Overthinking preschool. Or maybe not.

After pondering it a dozen different ways to Sunday, I decided to blog about this: I am an overthinker.

In certain circumstances this can be a blessing, but it often gets in the way of me actually living my life. I see people all around me making decisions and moving on, but for me, it’s harder. I get hung up. I stand in the grocery store aisle painfully pondering.

Should I get the whole grain rigatoni? Chris says the whole grain kind is worth more Weight Watchers points than the regular rigatoni. But the whole grain is better for the boys. Should I buy whole grain for them, and regular for Chris? Wait, here’s whole wheat. Is whole grain better than whole wheat? What brand tastes better? This isn’t even an Italian name. Is this one cheaper? Hmm, I think we have some of this kind left, maybe I should get the same kind and mix them. But if I’m getting a separate box of pasta for the boys, should I get a smaller shape? Maybe I should go back to the organic aisle and see what they have there...

People breeze by me, plucking boxes of pasta off the shelves and dropping them into their baskets while I stand there, paralyzed over a $1.99 purchase, as my kids grow increasingly antsy.

You can imagine how perplexed I am over choosing a preschool for Kostyn.

With Kostyn creeping toward 3, I noticed that more and more of his 2-year-old pals’ moms were discussing preschools, visiting preschools and signing contracts with preschools. Naturally, I knee-jerked a “We need to start researching preschools for Kostyn, so he can start going in the fall!” to Chris. Chris looked at me quizzically; clearly preschool hadn’t been on his radar.

This led him to ask a simple question that I can’t seem to answer, despite my overthinking about it on an Olympic level: “Why does he need to go to preschool?”

When we were growing up, preschool wasn’t a "given" the way it seems to be today. I didn’t go to preschool. Chris didn’t either. No, our parents were bold enough to drop us right into kindergarten without ever having had the opportunity to swap toys and germs and crayons with other 3-year-olds.

But now it seems the norm. They need socialization, the “experts” say, leading well-intentioned parents to create an entire social calendar for their toddler with storytimes and play dates and music class and baby gym and, of course, preschool.

I think socialization is important, but I’m not sure how important it is at this stage to pay to have him around peers for several hours a day. If I send him to preschool I’d be doing so in order for him to learn and grow more independent, to play and experience things and people that he can’t experience at home. But do I need preschool to do this?

I started my research the same way I start the process of finding a doctor when I move to a new town -- I meet someone and ask her who her doctor is. (It’s very scientific.) So I asked my neighbor, whose 3-year-old goes to preschool part-time, why she chose the preschool she did.

“Well, it used to be run out of the basement of our church,” she said, “so I was just sort of familiar with it.” Then she remembered that she also knew someone who knew someone who taught there.

“Oh,” I said, wishing I knew someone who knew someone who taught somewhere.... to have a viable connection to a place that would cement my knowledge of a particular preschool as familiar and trusted.

The fact is, I did know someone who taught somewhere, but that was in South Carolina. My friend Carolyn teaches at a Montessori preschool, and after having been introduced to the Montessori method, Chris and I were believers. I knew Kostyn would thrive in that setting, and we always assumed that’s where we’d send him.

But Montessori, it turns out, is expensive -- too expensive for our current budget, and way too expensive when I thought of doubling that tuition in a year or two when Evan’s old enough to enroll.

It’s only preschool, I thought when I did the math. It’s not college, for cryin’ out loud. I shouldn’t have to fork over a mortgage-sized payment every month for it, and perhaps I shouldn’t be so uptight about where I send him.

On the other hand — (the overthinker kicked into high gear about this time) — research suggests that 90 percent of a child's brain is developed by age 5, so these are critical years for teaching kids not just A-B-C's but how to think. And I want the best for my kids, whether they’re 3 or 13. I want them to go somewhere where they’ll explore and thrive and challenge themselves. And anyway, it’s a place I’m preparing to leave my child for several hours a day, so the phrase “only preschool” is unfair. It’s not “only” anything; it’s an important decision.

Unless it’s not.

Back and forth my brain has ping-ponged the preschool issue, and every time it seems to land smack dab in the middle of another can of worms that was opened in our living room one night along with the preschool predicament.


