Thursday, July 27, 2006

School already?!

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”.


  1. i agree. iwould not send my child either ( when i have one) before he was two or three years mom didnt with me and i turned out pretty

    its such a racket..

  2. Over here, children are sent to playschool no earlier than three, if at all, preschool at four, kindergarten at 5, and then first grade at six. However, my parents held the view that we would be in school long enough as it was, to let us be a kid and explore as long as possible, so they didn't send us to anything until grade one. And I could still read better than half the kids in my class when I started! (I actually had some cousins my age, twins, whose parents didn't even put them in first grade until 7!)

    Before playschool, working moms make use of dayhomes, since having a full-time maid over here is unheard-of unless you are very wealthy. Nannies are only slightly more common. Dayhomes are strictly legislated, and I think the max number of kids a dayhome mom can have under twelve is about 8 or 10, including any of her own children at home.

    There's nothing wrong with waiting. I think you're doing the right thing. And good for you for not becoming a permissive parent just so Ayaan never shows displeasure with you. He will respect you and love you more in the long run this way.

  3. I agree with you. P & I have this discussion every day. He wants to wait till dd turns 3 and I feel 2.5 yr is OK.

    Your post reminds me that I need to start doing some scouting for good play schools. It's about time :)

  4. [Grafx] My mom also sent me only at 3. In fact, when we were kids the concept of playgroups did not really exist and we went straight into nursery at the age of 3.

    [Talena] If I wasn't working, I would probably wait till Ayaan was three too. Also, since 90% of the kids in Mumbai go at 18 months, I don't want to wait for too long as that might impact his school admissions.

    [Aqua] I think in cities other than Mumbai 2.5 years is the norm. I know parents in Delhi only sent their kids much after they turn two.

  5. In blore some playschools (Eurokids etc) accept kids from 18 months onwards. I think the condition in some playschools is that the child has to be potty trained. That's another BIG mountain to climb for us!

  6. [Aqua] That's reassuring. I thought I was the only mother in India who hadn't got my kid toilet-trained! I have bought the potty but jut can't seem to get started. Any tips?

  7. Rohini, you sound so practical and level headed. I agree that once in a formal structure there is almost no way out for the rest of ones life. Here in the UK the support system is not as strong and so people send their kids to daycare from as young as 6 months. And its encouraged as a way of getting children to socialise and be responsive to different environments from an age younger than when they can throw tantrums about not wanting school. It's hard I imagine to do that but with few other choices the decision to have children is postponed by much of the populations well into their 30s. I have no clue what I would do.

  8. [30in2005] It only sounds practical and level-headed because I wrote it after I had done all the endless debating and research to decide what to do. I think there is no correct answer and as long as I feel that I am doing the best for Ayaan that I can (not compared to anyone else), I can sleep well at night.

  9. er, I am really not qualified to comment but I can only say that its your kid and you know best... and dont let anything or anyone tell you otherwise.

  10. Boo Hoo Hoo - wrote out a comment to your post and then lost it :(

    Anyway, I just wanted to say I agree with you - only parents can decide what, and when, and how much is good for their kids.

  11. Rohini, if a kid over here were potty-trained by 14 months, everyone would think they were a freak. I usually try to get mine done at around 2, but Noah's a bit "behind schedule" (Only mine--I'm sure he's just right for his own schedule), so he's just now starting to get it figured out at 30 months.

    Although I don't agree with it, there is also a widely-held view among certain groups that the child should decide when they are ready, so this means some children do not potty-train until 4 or 5. This is just silly to me. If the child knew what was best for them, and could teach themselves, then they wouldn't need parents!

  12. Heh! Heh! I'm back to hog your comment space. - Please pardon me I just can't seem to think of good enough posts on my own blog.

    Your decision is absolutely correct. I find Pre-School and school a super heated market segment. With a Mom like you I would say the later the better, only issue in India is that you have to get a foot in before the door slams shut.

