With Parker turning three in just over a month, we’ve begun the next journey of our life: preschool.
Currently, he attends an in-home daycare, and while she is nurturing and wonderful, it’s not really preschool. We toyed with the idea of keeping him in daycare for another year and doing Pre-K at age four, but ultimately decided that he needs more structure as he gets older. This isn’t to say that daycare is a free for all, it’s just not the same as school.
When looking into our options for schooling we found that we had a few. One was to move him to a childcare center which would also serve as a preschool. That would be a quantum leap for us in terms of what we currently pay for childcare (Read: we’re basically stealing it at $35 a day. Like, we moved to a new house and town within a radius of DAYCARE and not our families. For real.)
We’re fortunate enough to live in a town that offers preschool as a part of the public school system. It’s not free, but it’s in the same building where Parker will eventually attend kindergarten. Suffield operates a “peer model” program where kids with special needs ranging from behavioral to social to physical are offered preschool provided they qualify after screening. The school then screens peer models – kids who are not identified as needing special academic or behavioral attention – who would also join the program. The number varies, so for example, this year we were told that about 50 peer models were screened and they were going to take 20 – half for the morning and half for the afternoon. Who they take depends on what they need – gender, social skills, etc. are all screened and accounted for.
So we decided to go for it.
And then I was suddenly reminded of how my husband and I are apparently atypical parents.
On screening day, I took the day off from work, as did my husband, and I bought Parker a new sweater and made him wear real pants instead of “soft pants” (i.e. fleece sweatpants from Khols which is weirdly obsessed with). I reminded him 700 times that if he needed to go to the bathroom he should tell any adult he saw if Mommy wasn’t around. We also repeated the mantra that we are nice to other people and we share, take turns, and for the love of freakin’ God we don’t hit.
When we arrived at the school it was instantly apparent that preschool screening day was essentially as high stakes as the college application process. The hallway where the preschool is housed had giant paintings of the letters of the alphabet, each paired with an animal that began with the same letter. Every parent who walked in proceeded to quiz his or her kid LOUDLY so we all knew that said three-year-old did in fact know what a giraffe was. And that the G was purple. And the giraffe was 7.8 feet tall, to scale of course, and a lovely shade of persimmon. Then, every parent proceeded to try to pretend that their three-year-olds were going to sit in chairs nicely and quietly while waiting to be let into the classroom. I’m not saying that I’m perfect and that I’m not crazy in my own way, but I sure as hell didn’t make sure that everyone in the room knew that I thought my kid was going to blow the other kids out of the water because he knew what a kangaroo was. I also didn’t stop him from sampling every single mini chair in the hallway. You’re not gonna not try out every mini chair, people.
I cannot, for the life of me, ever understand parents like this. I’m assuming most parents don’t realize they’re doing it. Maybe you quiz your kids all the time about stuff like this. Who knows? But what I find odd is that in a situation like this, it seems strange to loudly make sure everyone knows that Sarah can read. READ! At age 3! Is it to make sure the rest of us know that we’re inferior? Or is it to make yourself feel better? I think part of the problem is that now even preschool is high stakes. We have become a society that believes that if your kid doesn’t get into the perfect preschool you could ruin his life. Programs tout their “curriculum” in order to prove that they are the best. As a teacher, I find this insane. I feel that there is often a difference between the skills that I want kids to learn and the curriculum I need to teach to them. And what does that even look like at three years old? If the curriculum teaches my son to be polite, listen to other adults, share stuff with other kids and keep his hands to himself, then sign us up! I just wish that when we were in these sorts of situations with other parents and kids, we didn’t all have to suddenly act differently than we probably do in our homes. Why do parents of toddlers suddenly have to become so serious simply because other parents might be watching? That seems like yet another example of undue stress that we put on ourselves simply because we’re terrified of what other parents think of us. I’ve learned that it’s almost always impossible for me to believe that my child is not a reflection of me somehow, and so I think we try to make up for that by playing up the good stuff when we’re in public.
The time arrived for the screening to begin. Imaging our surprise when the kids were taken into the other room without us! I kind of imagined the know-it-all parents freaking out internally because they wouldn’t be able to coach their kids. I was sort of like, wait, I took the day off for this! I could have also been wearing my own soft pants since my physical appearance and even attendance had literally no bearing on whether or not my son would be chosen as a peer model.
After an hour, the kids were brought back to us. I’m proud to report that my son cried… because it was time to go home. It was very hard not to laugh. We didn’t hear much about what went on in the screening – we know it was an abbreviate version of a typical day with stations and circle time – I did hear that he cooked up a mean meal in the play kitchen and also bee-lined for the trucks, but that’s about it.
He did get in though. So whatever they were looking for in a peer model, he had it. I can only assume it’s his outgoing and funny personality, because, after all, I let him sit in all of the chairs!