Always Real, School

Know Thy Child

The other day, my sweet friend Meg, who has an 8-month-old little fella and writes Spicy Magnolia, asked me in comments if I had put Sean in a Mother’s Day Out program and if so, at what age.

Well, I emailed her back, because as y’all know I email almost everyone sooner or later (so if you don’t want to get an email from me, don’t leave a comment) and when I finally hit the send button, I was several chapters deep into my dissertation on preschool. It was like I was just waiting for someone to ask me about our preschool experience.

Because I’m not one who is dialed into what is hip and happening in the motherhood, it probably would have never occurred to me all on my own to put Sean in a Mother’s Day Out or preschool program.  But one Sunday at church a friend handed me a flyer for the MDO program and suggested that I might want to enroll him.  At that point Sean was two and I was kind of itching for the chance to go into a TJMaxx dressing room alone, so I slapped myself on the forehead, had a V-8 and then enrolled him in their twice weekly program.

Every mother I ever talked to told me how much her little one loves preschool, how they would ask to go to preschool on Saturday, how they couldn’t wait to get up and go to preschool, how much they love playing with the other kids. And I figured that Sean would be the same. I figured wrong.

So I enrolled Sean in preschool at our church the year he was two.  He pretty much hated it.  He got really sick a couple of times and it just never felt like the right thing.  Yet I persisted. I was bent on giving it the old preschool try.  I was bent on Sean being one of those kids who loves preschool.  Everyone kept telling me that he’d get used to it, that he needed to be with other children, but both of those things were false.  The only benefit to having Sean in preschool was for me and TJMaxx.

The second year of preschool, when he was three, was the apex of preschool misery.  I moved him to a church school closer to our neighborhood, one that came highly recommended and was touted as being loved by all children!  I feel the need to exclaim that last sentence, hence the exclamation point.  Neither one of us ever found our groove at that school; it was just a bad match all the way around.  He would cry all the way there and I would cry all the way home. And I would wonder, What is wrong with us? Everyone loves this school.

And so every other day for an entire school year, I put him in the car thinking that today would be the day that he would magically transform into a kid who loves preschool and playing with other children.  In spite of my blind and hopeful persistence, it never happened.  To this day, nearly three years later, when we drive by that school, he’ll point to it and say, “Boy! I’m glad I don’t go there anymore!”   When I try to find out what it was about the school that caused him so much dyspepsia, all I get out of him is that they made him take naps.

The third year, I enrolled him in the nap-free school he is at now and although he would have rather stayed home, he didn’t hate it.  He grew to even like it. As the year progressed, he learned to like playing with the children to some degree, but always preferred playing with the teacher.  We skipped school a lot and went to the zoo.

We are now in our third and final year at this school and finally, I think I can say that he loves it really likes it.  I think a lot of that has to do with the school and the people who run it and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that he is now ready to be at school.  But given a choice, he’d still rather stay home with me or skip school and go to the zoo.

Having the benefit of the backward glance, I can see now that in the name of “hanging in there” I spent far too long trying to hammer a kid who didn’t want to go to school and play with other kids into a kid who loves preschool and wants to play with other kids. My mistake. My bad. Mea culpa.

My advice to Meg, which she didn’t ask for, was this:  Know Thy Child.

Had I paid more attention to what I know about my child and what I could see with my own eyes and less attention to what others were telling me about how children are supposed to be, I could have saved myself and Sean a fair amount of dyspepsia.

46 thoughts on “Know Thy Child

  1. I have 2 children who couldn’t be more different if they tried. And maybe they do try, who knows?

    Anyway, my son loved preschool, the church nursery, going to a friend’s house. In short, anything that involved playing with someone other than me. He’s just that way.

    My daughter, on the other hand, spent 4 months in preschool before we threw in the towel and decided she would be just fine if she spent the time with me instead.

    We have been off and on homeschoolers. Well, we have homeschooled my son off and on. He is currently in school and doing well. My daughter, on the other hand, is now in third grade and has only been homeschooled. She is more than comfortable at Sunday School and Wednesday night classes and classes at the museum, etc., but she still prefers to spend the vast of amount of her time with me. And I’m trying to soak it all in. “All too soon the clock will strike midnight, and she’ll be gone.”

