My husband is a Dodgers baseball fan. By default I am too. My kids are Dodgers fans by default too. Sometimes I would say my husband borders on obsessed. He usually reads a few blogs and watches a few highlight clips from every game. He knows who is on the disabled list right now (too many guys!). I keep tabs on what is going on, but I don’t know what their current win-loss record is. I don’t know what the streaks are. I follow them on Instagram to see some of what is happening and because photos are my thing. It’s fun to know that they won or lost and be able to talk a little with my husband about his interest/obsession.
Last summer when a four-year-old baseball “phenom” from Thousand Oaks threw out the first pitch, I mentioned it to him and showed him the picture in my feed. This started a big discussion I didn’t quite expect and that discussion has colored the last year of school for us in ways I did not expect. When I read the caption, in which the word “phenom” was used, my husband immediately scoffed. He said it wasn’t right to attach a title like that to a four-year-old even if he’s good, even if he is obsessed. So much can happen between now and when the kid could eventually be able to go pro. I Googled him and found a local newspaper article about the kid and how he has a former professional baseball player for a coach, among other things. Stephen was seriously concerned about the kid throwing out his arm before he’s 10. And then what?
I think around the same time I read the book Preschool in Three Cultures which was an anthropological study that looked at preschool in the United States, Japan and China comparing and contrasting what went on there. I was completely struck by the fact that the Japanese preschool example was kind of out of control by our standards. Their day mostly consisted of playing undirected, singing songs, maybe a worksheet that no one was really forced to do and eating. The teacher would help children as needed, but mostly they were left to their own devices. There are some pretty “shocking” stories from their single day of observation about one kid in particular that was completely disruptive and awful to the class. The teacher let the group mentality of the class sort him out. A year later when they visited the school the disruptive crazy kid was often left to sit by himself. No one wanted to play with him because he was so awful. There were signs he was beginning to change his behavior. At the time Japan was also leading in education, comparatively. This was contrasted by the much more structured schools of China and the US though the US was definitely not as structured as the Chinese schools in which group mentality takes on a whole other expression. The US children did have lots of play time, but there were rules like only three kids per station, when children didn’t get along or something went wrong they were forced to express guilt, sorrow, repentance etc. as is part of our very Western minded Judeo Christian judicial system. I remember after reading a particular section on this wondering how different this would play out had Eastern Christianity been the one that spread rather than the juridical Western version.
So this year while we’ve done school from time to time, I’ve mostly just let things be. Not out of laziness. Not because I’m burnt out. Mostly just because they need to play. They aren’t ready.
It is funny and it is not so funny because a lot of people have been cautioning me against formal schooling with my preschooler(s). I didn’t want to listen.
When we lived in Thousand Oaks, it was definitely the norm to be this way. Preschool activities and school itself starts as early as 6mo (we did a Mommy & Me music class at that age). Even the parks & rec district has very good preschools that people sometimes wait in line for overnight to secure a spot. It’s a very driven culture over there in many ways. People are thinking about scholarships and college when their kids are still in diapers. This is definitely a generalization, but that the four-year-old baseball “phenom” was from Thousand Oaks, was not surprising to me. There are a lot of young “phenoms” there. Perhaps because they have the resources, the community, the support system for this to be a possibility.
My kids were verbal early, could sit through books, loved to do activities and things like art and coloring. They were curious and seemed to want to know about everything. I thought this meant we needed to be starting something formal. We’ve done unit studies, co-ops, Five in a Row, parks and rec preschool classes in Thousand Oaks, worksheet packets from all over the Internet, etc. While much of it has been fun, I think a lot if it has been frustrating: me yelling, them not being able to pay attention, them ready to move on, them just not ready in general. I observed this in Jillian’s parks and rec class too.
I was frustrated when we moved back here last year and my preferred dance studio, the one I danced at as a child and has sent dancers on to college and professional companies, only took dancers as young as four. They made an exception for my daughter, then 3.5, because she’d already been in dance a year. So when fall came I found another studio that did take younger dancers because my then 2.5yo wanted to dance like sister and had been expecting that his turn would come this year, about the same age she started. This last year watching their classes (and maybe it is partially just the studio), I now know why children under four should probably not be in dance or any organized sport/activity for that matter. They just do not have the coordination, attention span, etc. My son’s poor teacher seems exasperated every week trying to get this group of 2-3 year olds, of which my goofball son is the oldest, to stand in formations, copy dance moves etc. while they instead run around the room, do summersaults, giggle and run away from her as she tries to put them back in place, can’t get timing or moves right, or pretty much anything. Their performance in a couple weeks will be a miracle and probably bring down the house in laughter, honestly. He says he loves dance and promises, “Today, I’m going to listen to Miss Shelby,” but I just wonder if it really is necessary to even have to worry about that. Next year we’ll return to the “preferred” studio, if he still wants to dance like sister once he turns four, we’ll see about it.
I’ve spent the last four years learning the hard way, ignoring the advice I was given. Please learn from my mistakes! My school of hard-knocks advice? Let your preschooler be a “pre” schooler. Let them explore, draw, color, etc as they want. If they become obsessed with certain plants, bugs, tractors, a certain animal, or any number of things try to think of activities or read up on ones that will naturally foster the love of learning about the latest obsession. Go to the farm and the zoo. Play at the park. Take walks. Keep a garden. Maybe buy/borrow a picture book on the subject if necessary, but don’t force them to read it.
Compulsory schooling is not required until the first grade in this state and personally I, along with many other homeschoolers and others, believe it needs to stay that way even though every year they try to introduce bills to make kindergarten and preschool mandatory. Schooling will be there. Then it will be over faster than you can grasp. Little kids I knew from the nursery at our church when I was in high school are graduating high school now and over the next few years. Friends and family that had babies around the time we got married have middle schoolers now. This blows my mind. Where did the time go? How did these little ones get so big so fast? They only get to be a kid for so long. Let it be as long as possible.