A reader contacted me recently about her preschool dilemma. Since I think our correspondence could help others who are grappling with similar questions, I’m pasting parts of it in this post. Here’s what she wrote, edited for privacy:
I hope you don’t mind my writing to you, but I recently read your article in the newspaper, “Should 3-Year-Olds Go to School?”
It was 4am in the morning, unable to sleep, I was searching the internet for help. ‘Should I / Shouldn’t I?’ send my 2 year and 10 month old son to pre-school (or maternelle here in France).
I felt a light relief as I read through your article, it was like reading through the events that had just occurred to myself.
Two days before I had just picked my son up from his first 3 hours at maternelle, he had cried for half of that time.
How did things work out with Etani in the end?
What age did he eventually go to school/creche/pre-school?
Was he content to go when he was older and ready to explore without mum in sight?
I could delay my son’s entry for another 1.5 months or until the following year. I’m currently thinking of delaying his entry to pre-school for another year when he will be 3 years and 10 months, but would really like to hear your opinions / ideas.
Now that my son is almost 6, I have so much more insight about this dilemma and it seems obvious to me that this reader’s son is not ready to be in school.
Here’s how I responded:
We took Etani out of school for the year and my husband and I completely re-arranged our schedules to be home with him.
We also had some babysitting help when we needed it.
IT WAS ABSOLUTELY THE RIGHT DECISION!
Etani wasn’t ready to be in school, very simply put.
When Etani did go to school the following year (a preschool that met 4 days a week from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.) he went off SO HAPPY and totally engaged.
He didn’t once cry or say he did not want to go. He enjoyed school and the other children very much.
At that point he was 4-years-old (or almost 4 when he started because his bday is in October).
I am pretty familiar with the French system. Though of course it varies from teacher to teacher, I think, if you can, that your son will be much happier and better adjusted if he can stay home with you.
So, yes, yes, I think you can do no wrong in delaying his pre-school entry.
The all-important socialization (I’m writing this rather sarcastically as I think “socialization” is usually touted by working parents who are feeling guilty and the best socialization often happens at home) can wait.
I’m really glad you wrote to me.
These are such hard decisions.
I’ve been there.
I don’t know what this mom will ultimately decide but she wrote me back again and it looks like she is not going to keep her almost 3-year-old in school this year:
Jennifer – what a relief to read your reply… thank-you for taking the time to read my email and write back.
It helps to know that there is a chance that my son will eventually go off to preschool quite happily and that crying desperately isn’t a pre-requisite.
We really like the maternelle (that he would attend and which his older brother does attend), but it just feels such a huge step for him (as he has so impressively expressed), especially with 25 other children, only 1 teacher and 1 assistant.
Although each child is different, Etani’s situation felt so similiar to my own experiences that I felt there is good chance his eventual preschool entry could also be similiar.
So, fingers crossed for when I try again when he is nearly 4.
In the meantime, I’ll introduce him to a couple of parent /child playgroups, music / baby gyms which he’ll love, just as long as he can keep one eye on mum.
It really is good to have corresponded with you, to hear from another mum who has reacted in the same way to ‘pressures’ to put our very young children somewhere where they are just not happy or even scared.
Every child is different and every child grows and matures at a different pace.
When Etani’s older sister was 3, she told us it was time for her to go to preschool and we should find her a good one.
We wanted her home with us but she was ready to spread her wings.
So she started to go to school. Etani was different. He needed the extra time at home with his parents.
A friend of mine is a wonderful, skilled, and experienced preschool teacher who has many lovely 2 and 3-year-olds who do just fine in school. She had something brown on her shirt when I ran into her today.
“Today was the first day of school. A kid got a gash in his forehead. He’s not even three. He needed stitches.”
Then she leaned in closer to me. “He was pushed,” she whispered. “And his mom had been on the fence about sending him to school. I doubt he’s coming back. It wasn’t a good day…”
I walked my daughter to her gymnastics class thinking about the reader in France who wrote to me.
There are doubtless some benefits to socialization, but I don’t think that children really learn anything from other 2 and 3-year-olds they are unrelated to that is more important or somehow better than what they are learning from their parents and siblings.
There is no real “scientific evidence” that school is the best choice for young children but we do have a cultural expectation in America that children barely out of diapers should be in social settings even though this is so obviously not right for all children.
Listen to your child and yourself.
School can wait.
Last updated: July 1, 2018