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The preschool bus, part one.

The sun is shining today so all is FUCKING AWESOME! This despite the fact that the hot water heater is actually broken, but in a bearable way where I just have to re-light the pilot light every so often, so this morning I got up at 5:30 so I’d have hot water for a shower at 6, and boy have I gotten to be a pro at lighting that pilot! The plumber suggested that they should send me any calls to light hot water heater pilots… I also just had invigorating conversations about 1) research and 2) teaching, so I’m in a Better Mood. Time to take on a Contentious Topic through a series of loosely organized posts.

All around me, parents with a child/children Bun Bun’s age (almost three) are ramping up for preschool in the fall. Not me. Which of the following options best describes the reason:

A) I think vaccinations are WRONG so my un-vaccinated child is legally prevented from being enrolled in preschool.
B) I think preschool is WRONG because children should not be separated from their mothers. Ever.
C) I asked my husband to set up open houses and he didn’t do SHIT about it so it’s too late for the convenient ones in our area.

The answer is C. But the real question is why a control freak like me would hand this task over to someone else. Here’s why. When I think about Decisions Concerning Education, my mind starts spinning out of control to such an extent that I decided it was in everyone’s best interests for me to not be at the helm on this one.

Even trying to think about my reasons for freaking out freaks me out. There’s the fact that considering preschool vs. not is a luxury reserved for those who have options, and having options makes me feel guilty. There’s the fact that as soon as my child enters this world of education, she will start getting labeled. I know, I’m labeling her already, but will I ever be ready for others to do it? I am not ready to hear that she’s average or above average or below average…

So let me try my tested approach to this kind of anxiety. State 1) what it is that I’m afraid of, 2) how likely it is to occur, and 3) whether there’s anything I can do to reduce the chance of that outcome.

  1. I’m afraid Bun Bun will not be ready for kindergarten, in the kindergarten readiness sense.
  2. I’m afraid that if I don’t vigorously seek out the best possible education for her she will be disadvantaged. And that I might be prevented from doing this not because of good reasons, of which there are plenty, but because of my extreme discomfort with the drastic change in my socio-economic position. I have gone from working class to upper middle class, and it’s a source of endless weirdness for me, of psychic whiplash.*
  3. I’m afraid of letting her go off into the world, period. It’s fucking dangerous.
  4. I will probably come up with at least one additional thing as I think this through.

The rest of this post will focus on #1.

How likely is it that Bun Bun will not have kindergarten readiness skills? Well, what the fuck are those in my state? *Googles.* Okay. Now I know, and knowing is half the battle. It’s a lot of stuff, and if I had to teach it to her, I’d be fucked. But luckily I do NOT. Here are some random things that I have seen enough data on to feel comfortable sharing with you:

  1. Mother’s education is a good predictor of IQ. For all the problems with IQ-y measures, they measure something. Why does mother’s education predict IQ? In large part because educated primary caregivers (hence mother) use more complex language, and exposure to complex language predicts acquisition of language, and verbal ability is one thing IQy tests measure. We’re going to be okay.
  2. I tend to think of myself as average. I am not. College graduates are very likely to have above average IQs. Chances are my children will be average in MY sense, but have above average educational outcomes. We’re going to be okay.
  3. Preschool enrollment predicts academic achievement for kids of less educated parents. For kids of more educated parents, it doesn’t. We’re going to be okay.
  4. Kids learn best through PLAY. This is something I am passionate about to a disturbing degree, but there’s also plenty of data to back it up. Bun Bun has already acquired some of the pre-K basics by doing what she feels like doing, though partly because she’s fortunate enough to be surrounded by caregivers who support her without intruding on her THING. I read the passage below (from the book Play = Learning, an edited volume by a bunch of developmental psychologists) in grad school but recently re-read it as a parent and it brought me to tears:


We’re going to be okay. The probability of Bun Bun not being kindergarten-ready, even without us doing anything different to help her get ready, is…LOW.

Is there anything I can do to reduce the chance of that outcome? Sure.