  2. Amen and amen.

    My four kids are all as different as night and day and apples and macaroni and cheese. 🙂 Some love school, some hate it (might have to do with age though) and my two year old baby can’t wait until she is old enough to wear a uniform and take the bus!

    You have to do what is right for your family. Read up on the schools and choose your best option. When I was looking into preschool for number two I decided that I could teach him to cut and paste and numbers and letters. He’s started kindergarten this year and is one of the top kids in his class in this regard!

  3. My children (5 of them)are all grown and now I’m a grandmother. I sometimes think of things I did (or didn’t do)with my kids when they were little and cringe. It got to bothering me so much one day, I went to each of them and apologized for not being such a great mother. To my surprize, they didn’t know what I was talking about! Two of my sons were talking one day, and it went something like this: “Did Mom talk to you?” “Yep” “What was that all about?” “I don’t know, but did she give you $100.00, too?” Gotta love them, they do know how to stir things up! Who needs preschool if you have a dirt pile in the backyard and Mom has tupperware and spoons that need to be lost!

  4. Before I had kids I was a preschool teacher at a local daycare. Once my daughter was old enough for preschool I checked out several nearby preschools and was shocked to find out that at the end of the year their goals were that she might be able to count to ten and know most of her ABC’s. By this time she knew the alphabet, letter sounds, colors, and counting to 100.

    We opted instead to take advantage of classes through our parks district. Instead of formal preschool she took ballet, swimming, sports safari, etc. Not only did she have fun, but she learned something new and had interaction with other kids. I did the same for my son and would make the same choice again.

    * * *
    My goal in putting him in preschool (other than giving me a break) was not so much academic (because as you pointed out, he was already ahead of the game in that regard) but more social. I kept hearing that he needed to be with other children. Even at this point, I see school and Sunday school as an adjunct to what we are doing at home and not the primary source of learning, and an opportunity to learn to interact with other kiddos.

    In retrospect, I probably should have done what you did – lessons here and there or an in-home sitter for those days I needed a break. Oh the clarity of hindsight.

  5. This post makes me sad.

    I tried to put my oldest in preschool when he was 2(turing 3 in October.) He lasted 2 days. I tried again the next year—much better! Now he’s in college. The first 2 weeks he seemed stretched almost to the breaking point. This third week he seems like he’s coping. Not that he would ever admit to any of this—but you can tell in the tone of voice and his choice of words in his texts.

    There is a point to starting what you finish—we emphasized this when they started a sport or musical instrument. Your team needs you and you wanted to do this. But even that we let slide every now and then.

  6. AM, thank you for this. I’m a FT working mom. This is my 1st week back after my 2nd maternity leave. Both my 2 year old and 9 week old are in daycare. I hate it. I want to be with them at home. I want to be the one to play with them and read to them and teach them letters and numbers. But as of right now, these are the circumstances I’ve been given (health insurance for me and both boys is through my company) and I must cope somehow. It does make me feel good to know that my 2 year old does WONDERFULLY at daycare and loves going there every morning. I just wish it weren’t so hard on me. I pray all the time that God change my circumstances, but He works in His own time.

    All that to say, cherish the time you have with your little guy in the TJMaxx changing room.

  7. I can sympathize. When my girls were little, the oldest loved preschool, the younger one, not so much. She liked staying home with mom. And now that they’re grown, my 19 yr old spends more time with mom and my 17 yr old is never home! Go figure.

  8. I enrolled my girls in Mother’s Day Out two days a week when they were about three – but to be honest, there were a many, many days that I simply didn’t send them because I wanted them home with me.

    They are only little once and I wanted to savor my time with them.

  9. At every age “know thy child” is terrific advice. From the day they were born each of my kids needed something different–my husband and I made different decisions for them, and now that they are older we give them different advice and suggestions.

  10. I think you can be one who really savors those fleeting days of childhood and still admit to needing a break, still needing a day here and there to recharge, to go to the bookstore without having to handcuff your child to keep him from pulling all the books off the shelves or to try something on in a dressing room without fear of having to run after said toddler while wearing only a bra and a half zipped skirt.

