In a few months, just after his third birthday, my son Mixon will begin attending his fourth preschool. Four schools in three years. Well, two years, actually—because he didn’t start until after he was a year old. So four schools in a little under two years. What I’m trying to say here is that I’m a terrible mother.
I hope other people might be able to learn from my . . . let’s not call them mistakes, let’s call them . . . in-depth research. I embedded my kid deep into the daycare scene so that all of you could avoid a horrible, revolving door of preschool. I did it for your children.
After my years of “research,” I am now obviously a preschool expert, and I feel confident that while there are endless options of places to stash your toddler—there are really only three categories of kid care (and my child has been to all of them).
Description: A great environment for children. The focus here is on making sure children are safe and happy—which is probably all they need before they get to kindergarten anyway. There is no “curriculum,” no pretending that your child will be able to recite the pythagorean theorem by the time they “graduate,” and while we’re on that subject, there’s no graduation either—because this is really a place that keeps your kid alive while you work.
Identified by: Long hours, meals often included, infants accepted.
What the haters/guilty voice in your head will say: Daycares are baby zoos, full of screaming children who aren’t being stimulated.
Description: Schools mold minds when they’re at their most malleable. These places are a lot like “real” schools—with lesson plans, evaluations, and even report cards. Some even require a uniform.
Identified by: Proud displays of the curriculum, promises that your child will be kindergarten-ready, “academy” or “school” in the name.
What the haters/the guilty voice in your head will say: Schools are baby jails. They don’t allow room for kids to develop organically and instead force them into our rigid, adult-bot way of thinking.
WILD AND FREE
Description: You may have heard of Montessori, Reggio-Emilia, or Waldorf. Those three methods of teaching fall into my “wild and free” category—which most people refer to as child-led learning. These places allow children to come to the world as they are and meet things on their own terms. If there’s any structure at all, it’s often very loose. The emphasis is on imagination, creation, and curiosity.
Identified by: a mission statement about how amazing children are that will probably make you cry when you read it, hefty tuition, supply fees, open classrooms (though not always).
What the haters/the guilty voice in your head will say: These people are hippies, and they’re raising hippy children who think they’re the center of the universe. They’re all in for a brutal awakening when they get to kindergarten.
As in all things parenting, nothing is perfect—and that’s okay. Remember that the secret is in finding what’s right for your family. The dirty secret is that as you all grow, what’s right may change.
If that happens, don’t let yourself drown in all of the options out there. Just come back to this list and figure out what has changed. Does your kid need more structure? Time to find a school. Have you changed jobs and need all-day childcare with meals? Maybe you’ve noticed that your child develops better when he or she is allowed to explore? Whatever it is, you shouldn’t be afraid to make a change. When you find that perfect (for you) school, it will all be worth it. At least, that’s what I’m hoping . . .