  1. Glance over the pre-K standards occasionally and think about how she’s doing, in a I’M NOT FREAKING OUT ABOUT THIS, JUST KEEPING AN EYE ON IT way.
  2. Find her a preschool with a heavy focus on learning through play, for 2015. Or not.
  3. Maybe you can think of some other things. She does probably need more opportunities to learn not to bite people.

*It’s due to my husband’s income, not mine. Don’t want you thinking college professors are rolling around on beds covered with million dollar bills.

24 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nicky #

    I’m glad your mood has improved!! I decided to send my boys to preschool at 3.5-ish NOT for any kindergarten-readiness issues, but because Mommy would like a little alone time. Both have thrived in Montessori, which is all about play and letting them do their own thing, with a side benefit of appropriate conflict resolution between children. They only went two mornings a week, which was fine. I might have sent them more but it was expensive.

    So, I agree you really don’t need to worry about kindergarten readiness. But, if you wish to get some 1 on 1 time with the baby, don’t feel guilty if you end up sending her somewhere.

    February 13, 2014
    • Yeah. I am FULLY on board with the notion that one answer to the question “Why am I enrolling Johnny in X class” (from that book excerpt) is “Because I need Johnny to be gone for a couple of hours.”

      February 13, 2014
      • SRB #

        So, I’m just here, creeping your comments while I figure out my own thoughts on this whole mess as it relates to *my* feelings on the matter. But reading this makes me feel a little less like an asshole because needing Johnny to be gone for a couple of hours is my primary motivation for seeking out preschool at this time. Blerg.

        February 14, 2014
  2. I have that “kindergarten readiness” conversation with myself pretty much weekly, largely as a result of the insane area we live in, and the necessity of the places that offer chess for pre-walkers and so on to compete in a crowded market. (There is seriously a “montessori tutoring’ place next to the food coop. As in, tutoring for your three year old. That is somehow montessori. Yeah.).

    The Bean may get some preschool next year, largely for the biting reasons you mention. He may not, because he may not get into the convenient one and/or we may not find the money. This would be too bad, because that place looks fun, but when I am in a rational mood, I know it will make no difference whatsoever to his overall educational prospects. And yet, rational moods are so hard to come by where children are concerned….

    February 14, 2014
    • That Montessori thing would be totally worth it if it’s tutoring kids to put their toys away after they take them out. (And if it is hard-core Montessori, they’ll teach sweeping too!) Just sayin’. 😉

      February 14, 2014
  3. Huh, honestly preschool’s effects on kindergarten readiness not something that has ever crossed my mind for my own kids (I do teach classes that cover Headstart, so I guess I’ve thought about it for other people’s kids). Of course, in our state kindergarten readiness I think is being able to use the potty yourself most of the time (a quick google tells me that 50% of kindergarteners in our state don’t pass the standard K readiness test). Our children went to daycare for our sanity’s sake starting at a pretty young age.

    February 14, 2014
  4. I am going to add my two cents as someone who started Bee in ps a year early as a way to find him some friends…
    If I could go back in time I so would have skipped it. A lot of money spent, (enough to vomit over) for 6 hours a week to splatter some paint on paper and sit in a circle. Plus, based on your research, he will do fine in real school as I have done my time over educating myself. All that over shared, I found a great 3 year old preschool for him for next year if we decide to send him. I have spent hours torturing myself with this decision and I’m still not 100%.
    Maybe your husband can schedule a shadow day to see if one of them is a good fit for her style (if you decide to do it next fall).
    If I could, I would go back and stop the school bus until it had to come. I will hold off on the other boys as unfair to them as it sounds.
    Keep the research coming 😉

    February 14, 2014
  5. The preschool thing is freakishly stressful, right? I spent a good three weeks hyper focused on it. I should’ve told my husband to set up the tours because then, like your situation, nothing would have been done and we would BE OKAY too. Instead I set up and went on SEVEN tours and spent countless hours worrying about Montessori vs Waldorf vs play based. We landed on play based after the girls’ visit/trial run at the Montessori ended with Juju eating the coffee beans she was supposed to be sorting into bowls, and I’m really excited about the girls going in the Fall, but truth? They could spend the next year out in the backyard playing with rocks and they’d still be ready for kindergarten. Bun Bun too.