  11. I can relate to this. Years ago our kids were in our church’s AWANA program. They cried on the way home, every single week. EVERY WEEK. We knew something wasn’t right, but what could do? Church is what you do, and AWANA was part of church. When we finally did consider taking all four of our kids out, we were faced with the pressure of knowing that, since our church was so very small, the AWANA program would probably fold. PLUS, don’t all kids LOVE AWANA? What was wrong with us?


  12. *sorry, hit SUBMIT button accidentally*

    finally, we decided to do what was best for our artistic (vs. athletic), introverted kids, and forget what everyone else thought, and we took them out of AWANA.

    It was a very, very good thing, and I wish we had listened to our hearts a lot sooner, rather than listening to the criticism.

  13. You are so right, AM. Here’s how it’s playing out in our house right now . . . Daughter #1 is 17 and works several hours a week. She gets straight A’s and is an extremely driven person. (She also likes nice clothes, thus the job.) She’s applying to some very competitive colleges for next year, and I’m sure she’ll do well.

    Daughter #2 told me the other day that she doesn’t want to go to college. She wants to be a check-out lady at the grocery store. I laughed and told her that that would be fine . . . AFTER COLLEGE. But seriously, at her age, her older sister was already working. This girl desperately wants to go to the camp she’s gone to for many years to work on the service team next summer. My husband and I decided that FOR HER that might be the best thing. That’s a place where her soul sings, and she needs that. So, for her, a job can wait. She needs to go to camp.

    Now, daughter #3 is a whole book in herself!! 🙂

  14. My kids are like Julie’s. Ella (6) is a social butterfly who must be with people at all times, and wants to go and do. Natalie (4) is a homebody {much like Daddy}. Last year was her first year of preschool, the preschool her sister had loved. Natalie didn’t love it. She didn’t cry about going, but she did have to be convinced more often than not. This year she’s at a new preschool since we moved. She rides a bus. She thinks it’s fantastic! It may wear off once the novelty is gone, who knows. But I think there’s really something to knowing your child, and not doing something just because you think you’re supposed to do it. There isn’t just one formula on raising children.

  15. Yes yes yes. I was convinced my oldest needed to learn social skills at the age of 2 and 3, even though he really didn’t want to. I’m sure he could have learned them double-quick at the age of 4, and we’d have both been much happier along the way.

  16. WOW! This is eye-opening for me. Anja has been telling us since she was about 16 mos old that she is “scared” of other kids. Everywhere we go (library, zoo, park), if she encounters another little person (like 6 and under), she is “scared.” We consistently tell her that they are nice and she has nothing of which to be scared, but it doesn’t stop her from bursting into tears if a toddler gets within arm’s reach.

    We don’t know if there was something specific that precipitated this, but I am constantly worrying about it, thinking she’ll never develop social skills. So you’re saying this may just be a different kind of normal?

  17. Both my kids loved day care. The older one started at two and the younger one potty trained herself at two because that was the only way she could go to the school her sister was attending.

    I hated it. I always hated school at any age. I was always slow getting ready in the mornings and always trying to get out of going if I thought I had the least reason.

    My two daughters just got up and got ready because that is what you did on weekday mornings.

    I found it all very weird, but I was grateful nonetheless.

  18. I love it when I get an email! I put my youngest in “Mom’s day out” once a week the year before he started kindergarten. I figured we both needed to practice separation. He cried and would have rather stayed home with me. We went through the same thing with kindergarten too though. Oh, let’s face it, we would both rather stay home and play and then go out to lunch. Anyway, he is in second grade now and made it though the first three days of school without wanting to stay home. We still have days . . .

  19. We placed my daughter, starting at three months, in the church nursery on Sunday mornings. I always thought that was why she never experienced any separation anxiety when we enrolled her in preschool starting at age 2.

    But we had other challenges. Trying to run any errands with my child was impossible. I did all those things while she was in preschool.

    Children certainly refuse to be peg in a round hole. But never think your child is in a category all their own. There are always others, you just don’t always know about them.

  20. I’ve debated putting my Girlie in a preschool or MDO or something, because she’s a pretty social kid. She’ll be three next Saturday, and she loves to play with other kids & listen to stories & interact with anyone she meets. I think she’d do great in a preschool setting – but I’ll keep your story in mind & not force it.

