Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Back to School (or... Not)

Home School Preschool, No Preschool,

Around here, most kids went back to school yesterday. If I hadn't graduated in May (and decided to take a year off before plunging into that Ph. D. thing), I'd have started school yesterday too.

But this is a special year for us. This is the last year for a long, long time when nobody in our family is going "back to school," at least in a super formal sense.

My oldest, Josh, will start kindergarten next year, but he is not doing a formal pre-school or pre-K program this year. Apparently, this is unusual. In fact, Josh is the only kid among friends his age in our area that is not enrolled in a formal preschool program. The culture in our city/area seems to have normalized formal preschool as an expected part of every child's experience, even though it is not offered as part of the free public school system. It doesn't matter, every kid does preschool. It's just what you do.

I personally find this baffling, because I did not grow up going to formal preschool, nor do I think did many of my friends. And, well, I turned out just fine academically, so I never really planned  on or expected my own children to attend a formal preschool. But when your kid is the only one of his friends NOT going to preschool, you better believe I felt the pressure and anxiety of this choice. Was I doing it wrong? Was my child going to miss out?

Here's the thing. I have nothing against formal preschool. If you send your kid to a formal preschool, that's great! I know there are lots of studies that show all the benefits of kids who go to preschool, especially in low socio-economic classes. If you use preschool for child-care (or even just a break from your child) I totally get that. I may end up doing that at some point in the future too. Some kids are just super ready and thrive in a preschool setting. I happen to suspect that my own child would thoroughly enjoy preschool. If there were a free or even remotely cheap preschool option in our area, I would probably be sending my son.

But I did some research (maybe not super extensive research, but enough to give me a taste), and the cheapest preschool program I found in our area (that didn't involve driving an hour to the suburbs both ways) came to about $5,000 a year. There were lots of waivers and scholarships for low economic preschoolers, but we are blessed to not fit in that category. Still, I don't care how much our income is, I'm just not paying that much for preschool. That's what I paid for a semester of grad school, and while I absolutely believe that preschool teachers deserve fair compensation, the level of instruction received in grad school and preschool is just not equivalent enough for me to fork out that kind of money!

When I stop and think rationally about this decision (and ignore the pressure I feel from everyone else doing preschool), I know it's going to be okay. Academically, my son is just fine and will be well prepared for kindergarten. I will continue reading lessons with him as long as he maintains interest. We've got him signed up for a few things like violin lessons (Suzuki method) and co-op soccer. And we will be participating in a mom-run co-op program called Joy School twice a week that we love (unfortunately, with kids who are all about a year younger than him, but that's fine). Joy School is not academic based, but that is precisely what I love about it. The units are based more on exploration, emotions, values, and fun. It's a fabulous program and I'm glad we get to do it for another year (we did it last year as well).

But mostly what I'm excited about is that we get one more year of play. We get one more full year of childhood, of relaxed schedules and no homework. We get a full year of controlling our own agenda, going on outings that suit us, or just staying home. We get a year of park playing, and zoo trips, and block building, and drawing pictures, and telling stories. I get one more year to really build a solid relationship with this kid before sending him out into the world. And I'm so grateful we get to spend this year playing together. He needs it, and I think I need it too.

I hope I'm lucky enough to get this kind of time with all my children. But I might be shipping the younger ones off to preschool while I go back to grad school again, and that will be okay too. It might even be perfect.

For now, we are going to thoroughly enjoy our year of no formal school.

To everyone else, Happy Back to School!

P.S. Episode # 8 of The Book Blab will air this Thursday, August 23rd at 1 PM Central Time. If you're available at that time, feel free to join us by watching here on my blog. Otherwise, the archived video with show notes will be posted shortly after. See you Thursday!