    Looking forward to part 2 of this little gem.

    February 14, 2014
  6. Martha #

    I so much enjoy your blog but have never commented… til now. I’ve got a 3 year old and a 1 year old, and we get a lot of pressure to enroll the 3 year old in ‘school’ (we are academics in Cape Town). However, she seems OK playing at home with little sister, and at the park, library etc with the other neighbourhood kids for now (we have a nanny). Your post gives me a bit of a boost about the fact that she’s probably not really missing out somehow on major future goodness.
    On the other hand, my husband is all about trying to teach her to read ASAP, which I am against, mostly so that she won’t be bored in kindergarten. But what do you think about that? Can’t quite figure out if hanging out learning letters with dad is a form of hot-housing or not. I suppose as long as she’s enjoying it all? Man this parenting thing — a lot easier before I had kids.

    February 14, 2014
    • It isn’t hot-housing unless she starts crying and doesn’t want to do it anymore. Reading is fun and it is a blessing when you need some quiet time. Heck, it may keep her from not being bored in kindergarten because it’s something easy for the teachers to have her do to keep her occupied if she’s advanced in other subjects.

      February 14, 2014
    • Awww, thank you for saying hello! I agree with you–as long as she LIKES learning letters with her dad, YAY! Funny, I’d not heard this “hot housing” phrase before, and now it’s coming up again and again. Makes me think of cucumbers, which is probably even the right metaphor. Let’s be “not quite yet for preschool” friends together, and I’ll promise not to freak out when yours learns to read next month…

      February 17, 2014
    • I’m all in favor of teaching my child to read before she goes to school, if only so that someday when she begs me to read yet-another-book, I can turn her favorite phrase back on her: “Gwennie self!” She’s 27 months. If I have to wait until she’s 5…

      (And I LIKE reading to my child — it’s just that if she had her way, that’s all I’d do.)

      February 17, 2014
  7. Vigorous conversations about research and teaching can be amazingly helpful, can’t they.

    Is BunBun going to any sort of daycare? I confess I don’t remember the details. One thing I’m beginning to appreciate more about daycare as Gwen gets older is that much of these questions are simply negated. She’ll be in the kindergruppe until 3, at which point she’ll transition to the kindergarten, which means, she’ll move to the floor below. She already knows many of the teachers and the children there, so the transition won’t be scary. A number of her friends will have already transitioned before her (in fact, I’m already anticipatorally sad on her behalf when her best friend turns 3 and is no longer in her room).

    On the other hand, having all this mapped out has allowed me to bury my head in the sand and go “la la la” about the German education system, which I don’t know much about but which at a relatively young age (10?) starts putting kids in tracks — and if you aren’t in the university track, the odds of you going to uni are low. Of course, I’m sure Gwen will be capable of being in that track, but I am not looking forward to navigating how to ensure that she does — the whole language barrier means that I’m afraid we’ll simply forget to do something we need to do. On the third hand, this is one of the reasons why we wouldn’t mind no longer being in Germany by the time she reaches that age (and I have had a blog post on this brewing since December).

    I like the idea of 2. There are whole handfuls of things I can point to that Gwen learned at daycare that she would not have learned at home until later (because, um, she demonstrated that she knew them before it occurred to me that I should/could start teaching them…like saying “please”. Or putting together 40 piece puzzles.). And at this point, it’s pretty much still all play for them — including music school one morning a week and now also a once-a-week meeting with one of the teachers (who is getting her education degree and so doing this as part of her studies/research) to learn colors.

    And, as the other commenter noted, it gives her the chance to not be around me for awhile. We’re all the happier for this.

    February 14, 2014
  8. twangy #

    Ah the sun! AT LAST. If you’re average, I wish the rest of the world was too. That would improve things enormously. Nothing to add re Bunbun, except how extremely adorable her fringe is and how hard to believe she is nearly THREE. And other auntish things.

