7:45 – 2:45 – that is the school day for kids from pre-k 3 through 8th grade at our little Catholic School. We were floored; it seemed so permanent, like all of a sudden our babies would be big kids at the tender age of 3. Coming from a very flexible curriculum-based daycare where we could drop-off and pick-up anytime between 7 am and 7 pm, this would be a huge adjustment. Gone would be the days of dropping in to peek in on the classroom, or doing a music class in the morning, then getting to school in time for lunch. Attendance would be taken, tardies would be issued, with the school gates closing at exactly 7:50 and any child not in their seat having to go through the main office to be admitted. This seemed so rigid, so structured, how could we take a vacation if we wanted to, what if we wanted a mid-week playdate? Is this the best thing for our preschoolers, and when is the right time to start the kids in “real school.”
This is the time of year to make that decision – re-enrollment and application time and every parent comes to this crossroad at some point. In the area we live, most kids start some kind of school at age 2, at least a few half days per week or an enrichment class. Then at 3, most kids go daily for at least half a day, and then at 4 all kids start full-time pre-k. This is normal where we live, so I’ve been astounded to hear friends in different parts of the country complaining because they don’t have the option of part-time kindergarten. By age 5, every child in our city is in school – full time – no ifs, ands or buts about it.
But the question really is, when is the best time to introduce your child to school of any type, and how much is too much or too little? Every family has different ideas about this, and really there isn’t a wrong or right answer. A high school student isn’t going to be denied entrance to Harvard because they went to half-day kindergarten, and nobody is going to be valedictorian because they went to full-day pre-k. So, my generic and politically correct answer is that everybody has to do what is best for their family and what is best for their children. What I will do is point out the reasons we made the decisions we did for our kids, and why we’ve been so happy with these choices so far.
We’ve always been HUGE fans of daycare for a variety of reasons, but most of all the socializing and developmental learning aspect of it. I’m not the type of mom who spends hours upon hours sitting at home and doing flashcards with my kids, or even reads book after book. I help them with their homework, and buy them extra workbooks, but really I’m more the let’s go to Gymboree mom, or take a music or swim class mom. But every mom is different, and if you are very hands-on, your child is probably getting as much stimulation as they need at home. My kids are bored at home. They like their toys to a point, but I don’t do crafts, I don’t do trips to the park for logistical reasons, and really the only music they are exposed to at home is when we have our daily Wiggle Dance Parties. So, school offers all these things to my children, from an early age, and gives them all the activities that we don’t really do together at home. I love seeing the artwork they create, and hearing the songs they’ve learned, and watching them point out their letters and numbers, but I am not an educator, at least not of early childhood, and so I decide to leave that part to the experts, and just enjoy the time with my children in other ways.
So, we made the leap – from flexible easy happy-go-lucky daycare, to SCHOOL! Both my boys have been in full-time pre-k since they were 3 at St. Hugh Catholic School in Coconut Grove, and it has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. They LOVE it. They love their friends, they love their teachers, they love lunch in the cafeteria, they love playground time and music time, and painting, and learning letters and numbers on the Smart boards, they love working on the ipads, they love show & tell, being line leaders, holding the flag for the pledge of allegiance, birthday party days, field trips, and even love learning about God – who I’ve been told lives in the church. My biggest fear was that the long day would be too much for them, but it is so well structured, that they get play time, learning time, snack time, nap time, outside time, computer time, and even tons of afterschool sports and activities. My boys run to their classrooms, even Cooper, my mule who used to have to be dragged into daycare and into his first few weeks at pre-k, they put their beloved superhero lunchboxes in their cubbies, greet their teachers and friends, and are excited to start every day. And never once have we looked back and said, wow, we should have let them be babies just a little longer. And that is because, they are happy.
As parents school has opened new doors for us as well. I’ve mentioned in subsequent stories the relationships I have with my mommy friends, and school has given me whole new sets of mommy friends, all of whom I trust fully if in a pinch to pick-up or drop-off or have a playdate with my kids at any time. We have girls nights together aka “Book Club”, we’ve done baby showers, pool parties, birthday parties, afterschool activities, summer camps for the kids, and are always genuinely excited to see each other on a run-in at the doctor’s office or grocery store. We share resources, discuss school issues and how we can make things better for our kids, volunteer at school events and plan activities together for those teacher work days and early release days. This isn’t extraordinary or unusual, although I feel my group of mommy friends from school is very special, it is just one of those benefits of having your children in school, and for my kids these benefits began at age 3.
Another reason school has been such a Godsend to us is because we have Four – 4 and under. School and daycare have allowed me the opportunity to spend quality one-on-one time or sometimes two-on-one time with all of my children. I do activities with my girls in the mornings, playdates, Gymboree, music, play at home, and then drop them off for lunch and naps around noon. I then get a few hours to myself for errands, groceries, tennis/ gym, doctor/ dentist or a pedi treat, and then it is time for boys’ pick-up. And we are BUSY. Every afternoon is one or two sports, the occasional playdate, and then off we go to pick up the girls, go home, have dinner, and bedtime. But without school and daycare, my life would be unmanageable, at least for me, and simply under-stimulating for the kids.
So, school or no school – that is the question, at least in the case of toddlers and pre-schoolers. And if school is the choice, the next question is how much or how little? For us – full time has been best, and I know the other parents at our school agree. Our kids are happy, well-rounded, and social and stimulated – what more could you ask for for your child? For others, a mix of pre-school and home time is best – try to get the most out of those baby years – and I can’t blame anyone for that, because they do grow up entirely too fast.
But remember and feel good, that no matter what choice you make, it is the right choice – for you, for your child, for your family.