Here in the suburbs, failing to put your four-year-old child in preschool is right on par with locking her in the car on a 100-degree day and going shopping.
At least that’s what I’ve deduced from the wide-eyed stares, the raised eyebrows, and the stunned “Oh!”s I’ve gotten after telling people that Punky still stays home with me.
Oh, the guilt I’ve suffered over denying Punky the privilege of attending Dee’s Kuntry Kinder Kare or Little Hands for Jesus Academy with the other kids. While they’ve been learning the Spanish word for “carrot” and making Baby-Moses-in-a-Baskets out of Play-Doh, Punky has been right here under my nose, playing Kingdom of Hearts on our Playstation or collecting rocks on the neighborhood playground, or thumbing through an endless array of library books (which I check out each week for entirely selfish reasons: I can’t stand to read the same book over and over and over again).
Oh, for a while I tried the preschool thing here at home with another mom friend. Then Bruiser started crawling and class came to a screeching halt. Activities were all but impossible with a screaming little imp underfoot. This summer, I fearfully consulted a few resources on preschool standards, terrified that I had dropped the ball on Punky’s pre-education and was setting her up for kindergarten failure. I wasn’t. Preschool standards are ridiculously easy—count to ten, recognize shapes, know your alphabet. She met them all, and then some.
But still. The stares. The open mouths. The guilt.
This year, I’m even making enough for us to afford preschool without it being a huge financial burden. But frankly, I’m home, I like having Punky at home, and with that said, preschool seems like a waste of money. I opted instead to sign her up for dance classes, to take her to plenty of social activities with other kids her age, and to buy a kindergarten curriculum so that we could have an hour of “school” every day. I figured we’d work our way through the lessons without pressure, so she’d get a feel for the concepts she’ll be learning next year. We started yesterday.
And it’s not going at all like I’d expected.
The first lesson called for her to take a set of teddy bear “counters” and put them into four groups of three. No big deal, right? Wrong.
“Does it matter what color they are?” she wanted to know.
“Good question,” I said. “No.”
Quickly, she put three teddy bears together. “Good job, Punky!” I said. “Only two groups to go.”
She thought for a moment. “Well, this one doesn’t like groups,” she said, picking up a blue teddy bear. “So he can’t do it.”
“Okay,” I said. “Use the other bears.”
“These two are fighting,” she added, pointing at two more teddy bears. “They’re having an argument about points. He says it takes a lot of points to win the game, and the other teddy bear doesn’t have any.”
“Just put the bears in two more groups of three,” I reminded her with a gritted smile.
“Well, I could put this bear and this bear together. But these bears over here aren’t playing.”
Twenty minutes and endless teddy bear negotiations later, we finally had four groups of three. We moved on to phonics.
“Now you’re going to color all of the bubbles this fish is blowing that make the “aaaa” sound,” I told her, opening her workbook.
“But why does this fish want me to only color the “aaa” sound?” She asked. “Why would this fish want that?”
“Because he likes that sound best of all,” I said. “He likes the aaaa sound.”
“But he’s a fish, mommy!” Punky laughed. “Fish can’t talk! Silly mommy!”
“Just. Do. It.” I said.
She frowned, and then colored in all the ‘A’ bubbles on the page.
Wearily, I put my head in my hands. Now I’m imagining her failing kindergarten for entirely different reasons. While the other kids are dutifully completing worksheets and activities, Punky will be woefully behind, stymied over how the dragon feels about his name starting with the letter “D” as opposed to the much more interesting “W,” concerned that the subtraction symbol is angry since he’s so much plainer than the other math symbols.
It’s going to be a lonnnnng year.