    February 14, 2014
  9. Stuff like this makes me so glad I was teaching preschool before having children so at least there is *one* parenting crisis that was a non-issue for me. Both my kids started at school in a class I used to teach, at a time when I was helping out by teaching that class temporarily–and in my son’s case, went on to be taught by my former colleague (who is still our babysitter.) It was a total non-event.

    Clearly, I am all “Rah-rah Montessori is awesome!” But I’m mostly in the camp of keeping your child at home for as long as it makes sense for *you*. A huge part of why I wanted my kids to start pre-school young had nothing to do with reading and everything to do with the practical life skills that Montessori focuses on at that age–and that’s because I am one of the most impractical people alive, and I was determined that my kids should have more confidence in themselves to *do* stuff.

    But there are advantages to you being the sole caregiver/educator–mostly that you know *exactly* what your child is doing and how she is developing and what she is interested in learning, which is all kinds of fascinating in and of itself. And as your research suggested, you’re probably amply qualified to give her the kind of education she needs right now without really having to try, so you *can* just have fun with it.

    What you could do instead of a preschool is enroll her in ‘extra-curriculars’ of some sort. Not sure how you feel about those, but a gym class or music class or something could be a fun way for her to mix socially and get used to other people teaching her without the pressure of Finding the Right Preschool. Or not… I don’t really know how important that wider socialisation is.

    February 15, 2014
  10. Andie #

    Okay, I just spent ages writing a comment, only to have it disappear into blogland.

    I am glad things are improving. The gist of my comment was:
    1. Like Twangy, I can offer no advice about the pre-school thing
    2. One other commenter mentioned reading, and my mother taught me to read before school. I do think this is one of the reasons I still love reading and did well at school. But it also meant she could leave me to read a book and get stuff done.
    3. I really understand where you are coming from with the money thing. I feel the same way. We grew up without any money, and now, due to hard work and education, I earn an above average salary. While it is not *that* high in relative terms, to me it is untold riches. But I still freak out over where every cent goes and I really do feel guilty when doing things/spending money on things that we could never have afforded when I was young. So I understand where you are coming from on that.

    February 15, 2014
  11. Oh Bunny, if you were average, the world would be a better place. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as kindergarten readiness. But I’m glad you saw that this won’t be a real issue. I love this approach of yours – there are so many things to potentially freak out over, but you manage to keep your mind and dissect them until they’re much less scary.

    February 16, 2014
  12. Jen #

    Rah-rah Montessori from me as well. Emphasis is all on social engagement and development, child-led learning; academics are considered secondary (based on the belief, if you let kids roam free range through a classroom stocked with interesting ‘work’ of varying degrees of complexity, they will naturally seek out more challenging tasks as they master each ‘work’. Note: ‘work’ is Montessori code for hippie toys). Also, they spend a fair amount of time supporting life skills like putting away plates and utensils, folding washed sheets, sweeping, etc. There’s little to no pressure to read or write by a certain age based on the above philosophy. Check out the Minneapolis Montessori study (retrospective randomized study since the school system had a lottery for enrollment) showing mostly social and some academic advantages of Montessori education. The youngest kids were kindergartners, but Montessori schools have mixed age classrooms where primary=3-5yrs (preschool through K). Most comparisons were based on measures of the Woodcock-Johnson instrument. The most compelling findings to me were that Montessori kids had a greater sense of social justice and greater creativity. Anyway, rah-rah.

    February 16, 2014
  13. Ana #

    meh. I totally don’t think it matters one way or another. Mine is still in the same daycare, they call it “preschool” at 3, and “pre K” at 4, but its not that “rigorous” in any way. He does LOVE LOVE LOVE learning letters and numbers and doing his “homework”….so I think the intellectual stimulation is good for him, but I know that if I was staying home I could probably provide that for him, as could a good nanny or sitter. I don’t know the research at all, but I have a hard time believing that kids from well-educated, involved families are not “kindergarten ready” without formal pre-school…I always believed the mandatory pre-KG education was to give the kids from less-advantaged backgrounds a leg up (i.e. Headstart). As for “socialization”, again, mine has been in daycare since 6 months and is the shyest, least confident, most socially awkward (with other kids) but confident and talkative with adults kid you’d ever meet. My mother always assumed I was that way as a kid because of lack of daycare/pre-school, but nope. Nature.

