Question: My child, just under 2, stays with me during the day while I work from home…would she be better off to go to a day care part time for some social interaction? She doesn’t seem to be missing/needing other people but I am concerned that when she has to go to preschool it will be a painful adjustment. Or is it really a wonderful thing that she can stay home with me and not be shuttled off to daycare.
Answer: I once heard a parent at a conference ask David Elkind (the keynote speaker, renown author and professor of Child Development at Tufts University), what is the right age for a child to start school? The parent was a mother of an 18 month old boy who was feeling pressure from her peers to start her son in preschool as soon as possible or he would miss valuable experiences. Elkind surprised everyone by answering, at “5 years of age”! I repeat the story often to reassure parents that there is no one right way for children’s early years. There are excellent preschools that provide stimulating, nurturing environments for young children and there are wonderful home situations where children thrive and successfully prepare for the school years.
What does a young child need during the toddler and preschool years?
Children need strong personal relationships with caring adults. Children need adults who genuinely care about them as unique individuals. They need adults who speak to them, not at them, and who listen at eye level to their words and their hearts. Those adults may be parents, teachers, or caregivers but they must be committed to understanding the child’s current world and building her sense of wonder for life and learning (games, music, and nature).
Children need people and environments that encourage early language development. Early brain development and learning require a variety of experiences speaking, listening, reading, and writing (yes, “writing” starts when children start scribbling “words”). These activities can occur naturally in the home just as they are part of a preschool day. Homes are filled with books, newspapers, magazines, paper and pens, junk mail, small chalk boards, easels, and cooking activities. Language learning is personal – children are searching for meaning and for ways to express themselves. Either home or school environments can help a child find her own voice and be heard.
Children develop social skills by sustained interactions with a few people. Children will learn the majority of their social skills at home by watching mom and dad and any siblings. They learn compassion, sympathy, and taking turns (not sharing!) as they play repeatedly with a few special friends. Those friendships may originate in a school or can be planned by mom. Play dates, mommy and me classes, music classes, library events, or outings to parks and playgrounds are all excellent ways to balance out your daughter’s social repertoire. Children in same-age groups often need to learn other coping skills like assertiveness and patience (like waiting for attention or alternatives to biting). In those situations, the adults need a practical understanding child development.
So, the answer is: if you are enjoying your current arrangement, if you can actually get work done without additional stress from an active little person nearby, it is a wonderful thing. Your daughter can get everything she needs at home and confidently walk into school at 3, 4, or even 5 years of age. At the same time, a good school is a wonderful partner to a parent that adds to the joys of childhood.
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.