Saturday, February 16, 2013

Why the Bean is a Preschool Dropout

This post was originally written over a year ago.

Last Sunday I finally picked up my son’s stuff from the preschool he attended for only a few weeks in the fall. There was a plastic bag of extra clothes I’d sent with him, including some Super Grover underwear that would be too small now anyway. I wondered if they would have had to squeeze him into them at some point. There was a binder filled with a few pages of work he’d done at school: some directed finger painting activities, some letter-tracing worksheets. An “All About Me” sheet had been filled in by his teacher in the first week; it said “I’m special because I like to play with Mommy. Seeing that he was talking about me, thinking about me, while we were apart made my heart break a little. What made my heart completely break was the picture in the front of the binder. Taken on his first day of school, the picture shows a child in total distress, forehead scrunched, mouth open in a wail, eyes red. His face is off-center and the image is blurry, as though he were trying to make a break for it, and he probably was.

I agonized over the decision to pull the Bean out of preschool. I’m a stay-at-home mom, a breastfeeding, co-sleeping, attachment sort of parent. I’m strongly considering homeschooling. I’m still not entirely sure why I thought he needed to go to preschool at all. I think I just enrolled him because everyone else does it, which is a seriously foolish way to parent. I expected tears at the beginning but assumed he would adjust, and everyone seems to think separation should be forced at some point. Three is late for forced separation, to most people. To me it’s entirely too early. The Bean had some fun at school, sure. It was only three hours, two days a week. One of his best buddies was in his class. The school is at our church, so he was familiar with his surroundings. But every morning, the first question he asked upon waking was this: “Do I not have to go to school today?” Then followed a long session of begging me to stay home. After a few weeks, I decided to stop putting him through the anxiety.

In the Bean’s binder I found a picture of Noah’s Ark that he had colored and a copy of the Lord’s Prayer, which the children sing every day. Because the preschool is connected to a church, the teachers include Bible lessons and incorporate religious material as often as possible. I’m not completely opposed to this, but I learned that the teachers were exposing the kids to some of the less pleasant aspects of the Bible: people being sold into slavery, Jesus dying on the cross, etc. I understand that Jesus’s death and resurrection are important, but do preschoolers really need to hear about the bloody stuff?

Every week the Bean brought home a folder filled with worksheets on which he’d traced capital and lower-case letters. I have no problem with my son tracing letters, but the idea of him sitting at a desk and being forced to complete worksheets alongside other children just doesn’t work for me. Not at three. In addition, the teachers assigned “homework” each week, which was supposedly optional, with the warning that in the four-year-old program it would be mandatory. I’m not even sure homework is good for high school kids; I’m completely certain it’s absurd for a preschooler. 

On Thursdays at this preschool, the teachers get out the “treasure box,” which is filled with cheap toys and prizes that students are allowed to pick from, but only if they’ve been “good” all week. I don’t like the idea of three-year-olds standing by and watching sadly while their friends pick out a toy, particularly since they’re too young to understand what’s going on. They don’t remember the behavior they’re being punished for if it was earlier in the week, so they can’t connect it to the punishment. In addition, the director told me that the Bean and his buddy often had to be separated at circle time because they got too excited. I understand the logistical need for this but it troubled me. I want my son to be excited and have fun. He’s three, for God’s sake.

I had plenty of reasons for pulling the Bean out of preschool, least of all the simple fact that I’m hoping to homeschool him anyway and I don’t believe he needs forced learning at any age, let alone at three. He learns a ton at home and out in the world, simply through playing and exploring. But the only reason I really need to pull him out of school is presented quite clearly for me in that sad picture from his first day. I know most kids have trouble separating from their parents, and tears can’t always be a dealbreaker or we’d never allow our kids to experience anything. However, I’m not so sure that a three-year-old needs to separate from his mother yet. Preschool can be wonderful when it’s play-based and when the child is ready to separate. Coerced learning, completing worksheets alongside children who may be six months older and more advanced, worrying about homework, being forced to do show-and-tell, and learning about bloody death on a cross: these things can wait. Or perhaps they never have to happen at all. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Good Kid

Lately I’ve been seeing this quote on Facebook and Pinterest:

“Don’t let yourself become so concerned with raising a good kid that you forget you already have one.” Glennon Melton,

I didn’t give the quote much thought when I repinned it to my own “Inspiration” board. I see things like this on the internet all the time, after all. But this one came back to me a day or two later, as my son illustrated its truth right in front of me.