    February 18, 2014
  14. Oh, your delicious posts. I savour them as I would delicious chocolate mouse truffles. Mmmmm. Thank you.

    That might sound like I am enjoying your quandaries, and don’t get me wrong, I AM, but only because I have similar quandaries. And how nice to have someone to look at what’s new in the literature (or more often, educate me on what the research says). Again, Thank you.

    I laughed out loud at that multiple choice question. I think I even had some liquid in my mouth that I may or may not have sprayed outward. Ahem.

    I also enjoyed all the great comments. Especially Twangy’s.

    It’s interesting to me that you thought about preschool in terms of kindergarten readiness. I take that for granted in my and my friends’ kids (and certainly in yours), because of the points you made above. I see preschool more as an opportunity for social interactions. I guess I wonder why people in general (not you) focus so much on preschool that do direct instruction, instead of looking at whether it offers a nurturing context for kids to learn about relating to others and learn about the world through play. And I know why: because of the fierce competition for achievement in our western world. But learning to read at 3 is great for some kids but not for most. At 3-4 years of age, your time is far better spent hunting tadpoles and imagining going on a safari, than rote learning letters and numbers. There is a time for that kind of learning, but not in the preschool years.

    So, yeah, I’m kind of excited that Bun Bun isn’t going to preschool just yet. And when she does go, that she’ll go to a preschool with a strong focus on play.

    And, I hope that writing this out helps you discover how COMPLETELY you’ve got this covered. I personally don’t think you ever need to look at those state standards again. Like the passage of the book you shared (, “it takes courage to resist the forces that tell us earlier is better”. Luckily, you’ve got courage in spades.

    February 18, 2014
  15. My twin sons just turned 2 in January, and I am already thinking about whether and when to send them to preschool. (My husband and I both work full-time outside the home, so their current situation is that they are home with a nanny from 9 to 5 four days a week and home with their father one day a week, since he has a flexible work schedule.)

    We have pretty much decided (1) we will definitely send them to preschool the last year before kindergarten, when they will be 4.5, so that they can get used to the structure and to being in a group environment, and (2) we will likely not ever send them to day care (since the cost of having two children in day care is pretty close to the cost of having a nanny four days a week and far less convenient). Beyond that, we have made no real decisions. 🙂

    February 19, 2014
  16. Jessica #

    Loooongtime reader, rare commenter 🙂

    As you’ve pointed out, preschool for children of educated parents does little to affect kindergarten readiness. It’s fun for them and a break for mommy – BOTH legitimate reasons why my LO is in preschool two mornings a week (the laid-back, sandbox and fingerpaint kind – I purposefully avoided the crazy “we’ll teach your two year old how to hold a pencil and speak Mandarin” schools).

    Let me pose this question: EVEN IF they’re slightly less ready for kindergarten if they don’t go to preschool – or Hoity Toity Super-preschool… so what? They don’t have to start out at the top of their class in kindergarten. You’ll just make yourself crazy trying to pave the way for her to start at the top, and so many outside factors – the child herself, her teacher, etc. could immediately change that position positively or negatively.

    Moreover, over the past few years as I have navigated my own IF and recurrent-loss journey, it has become glaringly apparent to me that material success – including education and career – are hardly the most important things in life, and are essentially not going to guarantee my precious daughter any degree of happiness. I attended the best area private school from K-12 and have a degree from an excellent university, but what I want from life is to be buried in babies and fingerpaint and sandboxes myself. My education taught me to think and problem solve, but it isn’t the be-all end-all recipe for happiness. This has shaped my desires for my daughter. In the end, what I want for her, as a preschooler and as an adult, is HAPPINESS, not SUCCESS. And I have come to believe that schooling is not the only path toward that end.

    Good luck as you navigate these complicated waters 🙂

    February 22, 2014

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