Wine Before Five
Because Life is Good, & Sweet & Short.
Ignore the Silly Rules. You won’t burn in hell for it.
Walter & Wilma, Pre-School Drop-Outs
We never intended for our children to be drop-outs. Both Wilt and I are pretty firm believers in education. Not the “Sit in your seat/Be still/Be quiet/Memorize 500 facts tonight so you can regurgitate them tomorrow” variety of education, but education as Learning. We did think our children would do the customary two years of pre-school, however.
Life, though, as they say, is what happens while you’re making plans.
Walter was registered during his infancy for a pre-school at the University where Wilt was on the faculty. Good, solid program, supervised by faculty with PhD’s in Childhood Development, and run by a multitude of serious college students who provided the children with lots of one-on-one time. However, before Walter could begin the three-year-old class, Wilt left teaching for the business world, and accepted a promotion which meant moving to another state. Because Walter would only be in town for September and October of that academic year, he was not allowed to attend school at all. The interning college students were assigned pre-schoolers to work with and observe for the complete nine-month schedule. They didn’t want any drop-outs — so he was not even allowed to drop in — so he was a drop-out. A drop-out at three.
When we house-hunted then arrived in Virginia, all pre-schools were full, and all had long waiting lists. No pre-school for Walter that year.
Fast forward to one year later in the world of corporate relocations: Wilt’s second promotion had happened, and we were in yet a third state, beautiful Connecticut. Walter attended an excellent pre-school at the local YMCA in a small class of only eight children. Great teacher, lovely facility – including an indoor pool – and quality activities. Happy days!
Whoops! Another corporate transfer came in March, and we were off for the great state of Texas. Area pre-schools were not accepting new students for the months of April and May. And so Walter, now age five, having completed only seven total months of pre-school in his little life, was a drop out once again. A two-time drop out, and only five years old.
All the statistics, headlines, & parenting magazines’ articles made it clear: children who attend pre-school programs are more successful academically. What was rarely mentioned, though, was that the comparisons were between disadvantaged families’ children who did not attend pre-school, and the same groups’ children who attended Head Start programs.
I had a Bachelor’s degree, but was not an education major. I was, however, both lucky enough to be doing what I wanted to do: being a full-time at-home Mom, and a pretty strong believer in spending serious quality time with my kids. We mixed things in the kitchen. We measured amounts of flour and sugar and spices and seasonings. We counted how many cups of water went into the dog’s bowl. We sorted clothing for the laundry, first by darks and lights, then later by specific colors. We learned about taking turns — when we washed our hands or brushed our teeth. We painted and drew, sang songs and learned songs with motions. We had friends over nearly every day, or went to their houses, and went to the park. We ran races and played games and built tents in the living room with blankets and chairs pulled from the breakfast room. (How far apart can you stretch the chairs before the blankets collapse?) We took walks, and looked at the trees, rocks, birds and squirrels, and one day watched a caterpillar spin his cocoon. We went shopping and talked about what foods we needed, what clothes we should buy, what colors things were, and about paying with money. We ate meals that began with letters: Peanut butter sandwiches with Peaches and Peas. When Walter was two and a half, he and I had enjoyed Gymboree classes together each week. We went to playgroups and library story times. He took swimming and gymnastics lessons. Walter wasn’t deprived. (Well, his opinion might differ: he wasn’t allowed to have a video game system until he was ten. Yeah, I was one of those moms.)
We didn’t do all those things together because Walter was missing out on pre-school; we just did them because they were fun. I was an Accidental Homeschooling Mom.
Walter’s transition to kindergarden went off without a hitch. No one knew the ugly truth: a two-time pre-school drop out.
With Walter in first grade, Wilma joined her brother as a pre-school drop-out. At three, she had eagerly begun pre-school and the first six weeks went well. Hurray! Mid-October of that year, I had surgery, mentioned in my initial post The View From My Window. Wilma came home from a trusted friend’s house that day to find mommy half-asleep on the couch, tightly wrapped in an Ace bandage from waist to underarms. Despite all the previous ten days of careful preparation about mommy going to the hospital and coming home safely the same day, sheer terror set in for Wilma. Over the next few weeks, I worked with her pre-school teacher to reassure her that all was well. Wilma was not about to be convinced. Severe separation anxiety had set in. The pediatrician was consulted, and declared with compassion and simple common sense, “She needs to be with you. She’s three. Give it a rest.” He was right.
