From two to three – early ed for tinies

A few weeks ago I gave a talk to parents in our community about early years parenting. Most of the parents attending had their children part time at one of the local Waldorf-inspired  in-home nursery or day-care providers here. The question came up about how is it that a two year old might go to nursery perfectly happily but then when he turns three, he balks.
In my experience, this is a fairly common phenomena. And I would say it has to do with the fact that a 2 year old is so closely attached to his mother, is so unaware in many ways (though he might not seem that way to the parents!) that in his dream world, going from one warm and loving place to another is no big deal. He is still attached etherically to his mother by the “Madonna’s Cloak” and is still within her aura, even when she is not present. He can also easily adapt to the warmth and love of the care giver. And many 2 years olds often seem oblivious to the other children in the group.
Not so the 3 year olds. At 3 there is a big change. The child’s sense of “I” is starting to stir and she is just that much more aware of her surroundings – and the nursery, as warm and caring as it might be, is not home, is not Mama. This is not a major problem for all children – but since my point of view is that little children in principle are better off at home than in nursery, no matter how lovely and Waldorf, a parent might want to stop and think what is going on here at this point of the child’s development.
It seems obvious to me that at this delicate awakening time, at this first blossoming of a sense of selfhood, that one would want a child to be in the home, in the bosom of the family, with those who have chosen to bring him into the world and who are his primary and most important role models, guides, teachers and – his parents. The child creates his sense of who he is in relation to his parents. They are his templates and his models and launching pad for who he will eventually create himself to be.
Now this can be guilt-inducing stuff, I know. There are certainly times when we all need and want a break from our children – and there is a lot for them to learn from other people. And it could well be that a morning or two at a peaceful Waldorf at-home nursery is a wonderful experience for that child – and a very needed break for the parent. But…. I have seen so many little children suffer terribly from separation grief at age 3 especially that I just can’t see any good reason from the child’s point of view for this to happen.
From the adult’s point of view – sure. Work, needing a break etc etc. But… too often an adult’s needs do not mesh with a child’s. If we lived in a different kind of society where granma or auntie could look after the little ones from time to time – when it was a one-on -one thing from a constantly present adult – not a group thing from a stranger who must be gotten used to – then that would be another thing entirely. Yes – as the feminists say, woman have always worked. No argument there. But they have not always used childcare from strangers or, far worse, from institutions which have an ever-changing stream of workers. Women used relatives and neighbors – people the children knew from birth.
So from the child’s point of view, I see no reason on earth for nursery.  All this nonsense about early socialization is just hokum as far as my experience tells me. A play date once or twice a week is great – but preferably with mixed age children as tinies playing together can bring other problems (see other entries on this blog about that). Other than that – the best early years life for tiny ones is – and I am more and more convinced of this all the time – a slow paced, well ordered, rhythmical and peaceful life almost exclusively at home and in nature. , Unhurried, unstressful, unpressured.

Posted on October 10, 2007 in Family Life and Parenting, Kindergarten (and pre-K)

  • Colleen says:

    Having been a public school kindergarten teacher and now a mother of four, I have seen a big difference in the behaviour and comfort level of a child who is home with either Mom or Dad until ready for school (about 4-5 yrs.) versus a child who is required either by necessity or choice to attend a preschool before age 4. I had the luxury of keeping my older children home until they were well into their fourth years, and was always surprised at how ready they were to leave me and their familiar environment, never having any separation anxiety. But I have witnesses many friends and parents of students who suffer daily with children who cry frequently about leaving home or don’t want to go to school. I have concluded that many of these children are made to leave home and their familiar environments too early, not by their choice. I understand that many times it is necessary for them to attend a childcare because of working parents, but their are many parents who I spoke to who believe that their child will somehow get an early start on their education and socialization, and that it’s better for their child than staying home with them. I have to conclude that this is not true, even with precocious children.

  • donna simmons says:

    Thank you, Colleen, for your response – it is so helpful for people to respond in this way because it helps other parents see that they are not alone. Those of us who feel this way, who have this knowledge of children, are in the minority – and those parents who have a gut feeling and would be inclined to agree often feel so isolated and unsure that they do not act or feel helpless.
    So I more than welcome others of you who have had similar experiences to also share here and let everyone know that the status quo for children – ie early preschool ed – is not necessarily the best way to proceed! That indeed, it can be damaging in many situations.

  • Susan says:

    I appreciate your thoughts on this topic. I have such gratitude that I am able to be home with my two young children. I enrolled my oldest child last fall at a Montessori pre-school a month before he turned 5, for 3 mornings per week. My memories of this have lots of “always’s”. He was always so happy and excited to go to school, and focused & happy while he was there. I always held an internal celebration on the days he stayed at home. And it always makes me so sad to see 3 year olds crying when their parents drop them off. Or crying later when they needed comforting & Mom was not there.
    My background is in child psychotherapy. I walked away from an enjoyable and profitable career to be home with my children. I wish that we as a culture did a better job of listening to our children and understanding their needs. I wish many Moms I know felt empowered and confident enough to listen to that inside Mom voice. The same voice that brings their own tears when they drop off their kids for the first day of school.
    We seem to have a widely accepted myth that it’s better to send young children to school than let them be at home with their parents. I wonder how, almost as a society, parents have lost faith in themselves and lost touch with their own wisdom.
    I know that many Moms don’t have the financial ability or luxury to for go paid employment. My heart is with them. But…that doesn’t mean that our children don’t need their parents & home.

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