19 November 2013

School Readiness

When Agent E was little, I was very traditional-school focused. I thought I had to "cure" her not wanting to be away from me, but more than that I truly believed I had to get her used to how to work the system. By that I mean I genuinely felt the sooner she became accustomed to the ins-and-outs of school bureaucracy and how to "do school" the better. 

Now Agent E had the academic part down earlier than most of her peers; she could recognize all letters (uppercase and lowercase) and numbers one to ten in print before she turned two. By three she could do some basic addition, spell at least a dozen words, and write many letters, including her own name. 

But, she hated structure. She would be the kid at Moms Day Out who stayed in the corner playing with blocks when everyone else was having craft time. Well-meaning teachers would try their best to cheerfully encourage her to do what everyone else was doing, but she flat out refused. This improved somewhat once she started "regular" preschool at age 3.5, but her desire to want to do her own thing lingered.

I thought this was a problem. A huge problem.

(Spoiler alert: It wasn't.)

By the time we moved to Italy just before her fourth birthday, she was all over the school thing. As in, excited about being there every day, no trouble participating with everyone else, helpful to the teacher, model student. She finished out the school year in the four-year-old class, and the following year attended the combined preK/Kindergarten class five days a week.

Four-year-old Agent E, ready for the first day of school
She just wasn't ready at two, or probably really even at three. At four, she loved it. I could have (should have?) waited to send her until she was more on board with the whole idea, but at the time it didn't even occur to me to take her feelings on the matter into account.

Somehow in spite of this experience, by the time Agent J was a toddler I was still convinced earlier was better and I needed to send her off to preschool ASAP. So we did. I honestly believed that I had it all figured out and there was no need to consider her take on it. 

So, at the tender age of two years, five months, I began dropping Agent J at school every Tuesday and Thursday from 9:00-2:30. (Actually, she started before that, attending a brief summer program, so she was even younger. But the Tuesday/Thursday schedule was the regular school year.) Part of this was because of the whole she needs to learn the ropes of "school" just like her sister did, but mostly it was for me.

Wait. Scratch that. I am going to be perfectly honest and say it was entirely because it was a break for me. It was very much a play-focused fun environment, I knew she was in capable hands, her older sister was at the same school, and it gave me alone time with newborn Agent A. But she didn't need to be there. I just wanted a break, and sending her to preschool was convenient.

(Note: I feel compelled to point out here that I absolutely loved, loved Agent E and Agent J's preschool teachers from Italy. They are wonderful, kind ladies and we still keep into touch. It's not about the educators or the school setting, both of which were fabulous. It's more about the concept in general, and how I wasn't seeing it for what it was.)

I would do things differently now. I mean (I think) now I would not send them at all and homeschool from the start. Which is pretty much what we are doing with Agent A; he just turned three and I cannot even imagine taking him to a preschool classroom and leaving him there. He's so little. And jumpy. 

Agent J celebrating her third birthday with her class
But even if we were not homeschoolers, I don't think I would get that excited about pushing them out the door into an academic, structured environment so young. Maybe we would be those people who didn't send their kids to preschool at all (the horror!) and instead had their first school experience be the first day of kindergarten. It worked for me. Preschools were not nearly as commonplace back in the stone ages (or, the 1970s). When I started kindergarten (at age four) it was my first school experience, first time away from mom, first time in any kind of structured scenario with another adult in charge. I lived.

My point of all this is not to wag a finger at anyone who does send their children off to preschool, but to share some of my own thought processes (and maybe challenge yours) as to why we've convinced ourselves that sending essentially babies into the academic world is not only a viable option, but necessary.

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