I believe in preschool, in general. I sent my kids to preschool. In fact, Patience seriously benefited from it, and Persistence is currently enrolled in preschool.
Believe it or not, I've gotten criticized for sending my kids to preschool:
"Oh, it's not really school at that age, how ridiculous!"
Oh yes it is, school is a place you go to learn things. My kids learn things at this place they go, which is literally called A School.
"Kids don't need to learn anything before kindergarten. They just need to have fun."
Yes. And no. I actually think kids benefit from preschool, but I don't think it's for everyone or required. My kids enjoy learning (anything and everything) and the right preschool can be fun. Some parents and kids can accomplish this at home, but others, like me, appreciate a school for this.
"You just want time away from your kids. It's not really to benefit them; it's really to benefit you."
Here's the fallacy of the excluded middle, friends: it's not per se mutually exclusive that both the kids and I benefit. You betcha I enjoy and appreciate the time I have sans kids. I can Get Stuff Done, such as work, errands, chores and more. I have even taken a bit of that time for fun and socialization, such as lunching with the ladies. Meanwhile, my kids have the benefit of learning something other than what I teach from someone other than me, and finding out how to interact with other people, in an organized way.
That last sentence is the second biggest dilemma I have in parenting. (The first I explained in my interview from Slouching Mom.)
I want my kids free of the shackles of society (blah blah blah raised by a Boomer in the free-thinking seventies blah blah blah you can do anything you want, you deserve all happiness, must pursue happiness, all about what you want...and making yourself happy, being free, finding yourself blah blah blah) but living over here left of center as I am, I have figured out that you need Tools and must be able to function within the society if you (a) want to be successful (in any way, not just monetary) and (b) be happy and comfortable.
I want my kids to have Tools and be able to function successfully in the culture where they live.
Without being corrupted by it or a slave to it.
Eat my cake and have it too.
Geez louise, ambitious much, mom?
So, one way I am trying to straddle the "teach the spirit without breaking it and give my kids tools for success in life without ruining them and turning them into corporate drones" fence is preschool.
I think the right preschool can be a great experience for everyone.
The wrong one can be a disaster.
I had an Extremely Negative School experience and in general presuppose that Schools Suck and typically so do the teachers within them. Sorry, I know, that's not nice, and probably ruffles feathers and hurts feelings. I am the daughter of and sister to teachers. I have tremendous respect for the profession. Just not always for the people who practice it. So, sadly, as a result of being once bitten (about a thousand times) I am twice shy (to say the least).
Therefore, as you can imagine, I was extremely nervous about putting Patience in school. Am. Always will be. Will watch the school like a hawk. Or a Mama Bear.
I needed a school that would (and no, I am not kidding, this is my honest and true Extremely Self-Important High-Maintenance goal list for school):
* foster her independence while teaching her how to interact kindly with others
* encourage her love of learning and teach her all she needs to know while allowing her to pursue her personal interests and things she wants to know
* help her understand and respect that people learn at different paces and have different abilities, encourage respect for that, teach her to work with these different abilities and paces, but also allow her to keep her own pace
* have a high expectation of respect and courtesy and a low tolerance for cruelty while teaching kids that mean happens and how to deal with it constructively
* and so on in that vein. I think you get the picture.
Initially, it seemed that Montessori was the way to go, as my list and their list seemed to pretty well coincide. So, we found this fantabulous school on recommendation from several neighbors in our neighboring North Shore town. We enrolled Patience and everyone was extremely happy.
We decided Montessori was king.
Thus, when we moved, we of course sought out a replacement Montessori school. And learned that in Texas Montessori is something else entirely with little to nothing to do with actual Montessori.
School 1 was Religious Boot Camp for Mindless Church Drones. So were Schools 2, 3 and 4. We skipped these.
School 5 was Academic Boot Camp for High Achievers (aka Mommy Olympic Preparatory Academy). And we chose this school.
Let me back up. Somehow, somewhere along the way our goals for "happy and well-adjusted" got confused with "make her the best and the brightest."
In other words, I accidentally took the wrong on-ramp or something when I moved and found myself on the Mommy Olympic Highway. There I was, an old broken in sedan cruising along with sleek Mercedes and Lexus SUVs.
I thought it was right. Everyone told me I needed to give my child An Edge. Everyone said I needed to get my child going, the earlier you teach the better they learn. She needed to be Learning Important Skills, academic ones, such as phonemics and pre-math. I didn't want to Waste Her Potential, Hold Her Back, not provide what she needed, did I?
