As the winter continues and the temperature hovers closer to zero than to freezing more often than I’d like, my children and I are forced to spend more and more time indoors. With that comes a sort of routine and inevitably weighing the benefits of getting my kids in their gear to head outside, even for a trip to the store, versus whether we should just suck it up, eat frozen chicken nuggets and Motts apple sauce for yet another day in an attempt to stay warm and close to home. I’d say we’re about 50/50 and when it doesn’t seem unnecessarily cruel, we usually head out for at least part of every day.
This leads my train of thought to next year and the inevitable preschool dilemma because I imagine having to get our butts in gear and out the door by a certain time 2 or 3 days a week. Jax will be 4 in October, which means that he still has two full years after the current one before he enters kindergarten when he will be nearly 6. I’m happy with that situation for many reasons, but the most selfish is that he gets to stay home with me again for another year. The older he gets, rather than looking forward to the days when he will be shipped off to school and disciplined by someone other than me, I instead feel panicky at the thought of entrusting his precious self to someone else. Someone less than ideal. Remember, I have been a public school teacher in my former life, and I know that all teachers have their faults and weaknesses. Our kids will be public school kids, and I’m lucky enough to live in a town where the public elementary school is stellar. I went in there the other day to inquire about their preschool program, and I could not have been more pleased with my first impression. So that is not the question at hand.
The question is, Why are all preschool programs for 4-year-olds three days a week? This is going to be Jax’s big transition to going somewhere alone, without me. We all know where I’d LIKE him to go (ahem, Waldorf school, cough…) but where I’d like and where we can afford seem to be divergent roads in a yellow wood. I am looking for somewhere in which I will entrust my son for the two years preceding his kindergarten year. I am now realizing that almost every program is either for three or four days; does anyone else think that that is too much too soon? Where is the baby step? Or did I miss that step this year when he was three, when I was supposed to put him somewhere two days a week other than foster our relationship at home? I don’t think either of us are ready for that. Mostly me. But maybe a small part of him, too.
This Saturday we went to a birthday party with probably close to 20 kids, and preschool was a hot topic discussed while arranging play mats, easing kids in and out of the bouncy house, and dishing out snacks. All of the children present who would be three next year are going to a 3-day preschool program except for Jax and one other boy. In a way I feel like I have to explain myself and admit that I’m not ready to send him away for three days next year. No, we don’t have a school picked out yet. No, we’ll probably do something a little more unorthodox (a.k.a. piece random shit together). I want to hold off for 3-day preschool until the year before he goes to school. Now, please note that my friends are the least judgmental crew I could have asked for, and if I told them I was going to home school Jax for the rest of his life, send him off to military school tomorrow, or send him to a local co-op, they would be more than supportive. Just as I think it’s perfectly acceptable for them to be sending their kids somewhere a few days a week, they understand that it’s what works for our family not to. But I felt a bit conflicted–everyone else’s kids are going somewhere, why not Jax? What am I afraid will happen? That he’ll learn too much? That he’ll grow up too fast? No and no, he’s already pretty smart and also thinks he’s the big kid of campus at our tiny little Waldorf school. Nothing bad would happen if he went somewhere for 3 days a week next year. So what’s holding me back?
I think one of the reasons is that I am nervous about letting go, but not because I want to keep my kids under my wing forever. I just have very high standards for what I consider appropriate play and what I would judge a suitable playroom for my kids for that many hours a week, and those standards aren’t the norm. I am terrified to send him into a traditional preschool, which so closely resembles a kindergarten room, and have the experience be negative and thus put a negative spin on school in the future. That’s why I love the Waldorf school so much–it feels so much more like a home, like an extension of a beautiful, peaceful, non-academic/low pressure playground where the balance between play and learning seems to be seamless. It doesn’t really have an academic connotation at all–that’s all under the overt radar. I have always hated drilling children and didn’t do it in my classroom; what if a different preschool smothers the flame of his love for learning and letters and reading by overdoing it, or not doing it well?
Is this a problem that I’m going to have to face at any school, in any situation? Absolutely. Most parents I talk to think I’m crazy. If I put it off traditional preschool for a year and direct his exuberance and excitement to places other than the traditional school setting for a bit, do some of you understand why? Because I’m crazy and a bit of a micro-manager? Yes. Because I’m lucky enough to be home with my kids, and I’m just not in a rush to see it end? That, too. Call me crazy, but even on the most hectic of days, I just straight-up like being home with them.
And before you call me a hypocrite, yes, I would send Jax to the Waldorf nursery school in a heartbeat, and yes, that is three days a week. But I am so on board with their philosophy and their manner of discipline and play that I would feel more than confident that his needs were being met and his self was being nurtured in a way of which I would approve. Am I being a crazy, nit-picky mom who says, It’s Waldorf or the highway for preschool? Maybe, for now. Is that in Jax’s best interest? Maybe not. But as one of my friends pointed out today, we can mostly blame ourselves for the flaws in our kids’ personalities, be it co-dependence, arrogance, fear, or the like. Of course by “flaws,” I don’t mean to say there’s something wrong with our kids–everyone has something in their personality they have to work on (for me, it’s obviously over-analyzing even the most mundane of decisions)–and kids are no exception. One huge reason I want Jax to go to preschool is because he is the most egocentric, I-am-the-most-important-thing-in-the-universe, praise-driven first child on the planet. He needs to learn patience and that not all adults are here to worship him. He has to figure out that he will not get praise or rewards or accolades for every teeny step in his development. Is he going to learn this from me? Heck no! I’m the one who made him that way! I will praise and worship and love this kid like he is the coolest thing since sliced bread, because to me, he is. It’s not my job to teach him that reality (well, it is, but in smaller doses). I need him to be around other adults and kids and to learn the nuances of sharing, friendship, cooperation, and patience. But does he have to be gone three days a week in order to learn it? I thought that doing Morning Garden one day a week this year was a good first step–apparently I’m already a year behind.
I’m just wondering if anyone else has ever had a hard time entrusting their children to others at this age, or was consumed with worry about how the decisions made at this point of their development will impact them throughout their lives. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to think that where and how often and with whom they go to preschool will greatly form who they will grow to be. So, to me, if my ideal preschool location isn’t an option, is it so terrible to opt for the second best option, hanging out with me? We plan to enroll him in two separate, one-day classes where he’d have exposure to the arts and sciences in a semi-formal, fun way that nurtures his creativity but keeps it light. Plus some form of sport, like gymnastics or maybe soccer, and our weekly trip to the library for story time and a craft, and I think we will have created a pretty good preschool-program-for-four-year-olds that doesn’t require me to get up and out the door by 8:00 three times a week or on a blustery winter day if we don’t want to. Or continue going if he hates it. Or continue going if I hate it! We have a whole other year for all that. For now, I think I’ll just keep with my alternative, hodgepodge preschool format, and pray that one of you is a secret Waldorfian who wants to be a benefactor to one charming yet self-centered little guy who is trying to thrive in this crazy world constructed by his equally crazy mother. With me over-analyzing every move we make, I can only hope that he develops into someone who isn’t completely neurotic, but even if he does, man will this kid be loved! And potentially a super mama’s boy, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.