The Preschool Puzzle

I’ve been going back and forth in my head about whether or not to send our two-year-old daughter, Cali, to preschool.

I’m not yet convinced it’s the right step for her at this point in time. As a trained teacher, I know that socialization is a key developmental stage for toddlers, but as a parent, I see my child on a daily basis and wonder if she’s ready for this big change.

Cali has had many changes in her life of late—a new country, a new house, a baby sister, potty training, and now her dad is going back to work after six months of paternity leave.

Add to the confusion, I started reading up on the education system in Finland; a very different and forward-thinking approach to how we do things in North America (if interested, go to the following link to read a thorough piece about how the Finns are doing things: Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful?)

I sometimes feel like it’s too easy to fall into the predictable stages of life; or those stages as prescribed by our society. As an educator, I see the benefits of a classroom setting; but as a parent, I’m not sure that a classroom per se is necessary for a two-year-old. We have play dates, dance class and park time on a regular basis, yet oftentimes I think that my daughter could really blossom in the preschool environment. She is shy in large groups of people and takes time to warm up.

Some of the doubt surrounding preschool centers on my limited experience with the other parents—exhausting to say the least. Since when did childhood become a competition? “Your child is so shy—do you think she’s ready?” Or another favourite: “My child is so independent—yours seems really attached to you.” Does it ever end? I’ve seen these parents before—but always from the opposite side of the table, as a teacher, in parent-teacher conferences. And like during my teaching years, I downplayed the competitive conversation that sometimes sneaked its way into what appeared to be an innocent chat about children.

I admire and trust the teachers and principal at the preschool. We’ve visited several times, and I see how much they care for each and every child enrolled in the program. The staff there are personable and approachable; they are understanding of our daughter’s shyness and want nothing more than to make her first “school” experience a positive one.

I’ve never been so nervous for anything in my life. A move to Japan where I didn’t speak the language; a career change at 37; childbirth (twice!) These all pale in comparison to the jitters I have about Cali going to preschool. I want everything in her life to be positive; but this is not realistic, nor is it a healthy approach to raising a child. We learn from the challenges presented before us on this journey called life.

Before we had Cali and Elle, my husband and I together decided that I would stay home with our children until they were in school full time. Every family decides what is best for them, and I wholeheartedly support my friends who have returned to work—be it out of need or by choice. For us, it was a simple and quick decision for me to stay home. Raised by a hard-working, single mother, I have foggy memories of being shuffled from one care provider to the next, never really feeling settled. I feel no resentment, however, my experience cemented for me the fact that I would not repeat this pattern for my own children. We have learned to survive on one income, as oftentimes I’m unemployed when we move to a new country every few years for my husbands’ work. It’s not easy, but it’s doable.

Also, I enjoy being home with our girls. My life revolves around snack time, naps, nursing and laundry, and most days, I enjoy this routine, finding true pleasure in reading Stella for the fourth time in a row or walking with my girls down the tree-lined back lanes in our neighbourhood. Trust me, I need a break and a stiff vodka-lime at least once a week. Anyone who says they don’t—they’re lying. Raising kids is hard work.

It’s now nearing the end of August, and the preschool puzzle was solved, after a late-night conversation with my husband and his mother. After admitting that I needed to hang up my own hang-ups, my mother-in-law, a seemingly tough German with a sweet center asked me straight up, “What does your gut tell you? As Cali’s mother?” I didn’t miss a beat and responded with, “Enjoy having her home for one more year.”

Dear readers—please share with me—what has been your personal experience with preschool?