I have never made more seemingly unpopular decisions than since I became a mother. The choices I make for my children have been analyzed, whispered about and challenged by other mothers and even those without kids. Opinions are usually offered by people unfamiliar with the careful analysis that goes into each and ever choice I make and with whom I probably wouldn't even ask over for a cup of coffee. Who would have thought that the conclusions I reach about what is best for my family would spark such skepticism in others?
Before Nicholas turned 3 I contemplated sending him to preschool. I wasn't comfortable with the thought of him going to "school" at such a young age and since I am a stay-at-home mom we were regularly attending outings with other kids his age. Socialization skills were a non-issue. But, I felt it was in my best interest to look at all of my options and choose the best-case scenario. Almost everyone I knew was sending their 3-year-old to preschool, so I thought I better execute some due diligence to find out about this whole preschool scene.
I worked up a preschool checklist to help me conduct side-by-side comparisons of schools within about five miles of my house. Location was the main criteria since it did not make sense to me to drive any farther for such a short period of time. I interviewed several teachers and even talked to current and past participants of each school. I covered every angle, researched every teaching style and categorized my findings.
My final decision was to not send Nicholas to preschool until he turned four. He was a bright, articulate, socially-adept 3-year-old and I did not feel that he needed to go to "school" to learn any more than he was already learning by our museum and park visits, social outings and play dates. Another important fact was that I thoroughly enjoyed his company during the day and I wasn't interested in sharing him with anyone else.
I was really taken aback by the comments from supposedly well-meaning friends and acquaintances who could not believe that I chose not to send my son to preschool at age 3. I was told everything from, "he will not be ready for Kindergarten," to "you really do need to let go." I second-guessed my decision for weeks (I am human, after all) but ultimately believed that I was making the right decision for my family. Nicholas and his brother and I had an extraordinary, fun-filled year that I look back on fondly because we had no schedules, conflicts or interruptions of our precious time together.
When it was time for Nicholas to attend Kindergarten our school district changed the curriculum from a part-time to a full-time program. I was devastated and heartbroken at the thought of Nicholas being gone all day, every day during the week. I was prepared for this to happen in first grade, but not prepared for it to happen so soon in Kindergarten. After much discussion between the administration and other Kindergarten families our school district opted to continue offering a part-time curriculum for those who were interested. We jumped at the chance. I would have to drive him to another elementary school, but it was a perfect, win-win scenario for us.
Again, the comments and confused looks from friends and acquaintances followed us as I tried to explain the decision that was best for my family. Comments this time ranged from, "oh, he must not be ready for full-time," to "aren't you afraid he will be behind his peers in full-time Kindergarten?" to "he might not make the transition to first grade." I was offended that people actually thought the part-time curriculum was somehow sub-standard now that a full-time curriculum was offered. How could years and years of a stellar part-time Kindergarten curriculum that produced students who learned effectively and confidently made the transition to first grade be forgotten so quickly?
I have had to defend my position repeatedly to people who just simply don't get it. I am not the parent who looks forward to someone else caring for or watching my kids. I am not jumping for joy that my son will be in school full-time so that I can have some free time to myself. I am not ready to push my son out the door into the "real world" when he is only 5-years-old. He has plenty of time for learning and for school over the next 12 years. I simply opted to give him one more year of childhood.
If I thought for a minute that Nicholas would somehow be scarred by my decision I wouldn't have done it. But, I know for sure that the time we have had together as a family over the past five years will be more socially and academically beneficial to him that any preschool or full-time Kindergarten classroom ever could. The picnics in the park, games of hide-and-go-seek, fun times, shared laughs and family togetherness will go a long way in building Nicholas's self-confidence and knowledge that he is an important and loved person. If by continuing to make unpopular decisions I can show Nicholas that it's more important to do what's best for him than to follow a majority opinion, he will be well on his way to mastering one of the most important life lessons of all.