I sent my first son to preschool two days a week before he even turned three. In spite of a twinge of grief and guilt as I dropped him off that first day, I know we both did a little skip when I left—him running to plunge his hands into the sensory bin filled with items I wouldn’t let near my house and me rushing home to put my daughter down for her nap and a glorious hour and a half of silence.
As an educator myself, I don’t need to be convinced that preschool is a good idea. It is fabulous. Structure, another adult to listen to and obey, friends to be made and exposure to more of life outside of the sphere of our home. Preschool is a wonderful way for kids to learn, grow and be socialized.
But this year, we are opting out of preschool.
I recognize that even having the option of sending or not sending my child to preschool and being a stay-at-home parent is a result of my privilege. I erased my last fourth-grade homework chart off the dry-erase board of our school nearly five years ago–just weeks before my first son was born–and I haven’t received a paycheck since (*sob*). But I want to acknowledge that I am a privileged person simply because I have the choice to work or not work.
For the most part, preschool in Colorado is not free, so money is a large factor in why we aren’t doing it this year.
But I also suddenly realized that unless I homeschool (which I’m not planning to), we will be bound to a school schedule for the next 18 years.
But we have this one year before that happens.
Just one year before we will be racing around in the mornings to get a child out of the house. One year before the school supplies, fieldtrip permission slips, picture money, parent conferences and other parent-child-school responsibilities begin. A week into madly researching a viable preschool option for my three and almost-five-year-olds, wondering how I’d juggle drop-offs and pick-ups with a one-year-old, the thought occurred to me…
What if we did something crazy, and just took a free year—a gap year? A year to be a little tribe and explore, play, learn and grow together?
Before kids, I was an upper elementary and middle school teacher—early education was not my thing. But I’m hoping by surrendering to the mess, stress, slowness and simplicity, I’ll fall in love with these little years. And perhaps we’ll build a strong foundation together before they begin to totter out of the nest into public school.
Here are some ideas I have for the coming year.
This one is hard for me. It is nearly impossible for me to sit on the floor with my children and not start organizing toys. But I’m going to attempt to let go, give in and learn to play with my children this year. This year, I resolve to:
- Allow lots of free play. I finally surrendered the couch cushions to the minions. They have their own pile in the sunroom now.
- Visit all the parks in our city.
- Sing and dance. My son has a CD player and all the CD’s are scratched, but they can really break it down.
- Get outside every day—spend time in the front and back yard, go to parks, go on walks around the neighborhood or visit nature areas around town.
We are in a new city, so there is much to explore. But you might be surprised what you’ll find when you become a tourist in your own town.
- Visit all the Little Free Libraries in our city. We always have a stack of books to give away. We’re going to ride bikes or drive around to visit all of these we can.
- Go on hikes and nature walks. My kids whine the first fifteen minutes of a “hike,” but usually find rocks, bugs and flowers to distract them pretty quickly. The baby rides in the ergo for this one.
- Attend free festivals and concerts. Denver is just an hour away, but our city has plenty to keep us busy year-round.
- Go to the children’s museum, zoo and other museums in and around our city. Instead of blowing all their grandparent Christmas and birthday money on gifts that just get lost and clutter up our house, I usually use 70 percent of it on museum or zoo passes.
- Visit a fire station or create our own fieldtrips.
- Find out about other languages and cultures. We’ll be attending the international women’s club on a weekly basis, so this helps with that. We’re also hoping to have an international student live with us this year.
- Visit the grandparents in the mountains.
- Go to the library once a week and attend library story times.
- Intentionally read some books each week with people of color as the main characters.
- Read books together daily—big books and little books. We just finished James and the Giant Peach and are doing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory next.
- Listen to audio books. My son has enjoyed Magic Tree House so far.
- Have them read quietly at certain times of the day (ha).
I don’t do well with messes. This is one of the things I loved best about preschool—the teacher did all the messy things with my son so I never had to feel guilty about not doing those things. But this year I’m going for it. We bought an easel at Ikea, lots of washable paints and markers, rolls of paper and all kinds of random objects at Hobby Lobby to glue onto paper to make collages. We’re doing it. The goal is for all of us to have glitter, paint or marker on our bodies at all times just to prove we are artists (okay, maybe not glitter).
- Paint (my kids hate finger painting, but we’ll probably try again)
- Make necklaces
- Glue things to paper—like pasta, tiny pieces of paper, feathers, nature items,
- Do one pinterest craft a week (*slight cringe* #notapinterestmom)
- Make puppets and masks
- Play with sand (LOVE this crazy sand–as long as it’s on a sweepable surface), water, playdough, clay and other sensory items
- Bake something for a neighbor or homeless person and deliver it once a week.
- Visit a nursing home.
- Attend the international women’s club each week at the nearby college.
- Visit with elderly neighbors.
- Have people over for dinner and have the kids help make it.
- Practice random acts of kindness together.
- Stay home at least one day a week.
- Take our time going places.
- Throw out schedules every once in a while—allow naps in the car, stay up late and have movie nights, wear PJ’s until 2 pm, take baths in the middle of the day.
Notice I don’t have a “learn” category. This year, I want to focus on my children learning experientially. Will we do letters, numbers and reading? Of course, because those things happen organically in life and we’ll talk about them when they do. But I am not planning on having a structured “school time” each day or week other than my kids attending Bible study and church each week.
Opting out of preschool is a slightly terrifying prospect to me, and yet I’m excited for margins in our days to lean into life. Because we are not paying for preschool, we can afford a sitter one morning a week so I can write, but the other days (thanks to my husband who works full-time), our time is flexible. And as much as I would have loved a few hours with a few less kids a week, the thought of a year of freedom to live, explore, create, read, serve and relax sounds pretty amazing, too.
I’ll be writing about our experience periodically and sharing reviews about the books we check out at the library, so subscribe to my newsletter to keep in touch!
Here we go. Let the adventures begin.
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