Sending your kid to preschool is not something you do without a lot of thought, consideration, and research. Even if the school crosses everything off your checklist, there are some things you may not learn until you're actually in it. Even then, you have to be "on the ground" to really know what's going on in the classroom. Sadly, and even at the best preschool around, you may be surprised to learn about the subtle subtle ways your toddler is shamed at preschool.
The decision to send our second child to preschool was easy, only because my partner and I had done the same with our first son. We sent him to the same one his brother went to, because he had been very happy there, so we knew what to expect. I didn't spend a lot of time in the classroom with my first, though, mostly because he wasn't as attached to me as my second. With my second son, though, I had more opportunities to hang out in his classroom (for better or worse) and got to see first-hand how my toddler and his classmates get shamed in small ways that can, eventually, add up.
I know this sounds like I'm being all "my kid is a precious, precious snowflake" but, well, my kid is a precious, precious snowflake. He is. He is my precious boy, and I don't want him feeling one ounce of sadness and shame if I am not there to help mitigate the situation and make him feel better in the process. So while I am grateful for the institutions of daycare and preschools, I am aware that they're not perfect. Ideally, if I could work from home and engage my child in enriched play with at least five pals his age, I would.
My 3 year old absolutely loves preschool, and has been rarin' to go since he was a 1 year old tagging along while I dropped his older brother off at preschool. He used to toddle into the classroom and make himself at home and be like, "bye guys, see you in three hours!" He has been delighted to have been in a classroom of his own all year long, and is proud of his school experience. He adores his teachers and his friends. So, even with it's imperfections, I will continue to send my child to preschool. At the same time, though, I am aware that there are times when my child might experience moments of shame, even if they're not intended by the well-meaning teachers to be as such. It is my job to be as informed about these moments as possible, and to try to reinforce his confidence at home in our daily life. As much growth and learning that happens at school, I know that his dad and I are his most influential teachers.
When They Insist Your Kid Show Up In Pull-Ups
Between the ages of 2 and 3, a lot of kids (but not all) go through potty training. In the time that my son has been in his 2 year old program at preschool, it seems like almost his entire class has been successfully potty trained. Leaving my own "mommy shame" aside, we are nowhere near being potty trained with our little guy.
We made a brief attempt at it when the teachers, about midway through the year, encouraged everyone to bring their children to school wearing pull-up diapers. The teachers explained that it would be easier for potty training purposes, since this was one of the things they were trying to encourage during the school day. It seemed like "everyone" was reaching the potty training milestone except our son, so we spent some time encouraging him to sit on the potty and asking him if he had to go every five minutes throughout the day.
Our child had no interest in the potty. More than that, he was defiantly uninterested. You know what can happen when your child doesn't want to use the potty and you try to force it? You get a kid who likes to hold in their bowel movements as a means of control. Yeah, no thanks. We spoke to a few behavioral therapists about it and were told that it is still perfectly developmentally appropriate that our 3 year old is nowhere near being potty trained. Still, I feel for my guy. I wonder how he feels when the teachers usher him to a potty that he has no intention of using, and is not ready to deal with.
When Your Child Is Told To Act Like A "Big" Boy Or Girl
My husband takes our boys to school a couple days of the week, and I take our youngest to school the other days. On my days I end up staying for almost 20 minutes, because he has a hard time in general with detaching from me (which is the reason I don't do drop off in the first place). So I've had some time to observe what happens inside the classroom, for better or for worse.
The teachers in my son's class are, for the most part, really young. They love these children, and I can tell that love is genuine. I'm not convinced that they've been throughly prepared or trained to deal with this age group, though, and in all the most sympathetic and developmentally appropriate ways (or the ways that suit my style). For example, when I've overheard one of them say, "it's time to act like a big boy."
Really? Why should a 2 year old act like a "big" boy? Two years ago he wasn't even on this planet. What about his stature suggests that he should pull his act together and conjure up some maturity? Granted, this has never been said to my child while I was present, but I can assume that it has happened at some point. When a child is told to act "big," it is usually in the context of some kind of emotional meltdown, when their needs at that moment are to be coddled and reassured. You know, the opposite of acting "big."
When They're Discouraged From Playing With Toys In The Way They're Not "Supposed" To Be Played With
At my son's preschool there are numerous stations set up around the classroom with different activities that are meant to be played with in a specific way and in a specific location. Take one of the toys away from the station and to a different station, though, and you're in trouble. For example, the craft feather from the collage project should not go anywhere near the water table. Honestly, though, why the hell not? Wouldn't it be cool, especially if you were 2 years old, to see what that feather looked like if you dropped it in a pool of water?
If my son were to take the "wrong" toy from an activity station to another station, he would be shamed for doing so. "That doesn't go there!" one of the teachers would ostensibly reprimand. It is so tiring, these arbitrary rules in a class for tiny humans that are just figuring out the world. I get mess containment, as in, don't let the kids start painting the dollhouse. But why should kids be chided for exploring and being creative with the materials they're given in the classroom?
When They Are Rushed From One Activity To The Next
My son's preschool, astonishingly, has a curriculum. Yes, a lesson plan for 2 year old, people. So each day the teachers are tasked with getting through certain activities and lessons in a particular order and within a time limit. At the end of the week, us parents get an email about all the things our children have "learned" but I could give two you-know-whats. I just want my child to have fun and be happy.
I look at my son's face when he's still gluing a button to a cotton ball and the teacher has started singing the cleanup song and it reads, "WTF? We just started this activity!" I see it on the faces of the other kids, too. I imagine they feel like they weren't quick enough to do their activity well, or lacking in something in order to have finished it on time. Why is the school setting up these kids to feel a sense of failure instead of confidence in their wonderful, creative abilities?
When Teachers Are Quick To Assume & Label What Your Child Has Been Working On
This isn't just something teachers do, as I'm sure I do it, too. We see something our kids have drawn or made in art and we say, "Oh! What a pretty snowman!" Then your kid looks at you like, "Uh. I guess it's a snowman?" Sometimes I hear the teachers go around the room and assume that whatever the kids have drawn is a particular thing, but they don't give the kids a chance to actually tell them about the picture first. I think a lot of learning is in actual conversation, and a huge opportunity is being missed in not talking about what a child has drawn.
Instead the teachers take a quick glance, say, "Nice job on that cat!" and take the piece later so that the parents have something they can hang on the fridge. The poor child is left feeling misunderstood and stymied. Maybe they wanted to talk about the castle they had drawn (it wasn't a snowman after all) and were proud of it, but now are feeling crushed.
When Your Child Is Told They Can't Have More Snacks
I was told by one of the teachers earlier in the year that my son is always asking for more snacks, so maybe I should bring a granola bar for him to eat midway through the morning. That was fine, and we did, but I was curious about what they say when a child wants more to eat. The answer, unfortunately, surprised me. It was something along the lines of "you've had your snack already." If someone said that to me, I would assume I'm "too hungry."
These kids are burning so much energy all morning, I can imagine that they are hungry for more than a small cup of dry, unsweetened Cheerios. School was still a new thing at that point in the year, and until that point my son was used to getting food whenever he was hungry. I think the more empathic thing to have done would have been for her to give my child the snack he requested, then take the time to speak to me about it as soon as possible. Instead, she deprived him of food for about a week before I was made aware that he needed more than what they were willing to give him. What a shock that must have been to my 2-year-old toddler, who all of a sudden was given the message that the amount given to him was all he was supposed to be hungry for.