Monday, September 15, 2008

First Day of Preschool

Today was Nicknacks's first day of preschool. It's our home church preschool, so he's familiar with the environment because he's been nearby in the nursery twice a week since he was a baby. His little friend (whom we've decided should be his future wife) is in his class, and her mother (my friend from Bible study) is the teacher. So I've been SO excited for him all summer, and especially since Parent Orientation - thinking about the fun projects he'd be doing and all the friends he would make.

The class is only two hours a day, two days a week. He'll also spend another three or four hours a week in the same room for Bible study and church. Since we don't have any friends, neighbors, or relatives with children his age, Nicknack is pretty isolated, socially. So I thought this would be a good chance for him to interact with his peers and learn some new skills. Things I can't easily teach at home, like taking turns.

However, he is the youngest in the class. The birthday cut off for the class is June 1, and he has a May 31 birthday. Some of the children in his class turn three next month. Also, I think he's "young" for his age. He's great with numbers, letters, colors, shapes, and "school" stuff. We have that covered. But he's immature in other ways. Maybe because (for now) he's an only child, or because I'm home with him, or because Penn and I baby him, or just because that's his temperament.

At any rate, it was pretty clear today that he's not ready for preschool. The first five minutes of the class were set aside for "free play," while everyone got adjusted to being there. Then the children and parents were invited to Circle Time, for a story. This was when the trouble began. Nicknack was enraptured with the station full of trains, cars, firetrucks, etc. You know, almost exactly the same toys he spends hours a day playing with at home? So he threw a big fit when we tried to get him to join in at Circle Time. After a minute in the hall to calm down we came back in and just let him keep playing with the vehicles, while all the other children sat at least semi-patiently listening to the story. Except for one little boy who threw a huge tantrum because his parents made him sit with them through the whole story.

So then it was time for the parents to leave. He was fine with that, because he was loving the vehicles so much. He is obsessed with things that go. When I came back to pick him up the children had moved to the playground and Nicknack was having a ball. Pushing a police car along the perimeter of the playground. Again with the vehicles. :)

When I talked to my friend, the main teacher, she told me that he had pretty much just played with cars the entire time. They hadn't even been able to lure him away at snack time (he isn't at all motivated by food - even cookies!) or craft time. His cubby had the only little hand print with no coloring on it. It was kind of sad.

After we finished talking he showed me all around the playground. Then I sat nearby while he played. It was then that I observed him taking a toy another little boy was playing with, which I've never known him to do. He usually plays with older kids (cousins, etc.), which for some reason, always goes perfectly smoothly. Then I watched him get smacked by this other little boy who was frustrated because Nicknack had grabbed his dump truck. I was close enough to step in and told Nicholas to say "no hitting!" and then "helped" him to give the dump truck back and showed them how they could both play with it. I hope that wasn't inappropriate, but I figured that if the situation was reversed I would be okay if another mom did the same thing.

Then it was time to go back to the classroom. It was difficult to convince him to come inside, and he made a beeline for the vehicles again, totally ignoring the "goodbye song." Then he had another meltdown when it was time to leave for the day.

So my friend and are going to give it a couple of weeks to see if he adjusts to the concept of doing different activities. Maybe he would just do well with more of a "free play" environment at this age. There is a one-day-a-week class and he could switch to that, plus still have his unstructured time in the same classroom while I'm at my weekly Bible study. Or we could just skip preschool altogether this year and worry about it next year.

I'm torn because I would like Nicknack to have the experience of being around his peers. But I'm not sure that he's ready for the way the time in the classroom is structured. And, also, I keep thinking about the hitting incident at the playground. I know it is normal behavior, but I wonder if a smaller group of kids - or even just one-on-one would be better at this age. I know we parents aren't supposed to hover and manage all of our children's little problems (I think that's called helicopter-parenting, right?), but at this age a lot of guidance seems appropriate. Probably more guidance than I can realistically expect with 13 classmates.

Sorry this has been such a long and detailed post! Especially when I haven't posted in so long! Any opinions or advice would be appreciated!


Prairie Rose said...

I currently do early intervention with kids under 3 -- mostly two year olds. I get to see lots of different daycare and early preschool environments -- structured, unstructured, etc. -- and the kids in them.

I also used to do speech therapy in the school system, and had a lot of 3-4 yr old kids in the preschool and Head Start classrooms.

Every kid is different. Some kids are "made for school" and can handle classroom activities at an early age. The type of setting you describe however, seems very structured for two. For the kids who are nearly 3, great, but for a just turned 2 year old, that's a lot to expect from them.

Most of my early 2 classrooms that I visit are completely free play, with activities offered from time to time for children who wish to do them. i.e. during free play, the teacher may pull out paper and stickers and the kids who want to come do it can, or the teacher may sing songs or do fingerplays and the kids who choose to gather around her do, and the others are fine in their free play and it's not a big deal.

It sounds like that may be more on Nicknack's level right now.

I think the socialization thing is highly overrated. :o) He has so many years that he HAS to go to school, and three more years left before he even starts kindergarten -- he has all the time in the world to learn to socialize. You definitely don't want his first school experience to be negative.

Go with your instinct -- mommies know best. If he seems happy there, leave him; if he doesn't, do something else. He's a baby, first and foremost, and being happy and having fun is the most important thing for him.

Oh, and if you have him around other kids, he's going to get hit. Bitten. Kicked. Hair pulled. Something. It's unavoidable, and just part of being a toddler.

Good luck with your decision!

connorcolesmom said...

I have missed you Kittyhox!!
I loved your honesty on my blog about SP :)
Also little man is going to do fine - I like the above comment - all kids are different :)
Some just like to play alone and that is cool too.
How is the preggo going?
Miss you

Janelle said...

Great advice from Prairie Rose. My advice would be don't rush it if you don't have to. They grow up fast enough the way it is.

Good luck!

Kim said...

I could write for days about this. I taught preschool for many years before children and again after my first two were born. I was quite the advocate for the early introduction to structure and classroom environments.

Fast-forward 10 years.

Now I your gut. You know your baby better than anybody else. I think the first comment explains a ton about the development of preschoolers and gives great insight into the different types of scenarios out there.

I had a real hesitation with Samuel when I placed him in three-year old preschool a couple of years ago. He completed the year and had a fine time but did not return for the four-year old class. Mostly because we had decided to homeschool but also because I had finally come to realize that it wasn't a necessity.

Even if your little guy learns social graces a bit later than the average 2-3 day a week preschool attender....he'll be just fine :)

I love the way you are deliberate about parenting your son. What a blessing to your children!

Alana said...

If things don't work out with preschool this year I wouldn't sweat it. Maybe try a Mommy and Me class (like Kindermusik) where they introduce some of the same concepts, but with you there to guide him. Just a thought! No worries!