for the rest of their childhood. If you haven't looked into Joyschool, you should. It's hard at first but it just takes a few times of practice and then it's great. We've even started just taking the parts of the lessons that the kids would like best and leaving out the "discussions" or anything that involves sitting and listening, basically. They love it. It's a way to introduce them to the idea of structure and how the school works (teacher to child relationship, sitting in their places, etc) but it's just fun. No ABCs or counting, no math. Just learning to be happy.

Marianne said...

I have looked into Joyschool. In fact, that's what my mom did with me. I remember loving it as a child. I think I'm going to do it this fall. I'm just a little worried about finding other moms to do it with me because we're probably moving soon, but we don't know where. Would it work if I just did it myself every week? Or do you think that would be too stressful?

I'm glad to find another mom who understands how I felt, and I can't believe the preschools in Chicago! That's insane and completely ridiculous.