There are raging debates amongst the mom-circles in Karachi about which pre-school to send their kids to, what is the right age to send them, what schooling philosophy each school adopts and so on. And as the blistering heat of summer makes its advent, the debate turns to which summer camp is best. Some first time parents find themselves lost, adrift and confused. It’s all a conundrum.
Sorry, this post is not there to clear the fog. But here is my two-pence on what is the right age: you will know when the time comes. I did. I regularly took my toddler for evening excursions to the park, to play dates, to the mall. We all know tots love routine. And we had a pretty decent one. But the mornings were tough. How does one fill the hours between breakfast and lunch? This situation presented itself in February. My refuge came in the form of Baby TV. However, after a few weeks, no matter how much I tried I couldn’t wash off the guilt that came with watching my toddler while away hour after hour in front of the television. When I saw him go from sitting position to a horizontal one I KNEW it was bad parenting. I had to do something. He was going to start regular preschool in August. There was a long stretch of time gaping at us, almost like a chasm. My little one had a vocabulary of ten words, and had literally never been in the hands of strangers. How could I do this to him? But the solution was staring me down- I enrolled him in the pre-school program at Gymboree (essentially a playgym with an informal preschool program), as practice for the proper session in another school to commence in August.
I would not label my opinion as ‘expert’ and I am no veteran mom. But there are some things I have learned along the way that would help clear the confusion for some of you:
There is no right age to send them or a perfect preschool
Stop worrying RIGHT NOW. All children develop at their own pace. Some teethe, crawl, wean, walk, talk way ahead of others. Barring clinical issues, all children eventually get to their milestones. Yours will too. It doesn’t mean they cannot become CEO of their own company at age 36. They probably will. Your worrying doesn’t make them do things faster, but it may slow them down.
Most kids in the US starts school at age 5. Schools in Finland have their own ‘Learn Through Play’ approach- arguably more beneficial to learning. All these methods work. As a parent you are most in tune to when your child is ready. You will know. No school authority/aunt/grandparent/ ‘well wisher’ knows better than you do. Go with your instinct. And as far as deciding which preschool? Do your research, attend all the Open House sessions, read up, ask questions. Decide what works best for you.
Separation Anxiety is Real
Once you have decided the ‘when’ and ‘where’, let me just tell you that initially it will NOT be easy. SO be prepared. There are going to be gut-wrenching goodbyes which will rip your heart right out. Relax. It WILL get better. I promise.
And know this: separation anxiety works both ways. You are also not used to sending your kid off in the hands of complete (albeit well-meaning and professional) strangers. You will be nervous too. And in some cases there will be tears at both ends. Try to keep perspective. Of course it’s not easy but you got to keep the bigger picture in mind – your child will develop social skills, he will make friends, he will learn to trust people outside the home, he will maybe trust you more, he will learn a few new things, he will learn to be independent and most important – he will have fun. It’s not healthy to coddle your child too much. So, focus on the positive. Thinking positive thoughts may help ease your anxiety and in turn, your child’s.
Don’t send them off in their designer best
The evening before the first day, you might lay out their best clothes so as to ‘dress to impress’. Don’t. Pre-school is all about paint, glue, glitter and peanut butter. Sending them off in their regal finery isn’t the best idea. You may have maxed out your credit card at Baby Gap, but the world doesn’t need to know that. I’ve ruined many a new clothes this way. Also, your toddler may be more comfortable wearing everyday clothes and the familiarity they feel would help ease the transition.
A favorite toy often helps
I’m not sure if all preschools allow this, but taking along a favorite toy the first few weeks always helps. For the child it serves as a representation of ‘home’ – of familiarity, of comfort and of mommy/daddy. It helps soothe the crying toddler who will clutch at it with a deadly grip that no earthly force can wrench away.
Every Monday may be tough
AND, when your child is ultimately settled in, every Monday may be a difficult one. That happened with us. Over the weekend my toddler forgot all about preschool and come Monday morning the tantrums started again. The first few months the sullen expression in car seat and the full-throttle bawling had me worried. But it got better eventually.
They will fall sick very often
Toddlers are especially prone to viruses and bacteria and pre-schools/daycares are hotbeds for them. It’s really no fun having them miss school once they’ve fallen into the rhythm and started enjoying it. But that’s part and parcel of the whole deal. Wash their hands often, bathe them after school, don’t skip the multivitamins, tank up on Vitamin C sources and leave the rest to fate. They have to build their immunity one time or another.
Remember, each child settles in at his/her own pace. Some children love playschool and make friends instantly. Some don’t. As a parent (esp a first-time one), it’s important to remember to not be pushy. Don’t rush into things to keep up with the Joneses. Take the cue from your child. Try to enjoy your kids in the age they happen to be. Childhood is a precious few years – in this fast-paced world, try to make it a memorable one for them.