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Back to School: Preschool Pressure

It’s back to school season and I have felt more pressure around parenting over the last few months than I have since Zelda was born. The general perception is that if you aren’t sending your child to preschool something must be wrong. Preschool is the new kindergarten and Zelda was one of the only children among her peers that didn’t attend this year. Spiro and I knew we had some major factors to consider when deciding whether or not to send our babe off to school.

How to tell if your child is ready for preschool.

Would we make Zelda the oldest or the youngest in her class since her birthday is in July and she is so close to the cutoff date? Was she developmentally ready? Had her current curriculum prepared her for the classroom environment? There is so much pressure placed on academics and where your child falls on the learning curve. It’s making me crazy! When did a child stop being a child? I’m not demeaning preschool in any way and Zelda will attend preschool next year. I think it’s an amazing thing but this year it wasn’t the right choice for us.

Over the last few weeks I have seen children in my Facebook feed with back to school signs that just learned to stand the month before. Is this preschool or are their parents sending them off to daycare and calling it school? I’m asking because I’m curious – some of these children aren’t even two years old yet. It seems like the age for beginning educational exploration has become younger and younger each year. I toured several local preschools that had a fantastic curriculum, beautiful facilities and cool kids with wonderful parents but I knew Zelda wasn’t ready yet. One of the major factors that kept me from sending her to school was where she was at developmentally.

Is your child ready for preschool?

From the time Zelda was born until about two and a half years old, we spoke three languages in our household. We speak English, her nanny speaks Spanish and her father was speaking to her in Greek. When we noticed her speech was a little delayed, we spoke with our pediatrician who recommended removing one of the languages from her day to day. We chose to stop speaking Greek with the intention of reintroducing it to her later in life. This made an enormous difference. She began speaking regularly and in complete sentences. There was nothing wrong with her, she was just developing her speech at a slower rate. I knew if she was going to start school this year, I wanted her speaking fluidly.

A mother daughter photo on Oak Street in Chicago.

It is very important to me that Zelda can communicate with me about her day. This would ensure her safety because she could express what she did and who she was with so I could recognize any red flags. I also wanted her to be able to tell me if something was wrong. I know many of these preschools are amazing, top of the line facilities but at the end of the day, people are people and you never know what could happen. I needed Zelda to have the ability to communicate with me. We made the decision that her speech wasn’t quite there yet and she wasn’t ready for preschool.

A little girl wearing a striped shirt.

Another key factor that influenced our decision was feedback we received from her current curriculum. Zelda attends several external classes during the week with her nanny and we learned that she is a naturally active explorer. Zelda is still in a phase where she wants to explore her environment at her own pace and she finds it difficult to sit still and listen to a story or sing songs. I know this is something she will have to learn to do eventually but I also knew that at this juncture, a preschool environment would be challenging for her. In her current classes, she continues to make progress, is learning and becoming better in a static environment. By next year I feel she will be where she needs to be to really enjoy preschool.

Back-to-School-Girls-Metallic-Backpack

Throughout this process I have done extensive research about preschool and read countless articles on how to tell if my child is ready. I’ve read more on this topic than any other since becoming pregnant and it has made me feel so much more confident in my decision. I encourage anyone faced with this quandary to make the right choice for your family and to not get caught up on what everyone is doing around you. Don’t ever forget that every child is different. Your child’s only advocate is you and you are the only one who can stand up and make the choice for them. You are the one who is concerned about their well-being and their development. Don’t get caught in the tidal wave of “what you should be doing”.

If you belong to an online mommy group with 50,000 members this isn’t the place to seek advice. You wouldn’t approach a stranger in a grocery store to ask if your child is ready for preschool so don’t depend upon a forum. This is a perfect conversation to have with your pediatrician – I had mine with Dr. Asha at Weissbluth Pediatrics (who I absolutely adore). I also had this discussion with my close friends so I could gauge how they made their decision. I also encourage you do to some educational reading because all of these outlets combined will make you feel so much more comfortable.

A back to school pink preschool backpack.

And one last thing – don’t ever ignore your instincts. Your instincts are your superpower and your gut feeling will never be wrong. I would love to hear from you on this topic. How old were your children when they started preschool? What factors played a role in your decision? Please share with me, this is a topic I’m really interested in and I’m sure others are too. It’s just like breastfeeding, when you feel you aren’t falling in line with “what you are supposed to be doing” it feels like your choice is frowned upon. Who else out there made the decision to go against the grain?

Photos by Hallie Duesenberg

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