On Tuesday, I went and checked out a couple of playgroups for Ayaan to go to when he’s a little older. For the good ones, you need to go way in advance since the seats fill up pretty quickly. I have registered him for two that I really liked and since I was pretty early, the chances are reasonably good that he will be accepted at atleast one of them. But I need to figure out a backup just in case he doesn’t.
Most of the parents I know seem to be sending their kids off to playschool as early as 18 months these days. This phenomenon is more prevalent in Mumbai than in Delhi where parents tend to hold off till their kids cross the age of two. Mumbai’s smaller houses, fewer parks, nuclear families and time pressures all probably have a role to play in this.
After much debate and discussion, I have decided to swim against the tide and send Ayaan to playschool only when he turns two. Here are some of the reasons why I decided to wait:
One of the arguments for sending children to playschool at 18 months is that they enter into a structured environment. I don’t really understand what the big hurry is. Once he starts, he will be in a structured environment all his life. I also disagree that learning can only happening in such environments. Kids learn from the minute they are born and probably even before that. As long as parents can spend atleast some quality time with their kids talking, playing, reading and exposing them to new experiences, they will learn.
The second argument is that the current urban set-up is not conducive for kids to learn how to play and interact with other children outside of a playschool. Again, I would rather Ayaan got into this gradually rather than throwing him into the deep-end where he has to suddenly deal with mixing with 20 kids at a shot. I think it has to start with the short and sweet encounters that Ayaan has started having with kids in the park to a level where he is completely comfortable interacting with new and unfamiliar kids in a socially acceptable manner.
There can also be some slightly selfish reasons for sending the child to playschool early. An over-tired stay-at-home mother in desperate need of a break or a working mom seeking to assuage her guilt over the fact that the child spends a majority of his waking hours with the maid… When I decided to get back to work, I resolved that I would not let this fact change some of the basic things about parenting Ayaan that I hold dear – I don’t believe in keeping Ayaan up late just so that I can have more time with him because I think good sleep habits will serve him well in the long term. I have held back from hiring a full-time nanny because it forces me to plan my day in such a way that I am home in time to spend atleast a couple of hours with him, feed him his dinner and put him to bed. I do not intend to spoil him (either through physical gifts or by giving in to tantrums) just because I don’t want anything negative to happen in my time with him. And so I will not send him to school early just so that I can feel happier about my time away from him. Some amount of guilt is good – it makes me try harder to make the time I have with him really count.
I also remember reading somewhere that at 18 months, the immune system is still pretty fragile. And given that Ayaan is already prone to catching colds at the drop of a hat, I am not too keen to expose him to the cocktail of germs and viruses that are sure to exist when there are lots of kids together in a confined space. And that’s what most Mumbai playschools are (confined spaces) – run out of places that are not much larger than our apartment!
Jai’s boss offered another good reason to wait a bit. At 18 months, kids are just barely learning to communicate. So they may not have the ability or words to tell you if something is not right. What may look like tantrums because the child doesn’t want to go school could be a result of mistreatment by a teacher or bullying by another child.
The last reason is a matter of timing. The normal term starts in June. At 18 months, Ayaan would join in December 2006 and be put with a class that has been there since June 2006. Come June 2007, those kids would move from ‘playgroup’ to ‘nursery’ and Ayaan would continue in playgroup for another year with a new bunch of kids. This seems unnecessary to me since six months (the December-June part) of the programme would be a repetition. More importantly, just as he would get comfortable with the first bunch of kids, they would move on and he would have to start over with a new, unfamiliar set of kids.
Disclaimer: This is just my point of view. I am not trying to say that mothers who do other than what I plan to do are wrong. As the head of one of the playschools I went remarked on my decision to wait – “ It’s a personal decision. A mother knows what’s right for her child better than anyone else can”.