Wednesday, November 28, 2007

School of Rock

When my kid didn't get into the local super-secret school district preschool program (thanks for the phrase, Christina) for kids with special needs (because significantly delayed in adaptive and motor + average everywhere else = admitted, but significantly delayed in adaptive and motor + advanced in verbal = DENIED, according to their math), I just kept him home again this year, because the KinderTotKidzKeeperAcademies in my neighborhood scare me, and I didn't want to deal with this sort of crap trying to get him into the local fancy private preschools after the application deadlines had already passed.

So, right now, at least theoretically, he's in home preschool, run by me.

Home preschool run by an introverted, bookish, dreamy sort of intellectual, equally prone to fits of whimsy and fits of melancholy. A sometime-workaholic who worked to pay her own way through college, who worked 50 hours a week right into the seventh month of her pregnancy. A mother who quit work gladly to stay home, and is proud of her decision to stay home. A professional who still misses regular work outside the home terribly, goes through phases of feeling completely unmoored even three years later, and often acts childishly cranky because of it. A girl who helped raise her own brother, and was once a nearly excellent nanny. A woman with an obscure college degree who speaks educated English, passable Spanish and a little bit of Hindi, and twitches when she encounters a comma splice in the newspaper, and likes to read science journals, just for fun.

I really haven't the foggiest whether any of that means I'm qualified, or even currently sane enough, to do this.*

We haven't devised an official curriculum. I am not sure if I believe in devising a curriculum for a three-year-old. But of course there are plenty of days when I feel like an idiot and a bad mother for not having yet devised a curriculum, because surely, the other three-year-olds these days all have an Official Curriculum, and a List of Educational Goals, and a Program Mission Statement, and a College Admissions Strategy, and, hell, probably a CV AND a resume. Don't they?

We do have a sort of a schedule. He has music class with other kids his age every Monday, so on Mondays, before class, we make crafts for music class and sing songs from music class and dance to the music class CD. He has occupational therapy every Tuesday (so Tuesdays are largely devoted to crying in frustration, laughing in triumph, and trying not to cry some more in frustration) and every Wednesday morning without fail we go to the library for storytime, and then stay for a couple of hours while I have him read a few books to me, and then I read him books in English and Spanish. And about once a week, we bake something; I make him repeat the ingredients from the recipe back to me, and have him help measure and count.

I've taught him the days of the week in English and Spanish, and numbers in English, Spanish and Hindi. Sometimes read him sonnets by Shakespeare, or excerpts from the Odyssey, just for kicks. The other day, when he asked me, "Where's the sun today, Mommy," instead of saying, "Behind those clouds," I said, "The sun, dear boy, is approximately 93 million miles from the earth. That is also known as one Astronomical Unit. However, please remember that 93 million miles is really only an average, as the earth makes an elliptical orbit around the sun. Oh, and the reason you can't see it today is because the sky is cloudy, and the clouds are blocking the sun's light from view."** (I already knew he knew what "orbit" meant-- he'll show me the difference between a planet's revolution and a planet's orbit by either spinning in place or running in a circle around the coffee table, the same way I showed him when we were playing with his astronomy flash cards.)

I feel pretty smug when I do things like that.

But then, there are the days when I let him play on the computer or just sit him in front of PBS for two or three or even four hours, sometimes so I can clean the house or work but more frequently lately just so I can have a couple of hours to myself, in my own head, maybe reading something that has more than ten words to a page and isn't about kittens, and it's those days that I feel horribly guilty-- even while I continue to let a glowing screen babysit him-- and feel that I am failing. Why am I not doing more, for instance, to teach him math? Why don't I practice his occupational therapy exercises with him every single day, like I should? Why don't I draw with him more? Why don't I play with him more? Why don't I spend more time with him outside? I am unmotivated. I could do much better at this than I am.

At a preschool outside the home, he would get regular math lessons, and drawing time, and playing time, and time outside. He probably wouldn't get Shakespeare, or explanations of the sun's orbit, but, does he really need those things, right now? Or do I?

I do know that, at the very least, here at home with me, he has someone who will make sure he eats balanced meals every day even though he is an unbelievably picky eater. I know he is with someone who won't freak out when HE freaks out over an extra-sticky batch of playdough or a weird noise or a sudden draft-- someone who tries her honest damnedest not to hold his sensory issues against him. I know he is with someone who will not hit him in frustration, or fail to notice he has a fever until he passes out***, or forget him in a van.

I hope I am also doing most of the other stuff right.

*Of course, that also applies to mothering in general.

**My husband, overhearing, hinted I was setting our child up to get his butt kicked on the playground someday when he starts prattling on about astronomical units. Which is probably true. But what else am I supposed to do with all this hard-earned college knowledge swirling around in my head, when I'm not working outside the home, besides impart it to someone else? I tell myself I'll just get him karate lessons, too, so he can be a nerd AND a hard ass. As long as he doesn't actually hit anyone.