  21. So true. Kids come along to things naturally, mostly, don’t they? In their own time, and almost always in plenty of time. I needed this reminder today, as I’ve been maternally forcing a hell-bent-on-bein’-round peg into a decidedly square hole for months now and it’s time I gave everybody in my household a break. Thank you!

  22. If only we knew then what we know now, right? I had my child in an AWANA he loved and then most of the teachers moved and program ended up being dropped by the church and we went to another church with a well established AWANA program and he hated it! I made him go every week. Looking back, I should have listen to him and stopped taking him because he never wanted to be in that program again. On a happier note, our church has now started a kids program and he loves it!! He tells me when the day is and when it’s time to leave!

  23. OMG. I just about died when i read your post. I thought I was the only one with this problem. My son has been going to daycare since he was 4 months old – and every day he cries “I dont want to go to school! I dont LIKE school!” my heart breaks every time, and I have sat at the class to try and figure out what it is that bothers him about the school. I think its just the fact that he likes being with me.
    I cant do it though, I am a working mom and so is my husband. How to balance the tug of war that is my heart and my son? I keep visiting daycare after daycare, trying to find the right “fit”. Perhaps, there isnt one. At least I know I am not alone. what to do? only the best we can do. right? i hope anyways.

  24. Does this advice only apply to Pre-School and Kindergarden? My daughter loved pre-school and Kindergarden. My son prefered to be at home with mom. She’s 30, married, very driven, has a career, etc. He’s 25 and working, but still living at home. Should I be concerned?

  25. Oh, my. There is SO MUCH PRESSURE to send kids to preschool these days. I think there are many good preschools out there, and that it can even be a beneficial experience, but I’ve never wanted to spend the money (!!!) or the time shuttling my 2-3-4 year olds around all for the sake of some “me” time. Which is nonexistent anyway.

    One of these days I’ll finish the blog post I’ve got drafted about doing “preschool” at home… but in order for me to finish that post I’m gonna have to have some “me” time. Maybe I should sign my kids up for a class at the local school…

  26. If they’re ready, they’ll love it, if not, it will be torture for everyone involved. My oldest loved preschool — but I waited until she was almost 4 before I sent her. If I had sent her the year before, when everyone else was starting preschool, she would have never survived. My middle child begged me to go at 2, but we waited until 3. I’ll wait and see what my last wants to do before I make a move…

  27. Thanks again, AM, for the helpful and thoughtful email response. And your post was great, too, because I can see other Momma’s responses and experiences as well. I’ve already read a few and some of them have some great ideas for alternatives when the day arises. In the meantime, I’m soaking up every moment of baby love with all that is in me!!

  28. Much wisdom in your post and the comments. We attempted a partial day program for my two year old and I pulled the plug with no regrets. The stress of it all seemed out of whack with how we wanted to live. We pay more for a sitter (who we were so incredible blessed to find) and I get less time at my business, but its a trade off we can manage right now. A few short years and this won’t be an issue at all. This is such a personalized issue. But its so good to hear about all kinds of preschool experiences.

  29. I put my little one in a 2.5hr–4day week program. He has been going a month or so and is finally liking it. I wanted him to play with kids his age (3yrs), but I still miss him terribly. It is easier to run errands, though…

  30. As a preschool teacher in an arts-based program, I have seen some kids ready at 2.5 and others not ready at 5. However, we have the rest of our lives to go to school and to work. We have very little time to just play…and if that play involves staying home, then so be it. Yes the socialization is important, but causing a child to be fearful of school or any other place other than home is not how to get there.

    The “academics” are not developmentally appropriate when a child is that young (2 or 3). If your school district is doing the job right, they should be taking your child where the child is at when said child arrives for kindergarten! So take a day off from “school”. Your time and attention is so much more important than learning to sit still all the time.

    And I practiced what I’m preaching with my 3 children. I was able to stay home with them. I didn’t start the preschool gig until the youngest went to 1st grade. Guess I missed hanging with the 3-5 year old demographic! After all, I had stayed home with someone that age for 13 years!

  31. Good answer and as a mother of 3 teens and a preteen. (Although I’m so young they couldn’t possibly actually be mine, could they?) I echo what you say. Know thy child. And do all you can to keep knowing them, they’ll change, you’ll change, you’ll get lost a few (or more) times but as long as you take time to be with them you will continue to know them and have the ability to put them in the best place.

