A month into his first year of pre-school, my son’s teacher called me.
“Mrs. Mazewski, your son has been crying for 45 minutes. We’ve tried everything we could to calm him down, but he’s still going. Do you have any suggestions?”
I knew that driving to his school to remedy the situation wouldn’t help (then he would expect me to be there during all of his classroom meltdowns), but I couldn’t bear the thought of him being upset without me there. With my heart in my stomach, I figured the waterfall of tears would eventually end and we could talk about what happened later that day at home.
An hour passed and I decided to call his school for an update. He was still in tears. Ugh.
Needless to say, the separation anxiety was breaking us both apart in the emotional department.
But over time, the tears thankfully minimized. As the weeks went by, his anxiety eased, and his school drop-off frowns became pick-up smiles. Just like most children, he cracked open his shell, made new friends and discovered a whole new world inside the four walls of his pre-school classroom. He learned to write his name, participated in science projects, and even became acquainted with the class pet, a rat named Tinkerbell.
During his graduation day last week, I couldn’t believe that I was looking at the same confident 5-year-old boy, his shoulders tall and his eyes gleaming with pride, that wouldn’t let go of my hand when I dropped him off at the playground last August.
Pre-school changed his life and although I didn’t know it at the time, it would change my outlook on education, too.
As parents, we tend to look at test scores and school accomplishments when evaluating our children’s success, but I’ve realized it’s more than just numbers. Sure, the United States has been lagging behind many countries when it comes to ranking our children’s knowledge of math and science with other developed nations in the world, but no one ever talks about the one advantage that we have over the rest of the world.
Unlike Norway, Finland and even Japan, our educators value the importance of early childhood education and how it is one of the smartest investments you can make for your child. Heck, it might even be more important that enrolling for college.
Many early childhood advocates such as First Lady Michelle Obama and Hollywood actress Jennifer Garner agree that getting a head start in the classroom can lead to “impressive academic, health and economic returns for children all across the country.”
In fact, President Obama himself has proposed a series of new investments that will establish “a continuum of high-quality early learning for a child — beginning at birth and continuing to age five.” Doing so will invest critical resources where we know the return on our dollar is the highest: in our youngest children.
For my son, I saw the benefits of his pre-school education as the weeks progressed during the course of the year: his social and emotional development helped provide a sense of security for him. Simple tasks that involved cooperative play and working with his peers helped strengthen his self-confidence and made him feel much more comfortable in social settings than he ever was before.
Now that the tears have dried (for him at least), we have his whole academic career to look forward to, beginning with kindergarten in August, all the way to hopefully his college graduation. Through his pre-school education, I learned that his exam scores are going to be important, but not the most important factor in his education. His ability to express himself, think independently and create ideas will all help shape who he is later in life.
You wouldn’t think that finger-plays and circle time would have such a huge impact on who he is as an adult, but just ask any college graduate what their fondest school memories were, and there’s a good chance they’ll recall the time they learned how to tie their shoes and make friends on their pre-school playground.
Let’s face it, that’s where our children in this country excel at the most. For that I am forever grateful to not only his pre-school, but all of the teachers, past, present and future.
His first year in a classroom setting helped develop his personality as I watched him grow from a baby to a boy, and one day down the road to a handsome, bright young man.
You can pass those tissues now.More On