The very first days we dropped off my three-year-old daughter, Violet, at the YMCA, kissed her head of curls goodbye, and disappeared around the corner to leave her in the company of complete and utter strangers, well, didn't exactly seem like we were doing 'the right thing', if you know what I mean.
You take your most precious cargo and deposit them at what seems like a warehouse loading dock stacked high with pallet loads of screaming, snot-nosed toddlers and then just pull your rig away in the early morning hours as if it's all business and the first thought that crosses your mind is: "I suck as a Mom/Dad."
But, I'm here to tell you that you don't.
I'm not going to lie to you, I cried a little when we left Violet in the care of her new 'teachers' that first morning a year and half ago. And for a few weeks thereafter, there were days when my daughter would cry her eyes out at the door as her mom or me drifted away from the classroom for the next five hours or so. It was painful and trying and confusing and more than once I almost went back to fetch her in a whoosh of rescue that seemed so possible in the moment but, in retrospect, would have been the worst I could have possibly made.
See, not long after we began to drop Violet at the Y along with a bunch of other kids her age, I began to notice some things I can only describe as magnificent...
Kids don't really start to make friends per se until they begin to outgrow their baby ways and move into that toddler phase where they like to push trucks through the mud or play castle on the carpet. Those activities, they soon find out, are more fun with other kids and thus they begin to seek out a few 'partners-in-crime' to tackle their imagination with.
In my case, when my daughter turned three and began to show signs of wanting to do some serious playing, she only had her younger brother, Henry, who was still just a one-year-old lump of no fun to pair with.
But then came her first days at preschool. And oh what a difference. Almost immediately, when I began to go to pick her up in the afternoons, I noticed that Violet was always in the middle of some serious coloring session with another little guy or girl, or she was running around the gym chasing three or four other kids and laughing her head off.
In short, she was making friends... lots of them.That resulted in the little girl she is today, a very well-adjusted kiddo who loves to waltz right up to strangers her age in the park and say, "Hi there! I'm Violet, wanna play with me?" Some kids look shocked at first when she approaches them; probably not preschool material yet, I tell myself.
Yet, they always end up laughing and carrying on together. And I'm so proud of that.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that allowing Violet to enter into a world where she was on her own to communicate with her teachers and with other children rapidly excelled her ability to speak.
Not long after we began to take her to our local YMCA preschool program, my daughter started stringing sentences together that had my jaw on the floor. I couldn't believe it! This was the same tiny mind that I had been watching slowly wrap around the very idea of talking and language for the last three years, all of the sudden exploding in a bluster of excited paragraphs about stuff I could understand ( and a few things I could not).
No lie, people. Within a few months of starting preschool my daughter was able to really her speak her mind really clearly. Plus she began to really utilize her new found superpowers in incredible ways that blew my mind on a regular basis: talking her way through her favorite books (not reading just yet, but really really trying to!), speaking eloquently to her little brother (who has benefited greatly in the language department because of her), and best of all, sitting on my bed in the evening and being able to tell her daddy about her day.
Preschool helped Violet express herself at a fairly young age and I think that is so awesome.
On the surface, it might seem a bit premature to try and instill a sense of responsibility into a three or four year-old kid, huh? Believe me, I agree for the most part. I'm not one of those Tiger Dads or anything (can dads even be 'Tiger,' by the way?), pushing or forcing my kids into advancements they just aren't interested in or ready for.
After all, let kids be kids, I say. Life will chase them all down eventually and the weights we carry upon our shoulders as adults and parents will be passed on to them soon enough.
But still, it came as a very pleasant surprise to me when I began to notice that Violet was showing signs of responsibility after a few months of attending preschool.
She would remind me to grab her backpack off of the rack when I was picking her up.
She would repeat to me the little mantras that her mom and I had tried to remind her of on a daily basis: "We hug our friends...we don't bite them!" (Hey, you have to let them know when they're young, right?!)
And she'll even often stop in the middle of the hallway on our way out of school, run back into her classroom where a lot of the all-day kids are still hanging out, and give hugs to a half-dozen or so of them as if it was one last very important duty she had almost forgotten to perform!
At that moment, standing between the arts and crafts projects hanging off the bulletin boards and watching these kids wrap their arms around my little girl in a show of the sweetest solidarity I think I have ever seen, I know, without question, that preschool has made our lives better than Violet or me could have ever imagined.