In Chris’s perfect world we’d be independently wealthy, both able to be home with the boys all day. (I'm totally down with this part of the fantasy.) We’d live in some charming farmhouse on 5 acres of land with a big garden and a barn and possibly goats or something. And we’d homeschool the boys, teaching them not just with lesson plans but by taking them to museums and science centers and anything under the sun that could supplement their education. They’d play both sports and musical instruments. They’d be classmates as well as confidants.

There’d be no risk of them not getting the instruction and encouragement they need, because they wouldn’t be competing with 24 other kids for the teacher’s attention. They wouldn’t experience the pressure of their peers to wear the cool clothes, talk to the cool kids, and pursue the cool extracurricular activities. They’d just be free to be themselves. They’d get an education tailored to the way they think, to their interests and abilities and talents.

The whole thing shocks me coming from Chris, who’s always been a believer in the public school system (well, until we lived in South Carolina for 10 years and saw what a mess those schools are....) and never used to entertain the idea of homeschooling. Neither had I, despite the fact that both of my sisters plan to homeschool their kids.

In theory, at least, the educational benefits of it sound kind of wonderful to me, until I realize the whole scenario involves me being their teacher. That’s when I start to roll my eyes and wave Chris away, knowing that both gestures are merely defense mechanisms thrown up to deflect the real issue: The thought of being my sons' teacher scares me to death. I simply don’t know if I have the creativity to teach them well, not to mention the patience, organizational skills or selfless drive to do it.

None of this Chris understands, so I offered an example. For the past three months I’ve wanted to start teaching Kostyn the days of the week. I’ve also wanted to create a simple weather chart for him to use every day. And I’ve wanted to start doing a short Circle Time with him each morning, just a couple songs and a story or two, to add a bit more consistency to our day.

For three months I’ve thought about doing all these things, and haven’t done a single one. It took me two months to even start the weather chart, and I’ve had a dozen excuses as to why it’s not finished. No days of the week have been mentioned to Kostyn, even though I’m sure he would eat up that info and memorize it in no time. No calendar is even displayed in the playroom.

What hangs me up with this stuff, apart from laziness, is the fact that I overthink it. I couldn’t decide on the width of the weather chart or the way to set it up. I couldn’t decide on the materials, where I’d hang it, or how he’d manipulate the pieces each day. I wanted it to be simple but durable, out of reach of their grabby hands during the day, but easily accessible each morning.

The thing is, I’m sure he’d learn all this stuff in preschool. I could just enroll him and let somebody else make all these decisions for me, and the thought of doing so brings an internal sigh of relief. And then a pang of guilt. And then a rumbling of "But I want to see him learn this stuff!"

And then I think, Wait: If I’m even thinking about doing weather charts and Circle Time, is that a clue that somewhere deep inside me resides a .... a .... teacher?

I think I’ll think about it some more.


Heather said...

We have had the same discussions at our house preschool or not, home school vs public or private. I am also an over thinker. I have such a hard time making simple decisions let alone decisions about my children! I am looking into a preschool here at Ft. Irwin, but it would only be a part time part day type of thing. But, I will only do it if it has some sort of curriculum, I think it's ridiculous for me to pay someone to play with my child for 3 hours. Lots and lots to think about!

Lyn said...

Weather charts, calendars, and Circles Times aside, you are a teacher whether you realize it or not...and whether you like it or not!

The reality is that regardless of the decision you make, both of those adorable little boys will become intelligent, caring, creative, loving, and endearing people...just like their mom and dad.

Who taught you the lessons that have made the greatest impact in your life? Are any or all of those "teachers"?

By simply being who you are, and by that I mean a strong, loving, intelligent, caring and beautiful woman, you are teaching those boys the most important lessons they will ever need. You can rest assured that regardless of the place or the format, you have already been their first and best teacher and they will hold that in their hearts forever.

Robyn said...

Lyn, you made me cry! Thank you so much for your kind words. You are an amazing mother, wife and friend. Love you!

Heather said...

Lyn made me cry too, what beautiful words, and what encouragement.

Jen said...

Robyn, If you are interested in talking to someone about home-schooling I can get you in touch with my neighbor across the street. She is a stay-at-home mother of 7 children, ages 11 months to 16 years, and home-schools all of them. She is amazing. Their home-school curriculum is Christian-based and they are very involved in the church. She's a big advocate of home-schooling and has lots of information on good resources, groups and books on the topic. Let me know if you're interested in getting in touch! Just thought I'd throw that out there!

(Just posted this accidently logged in as Jimmy, which is why there is a deleted comment above.)

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