They say it takes a village to raise a child, and when I’m at my wit’s end from lack of sleep and energy, it’s refreshing when grandma or a friend takes my kid for a walk or to fly a kite. However, there are times when, despite the help, certain decisions should be made by either me or my husband. Because at the end of the day, our kids are our kids, and nobody else’s.
I thought this would be an issue I came across with friends and family only, as my son gets older and starts speaking for himself and exploring areas of people’s homes or wandering at the beach, but I really didn’t anticipate it being an issue with teachers. This actually surprises me, given that my child will soon be entering into his school years, where he will spend most of his time in a classroom with his educators. But I’m glad this particular incident happened now because it gives me time to reevaluate what will happen when my son starts school, and how much control I’m willing to relinquish for the name of structured education.
Our school district offers a home visit program for younger kids, which means an educator comes to your home and helps you work on things with your child. The flier made it sound pretty vague so I assumed I could ask them to help me get my son interested in the alphabet again. I loved reading as a kid and I didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t start sooner rather than later to help my toddler learn his letters. He could sing the ABCs by the time he was 18 months but soon after he learned his colors and counting to 20, he stopped learning everything else in this subject. It made me worry. I thought that because I was not home enough, he was not learning as much as he should be, and that I was hindering him. Home visit program? Yes, please!
For a few weeks, we had a woman come and help him focus on identifying letters and patterns and playing games with shapes, but when the summer camps started up, she mentioned that it might be better if he started visiting with someone else because she was busy and this other woman would actually be the one in the classroom when my son started pre-school readiness in September.
Okay, that made sense.
But when my husband tried to get a hold of this woman (whose number was not listed on the school website), we received a rather brute email from her about how she thinks it would be best for my son to meet her in her classroom rather than her coming to our house. She also seemed annoyed that the director of the program had contacted her on her behalf, when we had waited almost 2 weeks for a response from our original home educator to give us this new person’s contact info.
Anyway, a few emails went back and forth about how she thought my son should focus on maturity before learning his letters. When I expressed that I didn’t want my son to be punished for not wanting to eat snack with the other students if he wasn’t hungry, she said he would not be punished but they would not let him play until he ate (still seems like punishment to remove a privilege). I wasn’t too happy with this idea but I was more offended that she thought my son needed to be ‘mature’ and that she wanted to work on this skill with him.
Last time I checked, it was my role as my son’s mother to develop social and emotional skills that he can take with him to school. But then it came to me: school is where he will learn these types of things if I send him too early. At only 3 years old, I believe his personality is still developing and yes, he may not be following rules for organized activities like circle time or snack time, but he is working on learning about the world around him by exploring and playing as much as possible–which is completely age appropriate and acceptable in my eyes. This is radically different than throwing a tantrum or being violent towards other kids and teachers, but I understand that to a teacher, this could make her job harder to control the kids. And therein lies my issue. I don’t want my child to learn by memorizing rules or by fearing consequences. I want him to learn by me coaching him and explaining to him the importance of certain things. If he is mindful of what’s going on around him and why there are ways to do things, then he will be more likely to learn kind, polite, patient, and smart behavior.
Snack time is not important yet. During school, yes, he will have to learn that food is only offered a few times a day and if he foregoes those chances, he will have to wait for the next or even for dinner at the end of the day. But I don’t care to control him this way at age 3. If he’s not hungry at 10:30 am on the dot for a snack yet asks for one at 11:15, then I’m not going to deny him food. Frankly, it’s a stupid rule for his age and holds no importance other than to train him to be obedient, and I’m showing him how to be obedient in other ways. For those naysayers that think a food schedule is important because it helps kids eat better, I think it’s fine to offer food at certain times, but I’m totally amenable to flexibility, whereas the school is not.
My son is not a robot, and I want to be able to raise him the way my husband and I see fit. Throwing him into an environment where teachers make the rules based on their preferences and their philosophies for childhood development means allowing him to be raised by teachers, and they are not his mommy or daddy. Therefore, while teachers are important and valuable, my husband and I decided that they do not yet belong in my child’s life as an influencer. They can enter his life once he’s got a good foundation of himself, his confidence, and the values we have instilled in him. Sure at 5 he will still be growing and learning, but he will not be as malleable to the teachings of a stranger, because he will have spent enough time with his parents to be raised in the way we guide.
I expect that as he enters school, there will be other instances where I might have to speak up. For instance, I don’t believe in making kids say the pledge of allegiance if they don’t understand what they’re saying (back to the whole robots thing), and I will not have my child learn about evolution unless they are going to teach creation right alongside it. But I have to be patient and for now just do what I can to make the most of the moments I get to spend as my son’s main influencer. His little life is so precious to me, and I know one bad memory or traumatic experience could affect other areas of his growth and development in detrimental ways, so I’m going to be careful about the extra factors I introduce into his life (such as a teacher who might punish him for not washing his hands or for not singing on cue). Then, when my husband and I are ready to send him to preschool (if at all), we will be more comfortable about the decision, knowing we have made the best of our time at home with him.
For now, my toddler is still closer to a baby than a formal student, and I want to continue teaching him and guiding him in the way only a parent can.