One of the most critical decisions that you would probably take as parents is when to put the child to school. These days schooling starts with a playgroup. Playgroups are open for children as young as fifteen months, and many parents enrol them early to buy some two hours of peace in the house. When my child was born, initially I hated the idea of early schooling. I didn’t want to burden him with the concept of “school” too soon because I thought that a large part of his life would be spent there anyway and he should be allowed to enjoy at home. But very soon I realised that things are not so black and white any more. Leaving the children in the care and supervision of a babysitter isn’t much rewarding and can sometimes backfire. In our house, as the child grew and started getting wild and naughty with his means, our babysitter would either put him in front of television or get him to sleep whenever he needed to be tamed! As a result, our little prince started getting addicted to television and slept very late in the night, messing up the disciplines I thought I will build for him. Also the babysitter we had hired didn’t speak or interact much with him and we being working parents kept drawn into our commitments outside home. Soon, he developed some serious issues (Read about that here : http://www.sundayguardianlive.com/lifestyle/2084-parenthood-about-taking-lifetime-responsibility) and we had to take a call. It dawned upon us that the child needed to interact more and meet new people, to grow his outlook and social skills. In a playgroup the child would constantly learn something or the other and those would be productive hours for him. Doing away with the comforts of having a babysitter was a difficult call but we went for it anyway.
Next job was about finding out the right place. We tried a small playgroup very close to the house, but my child simply ran away from there. As long as we stood there with him, he was fine. But the moment we stepped out, he howled and cried and protested violently. The teacher there advised us to leave him to them. But for four days we stood outside the closed door and heard him yelling on top of his voice for two full hours. Every day he revolted the moment we approached the gate of his school and refused to enter. Other parents complained that their child cried watching mine crying! That was the time we seriously started doubting our decision and grew very worried. Not sure what troubled him so much. Was it the place which seemed small for so many kids? Was it that he couldn’t gel with the others and felt left out? Was it the first time phobia of staying away from home? Did any of the caretakers bully him? I don’t know. But after two more days we could not take this any longer and decided that we will discontinue the school and try something else.
That afternoon he returned with very high fever!
When my child was born, initially I hated the idea of early schooling. I didn’t want to burden him with the concept of “school” too soon because I thought a large part of his life would be spent there anyway, and he should be allowed to enjoy at home.
We gave him a long break and started looking out for other playschools. This time we took him along for our visits and allowed him to play around their campus as we spoke to the authorities. We took him to one of the well-known groups churning out kids year after year since quite a while. As we spoke, I found the attending ladies were helping him to play with the fun stuff kept there and he looked settled. The teachers there assured that no child in their history had ever been pulled off for adjustment issues. But still, with an obvious concern we spoke to all the teachers and the stuff. We were told that the teachers were regularly circulated across all their centres so that the children don’t grow too close to anyone and can adapt to change right from the beginning. A point that made much sense to us. Also the staff looked well maintained, clean and positive. We walked around the entire area to inspect the space and its security measures. We enquired whether there were CCTV installed inside so that if required parents can find out what the children had been doing in a particular session. The activities that the child would take up as a part of the playgroup were discussed with us. All through this our kid kept running around, happily playing with the staff, and this felt encouraging.
Soon he started going for the playgroup daily and started enjoying his sessions as well. The teachers were friendly and empathetic. Their tuning and relationship with the children reflected in the fact that my son started talking about them every day. Now he looked forward to go to school. Not that he made instant friends, but over a period of time we could see that he is increasingly getting more receptive towards the people approaching him. His social skills improved; from the kid sitting in a corner, not making eye contact, shying away from meeting people he evolved to a cheerful child trying to express himself endlessly throughout the day.
What I learnt from this episode was that I shouldn’t have forced my child to carry on with our first choice of play school. We should have taken the clue and understood that something over there is not feeling comfortable. Every child is unique and they have their comfort zones as much as we have ours. Those can’t be taken for granted every time. Of course we can’t accept their whims and fancies every time; they need to be disciplined enough to accept things beyond their choice. But as parents we must understand that thin line when their protests originate from some deeper concern and hence, need to be heard and analysed. Pressurising them to follow the tide works against their growth and development. Maybe my child developed his withdrawal symptoms because we forced him to visit that playgroup he detested for some unknown reason, who knows?
However, what I would certainly endorse, especially to the nuclear families, is that consider playgroup as an option right from an early age. From my own experience, and watching the kids who had been to a playgroup very early, I have observed that they learn to talk faster and absorb a lot of skills much earlier compared to those children who don’t. End of the day of course it is a personal call for each family. But the increasing void that children face today because of staying away from their grandparents are largely taken care of my these establishments where relationships are explained and nurtured; people skills, adaptability, spirits of sharing and caring encouraged right from that tender age!
Happy learning! Happy parenting.