I’ve been finding interesting reading that has helped me think about the preschool question. My gut tells me not to send Caroline to preschool, but I am also trying to be open to God leading in another direction. She belongs to Him and He has plans for her. So I’ve been talking, reading, researching, and praying to see if God might lead us in another direction.
There are several issues I’ve considered regarding preschool. For our family they include socialization of an only child, setting a precedence for future schooling choices, and temperament or personality. The biggest factors, however, are the importance of a long-term vision of building a family culture. I wonder if preschool actually undermines a healthy family and culture.
So let’s take a look at how our family is thinking through the preschool situation.
Like many parents, I think I struggle the most with the idea that Caroline needs friends and a social outlet. Because she is an only child, I think about it even more. The academic part of preschool doesn’t faze me in the least. I have no doubt we can do a great preschool for her academically. It is more about the learning to interact with other children that I think about.
Like many only children, Caroline is very comfortable with adults. The biggest mistake an adult can make with her is to come on too strongly. If you do that, she’ll back off and it takes her a bit to warm up to you. But the more casual the approach, the quicker you become her friend. Last week we had some electrical work done in our bathroom. The guy who came was probably in his late 20’s. He said hi to Caroline and got down to work. She really took to him. She spread out her blanket in the hallway outside the bathroom door and was enthralled with everything he did. She chatted with him, she ran and found (pretend) nails for him. She had a ball. She is not intimidated by adults, including men.
She also has no problems interacting with other children in public. If we are somewhere with a lot of kids, she isn’t afraid at all to go up to another child and start chatting. It is usually the other child who doesn’t know what to do. Caroline likes people of all ages and likes to be friendly.
So when I see her in action I think she’ll be fine. But even though I’ve read a million articles on homeschooling and socialization, I still think about it.
Setting a Precedence
One of my concerns about sending her to preschool is that of setting a precedence. If we send her to preschool and we get her started in the “schooling” context, will it be that much harder for her if we don’t continue? This has more to do with her personality and reaction to change than anything. Yes, she could adjust, but why make things more difficult than necessary? So I think about that.
Temperament and Personality
This is a large factor for me and one I could not have foreseen a few years ago. I cannot see Caroline in a structured, sit down and be quiet atmosphere. Granted part of it may be her age, but she is busy. She wiggles and moves and chats and leaps and bounces and shrieks with delight.
Part of it is age three, but part of it is her personality. I don’t want to put her in a place where she has to constantly suppress those things that make her, her. When I read to her, she rarely sits on my lap any longer. She prefers to stand next to the wingback chair, lean on the arm and wiggle around while I’m reading. She is also an explorer and notices ev.er.y.thing. This will be corralled and stifled in a traditional classroom setting, even preschool.
God has graciously answered our prayers to work at home. It certainly has its ups and downs, but we would not trade it. It was our vision and prayer to have both of us work part-time so between the two of us we would have the equivalent of a 1.5 salary family. This would allow us to both be hands-on with our children and neither one of us would carry the full burden of supporting the family. We have just about reached that point now where we both work and we both parent throughout the day. It, too, is not without its challenges, but we would not trade it. So God has given us what we prayed for many years ago and I think that is a significant piece of the puzzle to consider.
There have been many times in the past few years it would have been easy to lose sight of that vision. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation do not make for clear thinking. There have been many times I have had to remind myself – I’m not going to be homeschooling a two year old or a three year old. She will be older and it will be completely different. And so I’ve reminded myself over and over again when things were tough that there was a bigger picture in mind.
Building a Family Culture
Brandy recently touched on this when writing about the fact that their children don’t watch TV and how it has impacted their family. You’ll have to read the whole post which is very good, but hopefully she’ll indulge me as I post some of it here (bold mine):
This really isn’t a rant against television. You see, just the other day, when we were all gathered around the dinner table, and something funny had just happened, and there was scattering of giggles, I had this strange thought. We have succeeded in building a family culture.
When I consider that we started with this innocent rule made almost purely out of concern for our son’s intellect (as compared to his soul–concern for that came a bit later), I find it almost ironic. In learning to live without television, we learned to live on our own terms, on our own schedule, in our own way, according to our own interests, and in a way that suits us just fine.
