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Staying Home

Is My Child Ready for Preschool?

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 2, March -- April 2007, pp. 78-80

"Staying Home" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

I'm trying to decide whether or not to enroll my daughter in our local preschool. Other mothers are very positive about the program and the activities their children get to do there. They're also happy about having a few hours a week "free" to run errands or get things done at home. I'm not sure, though. How do I know if my child is ready?

Mother's Response

Doesn't it seem like just yesterday that your child was a newborn? And now you're faced with decisions about preschool! You learned from listening to your baby's needs, and you know your child best. Here are some things that you might consider when deciding whether your daughter is ready for preschool. Does she enjoy being with other children? Does she separate from you easily? Is she excited about the idea of going to school? Does she sit still for a few minutes to listen to a story?

You sound almost as if the idea of having some time to yourself makes you feel a little guilty. Believe me, your daughter will still need you even if she goes to preschool! You may be able to be more available to her after school if you've had some time to recharge while she enjoys fun activities with other children.

Both of my children have gone to preschool and for us it has worked beautifully. They had a loving teacher whom we knew well and the class had just the right mixture of low-key academics and fun playtime.

However, if your daughter isn't ready for preschool, don't feel guilty about that, either. Again, you know your child best. If you feel she needs to be home with you a while longer, don't let others pressure you into sending her. There will be plenty of time for her to go to school later. I'm sure you'll make the decision that is right for you and her.

Ruth Hersey
Port-au-Prince Haiti

Mother's Response

There is no way to "test" for readiness. Inquire about the school's refund policy. If none exists, check your budget. Can you afford to "donate" or lose your money if you or your child are unhappy the first few weeks and you need to keep her home?

If you need a few hours a week to run errands, consider instead switching babysitting with another mother or two to take turns having time for errands. Investigate more than one program. I found a great one at my local high school. It is in session October through December and March through May. Not too much -- just enough!

Amelia Mealins
Lombard IL USA

Mother's Response

A child will assume independence when she is ready, and you cannot force it upon him. You know your child best and are the best judge of whether she is ready for the new activity and this separation from you.

Both of my boys benefited from attending preschool. My first and more gregarious son, despite never having been away from me, went off without a backward glance; while my second son took a period of adjustment before he was happy to be left in a new environment. When he started preschool, I stayed at the school with him, and once we were familiar with the morning's schedule, I'd pop out for a quarter of an hour saying, "I'll just go to the bakery and buy you a currant bun to eat on the walk home." My son was happy with this, as he knew the bakery was not far away and he likes currant buns! Then I would say, "I am going shopping and I'll come back after you have played outside on the bikes/had your snack/done some singing." After a while, he was happy to be there for the whole two-and-a-half hours without me. The teachers were a little surprised by my approach, but I did not ask for their permission to stay, in case they said they preferred me not to. After all, he is my child, and neither they nor I wanted him to be unhappy.

Preschool can provide a stimulating and fun environment and an opportunity to learn how to function as a part of a wider group, but your daughter will gain nothing from it apart from anxiety if she isn't ready to be apart from you. She may be totally against the idea, but find that with your help to ease her into this new routine, she actually enjoys it.

Children react differently to separation and change. Some like the company of other children in a busy group, while others hate the noise and prefer to play quietly at home. With each parenting decision, remember to follow your heart and you won't go wrong.

Barbara Higham
Ilkley West Yorkshire Great Britain

Mother's Response

Many mothers I know are encouraging me to consider formal preschool for my daughter. Anna is nearing her fourth birthday and, with increasing frequency, well-meaning friends and family ask, "Is she in school yet?" I'm still working on the perfect answer for that question. But I'll tell you what our family is doing as we figure out what's right for us.

Last year, we enrolled in a mother/child class organized by our church's preschool for two- to three-year-olds. Although my son, John, was too young for many of the activities, he was welcome in the class with us. I enjoyed being involved in the class with my children. But after a few months, we decided that the price of the class was more than we wanted to pay for activities that we were already doing for free at home.

Instead, we formed a playgroup that meets two or three times per week. At each monthly planning meeting, we organize field trips, crafts, parties, and informal play dates for the mothers and children to enjoy together. This group provides social time for both mothers and children. I like the mix of ages, since we have children from birth on up. Each meeting of our playgroup is optional: if we feel like going, we go. If not, we don't.

In addition, we attend a free story hour every week at the local public library. Anna learns to sit quietly and to follow instructions as the librarian reads aloud, teaches finger plays and rhymes, leads a craft project, and dances with the children. During the program, I get the chance to socialize with other mothers from our town. In the spring and fall, our local county park offers a "preschool in the park" program once a week. For a small fee, we enjoy a series of classes, each based on a theme. The series this fall included classes about bubbles, corn bread, Johnny Appleseed, camping, and shadows. Each program involves singing, reading books, making a craft, visiting a different section of the park, and learning about how children lived during previous periods in history.

Not every day is scheduled. We have plenty of lazy days at home, days of crafts and cooking, imaginary games, and even some boredom. We've found that our do-it-yourself approach to the toddler and preschool years allows us to tailor the educational program to fit the needs of each child in keeping with our priorities. "Homeschool" is not an accurate term for what we do, because we are seldom at home for a whole day, and none of our activities feel like doing schoolwork. However, saying we are "homeschooling" pacifies the critics.

In addition to the regular daytime activities I've mentioned, my children have joined me in volunteer work at a pregnancy resource center, a nursing home, and the humane society. They have attended a meeting with the mayor, participated in a pro-breastfeeding nurse-in at the mall, heard symphony concerts, participated in a formal Japanese tea ceremony, made regular trips to the beach, finger-painted the bathtub, taken rides in the bike trailer, visited several art museums, and gone on hikes in the woods. They have met the governor of our state as well as several ivy league professors. They have picked fruits and vegetables in gardens and orchards in several states.

Does it sound like our life is one long field trip? Perhaps we're only trying to live up to our last name. As you consider options for preschool, I urge you to think first about your own family, and do what works best for you.

Sarah R. Fields
Hobart IN USA

Mother's Response

Whether or not to send your child to preschool can be a difficult decision. Although I was planning to homeschool, I did send my oldest son to preschool for one year. He is a very social boy, and I really wanted some time alone with our new baby.

It worked out okay. I enjoyed the "time off" and he made some nice friends. I was worried about him picking up bad habits from the other children, but that did not happen. However, something I was not concerned about turned out to be a big problem: the staff was not nearly as careful as I would have liked in dealing with my son's allergies. When we got the tuition bill for the next year of school, we decided not to send him back, and I am glad to have him home again. Now we keep busy with story time at the library, a class at the YMCA, nature classes at a local park, and a short art class once a week. Whew! That, plus playing with other homeschooling friends, gets us out and about, and my son is still learning all that I would expect him to at this age.

Are you ready for your daughter to attend preschool? Do you think it's something she will really enjoy? Are you happy with the preschool, teachers, and other children? If any of the answers are "no," you might want to consider waiting another year before starting your child's official school career.

Melissa Gonzalez
Willoughby OH USA

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