So, like any crazy person, I consider any and all decisions in motherhood just a series of small crises.
What should they eat? Organic? Are dyes bad? Rice cereal has arsenic now? And NO, donuts do not count as dinner (even though…they did).
Co-sleep, cry-it-out, formula, breastmilk, baby-wearing, strollers, when to transition to a toddler bed/potty train/learn a second language? Nothing seems easy, amiright?!
And, as of late, I’ve encountered one of the heaviest crises yet. My most recent freakout?
Lately, it feels like this is will be the single-most important decision I make in my 3 year old’s life. Pre-school will determine the rest of his school trajectory path. Everyone knows that Pre-school leads to Kindergarten, which leads to first grade, which leads to frat parties and keg stands and having to choose a major.
Everything is riding on this inaugural school experience.
Living in an affluent suburb of Indianapolis (this is not a humble brag. We are that outlier that brings the median income significantly down), originally I had planned on sending him to a school near our home- assuming there probably is a pretty good one given the competitive pre-school market for whoever those affluent parents are that live here.
And we looked at a couple of those. And they seem great. 5 year olds that can read and do math (“do math” is exactly what a person who sucks at math calls whatever it is pre-Kindergarteners do with numbers), who can sing songs about geography and animals and outer space.
Sounds great, right?
And I’m sure they are. But the more the I think about it, the more I think…
I know, I know. My alarms are going off, too. My role as their Mom is to help provide them with experiences that will shape who they are and become. What am I doing if I intentionally bow out of the competitiveness of schooling? Am I holding them back? Am I preventing them from getting into a good college?
Seeing as we’ll never be able to afford college for all three of them anyway, I’ve decided I don’t really care about how school-ready they’ll be after pre-school. If it’s my job to provide them with experiences that nurture who they are and help shape who they become, I want to give them the chance to be curious, and to really just be little before they go to “big school.”
So with that, I’ve come up with some things I do care about in a Pre-School:
- Racially, ethnically, economically, and ability inclusive. I just don’t buy into the idea that the “best” school experiences should be reserved for any one group of people. So I want to make sure that our kids go to a school that makes inclusion of all kids and families possible. I also don’t think “best” means most academically competitive or robust. I think “best” means having teachers and a community that values a wide range of lived experiences.
- Expressly non-academic. They’ll start part-time pre-school at 3. Those first years of school used to be for learning social-emotional skills, mostly through play. You can learn to read your whole life, but there are windows of development that are prime for giving kids opportunities to learn how to socialize and form friendships (be kind, share, take turns). Honestly, before my kids go to “big school”, I just want them to learn they can’t eat with their hands in public or take things from people without asking…like they do at home. I’m really counting on peer pressure here to embarrass them to the point that they learn to use a fork and ask nicely and wait their turn. So really I could have just summed this bullet point up with: no academics, only peer pressure.
- Kindness. I want my kids to be with teachers who are kind. Frankly, my kids are a little weird, and I’m a little awkward, and we’re just trying to figure it all out. So I’m hoping to find teachers who can see that I’m trying, and see my kids for who they are and what they can do, not what they can’t.
- Strong community. I’m hoping to join into a group that is supportive and helpful of one another. Not competitive, not isolated, and not judge-y of the fact that I’ll probably never stop wearing maternity pants.
At the recommendation of a friend, I actually think we found this pre-school. It’s a cooperative where caregivers or family members are involved as teachers’ assistants, which helps keeps cost down, and there is lots of opportunity for experiential play and learning. I’m actually really looking forward to September when it starts. I’m hoping we’ll meet some great friends, my son will learn how to play nicely and maybe some other things, and instead of jumping into it, we can actually delay competitive schooling for at least just a few more years.