My son started preschool this year. That may seem rebellious (or conformist?) considering we’re homeschoolers. The reaction from many people seems to be one of “oh, are you changing your plans?”. No, preschool is one of the last bastions of child-led, play-based learning and if you are fortunate enough to find one with a high adult:child ratio and a good disipline philosophy it fits right into the unschooling life.
My son is going to be four years old next month and is a typical high-energy, physically active boy. With Daughter getting involved in more intensive studies of her favorite subjects it’s getting harder to find activities that appeal to both of them. She also has a very dominant personality with strong leadership tendencies (some might call her bossy; I try to stay away from that negative term but you get my drift…). Son, on the other hand, is pretty laid back and willing to consent to her plans (and changes of plans) most of the time. I wanted to find a place for him to fully immerse himself in age-appropriate activities, out from under the shadow of his precocious sister. The preschool environment is rich with wonderful toys, games, and activities (sand tables, water tables, painting, building, etc) and it gives him a chance to really blossom as his own person, to find his own identity.
It’s a Parent Participation Preschool which means that all parents are involved in running the school as well as being present on their “duty days”. There are 14 children in Son’s class, and on any given day there is the teacher, two or three duty parents, any other parents who feel like attending that day, and a teacher’s assistant. Social interactions are thus closely monitored and adults are ready to step in and guide them through any altercations. The discipline philosophy is exactly what I strive for at home and the teacher is a fan of all my fave parenting experts (Gordon Neufeld, Barbara Coloroso, Faber and Mazlish, to name a few). There was a one hour parents meeting last week where all were instructed on these techniques. It was one of those situations where I was made plainly aware of how unusual my circle of friends and acquaintances are, in that for us these sorts of things are already embraced and accepted. Some parents were clearly confused about such things as not forcing children to share, or not using phrases like “be nice!”.
And for those of you who have been following my family story for some time, you’ll know that my son has an issue with hitting and being otherwise physically rough with children when trying to communicate with them. While he has made immense progress in the last year it is still an issue for him and I tend to shy away from the very situations in which these behaviours are triggered. Accordingly, he’s not getting much practice with alternative strategies. Preschool offers him a safe, secure, and well-supported environment for him to practice his skills in that regard. They’ve already figured out that he tends to “use his hands instead of his words” and I’ve watched how gently and respectfully the adults handle the situation. I’m very confident that with this regular experience of situation/resolution that he will truly blossom in this area of his development. Now you might fairly ask why I would want to entrust this social instruction to adults other than myself: well the truth is I have a pretty heavy emotional involvement in those situations, and past experience has left me jumpy about it. In this case, I think it’s actually better for him, and easier on him, if I’m not the one always dealing with it. I tend to get too emotional and reactive. Having the preschool community working together with him is an ideal substitute, IMO.
Next year Son will be five and will enter the Self-Design program in which Daughter is now enjoying her second year. I’m looking forward to seeing where his interests lie, and working to incorporate that into our family’s routine of living and learning. In the meantime, I am very excited about his learning year and my involvement in it!