When Aristotle was nearly 18 months old, I tried taking him to a mother and toddler class in an effort to increase his exposure to other children, since he was an only child. He was so traumatised by the experience that I put off the idea of classes until he was ready for playschool. The intention was not to send him to school until he was at least 4 years old, possibly even skipping kindergarten altogether and waiting until he was old enough for primary school. At least that was the plan…
Then I got pregnant with Hercules. And then there were concerns that I wouldn’t be able to cope with looking after a baby and a toddler so it was advised that I send Aristotle to school. Truth be told, there were also concerns that he was far too “clingy” to me and that he didn’t mix well with other children so it was also advised that I stopped “mollycoddling” him. So instead of waiting until he was 4 years old, I sent him to school before he was even 3 because he wouldn’t turn 3 until after Hercules was born and I didn’t want him associating being sent away with the arrival of his brother.
In retrospect, now that I have the wisdom of experience, I found the concerns of Aristotle being far too clingy to me and having poor social skills to be unfounded. As reasons for sending Aristotle to school, I do not believe they were valid at all. Unfortunately, I will never know if I could have handled having Aristotle at home while I adjusted to the arrival of a new baby. However, seeing that there are many other mothers without the benefit of extra help who do it all the time, I figure it is something that we would all adapt to and learn to manage over time. So if you are under pressure from others to send your older child to school because no one thinks you can manage but you really don’t want to send your older child to school yet, you should tell them to take a hike. As with any other parenting decision, you should make the call based on what you think and feel. As long as your choice is yours and not what others think, it will always be the right one.
There is one real benefit of having your older child(ren) at school while you look after your younger child – it gives you one-to-one time with your younger child which is something a lot of younger children miss out on because they are born having to share the spotlight with their older siblings. You get the opportunity to give your younger child something that your eldest child received by default – undivided attention.
But I digress… After feeling like I sent my eldest to school when he wasn’t ready (from the way Aristotle reacted, you would have thought I was selling him into slavery), I decided I was not going to send Hercules to school until he was 4 years old. At least, that was the plan, too. Perhaps I decided that because I felt guilty for having sent Aristotle so young. Then everyone started asking when Hercules was going to school (since Aristotle was already going to school at this age). And, unlike Aristotle, Hercules was actually eager to go to school. Hercules saw his older brother going to school where he had lots of friends, toys to play with, and fun things to do. Whenever we go to Midvalley, Hercules is always ever eager to see his “sensei” even when he doesn’t have class.
So here’s the irony – Aristotle begs to stay home everyday but I tell him he MUST go to school. Hercules pines for school but I insist that he is too young to go. Well, I can’t change things for Aristotle, but I could at least let Hercules give school a go since he so desperately wants to go. So I signed Hercules up for a holiday program which is almost the equivalent of school – he goes for 4 hours, 3 days a week.
Friday was Hercules’ first day at school. If I didn’t know better, I think Aristotle was more excited about his brother going to school than any of us because Friday was one of the rare few days that he got out of the car willingly when we got to school. Ordinarily, Aristotle has to be coaxed and/or dragged out of the car when we get to school. This time, he was really cooperative and he even wished his brother a “happy first day of school” as we were leaving.
Hercules received his new school pretty well. He was a bit shy at first but you could tell he was eager to explore. After he got into the play area and was suitably engaged, I told him, “Mummy’s going to go now. I’ll come back and pick you up later, ok?” And he replied, “Ok.” I asked him for a goodbye kiss, which he gave, and then I left. I didn’t even get a backward glance from him because he was too busy playing. I hung around the area in case he got hysterical after a while but I was not needed. There was only one incident of tears and I believe it was because he wasn’t ready to leave the playground. When I spoke to the teachers after school, they said he did very well for a first day. When I asked him if he liked school, he said, “Yes.” Then I asked him if he wanted to go again and he also said, “Yes.”
Now we will see if this continues next week…
Some children are just ready to go to school and others aren’t – hubby was eager for school but his sister wasn’t, just as I was eager for school but my brother wasn’t. The right age for school is different for every child. Hercules was ready for school, but I believe Aristotle would have benefited from staying home a little longer. Or perhaps Aristotle would never have been “ready” for school? Some children thrive on the school environment while others do not. I guess it is not unlike how extroverts are energised by group settings, while introverts prefer to be on their own.
These days, there is the option of homeschooling for children who do not do well in a school setting – and some parents take this option if it is available to them (not all countries permit homeschooling). It isn’t even so strange that in some families, one sibling goes to school while the other is homeschooled. Perhaps those are the sort of choices we should be offering our children based on their individual learning styles. Education should not be a mould that we must force our children to fit into. Rather, we should be trying to shape the our children’s education experiences to suit their individual requirements – we should be creating education opportunities that suit our children’s unique learning styles so that we can bring out the best in them instead of bringing out what we are able to given the circumstances.