Saturday, September 08, 2007

Should We Have Sprung for the Babysitter?

Whew! The first week of preschool really takes it out of you. Last night both girls slept more than 12 hours, and we're on our third straight day of more-than-90-minute afternoon naps. I think we're all recovering.

Good friend Elise asked, in her comment to my first-day-of-preschool post, if I thought it would have been easier for Julia if she was used to being apart from Christopher and me. She says:

"I'm wondering - do you think it would have been any easier if you HAD ever left J with someone else before? Looking back, would you try to incorporate more of that if possible, or do you think it's purely a temperament thing, and nothing you could have done would have made a difference?"

Such a good question! I've been thinking about it all day. My first reflex was to think yes. That seems logical, no? And I had a moment of revelation, when I realized that all those children who skipped in happily and didn't even seem to notice when their parents left?--those kids are probably in daycare. Aha! (Yeah, my deductive reasoning skills have become a bit rusty since those graduate-school experimental-methods courses, oh so long ago.)

It would seem like a safe assumption, wouldn't it, that if Julia had ever had a regular babysitter, or gone for weekends at her grandparents' (but isn't she too little for that?), or gone to daycare, that she would be familiar with the circumstances of being without Mama or Daddy, of being somewhere else with other people taking care of her, and secure in the knowledge--through prior experience--that Mama (or Daddy) will always come back to get her. I am sure that this is partly true. After all, think of this: as my friend Connie said the other day about her own girls as well as mine, "There are probably no other children we know who get as much attention from the same two people every day--their parents, and literally no one else." She's right. Of COURSE our girls cry when we leave the building, or the room. They've pretty much never been alone with any other adults in their whole lives, besides their mama or daddy. They're with us every second of every day.

But really? It's not that simple. Because then I recall that it took Julia a year of regular playgroup before she'd spontaneously speak to the other mamas. And that it took a year and a half of weekly ECFE baby/toddler class before she skipped eagerly into the classroom upon arrival rather than hanging back to hold my hand. Transitions and new experiences are so challenging to Julia's inborn wary personality that I think the only "being left" experience that would have made the first day of preschool less scary would have been to have been in full-time daycare. Because unless it was every single day, it wouldn't have been enough exposure for Julia to feel comfortable with the "being left" scenario. And you all know that she never, ever would have been put in full-time daycare. So, I doubt the occasional babysitter would have made much of a difference, although--who knows?

The one thing I'm so thankful for--and I've been thinking over and over about this since Thursday morning--is that Julia did ECFE. Because of 1-1/2 years of weekly ECFE classes--even just 2 hours once a week with a parent along--she was already familiar with so many characteristics of early-childhood-school "culture": the morning greeting song (which she was delighted to discover was the same song at nursery school as she learned in her ECFE classes), the miniature chairs and tables, lining up to wash hands for snack, the time-to-pick-up song, circle time. Think how unnerving it would be to walk into a bright, busy classroom and encounter all these rituals and protocols for the very first time, having been only at home with Mama every day since babyhood. Talk about a whole different ballgame! At least it wasn't completely foreign. Thank you, ECFE, for making some aspects of nursery school familiar, and associated with fun, and good feelings. I think the ECFE experience put Julia on a slightly more even playing field with all those daycare kids than if she'd never been.

Now, aren't you glad you asked?


Elise said...

Well, yeah, I am! That's pretty much what I figured the answer would be - a little bit of both. But it's certainly good to know about the ECFE classes, and makes me even more glad we're taking one this fall.

Shan said...

Yes--especially since so many other children HAVE been going to ECFE and/or daycare before preschool. It would be hard to be one of the few/only children entering preschool with no ECFE or similar experience, I would think. All the other kids would already be familiar with busy classrooms of lots of children, with teachers, with toy corners and circle time, etc., and if you had never seen any of it, I think you'd be even more hesitant and reluctant to join in. You know what I mean?

Jordan said...

Yeah, I can't imagine a child going into preschool without any experience with other kids or in that type of setting - of course it happens all the time, but that would be so scary! (Without visiting days, anyway!)

Lyle was either with me or one consistent nanny every day. He used to be so clingy to me and scared of new situations until we did two things: 1) switched our "nanny share" to the other family's house for a few months in the spring and 2) started dropping him off for an hour once a week in the toddler room at church. The church drop-off was totally traumatic for about a month, but I saw a huge developmental leap in his willingness to separate from me and confidence once he realized he was safe without me outside of our home. I think it's making a tremendous difference in his readiness for nursery school, even though he says he's nervous. It hadn't occurred to me before what a big difference there is between having a non-parent caregiver in the home and being dropped off in a different place. (Silly me!)

We go for our 1st visit day tomorrow, so we'll see how it goes. I hope Julia enjoys her nursery school!