In avoiding television, I now don’t see anyplace where it would fit into our lives. We have moved on, and living without it is the most natural thing in the world.
One of the side-benefits is that our children are untainted by marketing professionals. I never anticipated this. Shopping at a place like Target makes me weary, especially when I see small children begging for Dora this and Cars movie that and whatever else Disney or some other corporate giant convinced them they must like. I am so tired of companies defining children not as a persons but as consumers. Our children were not born for the purpose of buying things, but Disney wishes this were otherwise.
The bold part is the big picture item for me. We don’t watch TV either (although we do watch DVDs). But I think of this statement in terms of signing away so much of our own family and our own freedom if we go the traditional school route. Whether it is Christian school or public school, the result is the same. Something else begins to drive much of what will happen in our family life. And when I think of the long term big picture in that context, sending Caroline to preschool just is not appealing to me.
Do Schools Destroy Families and Communities?
Someone on another blog mentioned this article by John Taylor Gatto, the former National Teacher of the Year who no longer teaches and has become an outspoken critic of education as it exists today. We Need Less School, Not More (archived post) is quite thought-provoking. It is lengthy and not a quick read. (I had to paste it into a Word document to read it because light text on dark backgrounds are near impossible for me to read comfortably.) But he make some interesting observations about the way that schools destroy families and community as well as the significant difference between communities (good) and networks (not so good).
I’ll close with a few excerpts (bold mine).
As we approach the 21st Century, it is correct to say that the United States has become a nation of institutions, whereas it used to be a nation of communities. Large cities have a great difficulty supporting healthy community life, partly because of the coming and going of strangers, partly because of space constrictions, partly because of poisoned environments, but mostly because of the constant competition of institutions and networks for the custody of children and old people, for monopolizing the time of everyone else in between. By isolating young and old from the working life of places, and by isolating the working population from the lives of young and old, a fundamental disconnection of the generations has occurred. The griefs that arise from this have no synthetic remedy, and no vibrant, satisfying communities can come into being where young and old are locked away.
In recent years, I’ve given much thought to the problem of turning the compulsory school network into some kind of emotionally rewarding community, because a move seems to be afoot to do the reverse, to enlarge substantially the bite that schooling takes out of a young person’s family time, community time and private time. Trial balloons are floated about constantly in the press and on T.V.; that means that some important groups are preparing to extend the reach of compulsory schooling in the face of its genuinely ghastly record. My Jewish friends would call that chutzpah, but I take it as an index of just how confident these people are that they can pull it off.
Schools, I hear it argued, would make better sense and be better value as 9-to-5 operations or even 9-to-9 ones, working year-round. We’re not a farming community anymore, I hear, that we need to give kids time off to tend the crops. This new-world-order schooling would serve dinner, provide evening recreation, offer therapy, medical attention, and a whole range of other services, which would convert the institution into a true synthetic family for children, better than the original one for many poor kids, it is said; and this will level the playing field for the sons and daughters of weak families.
Yet it appears to me as a schoolteacher that schools are already a major cause of weak families and weak communities. They separate parents and children from vital interaction with each other and from true curiosity about each other’s lives. Schools stifle family originality by appropriating the critical time needed for any sound idea of family to develop – then they blame the family for its failure to be a family. It’s like a malicious person lifting a photograph from the developing chemicals too early, then pronouncing the photographer incompetent.
The heart of a defense for the cherished American ideals of privacy, variety, and individuality lies in the way we bring up our young. Children learn what they live. Put kids in a class and they will live out their lives in an invisible cage, isolated from their chance at community, interrupt kids with bells and horns all the time and they will learn that nothing is important, force them to plead for the natural right to the toilet and they will become liars and toadies; ridicule them and they will retreat from human association, shame them and they will find a hundred ways to get even. The habits taught in large-scale organizations are deadly.
On the other hand, individuality, family, and community are, by definition, expressions of singular organization, never of “one-right-way” thinking on the grand scale. Private time is absolutely essential if a private identity is going to develop, and private time is equally essential to the development of a code of private values, without which we aren’t really individuals at all. Children and families need some relief from governmental surveillance and intimidation if original expressions belonging to them are to develop. Without these, freedom has no meaning.