Long before it actually happens parents can see it coming. Soon after our children begin to walk they begin to explore things like holding crayons, scribbling with pencils (or Sharpies on the walls), packing book bags and lunchboxes, figuring out all the colors of the rainbow, counting and rehearsing their ABC’s. It’s just a matter of time before your kids will be starting school; and once they do life changes drastically.
Starting school is one of those moments in life that is truly bittersweet. As much as it hurts to see your little person grow up and leave the comforts of home; there is a sense of pride that exerts from their spirit and gently protrudes to ours. For many parents, there is also a stage of manic clinging and swollen tears of pain that we watch our children go through as they prepare to leave us in an attempt to find security and learn how to trust others out in the great big world.
Many parents (especially new and first time ones) tend to feel that the sooner their children start school the smarter they will be. It has become common place to find 2 year programs to send our children to in order for them to get a head start on their academic success. It also sounds or seems somewhat more responsible to say that our children are starting school rather than just attending day care. When they come home recognizing that grass is actually green and Elmo is red we find a sense of comfort thinking that we have done the right thing. Although no one can judge what other parents do or when the right time to commence school is I can say for certain that they will learn everything they need to know in due time no matter we do!
Parents spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not their child is smart enough or whether or not they can be properly stimulated at home. We spend millions of dollars on learning toys. We forego toys that are simply for pleasure and usually swamp our homes with the latest and greatest gadgets to spark a love of learning. The whole Baby Einstein series is an example of that. Sure, children find all of these things interesting and engaging – but the opening of their mind will happen without all of these DVD’s, computer games, smart books, learning games, pie charts and gizmo’s. The right brain and left brain will develop appropriately and adequately through the loving, fostering and attention that kids can be given at home. The grocery store, library, park, car, and living room can be just as stimulating as a classroom filled with snotty (meaning mucous infested) toddlers. Keep in mind that the one thing they can’t and won’t get at school is the solid foundation, love, security, dedication, appreciation, and self confidence that come from a loving home.
Starting school too early seems to somehow break the family bonding that occurs in the home. Certainly some children crave and actually need the routine and structure of a controlled environment while others seem scared, timid and unsure. Making a decision about starting school for our children should be largely based on our instinctual understanding of our child and not biased by the recommendation of pediatricians or a mindset of competition. Trust me; they will learn everything that they need to know in perfect timing. Preschool education is often a mirror of kindergarten curriculums. Perhaps in kindergarten they will learn a bit faster because they have already been introduced to so much of it before hand; but they will have to withstand it again anyways. Meanwhile we have successfully taught our children to stand on their own, stand up for themselves, follow rules and be responsible at an early age and at the same time passed on some invaluable years of bonding that quite possibly could strengthen our relationship later in their life. In my experience, children who are sent off to school very young become overly trusting of strangers and when the dreaded “tweenhood” begins seem to not feel openly able to communicate with their parents. Perhaps it is because we tend to somehow force the issue at a young age that we are unavailable or inaccessible to our children and that they must learn to take up for themselves.
This may all seem a bit harsh. Understandably parents have to make ends meet and often we have no choice but to make a living. Because of this many children start school early. Many parents also look forward to the time when all their kids are in school thinking that life will be more relaxed and routine as the hustle of raising toddlers is coming to an end. Unfortunately for parents once elementary school starts there are tons of activities to attend to; not to mention homework each night. There will be roughly 30 days during the school year that you will be asked to attend a party or a field trip. You will be invited to class plays and afterschool activities. You will also be trying to keep up with the budding social life of school age children. In actuality starting school often means that more of your time is needed. Additionally, as the children grow and start school the need for more heart to heart talks, helping them deal with real life issues and acting not only as a parent but a counselor trumps playing with blocks and coloring. It is much harder, emotionally draining and difficult to provide adequate loving attention at all times.
Starting school is definitely a rite of passage in our lives. School provides such a structured and stimulating environment that it is crucial to their success in life. Starting school is also hard on some kids and tiring and exhausting for most. When our children are in school whether it is graduating from kindergarten or adorning cap and gown their senior year; parents are left with that bitter sweet emotion once again. This is when we reflect on how quickly those first years passed us by and wonder or wish we had done things differently. Maybe if we held on to them just a little bit longer.
From the day our kids are born they are growing away from us. They will end up as independent, responsible adults one day. They will learn their ABC’s, know to read and how to solve algebraic equations in due time. All of this will happen whether they start school at 2 or 5. Starting school early, although right and necessary for some, is a decision that we should make with the realistic process of thought that all things happen in due time anyways. If we truly want to hang onto those younger years and squeeze the absolute most time out of them that we possibly can; that waiting to start school may be right. If there is any doubt in your mind whether or not your child is ready; keep them home a bit longer and paint with Jell-O on the linoleum floor. Let them sleep in until 10am while they can. Spend sunny days at the park or beach and rainy days in bed watching movies. Soon enough; all of this will be impossibility!