I already knew I had a good kid, but as I watched him participate in his gymnastics class this past Wednesday I had a moment to reflect on his goodness. He struggled across the monkey bars, his most difficult challenge in class, and dropped to the ground in the middle. Then he went back to the beginning and waited in line to start again. I had watched the previous week as a child pushed the Bean out of the way to restart the monkey bars. I’m not saying that was a “bad” kid – that kid was doing something perfectly normal and I wouldn’t be surprised to see my own child do the same. But the more I pay attention to what the Bean does on his own, without being told, the more I realize that all this worry I have over character building might be misplaced. Character seems to come naturally to him. He waits in line, he steps back and lets others take the lead when necessary (but not always; he does assert himself when needed), and he works hard. After class, one of his coaches took a moment to tell me that the Bean is doing great because he works hard, does what he’s told, and always tries to please. Something inside me cringed at that last part, because I don’t want him to pursue excellence just to please someone else, but I don’t think that’s what is happening here. He wants to do what his coaches ask, and he’s having fun doing it at the same time. I’ll keep a close eye, however, to make sure it stays fun.

Yesterday morning was Valentine’s Day, so I woke the Bean up with a couple of presents. “Mommy, I still love you even if you don’t give me presents,” he said, quelling my fears that all of his stuff is making him into a spoiled consumer.

Yesterday afternoon he played at the park with a crowd of rowdy boys, and he was as rowdy as the rest of them. But when an altercation started, he hung back a bit. He told me not to look at what they were doing, which admittedly is not ideal, but then he proceeded to tell me exactly what happened. Frequently, the Bean has been in a situation where his friend has wanted to do something he’s not supposed to (at four, this is never anything really bad), and I’ve watched as he said, “I’m not going to do that. You’re not supposed to.”

I want my child to be assertive and bold and to take risks. I want him to rush forward sometimes instead of always hanging back. But I’m thankful that he’s cautious, that he thinks about things before jumping in and doing whatever his friends are doing. I can’t say he always thinks first. He’s four, after all. But I’m starting to notice that all the qualities I’ve been hoping my child will develop are already there.

What I like about that quote is its implication that all kids are good; we just have to recognize their goodness. Even the rowdy boys who would lead my kid into trouble – they’re good, too. I’ve always hated calling a child “good” or “bad,” anyway. “Is he a good baby?” people asked when the Bean was new. If they were asking if he slept through the night, the answer was and still is no. If they were asking if he never cried, the answer was and still is no. If they were asking if he never had tantrums or big feelings that were tough for both of us to deal with, the answer was and still is no. But he is good by any definition. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Who is the Bean?

The Bean is my son, who sits beside me now playing a silly game on the iPad that he's currently addicted to. The Bean is my life, despite the fact that a woman is not supposed to make her children her identity. The Bean is a boy I waited forever to meet, and now that he's here I spend every moment possible with him, even if it sometimes drives me crazy.

The Bean is four years old, on the verge of reading, obsessed with numbers, fanatical about superheroes, skilled with Lego Duplos. The Bean doesn't go to preschool like other children his age. He won't be registered for kindergarten this fall along with his best buddy. He doesn't have timeouts. His parents don't count 1 - 2 - 3 at him when he does something they don't like. He doesn't know what a spanking is, and he will never experience one. The Bean is cherished every moment, even when his mommy and daddy are frustrated. He is loved unconditionally.