    I find Potty training is like a drill.
    Our process was -
    Potty time for small job is every time as soon as they wake up, or if they haven't gone in a long time, or sometime after a large intake of liquids and definetely before going to sleep.They should be able to hold on through out the night.
    Big jobs is a daily attempt at the same time. Also look for signs like sudden stop of activities and a kind of pathetic face which sometimes tends to get red with the effort.
    After any mishap tell the kid clearly where the activity is to be done.
    First signs of success was when atleast the thory part (Bathroom/Potty) was repeated correctly.
    The other idea was to make the thing appear fun! and not get flustered at each failed attempt. Leave the rest to the kid.
    Now do I hear another WM vs SAHM debate coming up ?

  13. Thats the most sensible thing to do Rohini. I just can't swollow the idea of sending kids so early to school, even if its a playschool! The other day I was talking to a friend who has a 5 year old and she was telling me how they have started teaching language at the nursery level now!

    When we started out even nursery was just rhymes and games and counting and some bit of 'learning to use the pencil' :) Am so glad for Ayaan you've not got into the rat race. Thats a nice lucky baby :)

  14. ;) must also add, that i don't know what my mom thought, but i threw this awful big tantrum at 2and a half saying "i wanna go to school like everyone" and mom actually put me straight into LKG at that age where she had a pact with the nuns that i would just sit in class and pretend i was also with the other kids in school! so i was the only one who didn't cry while my 'seniors' wailed away. I ended up in LKG for 2 years and then went on from there:)

  15. [Panu} I try but you would be amazed at the amount of advice, opinions and warnings that get thrown my way!

    [Gettingthere] Don't you just hate it when Blogger does that. When I write a long comment, I copy it just to be sure still have it when Blogger screws up.

    [Talena] The funny thing is that even doctors adviced the 'let kids decide' for so many things. My doc told me that I should allow Ayaan to eat what he wants when he wants. I completely disagree because I think good eating habits start early.

    [Outsider] Somehow I never seems to catch Ayaan in the act. He seems to be really good at pooping without much straining or screwing up of face.

    [Pearl] I think you can't blame the playschools either. Nowadays most of the good schools require a kid to pass an admission test and/ or interview to get in and the playschools are just doing their bit to get them ready. The big problem is that there are two many applicants and too few good schools.

  16. I sent both my girls when they turned 3. In Singapore, there is also a huge rush to send one'c child to a "structured environment" because of the all the reasons you stated.

    In USA, i think, most SAHMs only send when the child turns three.

    As for potty training, my girls were daytimed potty trained by 2-2.5, Neil will be turning 2 in OCt and he is far from being ready to be potty trained. I think boys are just slower..No one is going to go to college in diapers, so dont let anyone stress you out :)

  17. My boss at work had a strange tale to narrate about school. His family was into sailing. So at age 2 his family set out to tour the world in a ship. He spent the next 16 years of his life floating on a vessel where he was ship-schooled by his mom. He comes back, enrolls in college and voila 4 years later joins a top firm. Cool eh!??

    This was in the US nevertheless.

  18. [Sraikh] I think I would waita little longer too if I was a SAHM. I don't know why we are all in such a hurry to have our kids grow up - when they do, we will miss the good old days...

    [Handful] Wow! Though I am way too impatient to home-school Ayaan even if that was an option.

  19. :) My mom gives me grief everyday due to Tara's non toilet trained status. She claims I was toilet trained by 6 months (tall claims huh?)
    I did read all the tips on but haven't been quite successfull can't really share any success story or tips here :(
    yes, we bought her a potty seat and she uses it like a reading chair and a stool (it has a cover) :)

  20. and the playschool-potty training debate rages on...
    i think we're a generation with too much time on our hands and too much info. i dont think my mother angsted over my poop and playtime at all. they just went with the flow. i try and do the same. on angst. make his childhood beautiful for both him and me....