Should I Send my Child to Pre-School? A Pandemic Worry

When my sons were toddlers, I worried about a lot of things.  They only wanted to eat mac ‘n cheese.  “This can’t possibly be good for them!”, I thought.   Or perhaps we’re going to end up in the ER because they hurt themselves falling off a chair after proudly figuring out how to climb it?  Wait!  Maybe the younger will choke–Heaven forbid–on a small piece from his big brother’s little Lego set.  Am I a bad mommy because I said no to that sweet face about buying another toy?  I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the idea.

The one thing I never worried about was if their developmental needs were being met.  I never once had to ask myself, “Is it safe to send my 3-year-old to school during a pandemic?” or “How will my toddler suffer if he doesn’t go to preschool now?”  We were not living in the midst of Covid-19.  So, my boys were able to go to pre-school, music and gym classes, and have a zillion playdates without me giving it a second thought.  At the time, I didn’t realize how fortunate the 3 of us were to be able to partake in such activities.  Definitely, those were the days!!!

My heart breaks for all young parents out there–having to decide which way to go: Send my little prince/princess to preschool, wondering if they will be safe from the virus.  Or keep them home , worrying if I am holding them back developmentally.  There is no easy answer.  But as a preschool teacher, mom and grammy, I will tell you there is no one right answer. 

Our world today is not only upside down, but it has also become a very judgmental one.  I implore each of you to ignore those judging your decision and ask that you not judge theirs.  What is right for one family is totally wrong for another.  Even for those we know, we may not have all the facts that determined the decision they made.

With that thought in mind, it’s not for me to tell you whether to send your toddlers to school or keep them home.  But I do want to share some things to think about that might be of help.

There are a number of excellent guidelines from the CDC to follow for those who decide sending their child to school.  And of course, I know you will do your research to see what additional protocols your school of choice may have.  For example, the students at the school I work for, returned after winter break via zoom for a week.  This was done to minimize exposure to anyone who traveled during that time.  Don’t be embarrassed to ask ANY question you have.  Don’t be ashamed of ANY fear you may have.  Talk to other parents that have children at the school.  Inquire as to what their personal pandemic precautions are.  Let inner momma and papa bear roar because at the end of the day, it’s all about EVERYONE at the school doing their part to keep your children, staff, and parents safe.

Now, for those anxious types who stay up at night wondering if not to sending your children to school will leave them behind, Amy Learmonth, Professor of Psychology at William Patterson University, offers some expert insight.  She notes that toddlers are an age group well-suited to weather the pandemic, and that their developmental task is to learn to be social beings—which can easily be fostered in a family.

Social developmental skills are the backbone of pre-school.  Here are the goals I share with my pre-school parents at orientation that I hope their children will achieve (in no particular order):

  • Accepting separation
  • Sharing
  • Parallel play
  • Sitting and listening
  • Patience
  • Using words (not hands) when frustrated
  • Taking turns
  • Following directions
  • Exploring their world
  • Using their imagination
  • Self- control
  • Respecting people, toys and books 

No doubt about it.  This is a tough decision for parents to make.  It isn’t the first, it won’t be the last, just one of many.  But whatever you decide, keep in mind that as long as your sweet one feels loved, safe and secure, they will grow up having a well-rounded life.

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