Tuesday, May 05, 2009

to school or not to school?

I made the decision a few months ago to keep Gabe at his toddler program for another year. He loves the program, adores the woman who runs it and she adores him (she hugs and kisses him and tells him she loves him), I think he is learning a ton from her, and he is doing it all in a wonderfully kind and caring environment. Plus, it is literally 3 blocks from my house, the timing is great (9-1pm), and she serves snack and a hot lunch. Right now he is going 2 days a week, but for May and June he'll switch to 3 days a week, and next year he is also going to go 3 days a week.

You would be shocked at the thinly veiled and/or outright criticism I have gotten over this decision. Every single other mother I know put their child in an "official" preschool for next year, and can't seem to understand why I wouldn't do the same. Gabe and all of his little friends are 2 years old, and will be 2 for the rest of this year (Gabe's birthday is in December and all his friends' birthdays are January or later). The school system in our town and neighboring towns requires a child to be 5 years old on September 1st, meaning that no matter what we choose for this upcoming September, it will be another 3 years before our children can go to school. This is the same whether they stay home for another year, do a toddler program for another year, or go to preschool for an extra year.

Certainly, I'll admit that having Gabe stay at his toddler program is convenient for us. It is very close, it is cheaper than preschool, and she FEEDS him. Do you know how much this child eats? Truthfully, though, I feel confident that this is the right decision for him. I believe Gabe is a very bright little boy and I also believe he is receiving a tremendous amount of nurturing in this program.

Gabe knows his numbers in English and Spanish, he knows his colors, he knows number correspondence (i.e. can connect numbers to objects, like counting how many cars are driving by or how many cookies are on his plate), knows most of his letters and tries to make words with those letters, he can cut well with scissors, holds a pencil correctly, shares nicely, chats up a storm in complete paragraphs, and is virtually potty trained (minus naps and nighttime) thanks to the insistence of the woman who runs the program. Most importantly, at least to me, he is happy. Happy when I drop him off, happy when I pick him up. Happy to learn new skills, happy to share what he knows. I write this not to brag about how awesome he is, although clearly I am biased on the topic, but rather to say I think he is doing just fine at this program.

Some of my friends, however, act like my decision is going to set him back for life. He may not get into an Ivy League university if he doesn't get 3 years of preschool! He won't learn to read! What about writing? Obviously, the new trend is preschool for 3 years is the Right Thing To Do. You are a Good Parent if you pay for the extra year of preschool.

Don't get me wrong, I really don't care whether people want to send their kids to preschool next year, but I do care that people seem to think what I am doing is out and out wrong or borderline neglectful. I am all about doing what is right for each kid, and I also feel strongly that we are over-educating children, over-committing them, and ending up with children who are stressed and burnt out at a young age. Those are my opinions. If you have a super fabulous preschool that is perfect for your kid, though, then of course that is what is right for you and your kid! I'm not walking around telling these moms that they're crazy.

It isn't just preschool, lots of toddlers we know are in 5 classes a week- art, music, gymnastics, etc. The parents we know are quizzing their kids over breakfast, buying educational videos that promise to teach your kid how to read, worrying when their child isn't leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else.

I will be sending Gabe to preschool in another year, and the preschools I am looking at are relatively academically rigorous. I am not anti-education, and I'm not completely immune to the Must Have Super Smart Kid pressure. I just think there is this crazy trend of more is always better these days, and alternatives are not welcome. I know Chatty Cricket has encountered it in her neck of the woods, and My Wombinations has blogged about preschools that cost more than college too (both of whom has BRILLIANT children, by the way, and aren't obsessed with the more is better thing). What about you? Is this trend limited to the Massachusetts moms?


Stacy said...

I have 2 kids of my own and helped raise 2 of my nieces. They all went to the same preschool. When you find a program you like, you stick to it. If its not broke don't fix it!
I think based on all I know, that you made the best decision for you and Gabe.
Its always amusing to me when people act like that-like you are harming your child by doing what you-the mother-thinks is best.
Just blow them off!

Anonymous said...

This is silliness. Just silliness. I don't understand why mothers of young children focus so much of their energy on making other mothers of young children feel bad about and/or question themselves.

And "academically rigorous" preschool? silliness!! Let them sing songs! Let them do little cooking projects, and let them paint with their fingers.

Jeepers. They're kids!!

z. said...

This is a question we've been thinking about a lot... and there was an article in the NYT along the same lines: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/03/magazine/03wwln-lede-t.html?_r=1.

I agree that you are doing the best thing for Gabe. He'll have time for academically rigorous later... stay strong and know you made the right decision!! :)

Lasha said...

We're actually going to open houses for a couple of pre-schools tonight, but with the plan to enroll Will (she turned 2 the end of March) a year from this September, when she's 3 1/2.

I really feel that it's a mistake to place kids in settings that are too structured or academic too early. As a high school/college teacher, I see a lot of students who have never been allowed to be children (interesting to give ninth graders a chance to play on a playground where they actually play . . . without irony.)

Kids will get plenty of that structure at school. In my opinion, the primary role of preschool is socialization, and giving them the chance to explore lots of different and creative things. This type of learning is essential!

Anonymous said...

On behalf of those of us who teach Early Childhood educators and have to put up with a lot of "I know it's not appropriate but the parents want it so I do it anyway." nonsense, thank you. There is a whole generation of kids who are going to be burned out and hate school by the time they are 6 and a whole lot of very bad programs making tons of money by catering to this particular form of ignorance. Kids need to be kids as long as possible. For what it's worth, there is a bunch of research out there that says for most kids learning all this academic crap earlier doesn't lead to academic success later and may inhibit their ability to think on their own . Look for a preschool that focuses on learning through discovery. High Scope and Creative Curriculum are good examples of this.

Meika said...

Oh. My gosh. I don't know if it's just Massachusetts moms, but I definitely don't see that in West Michigan. I can't even FIND a toddler program for my precocious little two-year-old (she's five weeks younger than Gabe) around here; nothing starts until age three. And I'm impressed that she can count to eight in English and knows what colors are and letters? No. Have not even addressed that. And as much as I would like her out of my hair a few mornings a week (and i'm pretty sure she would like to BE out of my hair a few mornings a week), I don't think keeping her home is neglectful in the least. Holy crap. Actually, when I've mentioned finding a preschool for her to my friends, they invariably say, "Isn't she a little young for that?" It's amazing how mama culture varies by region - I hadn't even realized.

Knit and Purl Mama said...

I know how you feel with the late birthday, as Sean's birthday is the exact same one as Gabe's. Though, for me, here, it as cheaper for me to put him in full time daycare instead of separation the program at the local Y at 2 days as week.

Sean stumbles on his colors (we're working on them) but he can count also in English & french. He can also recognize the entire alphabet out of order (and of course in order). So proud of the out of order!

I am sure whatever decision you make will be the best one for your family.