For the past four weeks I’ve been learning how to be a pre-school parent. I’ve learnt that I have to wash Birdy’s little sleeping bag every week. I’ve learnt that they bring home enough artwork every day to decorate the Vatican within a year. I’ve learnt that if you don’t get to the car park at 20 to 3 you’ll spend the next 25 minutes circling the car park like a hungry vulture. And I’ve learnt that its a very bad feeling to be the very last parent to arrive at the end of the day. (Negligent mother alert!)
I was really excited about Birdy starting Preschool. Unlike many of my friends, I wasn’t at all nervous or upset about the idea of being apart for the whole day and I wasn’t really worried about how she would settle in and make friends. (I had enough to worry about with all her medical dramas.) But since then I’ve had an emotional reaction that I didn’t anticipate: I actually feel left out. Well, just a little.
For the first time in her life, Birdy is having all these amazing experiences without me! I’m not part of it at all. Yes, I get to hear about what happened at Preschool, but I don’t actually get to experience it with her or witness it. This was brought home to me over the past two days because Birdy got to be one of the first ‘special helpers’ at Preschool yesterday and today. She was really proud of this achievement. Yesterday she went to bed talking about it, and today she woke up at 6 am still talking about it. I would have dearly loved to see her handing out the morning teas and tapping the students on the head when it was their turn to go to the bathroom. Instead I have to simply imagine all these things in my minds eye.
Today Birdy came home with a special sticker on her shirt that said:
You have been a TERRIFIC SPECIAL HELPER this week at Preschool. You have led the class from place to place, called your friends by name to go inside and done special jobs for the teachers in group time. A job well done.
We are keeping that sticker forever!
The other aspect of Preschool that I was unprepared for is the post-Preschool meltdown. At the end of the day, Birdy is so tired she can’t concentrate on anything! Although she hasn’t yet had a complete and total meltdown after Preschool, she has been right on the edge on a number of occasions. As I work during the mornings, I am feeling the loss of our afternoons together. Birdy is no longer capable of playing games, or doing anything much at all after Preschool. She just collapses like a zombie onto the kitchen floor while I offer her her favorite comfort snack of a cup of warm milk and biscotti.
I have to say that we seem to have scored the most amazing Preschool in Sydney. I’m just inspired by all the love, care and attention shown to the kids. And by all the thoughtful touches that make the experience so special for the children – the stickers describing something they did that day, the sharing bag, getting to be a special helper. If the first four weeks have been anything to go by, I have a feeling that this year of innocent, joyful discovery will fly by before any of us have a chance to fully appreciate it.
Did you enjoy your child’s first year of Preschool? Or are you looking forward to it? Do you have any memories of your own Preschool?
We had a disaster last week – a disaster entirely of our own making. A disaster that, with a little more resolve, could have easily been prevented.
We know it’s a bad idea to let Birdy take Teddy out in public places. Normally when we go to the shops or a cafe or to church, we insist that Teddy stays in the car so he doesn’t get lost. But last week Teddy went to daycare. And as anyone, even an Octopus, could have predicted Teddy was left behind at daycare. I know. Shocking case of parental neglect. But wait, it gets worse… It was a FRIDAY!
You know what that means, don’t you? Two long days and three long nights without Teddy.
But hang on, why am I calling him Teddy, like he’s just some home brand generic teddy? He has a name. It’s January. Birdy named him herself when she was two years old. My husband and I were quite impressed. Birdy was born in January, so it’s a pretty cool name for her teddy.
I bought January when I was pregnant. My husband, who has a more pessimistic mindset than me, wouldn’t let me buy any baby things for about the first six months, in case it didn’t work out. But I was so excited I just had to get something, so I allowed myself to buy just one teddy for my unborn baby. That teddy turned out to be January. That baby turned out to be Birdy. I’m pretty attached to them both. So naturally I was quite pleased that January became the teddy she bonded with and cuddles every night.
I was very attached to my teddy as a child. He was blue with hardly any hair and he was called Peter Bear. I remember a few distraught times (after I’d got in trouble for something) when I was genuinely convinced that Peter Bear was the only person in the world who really understood me. Fortunately that conviction never lasted too long. But he was there for me when I needed him. That’s why I always hoped that Birdy would also have a special teddy to be her unconditional friend.
Well, you’ll be glad to hear we survived the weekend without January. Birdy even managed to sleep OK, but not without a few tears before bed each night. Any time she got upset about something, she’d ask for teddy and then cry even more because he wasn’t there. And I actually found it harder to calm her down her without that simple, dependable comforter that I automatically turn to when she’s upset. I felt almost as pleased as Birdy when January finally came home again. I’ve made him promise to never run away again.
Do your kids have a special teddy or comforter? Have you ever left it behind in a hotel, playground or at a friend’s place? Did you have a special soft toy as a child that you still remember?
