Tuesday my baby went to kindergarten… admittedly, just for 1/2 hour (it was Buddy Day and next year’s kindergarteners went for a visit) but this is a big step for both of us! Olivia has been home with me for the past 5+ years and when people ask her what school/preschool she is in she has taken to saying, “I skipped right over preschool and am landing in kindergarten!” She has always seen her big brother and other neighborhood kids go to school and has been excited about her turn to start school.
… over the past several weeks of gathering and turning in paperwork and getting ready for her visit to kindergarten, she has also felt nervous and uncertain.
The morning before her visit, this came out as a weird sort of “mad and sassy”, which is pretty unusual for her. While there was no mistaking the sassy talk, it took me a minute to figure out if she was just joking or if something else was going on. Well, it definitely was the latter. When I pulled her into my lap and suggested that maybe her words were mad, but she might actually be feeling something else, one of the others in “mad, sad, glad or scared”, the facade broke and she cried a little and said she was scared and “concerned” about going to school.
When I told my dear husband about this, he immediately started to worry, went straight into fix-it-mode and said, “Oh no! Maybe we should find some sort of preschool for her so that she can get used to it and be ready for kindergarten.”
I know that my husband isn’t the only parent to worry about kindergarten readiness. (Families adopting older children have similar concerns about school in general) Others also jump to the same solution–send them to preschool to get practiced up and “ready” for real school. In fact, the idea that preschool is needed for kindergarten readiness is so pervasive in our society that it’s fast becoming perceived as “real school”.
Now, my purpose here is not to bash preschool. I think a well-done preschool can be a great experience for kids and parents, but I don’t think that it’s a necessary experience for children who are in a nurturing, engaged environment anyway. The skills that one needs to be successful in school are actually not learned in a group situation. We know that things like security (trust), impulse control, keeping (or getting) oneself calm, empathy for others, etc… are brain based skills learned through one-on-one responsive caregiving from a primary caregiver. This is something Julie and I have been preaching for years now… If you’ve taken part in the Because They Waited system, our other recorded courses or webinars, you’ll know that we base all of our own parenting and our education for parents on this piece of brain development science.
The truth is that if children learn these skills from being in a group of peers, children coming home from orphanage would be the best socialized and the most ready for school! But of course, we know this isn’t the case.
But I digress… the point I wanted to make about my husband’s conclusion that Olivia might not be ready for kindergarten based on the fact that she was nervous is a jump that lots of parents make, but isn’t really true. Feeling nervous before a new situation is completely normal for anyone, but especially for a child experiencing her first bit life change! Sometimes I think that we place even greater expectations on our children than we do ourselves or other adults.
Imagine you have a friend who is talking to you about starting a new job. She loves her old job, it’s been great, but now she’s ready for a different experience and has landed a job will be great for her, only she’s feeling nervous about making the switch. Would you counsel her to stay where she is? To find a different job to practice at before taking on this new job? Or would you encourage her to look at and remember that she is ready and equipped for this change that will bring new joys and challenges to her life? I think a similar approach makes sense for a child who is developmentally ready for school, but who is nervous.
Of course, there are some children who truly aren’t ready for school. Some children are truly scared or anxious as opposed to nervous. The real question is what pieces of their development need some growth? Usually, parents cite concerns with maturity, impulse control (ie–focus), security (trust), emotional self-reguation, behavior (speaks to all of these!) and the like. It’s important to remember how a child develops these skills–not just because they grow older, but because of the brain building experiences they have every day with a primary caregiver.
The good news for us is that Olivia truly is just nervous and not scared of going to school. She truly has the skills to go to school and be successful. She was able to march in happily with her daddy, had a great time once she got into the classroom and because she has the skills, she found the experience to be very confidence building.