I have always been a staunch believer in no-school-before school, and yet I recently made the decision to move my son from the in-home daycare that I LOVED to a commercial daycare. Humble pie, anyone?
I used the same in-home daycare for over four years. It was the only childcare my older son (4) ever knew before he started preschool, which was perfect for him because he is a rowdy, gross-motor-loving, too-smart-for-his-own-good kiddo. I am a strong subscriber to the “too much school early on can be harmful” ideology, so I was sure the same would be true for my younger son (2).
But it wasn’t.
After my preschooler left the in-home daycare and started preschool, I noticed that my toddler was the oldest kid at daycare. He’s already a bit behind developmentally (he had a speech delay and gross motor delay) and, although he’s catching up more quickly than I could have ever hoped for, he really needs to be with kids his age or even a little older to make sure he is challenged to catch up on a regular basis.
On top of that, when we were dropping my preschooler off at school, I noticed that my toddler was FASCINATED with his classroom. The pictures. The crayons. The toys. The scissors (eek). My toddler, unlike my preschooler, lives to color, read, count, and identify letters. I started lamenting all of the things that my preschooler was getting on a daily basis that my toddler was not. And then it occurred to me that I could give him those things, but it would mean caving and doing exactly what I thought I’d never do: putting him in “school” before preschool at a commercial daycare.
I checked into many options, finally settling on a private daycare/preschool center just a half mile from my home and my older kids’ school. The more I looked into it, the more it made sense. I would actually save a little money on the weekly payments, I would save commute time, and the new center had fewer closures/better hours than the in-home. Even knowing all of the reasons it might make sense, I agonized over it. I loved our in-home provider–how clean and quiet her home was, how comfortable my son was with her, the naptime flexibility he had (especially on physical therapy days), the friendship I’d formed with her (we’d chat about Scandal and Walking Dead on the reg), and the fact that I knew she LOVED my son. I was worried he would be just another number at a commercial daycare, or even worse, viewed as the kid who took too long to walk down the hall or took extra time to put on his braces with his shoes. I interviewed several friends whose children had attended the commercial daycare. I interviewed the teachers there. I consulted my son’s physical therapist AND his speech therapist. I made a pro and con list. I talked about it until my best friend and husband both probably wanted to punch me in the face.
Finally, I made the decision to move him.
I dropped off the deposit at the school on the way to tell our in-home provider just so I couldn’t wimp out. It was ugly. She seemed devastated. I cried/questioned myself. I felt like I was going through a break up, which I realize sounds crazy, but is the best way I can describe the roller coaster of emotions. But, I’d made the call and had to see it through.
The first couple weeks at commercial daycare were a bit rocky, but I can honestly say now that I feel like I made the right choice. My son is excited to go and exclaims, “Friends!!!!” when we walk into his classroom. He delights in carrying his backpack and lunchbox. He goes outside several times a day to play on age-appropriate equipment, is surrounded by toddlers his age and older, and gets to do learning activities such as daily circle time and crafts. He already seems stronger and more outgoing from this exposure, and his teachers and classmates appear to adore him. My daily commute has reduced drastically, which gives us more family time in the evenings. We have already enjoyed the increased flexibility we have with fewer closures and longer hours–not that he’s in daycare any more than he was before, but we can decide what days to take off or leave early, rather than having those dictated to us by someone else’s schedule.
I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I miss the calm and lovely-scented living room, friendship and conversation, and the privilege of hearing any and all details I desired from my son’s day that I enjoyed with our in-home provider. I’m certain that his new teacher will never love and appreciate him the way that she did . . . but that’s okay. The things he is getting from commercial daycare outweigh the things we miss, although our in-home daycare provider will always have a special place in our hearts. So, for now, I will keep sending him to commercial daycare and eating my humble pie. I am not advocating that commercial daycare is right for all families or all kids–in fact, I still believe it was that in-home was the best place for my preschooler until he actually started preschool. I suppose this is just another lesson that all kids are different and you can never really know what will be best for your children until you’re in the thick of it.