When my son was about two and a half, I started wondering whether he’d be ready for preschool the next year, or whether we should wait until he was four. He was my first, and I didn’t really know what signs to look for. He seemed like a bright, happy, and even social kid, but he’d never been in any kind of classroom before, and even the few play groups we’d attended were informal gatherings in someone’s house. Would he be able to follow a teacher’s instructions and get along with other kids for hours? Then, of course, there was the flip side: was I ready to let him go yet?
So I decided to do something I called “preschool lite.” Actually, when I told my son where he would soon be going, I called it “play school.”
A local church near our house sponsored what they called “Mothers’ Morning Out.” Anyone with a small child could sign up and leave their little one for a few hours one morning each week. So I signed my son up, and crossed my fingers.
Luckily, I had nothing to worry about. The rooms were divided by age, so my son was in the two-year-olds' room, presided over by a grandmotherly type who clearly delighted in spending at least one of her mornings every week in the presence of toddlers. There was lots of singing and playing and snacks and naps. My son loved it.
Maybe not so surprisingly, so did I. Now I had one morning a week that was mine alone. I could sit in a coffee shop with a great book or a stack of magazines and read until I picked him up. Or get a pedi. Or attend an exercise class with friends. The possibility for a stretch of three free hours seemed endless.
My son attended “play school” for several months. Then, when he turned three in the spring, I thought he would be ready for “real” preschool the following fall.
Once again, I had nothing to worry about. I had signed him up for half days, and when I went to pick him up that first day at lunchtime, he was jumping up and down with excitement, bursting to tell me about his new friends, his teacher, and what they did all day. In fact, it was only a matter of days before he was begging me to let him stay for the full day so he didn’t have to leave in the middle of all the fun. And even though I missed my son’s sweet company during the day, I loved all the time I now had for my work and my friends and my house. And I was especially proud of how happy my little boy was to set off on his own each day for his own routine, his new friends, and the big, wide world that he couldn't wait to learn everything about.
Beth Weinhouse is an award-winning journalist who specializes in writing about parenting issues and women's health. She's been an editor at Ladies' Home Journal and Parenting magazines, and her work has appeared in dozens of consumer magazines and websites.
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