  32. How interesting. I have always thought I should’ve put my oldest in preschool before kindergarten so he would’ve had time to adjust to group settings, classroom discipline, and just being around children in general. My oldest was a serious old soul who didn’t understand his peers and they didn’t want to understand him. Now my youngest went to preschool just 1 semester before K and it was a God-send. His preschool teacher taught him to love writing/drawing/creating while learning. I love her so much. 😀

  33. I started bith girls in preschool the summer after they turned 3. Summer preschool was a little more low-key – no curriculum, just play time, crafts, letters etc. They both enjoyed it but I used it as a testing ground to see how they’d do. By Fall, both girls were thrilled to be in the “big girl” class. Little sister always cried when we left big sister at school. I had teachers and the the director laughingly ask me when I was going to enroll the little one. The truth was, she just wanted to stay with her sissie – she wasn’t ready to go to her own classroom yet! She is in her big girl classroom now as of just last week and she is loving it. But the teacher, who had big sister 2 years ago, has told me that if she didn’t know any differently, she’d be surprised to hear my two were sisters. In the classroom apparently they’re very different students! Which shouldn’t surprise me, b/c they are very different little girls. But they both love(d) preschool…I think it was a little surprising to me that they both enjoy(ed)it but for different reasons apparently!

    So yes, definitely know thy child!

  34. This is so true. I have made a career of child development and teaching preschool and I have come to know this: Preschool is great for some kids but not for everyone. And most kids don’t need 5 days/week of preschool. And preschool should really just be for the year before (pre!) kindergarten. I don’t expect everyone or anyone to agree with me but, like I said, it is what I have come to know and believe. Peace.

  35. I apparently should have gone to mda or preschool bc I have not idea what dyspespia means (unless it refers to Pepsi) or mea culpa. I’ll look them up. Great story, AM!

  36. Girl #1 loved preschool. She’s a rule follower, so going somewhere that was all about rules was great with her. Girl #2 not so much. I recall receiving a phone call from her teacher telling me that she had cried all day. Yeah? Okay, so she is crying. I still need these few hours to re-group…she’ll be okay. The teaching assistant called me and asked that I send to school something comforting with my crying child. So, I sent with her a blanket and a sippy cup. Miracle of all miracles! The child quit cryng! She carried around those things and knew that her mommy would come back for her. Whew!

    * * *
    I think if the teachers had reported that Sean was crying all day, that would have been the hammer over the head I needed to take him out. But he just sort of sat there the whole time, going along, but hating it.

    When he could talk, he would occasionally tell the teacher that he was ready to go home. One time the teacher told me that he said he was ready to go home. She told him, well first we have lunch, then your mommy will come and get you. He said, “Okay. Then let’s have lunch!”

  37. Beautiful, excellent, perfect.

    I am a preschool teacher and I tell my students’ parents over and over….trust yourself. When your heart tells you something about what your child needs, don’t listen to your head’s arguments.

    Know thy child and trust thy heart!
    Thanks AM.

    Do you mind if I save this one for my preschool file for parents?

  38. I always check in to see what interesting thing you’ve written about,and I’m never disappointed. I am just now wondering why there seem to be no comments from (other)homeschooling moms…I know they’re out there! Seems to be just the right place to jump in and mention all the learning Sean could be happily doing with you at home (and at the zoo, too)!

  39. Ugh, I remember the pressure for such things. Having worked in schools for a long time, being older, and being selfish, I kept my two home until they were ready for one year of preschool at age 4 1/2. It was great timing for all of us, so I’ll always encourage people to do what works for their family. We did a LOT of planned activities with friends in our community, so we sort of did our own version of ‘preschool’ GL, Meg, love every minute of it because it truly does fly!

  40. That is a sweet and familiar story. I used to work at a pre-school and there was one difference I noticed between the children who cried and had seperation anxiety and the children who happily hopped in and did not look back. Children who cried all day long, sensed a longing and hesitation from the parent who dropped them off. Even if the parent tried hard not to show it, the difference was there. For those children that had a very hard time, instead of working with the children, we tried breathing methods with the parents before walking in with their children, and it made a big difference.

    Children are tied with an invisible heartstring to their parents. Even though the parents do not always see it, the teachers do, and it is a beautiful bond.

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