When I was little, I didn’t go to preschool. I thought this was normal: the little girl down the block didn’t go, either. As an adult I have learned that, then and now, EVERYONE goes to preschool. Our family and the one down the block were apparently anomalies.
Our oldest turned three last fall; thus, he would be eligible for a typical three-year-old preschool class this coming fall. At the beginning of the calendar year, when all the local preschools were opening enrollment for the coming fall and advertising open houses (which, by the way, seems totally wrong—to have to sign up for preschool six months in advance for someone for whom six months is like a lifetime), ‘Love and I investigated. So far, so good.
We visited the preschool that meets in our church. It gets rave reviews from parents, and I’ve heard it favorably compared to other area preschools by more than one seemingly choosy mom. Then it got complicated. You see, I bothered to look at the curriculum outline provided at the open house. It had a list of objectives, and it included items like the following (my responses in italics):
- Learn to play nicely, taking turns and sharing. Shouldn’t children already have a basic understanding of that if they’re preschool age? I mean, I know they aren’t great at it, but isn’t this something that you’re supposed to be working on at home and on playdates? I guess this one is fine and all, but it’s nothing earth-shattering.
- Identify primary colors. Surely they can’t mean primary colors, can they? I mean, that’s only red, yellow, and blue. No, no, they really do mean it—here in the four-year-old objectives it lists secondary color identification. Seriously? Our kids knew their primary colors by age two! This is ridiculous.
- Learn the alphabet. Learn it? That’s it? Doesn’t every kid walk through the door already singing the alphabet song?
- Discuss seasons. I don’t need to send the kids to school to discuss seasons. I do that perfectly well at home.
The whole list continued along those lines. Now, I don’t think my kids are uncommonly brilliant or anything, so I’m surprised that items like these make it into a curriculum list. Maybe I’m expecting too much of parents, figuring that they DO sing the alphabet song at home and talk about the world around them…but I’d like to think that’s pretty normal, basic parenting stuff.
One brief visit to the preschool revealed five little children seated at a table, quietly squeezing appropriate-sized drops of glue onto ever-larger dots; another stop at church found the whole preschool in pajamas, gathered to watch a Disney movie for the duration of their school day.
For this, I would pay about $150 per month. If I wanted my child to “learn through fun,” I would have to pay an extra fee and send him for an additional day.
Shouldn’t all learning be done through play—fun—at this age? Isn’t that what researchers have been telling folks? I mean, I watch my son pour water in the tub, and he’s checking out how fast it flows through the different sized holes in the bottom of the cups, looking to see what happens if he pushes that hole-riddled cup into the tub water, what it does if he tips it sideways… He’s learning all the time, and it’s accomplished through his own curious play and through the questions he thinks to ask me.
After being thus disappointed by a highly-regarded local preschool, I looked into a few more, only to be similarly let down. Curricula included items that my kids have already soaked up, for the most part, and the formats just did not impress me–they were just like big kid school, only with pint-sized students.
I was a teacher. I say this to clarify that I have nothing against school as an institution, necessarily, but… For both my husband and me, school was not a pleasant place. He was always a head taller than his classmates and was introverted to boot; I was a perfectionistic lover of learning with a large vocabulary. Neither of us particularly fit in with our classmates. Beyond that, it was boring—full of repetition, painfully slow lessons, and meaningless worksheets.
Our children are doomed. Not only were their parents misfits, but we are passing our craziness along. We never did bother to hook up the antenna on our analog TV after moving nearly two years ago. We live very frugally and don’t spend much money on toys or entertainment. We read—a lot. We go to church weekly. We garden. We despise the commercialization of childhood and avoid anything with Disney’s Princess or Cars—or any other TV-character-turned-product-pusher— when humanly possible. Our poor, precious little dears are not going to fit in well with their classmates.
My dilemma, then, is twofold. First, is there any point to sending a child to preschool? Do they actually gain anything from the experience? I doubt they’re going to gain much on the academic front, but will any social gains be big enough to justify the price tag? (It’s not cheap—and on a tight budget, there’s going to have to be significant sacrifice to find enough money to pay for the experience.)
And second, do I really want to send my kids off to school any earlier than I really have to? School is where you discover that you don’t fit, where you learn that it’s not okay to make mistakes. School is where you worry about whether others like you or not, and where you are laughed at and ridiculed by those who don’t. Do I really want to send my little ones to that doom any earlier than I need to? Or is it okay to keep them home with me for another year or two, to send them to Story Hour at the library and to Sunday School at church and to have playdates for “socialization”? Can I let them learn in their own way and encourage their curiosity and delight in discovery at home—or will I be depriving them of something greater?
I know if I do choose to skip preschool, I will be branding myself a misfit among local mommies. I’ve already begun to get the questions—“Isn’t Peatie old enough for preschool yet?” “You’re not sending him in the fall? Certainly you’ll send him NEXT year though!” Must I be a misfit again to protect my little ones for a bit longer? Or will it only make things worse for them, too? Oh, the many questions of motherhood!