*** This happened today to a little girl who was at the library with her daycare group. She couldn't stop coughing, and her cheeks were flushed bright red, and there were two daycare workers there, but they wouldn't take her out of Storytime until she actually passed out. I wanted to kidnap her and take her to the doctor. I thought about it seriously. But I don't think they let kidnappers off for good intentions.


Raquita said...

I hate you - i love you but I hate you. Your kid is gonna be writing his dissertation for his PhD beforeI can get Cammy to count to Twenty at my request.

He won't be beat up - they'll all be trying to get him to do their homework. Geeks are cool nowadays

Awesome Mom said...

I have made the same choice about preschool for many if the same reasons as you. Relax, you are not going to turn him into a drooling idiot by doing this. The more research I have been doing about preschool and curriculum the more I relax. Kids that age really need to just hang out with you and get little lessons where they can. I think you are doing a fine job of exposing him to the world.

Anonymous said...

Hell, when I was a kid, not every kid even went to preschool.

I think the fact that he can read already and do many of the other things you describe (and can even fathom an atmosphere beyond planet Earth) means you're doing a fantastic job. Besides, getting him into an accredited preschool could end up stifling him. How many preschool teachers would tell a child of three about astronomical units when asked, "Where's the sun today?" Not only that, but you're right about how you treat him with his SI disorder. Besides, the ratio of the class is favorable for him as well. Just because he doesn't get your undivided attention all the time doesn't mean he's getting less attention at home than he would at a preschool. Think about how much undivided attention each of 20 students would get in a preschool classroom from one adult.

You're doing fine! I promise. And in fact, I'm a little jealous. I would like to be able to choose between teaching my son myself and sending him to a preschool. But the big bad full time job means no. So I'll read your posts, take my notes, try some of these tricks with my own offspring in the time I do get to spend, and hope some of your genius rubs off.

Jaelithe said...

Raquita, I hate you-- but I love you-- but I hate you, because your preschooler eats normal food and your baby actually sleeps at night ;)

And actually half the time Isaac won't count to twenty at my request. He'll mostly only do it if he thinks I'm not listening.

Wendy said...

Math? you are teaching him to cook, and what are recipes but studies in fractions and adding and subtracting....seriously, I'm not a mom, but if I ever am, and am lucky enough to get to stay home with a kid I hope I can do half as well as you're doing. As for worrying about letting him watch TV, remember filmstrips?? They parked all of us in front of those for hours!

the mad momma said...

I'm going to hug you. hop over to my blog to see why. I think you're doing a fantastic job.

Nancy said...

It sounds like you're doing all the right things to me. :-)

Mom101 said...

One of the best (best!) bits of research ever came out a couple years back. It finally established that a child's success in life isn't determined by how much tv he does or doesn't watch, or whether you all eat dinner as a family, or if you played Classical music in the womb. It's determined by number one, above all, whether the mother went to college. Number two - are there a lot of books in the house. No mention of preschools. No mention of math lessons at 2 1/2.

Something tells me he's in excellent hands. And hell, if he ever needs a playdate, he's welcome to come over. Noggin's always on here and he might feel right at home.

Anonymous said...

Your 3-year-old sounds a lot like mine, but mine has a diagnosis of autism (Asperger's Syndrome with hyperlexia). Despite the diagnosis, the school district says he is "gifted" and "too smart" to qualify for county services. We know he's extremely smart, but he needs help, especially with specialized sensory OT ($80/hr!). Because we have an autism diagnosis, we will be able to fight the county (sue if we have to) and force them to provide services. Has your son been evaluated by a developmental pediatrician? That sort of doctor might be able to provide a report to your school system to encourage them to provide needed services. They will also sometimes send an educational consultant with you to your meetings with the school district, and that can be helpful.

Farrell said...

It sounds to me like you're doing everything right. And omig I thought my kid was smart! When Sophie asks me, "Mommy, where's the sun?" I say "Hiding behind the clouds" because I don't know anything about orbits and what-not.
You could also talk to Dana for more ideas.
And, we could always do a play date!

Lisa said...

Seth's preschools were great but they weren't teaching him math. They were basically making alot of crafts out of popcicle sticks and macaroni. And listening to music and learning about apples. In other words? Don't sweat it.

I put Seth in basically because I needed a break from his high maintenance little self. (I feel really bad for typing that but its true.)

Issac is doing wonderfully. He's a quick learner. The only thing I really wish I would have realized looking back is that Seth had no attention span. He continues to have NO attention span. And I wish I could have found a way to work on that and following directions because he's really struggling in school now because of it.

alicewonderland said...

I think you are doing an awesome job. And for the record, as a mother you will always feel guilty about something. I know I do. I for one don't "believe" in care outside of the home for small children. Although, mine is in her 3rd year of part-time pre-school. Divorce drove me back into the work force. And even when I get home from work, and I am thrilled to be with my daughter I at once feel guilty to spend even a moment alone to go to the bathroom and envious of those that get a moment alone to go to the bathroom. No matter who you are there is never enough mom to go around. : )

R said...

I'd enroll in your preschool any day ;)