So we put her in the Montessori school that promised to Dig Deep and bring our her Ultimate Potential, encourage her Best and Brightest. All at her own Individual Pace, of course.
I wasn't sure, but my husband was. He was sold, hook line and sinker into the philosophy of Academia for Tots.
"She'll get to do finger-painting?" I queried, anxiously, "She loves art, loves painting. And acting, like playacting with the life centers, dolls and kitchens and all that."
"Of course children can play, if they want to," the headmistress said sternly, "But of course we encourage them in learning what they really need to know with our math, science and reading centers."
It didn't help that a relative told me that she didn't really think Patience was stupid just because she wasn't reading yet, at three.
"Just because all of the other children in our family are reading by 2, I don't think Patience is slow," she assured me, protesting too much, "She has other talents, like she seems to sing well. You can do things with music. Of course." She assured me, protesting too much, and trailing off at the end, no doubt picturing for Patience a life of poverty and starvation in a garret somewhere, with dyed hair and tattoos, too many men in Emo outfits, and drugs. As if that would be bad, which, in her mind, in this family, yeah, probably it would be.
I know the flack I took for being a Liberal Arts major, as if that was synonymous with Loser. My husband and I are considered the Slow Ones, in need of Extra Assistance, because we clearly can't operate on our own, being Artistic and thus Not As Bright as the Rest. Clearly, then, our kids, must be a Little Slower, too. (Never mind our own success, achievement, ability to go off and live well far away and so forth.) (But I'm not bitter.) (About being considered the Dumb One.) (At all.) (At least never on Saturdays. When I have a mango mojito and enjoy the mindlessness of my own stupidity.) (LOL.)
I steamed silently, thinking that my daughter was plenty bright and doing fine. But underneath, I worried: was I not doing enough, not teaching and encouraging enough, not pushing her in the directions she needed to go...was I allowing her too much freedom, slacking off, goofing off, did she need more?
Everyone around me seemed to assert yes, emphatically.
So I got off the feeder road and got on the Olympic Mom Highway, enrolled her in this school that promised to make her all she needed to be.
(Are you hearing the ominous music swelling?)
Patience nearly suffered a total and utter breakdown. She came home and cried every day. She acted out, had tantrums, slept too much or too little. I got increasingly worried. I talked to the school.
"She's doing great!" they assured me briskly, "Achieving things so well and so fast we wanted to talk to you about moving her up a level."
"You mean, put her in with the four year olds?" I asked, anxiously.
"Absolutely," they told me, "She can function at that level now. She needs more challenge and stimulus."
Except in my mommy heart I knew she couldn't function at that level. As bright as my girl was, as advanced as her little brain might be, her emotions were behind. She kept up the Good Kid act at school and fell apart every day at home. I thought she needed less challenge and stimulus.
So, I withdrew her from school.
We sat at home, together, for a little while as I pondered what to do with her. She missed school---her old school in Massachusetts---because she really did enjoy the extra challenge, stimulation and socialization of preschool...when it's geared for toddlers rather than a race of superhumans aka very small adults who simply look like children.
I explained my dilemma to a new friend, who encouraged me to come visit her kids' preschool.
"It's very loving, lots of fun, the kids love it," she promised, "They encourage parents to be there and participate, and the staff really just loves kids, just wants kids to be kids."
It sounded like Heaven.
There was luckily a spot available for Patience, and I enrolled her. I explained to the teachers and director that she had been Traumatized and was slow to warm anyway, so we (she and I) might need a little extra help. They gladly agreed. Over the course of our first month there, Patience and I both began to relax and settle in.
At this new school, I rediscovered my confidence that children will learn all they need to, at their own pace, and if you pay attention to their cues, you can see when they need a little more or a little less.
I remembered that "well-adjusted" (high EQ) can serve much better than "best and brightest" (high IQ).
I figured out that really, what mattered most was that Patience knew how to go about, do and be herself, as happily as possible. What she really needs to know is who she is, what she enjoys, who other people are, what they enjoy, how to have fun, how to be herself and get along well with others, how to be curious and learn, how to be balanced, how to feel challenged or scared or worried and make it through anyway, how to fail, how to succeed...how to be the best her possible, not The Best by some arbitrary standard.
So, we exited the Mommy Olympic Highway, set back to a slower speed on the feeder road, and you know what? It's nice over here. It's the scenic route, and we enjoy that.
It's not hard to get lost, as we did, for a while. No maps, no On-Star in this parenting gig, nothing to suggest when to get on the highway or when to get off...nothing other than my own judgment and instincts, and my children's cues, that is. So you know, maybe, after all, there is a guidance system here: us.
Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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