Today is Ruthie’s last day of preschool for the year. I don’t think I mentioned this at the time, but at the beginning of March I pulled her out of the preschool she had been in all year, and switched her to a different one. She had been in a bilingual preschool learning Spanish – which I was really attracted to at the time – but as time went on I realized that I was not reinforcing the language in the home enough, and two mornings a week was just not enough time to retain what she was learning.
What prompted me to switch schools, though, was the teacher’s teaching style: she expected three and four year olds to sit still at a desk and speak in turn. She was extremely structured, and because she was the only teacher in the room with 10 children, she had to maintain control at all times – which meant zero tolerance for being a normal three-year-old. If someone jumped out of his seat to touch the teddy bear she was holding, he had to put his head down on the desk. If someone dipped her entire hand into a pile of shaving cream instead of just one finger, she got her pile of shaving cream taken away.
This extreme structure may have worked for some kids – and many of the parents in that school loved the teacher and had been involved for years – but it just wasn’t the environment for Ruthie, who has always pushed against her boundaries. Much of the time that she was in this school was also during the time I was working through my own issues of control and trying to figure out how to raise my ‘spirited’ child. To have so much control imposed on her at home, and then again at school, seemed to be too much for her. Not to mention that every school morning she fought me tooth and nail, and I had to pry her away from my body when I dropped her off.
She obviously hated it, and in the process was developing a reputation as a ‘problem child.’
I worried obsessively about the situation, feeling like this one classroom experience would make or break her entire educational career. I wondered if she really was ‘a problem.’ I wondered if the structure was good for her in setting clear boundaries. I wondered if a less structured environment would give her too much control and perpetuate her strong willed nature. I wondered if she would thrive with more freedom. I wondered I wondered I wondered.
I struggled for a couple months over whether I should pull her out or stick with it for the rest of the year. At the time, our family was transitioning in other areas, and I was afraid of disrupting too much at once. But when the bill came due for the final half of the year, we only paid for one month. I think I just knew it wasn’t working out.
The cherry on top came one Friday when I decided to stay in class to participate as many moms do, though it is not an official co-op. The children were given a piece of paper and a large Bingo marker, and it was demonstrated that they were to tap out the letter A using dots. Of course some children tapped dots all over their page, some drew the letter A without using dots, and some just wrote all over their arms. None of this was acceptable to the teacher, who took markers away from the children who did not do exactly as she had demonstrated.
And on top of this, she kept telling those kids they were doing it wrong, as if their college education depended on it.
I mean, really. WTF? They are three effing years old!
There was so much negativity in the room that day, that at the half-way point when she lined everyone up to go pee, I told her we had an appointment to get to and we high-tailed it out of there. I was so stressed out by that experience that I just wanted to get out of there.
That afternoon I got on the phone to another local preschool, visited the classroom on Monday by myself, and had Ruthie enrolled and in class by Thursday. When we showed up at the new school that first day, there were toys in bins and painting stations at the table, and do you know what? She ran over to the painting table, picked up a brush, and said, “BYE MOM!”
And from that point on I never had a problem dropping her off at school. When I tell her at bed time that she has preschool the next morning, she jumps up and down, so excited to see Mrs. White the next day. Her new environment is compelling to her, and gives her just enough freedom to be the four year old she is supposed to be.
I think it was the best decision Bryan and I could have made, and it really opened my eyes to the role we will play in her education.
I learned a lot from this experience, such as what questions to ask when looking for the right school or teacher. I learned what motivates Ruthie to learn. I learned how to tell when she is not succeeding, even if she can’t use her words to tell me why. But most importantly, I learned right from the get-go how important it is for us as parents to be involved with our kids’ education. I will never again take it for granted that so-and-so is the teacher, so she must know what she is doing.
This idea was reinforced for me when I read Raising Your Spirited Child. I learned many things from reading this book, including how to accept who my child is and work within that reality. I read a testimonial from a parent who had a very active and energetic boy. Once his mother accepted this about him instead of trying to make him change, she went to the school and asked who the most energetic teacher for his grade was, and had her son placed in that man’s class. She figured he would understand her son’s need to wiggle and be able to work with it.
This is basically what I did. I recognized that Ruthie was not in an environment that would help her succeed, and was actually perpetuating the notion that school was a drudgery. I did not want this for her. I wanted her to be in an environment that would provide age-appropriate structure, but would also allow the strengths of her independence and leadership to flourish. I did not want her in an environment that compelled her to rebel against the system.
There will be plenty of years in the future to deal with that.
So now my school district better watch out, because I plan on sticking my nose into everybody’s business. As a good friend with older children has encouraged many of us with young children, a mother knows her child best and should listen to her instincts. I will do whatever it takes to help my children succeed in their education.
(I’m stepping off my soap box, now).