One of the recurring dilemmas for anyone who homeschools is what to do with babies and toddlers. I’ll admit that for the most part we just muddle through. I have various strategies that help keep Ruth occupied when we are “doing” school but what works one day won’t necessarily work another. Mostly, I just try and remember that this is a season and won’t last forever. Sometimes it means we use Dora a little more than I’d like. Sometimes it means John is doing school with Ruth literally climbing all over him. ( I figure if he can concentrate with these conditions he’s all set for college with a rowdy roommate.)
We’re beginning to move out of the “just keep her busy so we can finish up this math lesson” phase to the “feeling guilty that I’m not doing more with her phase.” I do a lot with Ruth but when I compare the things I do with her with what I did with John or even David at the same age, I come up feeling like she’s getting the short stick. When I began “homeschooling” John he was really just in preschool and I remember older and wiser homeschooling mothers giving me the advice to “Have fun, relax, take it easy. Go places.” We did all those things. We went. To the nature center. And music class. And the zoo. And the art museum. And the park. When he was in kindergarten I arranged a tour of a local police station and invited a friend of his who is the youngest child in a homeschooling family. I remember the mom commenting how nice it was for her son since she didn’t have much time to do that kind of thing now that she was busy with the older ones. And I remember thinking how horrible that was. Surely I would never be that Mom. I’d figure out a way to do it all.
Well. You know where this is going. The truth is that it is harder. It’s harder because our schedules are busier. Not just with school, but just with life. School does require more effort now. And my older kids aren’t always excited about going to preschool kind of places. We do go on a fair amount of field trips still but it’s geared more to the older two. Ruth enjoys being out and has fun but it’s rare that it’s just for her.
So on Friday we spent the morning at a local “Big Truck Days” put on by a nearby town’s Department of Public Utility Works. They hold a sort of open house with all the giant trucks available for the kids to climb on and in and pretend to drive. There are recycling trucks and forklifts and cranes and cement mixers. She had a lot of fun. On a side note, it amused me how much my eight year old loved this. Of all three kids he has always been the most fascinated with trucks and machinery. As a toddler I read a particular DK book to him nightly that was simply pictures of trucks and their names. He had it memorized and so did I. And he was still the most excited, running from truck to truck and trying them all out.
I’ve been wondering lately if it would be a good idea for Ruth to go to preschool a few days a week. Then I started to wonder why, what I thought she’d get there that she isn’t getting now. Not so much for academics, whatever that means for a preschooler anyway. She knows the preschool basics (ABC’s, 123’s, Twinkle Twinkle, all her colors). She’s getting basic math concepts from helping sort the laundry (something she is freakishly good at) and knows more science than most two year olds (she can correctly identify a downy woodpecker and thanks to Diego, a pygmy marmoset).
So is it for socialization, that dreaded word in the homeschooling world? No, she loves being with her brothers, both of whom adore her. She loves being with me and helping me (fill the birdfeeders, do the laundry, clean the kitchen). She loves being out and about and charms everyone she meets at various baseball games, Tae Kwan Do lessons, and our co-op. She also willingly separates and goes to her own classes at church and co-op, so that’s not really an issue we need to work on.
So why? Why was I considering preschool?
I realized it’s guilt. Guilt that it isn’t fair that I did so much more with both boys, and in particular John. More art projects, more reading, more special time, more field trips, just more. Once I realized that, I also realized that guilt is a stupid reason to do anything. As David recently reminded me, “Fair is getting what you need.” (Heard in Clementine and the Family Meeting.) Being the oldest and being the youngest will never be the same. I will never do as much one on one with Ruth as I did with John. But I’ll also never freak out because she forgets the sound of the letter “a” at the tender age of 4 or be convinced that she’ll never be toilet-trained just because it’s not going well. I’m not sure parental guilt will ever go away. I’m pretty sure I’ll never be the mother that I think my kids deserve. But I also can’t let guilt drive our decisions.
So, what exactly is the point of this post? I think it’s just to say that I appreciate now what those older, wiser moms told me when my oldest was younger. And if someone was asking me what to do with their preschooler I’d say, “Relax, Enjoy her, Have fun. It will all be ok.”