It’s amazing to me how many things I want to write about and how many things I either don’t get to or get to after a long time!
One of these things has been the process my four year old is going through in the last couple of months. Beginning in February, he increasingly requested to stay home. It was making mornings much less relaxed since he would be ready to go out the door, and would suddenly balk and refuse to leave. This made ds9 and dd11 feel pressured, since they walk him to school and didn’t want to be late for class. Sometimes he’d get almost to school and suddenly something very small would happen, and he’d refuse to go to in and they’d have to bring him home.
I asked him about why he didn’t want to go, but he wasn’t really able to articulate it. Which is normal, since he’s only four! I let him stay home once a week, then twice a week, wanting to see where his feeling about not wanting to go to school was coming from. He was happy to stay home even if it meant taking a long nap instead of doing fun activities at preschool.
So this continued through the month of February, with him staying home more and more often. By the time we had our family trip to Tzfat at the end of February, he was staying home most of the week. After that trip, ds4 went back to preschool just one more time a week later, for the Purim party at his school (which was held after school hours).
I know you’d think it would be a no-brainer for me to let him stay home full-time, being the long time homeschooler that I am, but it wasn’t. I kept thinking that it will be easier for him next year if he starts kindergarten understanding and speaking Hebrew well; that’s the main reason I put him in preschool and I had to work through my conflicting thoughts about this. It’s also very different not putting your child into school, than actively pulling them out of a framework – I really had no desire to insult anyone and having to start explain myself. In this country, having a 2.5 year old at home with you is strange, and having a four year old with you is so outside of the norm that I think most people have never seen it.
But I saw that ds4 really didn’t want to go to school, and saw no point in insisting a four year be somewhere that wasn’t serving his needs if I had a better option – so I decided to keep him home with me for the rest of the year. (I waited a month before making this decision, to see if he just wanted to stay home occasionally or if the long term choice would be better.) I called the school to stop payments, and one of the secretaries told me that I’m making a mistake, that next year is kindergarten and it’s so academic that he won’t be able to keep up if he’s not in preschool this year. I politely told her that I have a child in the kindergarten this year and know exactly what the learning expectations are (actually, the kindergarten teacher is fantastic and all the learning is through games – she’s very against all the academic pressure that many kindergartens have), and I thought he would be okay. (When I told dd15 about the secretary’s comment, she lifted an eyebrow and skeptically said, “He knows the English and Hebrew alphabets, his colors and numbers, and can do basic math – how is he not going to be ready for kindergarten?”)
I wondered about the secretary’s comment because it really didn’t seem logical to me, and what I think is that many people don’t really stop to question what their children are learning in school, or what the value of it is. When I told her ds4 would be staying home with me, it prompted an instinctive response from her that I must be wrong if I was doing something different than what she did. It wasn’t an unpleasant conversation because she’s a nice person, but it’s never fun to be told by someone (particularly someone who doesn’t really know you) that you’re being an irresponsible parent. She also said she didn’t know if they’d be able to stop our monthly payments, and would speak to the person in charge about it.
A couple of days went by and I didn’t hear from them. I really didn’t feel like pursuing this, but it had to be done so I called back and this time got a different secretary. As soon as she heard my name – oh, my goodness, what a difference! She started talking to me in such a friendly and warm way, but I was sure I didn’t know who she was. I soon realized that the kindergarten teacher had told her just a short time before I called about her dilemma – she needed to leave half an hour early and after hours of calls the night before, she couldn’t find anyone to substitute for her – until I heard about it and volunteered to come in and help her out. Who would have thought a tiny thing like that would be mentioned to anyone?
This secretary right away understood the situation and and made a special effort to call the person in charge at home, who was out that day, to get the financial piece straightened out for me. So dd4 is officially now off the school books and I have the money that would have otherwise gone to tuition to use towards supplies for him at home.
So how is he doing at home? He is so much happier and calmer. Before we moved, I remember often thinking that he was so sweet it was hard to imagine ever getting upset with him. He was just so full of love and cuddles all the time. This is something that changed once he went to school, when we began seeing an upswing in resistance, defiance, and aggression. Some of my older kids wanted me to clamp down on his behavior, but it has to be recognized that a child who feels very securely attached to you emotionally and one who is away for five hours a day are going to behave very different, and have to be responded to with the root issue in mind. (I have to add here that the behaviors we were seeing are considered ‘typical’ issues for this age - but what is typical is that most young children have too much separation and frustration in their lives, and it has to show up somewhere.)
Fortunately, I’m home in the mornings – it’s not like I have to be out of the house and I can’t have him home with me. And I since I have ds2 at home, it’s not like I’m used to having the morning to myself, though having ds4 home definitely changes the dynamic. Dh and I both feel grateful that we have the luxury of being able to do have him at home now. So once it was clear that going to preschool wasn’t a good option for him, the logistics of making this decision were pretty easy; I realize that many parents wouldn’t be able to do this even if they wanted to and have no judgments about that.
What was the issue with school? I wish I could elaborate on what I’ve seen in the preschools and why I feel they are a concern, but don’t want anyone who reads this locally to think I’m saying anything negative about his teachers, who are warm, caring, and dedicated. One point I will share is that he was in a class of 33 other boys, and I don’t think he felt connected to those taking care of him – when you’re a teacher managing such a large group, your priority is on management, not attachment. This is reality, not a criticism. (And this can easily be an issue in a much smaller class.)
So it’s not surprising that he’d rather be home with me, where even if I only read him a book for five minutes and ignored him the next few hours, he’d have more emotional connection and security than he did in preschool (we spend a lot of time interacting together in the morning so I’m not saying that I ignore him but that even if I did, he’s still be coming out ahead). It’s not surprising that with so much time to connect with me daily, that his frustration and aggression level dropped dramatically (ds13 said, ‘Wow, he’s such a nice kid again now that he’s staying at home!”) and that the supposed discipline issues kind of evaporated. And now he falls asleep for a very long nap voluntarily every day about an hour before he used to come home from school – so he’s consistently well-rested now.
What’s better for him about being at home? He feels loved and secure, and gets lots of time with me. He doesn’t have to vie with a huge group of other kids for a minimal amount of attention. He doesn’t get lost in the crowd as a result of being a well-behaved child (I saw this happen at the party we were on his final day – it was like he was invisible even when he was standing right where he was supposed to be, waiting to be noticed and responded to).
There’s absolutely no question that he can learn lots more at home than in preschool, in a much more fun and relaxed way. He has lots of time for free play, we read and cook and clean together…it’s really nice when it’s so easy to change a troublesome situation and meet your child’s needs. And it’s really nice to have him home.