Wilma and I did all the things Walter and I had done together around the house & during our daily outings, and she took swimming and dance lessons as well. But I began to realize some things. Walter liked to study things carefully from all angles, to build legos first according to the directions in the box before creating his own inventions, to take things apart and talk about & understand how they worked. “Why do we put water in the bowl with the pancake mix?” He pondered life. Once as I ramped onto the freeway trying to focus on traffic and new-to-me roads just after one corporate transfer, he asked “When did the world begin?” Uh, hang on a minute, Walter, I need to maneuver this woody wagon across a couple of lanes of rushing cars while I try to read the overhead signs… He was curious about his world.
Walter had been born ten days after his due date, but after that, he stayed at least right on schedule: he walked at eleven months, talked in three-word combinations before he was one & in complete paragraphs by two. He consistently took his time about things, studying, evaluating, analyzing, comparing, then making his move.
Wilma was born five days early – I completed the stitching on her crib blanket during the first hour of labor before waking Wilt. Wilma used few words early on, but walked at 8 1/2 months. She was forever in a hurry to experience life. She wanted to touch toys, fabrics, every single item on reachable grocery store shelves & of course the inked end of markers with her hands. She wanted to swing from the highest point of the monkey bars, jump into the pool without looking at it first, and run as fast as she could – always ahead of me, whether in our back yard or at the mall. (I was fairly thin in those days, thanks, I’m sure, to the never-ending chase.)
Walter and I had talked about colors from early on. Each morning from the time he could sit up by himself, I laid out three different color outfits and let him choose which one he wanted for that day. With Wilma, I never really had that chance. By 18 months, she flatly refused to put on any clothing – dress, shoes, coats – unless it was lavender. She actually removed non-lavender clothes from my hand & tossed them casually – but definitively – back at the clothing racks in the store. She was not misbehaving — simply sure of her choices. At four, she switched to pink. There was no concentrated studying of colors – just an instinctive reaction: “This!”
Surprise! Who was getting an education about pre-schoolers, development and learning styles? I was. They were drop-outs; I was the drop-in. I learned a new appreciation for alternative learning styles, for active, hands-on learning, for believing that it truly is acceptable for children to learn in their own ways, in their own time. And yes, I developed a new and different level of respect for classroom teachers – and began to believe they work with what I personally would consider intolerable limitations rather than the child-driven curriculum we had going. There is truly nothing as interesting, mesmerizing and magical as seeing the world through the eyes of children.
One year later, yet another corporate transfer came along, and off we were whisked to the Sunshine State. (Gee, why would a kid have separation anxiety at our house?) Once again, now four, Wilma began pre-school in a gentle, loving church-based program. She loved it! What did she learn? I’m not convinced much at all. Most days the four year olds emerged from the building with white copy paper covered with bingo dauber stamps. All she remembers to this day is “that nice lady that came with her guitar sometimes.” She did the full academic year – yay, Wilma! She made good friends and so did I. She had fun. Academic progress? None that I’m aware of. Perhaps she’ll set the curve in her retirement if she takes up dauber Bingo.
Recently, I read this post: Confessions of a Reformed Preschool Drop-Out
and it brought back a lot of memories of the pre-school and toddler days. Interesting. This author began as a non-fan of formal pre-school — even in the homeschool setting, but her own child changed her thinking. I had begun by assuming we would do formal pre-school, ended up essentially doing homeschool pre-school, and can honestly say nothing was lost in the time our children were not enrolled in formal programs. I honestly believe both of them benefited, and I know without any doubt that I did. I’ll confess, in retrospect, I think they would have been better off had we also done first and second grade homeschooling.
So what about now? Long-term effects? Walter and Wilma are just fine, thank you, both academically and personally. Both graduated at the top of their high school classes and college programs. Walter’s an engineer & working on his MBA. Wilma is a graduate of a well-respected University’s Public Relations program and happily working in a niche of that field. Both are mature, intelligent, social and witty. They have careers, hobbies, interests, friends, & they have both found life-mates – Walter is married, Wilma is engaged.
I’m not worried about Walter and Wilma. And yes, dropping out was their gift to me.