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Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Rules of Preschool

This will be the preschool edition. Here's a list of things that I have learned these past two weeks, the hard way.

1) When you drop your kid off, drop him off and go. They told me to do this. I didn't believe them. The first day I stayed for ten minutes or so, comforting them and telling them over and over again that I'd be back. Sounds like a good plan, right? The teachers know preschoolers, but they don't know mine, right? Mine maybe just need a little reassurance that everything will be okay.

No. Apparently (shocker, I know), the teachers do know best. Lingering confuses them, and, eventually, they'll cry either way. I stayed there for almost a half hour this morning, and when I left (and I was thisclose to taking the twins with me) they were still carrying on. I made the teachers' jobs much harder. And if they're going to cry and freak out either way, why tease them with your presence, leaving them in confusion as to what is going to happen next? Consistency is the key for three year olds. If they don't know how long you are going to stay, or when you are going to say goodbye, they worry it the whole time and make it bigger than it is.

I thought they would be comforted. That it would show them that I love them very much and will stay until they're satisfied. But in their ideal world, I would never leave them. And so the time stretches and gets harder on them, on me, and on the teachers. Drop them and go. If they are going to freak out, they are going to freak out either way. And I've watched on the other side of the window. It's true what they say. The kids are fine once you've left.

2) Find a half-day program, and if you can't, don't go pick them up in the middle of the day. I have been picking the twins up around 12:30 / 1 every afternoon. That's when all the kids go down for a nap, and I'm home and I'd rather them sleep in their own beds than on little plastic mats on the floor. After they slept and ate, I would bring them back for dance, or music, or drama or whatever specials class they had that day. This worked great for the first two weeks. I loved it. I got to see them in the middle of the day, they got to sleep in their own beds and I was sure they were well-rested and well-fed before bringing them back.

This drives the inconsistency of their day way up. If you are going to pick them up, you pick them up and bring them home full stop. They apparently don't appreciate seeing you and then having to go through the whole thing again in the afternoons. I've also been confusing them because I'll stay with them for the classes. This, again, worked well the first few times. The last time, one of my kids wouldn't let go of me and wouldn't participate in the class. The other always follows her lead, so I had two unhappy children not partaking in the fun class I'd signed them up for. They'd rather hang out up in my uterus, apparently.

3) Don't do a two-day program. Again, inconsistency. The teacher told me today, while tears were streaming down my face at the absolute monstrosity that was dropping them off this morning, that children who only go to preschool two days a week have it the hardest. She says it's because they never know what their day is going to be like.

I thought it would be a nice way to break them into this school thing. You know, gradually. A little at a time. They still get mommy five days a week, and two days a week they get extra-special-fun-extravaganza school. But toddlers don't understand days of the week. To toddlers, every time is the present. They are just grasping the fact that the past does exist and the future...they hardly understand it, although they try. As they work on getting the general idea down, there's no way they will understand that on Tuesdays and Thursdays we go to the preschool and mommy drops you off, then on Saturdays we go to the preschool and mommy stays with you because it's specials day.

A quick example of how bound my toddlers are to routine: Last week, Starbucks rolled out the Pumpkin Spice latte and I got one before picking them up from school. I gave them a sip. On that Thursday, I got another one. I gave them a sip. This Tuesday I was over it and decided I don't need to spend $4 every time I go out without the babies, so I didn't get one. I heard about how we didn't get coffee and we needed coffee for hours. After getting it only twice. My kids, at least, need routine.

They never know whether they are coming or going. Since staying home is their most comfortable routine, they cling to the monster they know, instead of braving a new, and quite fun, world.

It's the inconsistency that breeds fear of abandonment, not your presence or lack thereof. If you consistently drop them off and consistently pick them up, they know what to expect. And toddlers, above all else, need to know what to expect. Otherwise they are scared. And leaving a scared child at school is almost unthinkable to me.

So, now that I've made a royal mess of things, what is there for me to do? I plan on keeping on keeping on, but today truly broke my heart. Don't be me. I might know my children better than the teachers, but the teachers know childhood behavior better than I do. If you're going to do something, you've got to do it. Wishy-washy flip-flopping will only serve to confuse, agitate and upset your little ones...which I'm pretty sure will be the opposite of your intent.

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  1. I am a veteran when I comes to childcare. My Little Miss has been in daycare for 3 years and Buddy has been in for almost 2 years. You are right, consistency is the thing that makes it easier for them and you.

    I hate when appointments or similar things mean that I have to change their routine. Add to this the fact that Little Miss is now going to Kindergarten and drop-offs have not been smooth as of late. Hopefully we will soon find a new routine and everyone will be comfortable once again.

  2. Yes, preschools seem to be very particular about rules and procedures and such. Our little one just started at her school, and I'm still getting the hang of it!

  3. I homeschool my nine year old, she's never been in a regular class setting but her little sister who was taking a Loooong time to talk is going to a preschool that helps with young kids with some mild developmental challenges. I had been in special ed and it was a nightmare so I made sure I felt good about the place. My kid, being the way she is was focused on one thing there when she started last year, the playhouse they have inside. I'd drop her off and didn't get much of a backward glance. She's almost five and is still a year behind when it comes to talking but she is getting more sentences in like 'push the button on the remote' I'm planning on homeschooling her after this year but finding a proper routine to fit her is tricky, she gets stuck in her own routine till she's tired of it and makes herself another new routine. I always hated routine, I felt confined, I like some structure with room to change, apparently my little one is the same but certian things are non negotiable, her screaming for what she wants gets her an automatic time out. Once she calms down I tell her what to say nicely, she copies me and that moves us on.

  4. Eeek! We do exactly that, Tues and Thurs half-day preschool. But Maya thrives. She's all, SEE ya mom + dad. Then again, she's older than your kiddos. Maybe that's the ticket, I dunno. But she loves it. We just wake her up early those two days and tell her it's time for school, The End.

    Oh, and never to touch her face or nose or eyes or mouth, and to wash really really well after going potty. :)

  5. Any possibility of switching your days? When my older daughter was in preschool I sent her Monday, Wednesday and Friday, which to my adult brain seemed like a low-stress schedule, but the drop-offs were awful. The teacher pointed out that because she was never there back-to-back days, every time she went it was like walking into a new situation. We switched her to Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and the continuity really helped.

  6. Sarah, you know, the teacher just mentioned something along those lines. She said sometimes they let the Tues. Thurs. kids come everyday for a week, just to get used to it. Perhaps that's a good idea.

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