What? Two blog posts in two weeks? What is this madness?
I’ve gotten a few questions about why we pulled Dan out of preschool. It still feels like a weird decision sometimes, particularly because it happened just as most of my friends were busy signing their kids up or getting them onto waiting lists. Anyway, I thought I’d write the story here and clear things up.
About a year and a half ago, we decided to put Dan in the local Montessori preschool. We’d heard great things about the school, and I’m pretty on board with the Montessori method. Also, between Harvey aftermath and taking care of two tiny children, I was a bit of a basket case and needed a break. All this to say it felt like a good idea at the time.
Even so, I felt terrible about shoving my firstborn child out into the cruel, uncaring world at such a tender age—and from the way Dan cried when I dropped him off, he clearly felt the same way. But I promised myself I’d volunteer in his classroom frequently to assuage my guilt, and the other parents assured me that in a few weeks Dan would run in happily without even saying goodbye.
Neither of these ended up happening.
I was able to volunteer a few times, but it was never going to be a regular thing. The teachers (understandably) didn’t want an energetic William running around and messing up the well-ordered environment, which meant I had to find a babysitter every time I wanted to come. The teachers dropped hints that I wasn’t really being a team player, but from the questions I got (“When’s your next day off work?” “Can’t your mom watch the little one today?”) it sounded like our situation was somewhat unusual. I did try my best to help out in other ways whenever I could, but my inability to spend time in the classroom was a constant, low-level source of guilt.
As for Dan, he eventually stopped crying when I dropped him off, but he compensated by crying at home. Every day was a struggle to get him out the door. He seemed happy enough when I picked him up, and often had some fun stories to tell, but there were little indications that something was wrong. He seemed terrified of the other kids’ playground behavior. He had a potty training regression. He developed nervous habits like biting his fingers. As time went on, he started having tummy-aches every day, which I’ve since learned is a symptom of separation anxiety in children.
Dan missed a lot of school days due to sickness, and I wondered if he just had too much fun at home. To try to solve this problem I staged a very regimented, Montessori-style school day for him while he was sick. I tried to make it as close to his actual school routine as possible. It backfired spectacularly: for the next week he was begging me to let him stay home and do “Mom school” instead.
At the time we figured Dan was just a little too young to be in school every day. Still, we decided to stick it out. After all, what good would it do to pull him out just as he became emotionally ready to handle it?
Well, a lot of good, actually.
A couple things tipped the scales for us. The first was the homework situation. Each week Dan would come home with a folder full of packets of worksheets. At first I thought, “Aww, that’s cute,” and would occasionally have him work on some of them. But I never cared enough to make sure he got them done and returned to school in a timely manner. After a while, I started getting increasingly direct messages from his teachers about making sure he turned everything in so it could be graded.
Eventually the homework situation got resolved—or so I thought. A few weeks later I came to the school and found that all the kids were having circle time except Dan, who was sitting in the corner doing a worksheet with a teacher standing over him. When I confronted her, she sheepishly tried to explain what Dan was doing and asked if he could bring the worksheet home to finish. I said no and took him home. I’m still angry when I think about it.
I think because Dan is a pretty bright kid, his teachers just assumed he had a five- or six-year-old’s attention span. Heck, I’ve fallen into that trap myself. I knew he was doing some lessons with the older kids, but I hadn’t realized they were putting that much pressure on him. The thing is, we didn’t put him in preschool because we wanted him to learn anything. We just wanted him to goof off with other kids and have the kind of fun, preschool-y, sensory-type experiences that I’m too lazy to provide him with at home. And clearly that that wasn’t happening.
The straw that broke the camel’s back came after Dan had missed almost a month of school due to sickness (also because of school). He showed up just in time for Mother’s Day, which was actually pretty nice. I found a babysitter for Will and Dan and I got to eat muffins together.
The next day, however, they had a Donuts with Dad party. The invitation said that the party was supposed to end half an hour before school started, which I took to mean it was optional—a fun party for the kids whose moms couldn’t make it to Mother’s Day, perhaps. That was how I pitched it to Tom, who had an important work meeting he didn’t want to miss. I told him that was fine and brought Dan to school a little late the next morning, hoping Donuts with Dad would be over.
Reader, it was not over. Dads milled about left and right, eating donuts while Dad-themed music played. Dan’s teacher looked at me in horror and asked where his father was. I told her he had to work. She rolled her eyes and asked me to stay. In hindsight I should have stayed—or better yet, taken Dan with me—but I was already running late to a dentist appointment, so I left, feeling awful about the whole thing. A few hours later, I signed out a very distressed Dan under the judgmental, disapproving eyes of the staff. Dan was super mad at Tom for the rest of the day, and we spent a lot of time reminding him that his dad loves him very much and had in fact taken him out for ice cream the previous weekend.
We’d had enough. Preschool was making everybody miserable. Even with everyone in our family sick and on antibiotics (two rocephin shots for me!), the previous month had been happier and less stressful than everyday preschool life. The next morning I sent the school a terse message saying that Dan would not be returning, and to please let me know how many service hours I needed so I could pay the fee for not completing them. I ignored multiple requests to come in for one final parent-teacher conference, and that was it. Dan was officially a preschool dropout.
There was definitely an adjustment period once Dan was home again. For the first few weeks he threw a tantrum every time we needed to leave the house, whether for groceries or a fun activity at the museum. He was so desperate to play with his toys and generally be a little kid. And Will had to break the habit of eating Dan’s leftover breakfast cereal (he’d become a sneaky little scavenger while Dan was at school). But eventually everyone calmed down, and we’re in a good routine now. Dan is much less stressed out, and everyone is happy (most of the time).
I’ve occasionally felt bad that Dan isn’t getting “socialized” properly. But after reading Charlotte Mason’s Home Education, I feel much better about the whole thing:
The clash and sparkle of our equals now and then stirs up to health; but for everyday life, the mixed society of elders, juniors and equals, which we get in a family, gives at the same time the most repose and the most room for individual development. We have all wondered at the good sense, reasonableness, fun and resourcefulness shown by a child in his own home as compared with the same child in school life.
This is definitely true for Dan. He gets plenty of “clash and sparkle” with his friends at church (not to mention his brother), and I love that he’s able to carry on decent conversations with adults as well as other kids. I think he’s going to be just fine.
With all this said, I’m definitely not against preschool, or even this particular school. Plenty of people love it, and they do some great stuff there. Now that he’s in a happier state, Dan looks back on some of the activities and his preschool friends with fondness (except that one jerk kid; friggin’ [name redacted]).
And I get it—it’s annoying to deal with parents who don’t go with the flow. But the flow just didn’t work for Dan, and that’s all there is to it. Pulling him out of preschool and keeping him home this year was definitely the right decision, and I’m glad we made it.
I just have to remember that every time I bring both kids to my doctor’s appointments.