My neighbour and I recently started our three-year-olds at occasional care together. I don’t why, but starting Birdy in daycare was a really big deal for me. I was sooo anxious about it I nearly cancelled the whole thing. I suppose you could say I had a bit of separation anxiety.
We were supposed to go down to the daycare centre for a trial the day before Birdy started. In my mind, I secretly hoped that smiling saint-like pre-school teachers would greet us by name at the gate, emanating peace and light and blessed assurance; that Birdy would be instantly drawn into some amazing creative activity and that all my anxieties about leaving my daughter with a total stranger would melt away.
Errr… maybe not. We stayed for about an hour, and the whole time not one staff member spoke to Birdy or tried to engage her in any activity. I think they took the attitude that we were just there to observe. But by the time we left, I was beside myself, thinking, ‘how can I leave my child with people she’s never even met?’ It’s not that I thought Birdy wasn’t ready for daycare. It was more that I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready to forfeit the luxury of knowing my daughter spends all day every day with somebody who cares deeply about her. Fortunately, my husband convinced me to give it another chance or two.
So the next day I dropped Birdy off with fear and trembling, reminding myself that I was only leaving her for a few hours. Even if she didn’t have close, personal attention for those hours, she would still have her little friend with her. This time the staff were far more attentive and although there were a few tears, overall she coped fairly well. The second week the goodbyes were far more traumatic as the teacher wrestled my thrashing, weeping child off me so I could get out the gate. However, I couldn’t leave her like that. I had to keep going back in and giving her more kisses and cuddles until she was ready to let me go.
Now, five weeks later, I’m so glad I stuck it out. I’ve seen Birdy growing in confidence and in her social skills. I’ve seen her joining in more with other children, showing more maturity and listening to instructions – all skills that will be useful for starting school. Last week, she was actually excited when we arrived, and when I picked her up she was having so much fun she didn’t want to leave.
I think I can safely say that Birdy has settled in at daycare. I actually feel quite proud of her for how well she’s coped. I’m sure it helped that she started at the same time as her little friend. So far, we’re still only doing one half-day a week. We’ll probably add another half-day when Mummy gets used to the idea.
Do you remember how you felt when your child started daycare or pre-school for the first time? Was it a big deal for you? How did your child cope? Do you think there is a ‘right’ age to start? Was there anything you did that helped your child to settle in? Or if your child didn’t settle well, how did you deal with that?
As the end of the year approaches, I’ve started to think about what I’m going to do with Birdy next year. She’s turning three in January so I was hoping she’d get offered a place in pre-school, but around here places in pre-school seem to be harder to find than a car park at Bondi. But I’ve noticed that as she gets older she’s looking for the company of other kids a lot more. In fact, she often puts on her little Wiggles backpack and tells me she’s ready for pre-school.
So far we haven’t needed to use any formal daycare. We’ve been using a nanny one morning a week, which has been perfect while she’s little. I liked the idea of Birdy having that one-on-one attention and forming a long-term relationship with her babysitter. It’s been so good for her to have another adult take an interest in her. A nanny also gives us great flexibility. There’s been a number of times when we’ve had a wedding to go to, or one of us has ended up in hospital and in those situations it’s been wonderful to have a babysitter that Birdy already knows. But the disadvantage of a nanny is that your kids aren’t making friends with other kids their own age. Not to mention it’s expensive, because there’s no rebate.
One of the things that irritates me about the Australian government’s childcare rebate system is that it totally favours institutional care, without there being any evidence (as far as I’m aware) that this is the best type of care for children and their parents. This encourages parents to place their kids into long daycare, rather than using a nanny or family member to care for their kids. It’s also an example of how the government doesn’t value women’s unpaid work. I think it’d be great if grandmothers and aunties who provide regular childcare while the child’s parents are working (like I do for my sister and she does for me) could have their contribution acknowledged through some form of government payment, rebate or tax deduction. Then many more grandparents and aunties would be enabled to look after their grandkids, nephews and nieces one or two days a week, as an alternative to part-time work. I say this because as our population ages, many of the nations’ grandparents are continuing in paid employment right into their 60s and 70s.
I don’t think any one type of childcare is better than another. Whatever you choose, every type of childcare has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s just a matter of working out what best suits your particular situation and each particular child. If you use family members for childcare, it’s wonderful for them to have that time together, but then you have to be prepared to make other arrangements when they get sick or go on holidays. If you use family daycare, then they’re in a home environment with one carer, but there may not be as much accountability because no other adult is present while the kids are there. On the other hand, if you go with a long-daycare centre, then your child will have access to lots of stimulating facilities and kids their own age, but they might not get quite as much personal attention. So there’s a lot to consider and we’re still weighing it all up. But if we got offered a place in pre-school next year then that would solve all my problems!
What kind of childcare do you use? Are you happy with the quality of care your kids receive? How have your children responded to it? What are the advantages and disadvantages of that type of care? What would you do differently if you could? Are the government rebates for childcare adequate in Australia?
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