Rumi turned two in April and she does not go to a preschool or daycare as yet. A perfectly normal fact, right? Except that it does not seem perfectly natural and normal because I don’t know any other two year old who does not go to either a preschool or daycare or activity center of some sort! It is surprising me even as I write this and I’m trying to count off all the parents of toddlers that I know…but nope, none of the other toddlers I know spend all their time at home!
People started asking us about this six months back. All of them tell us that it is a wonderful experience for children to be with other children. My neighbor talks of how her daughter has become more social ever since she started summer camp. A cousin tells me that her child’s eating habits have improved due to shared meals with other children. Preschools are now state-of-the-art and it is possible to track your child’s move on a Smartphone, thus eliminating the safety concern. Then, what is it that is actually keeping us from sending Rumi off, for at least two hours a day? Only the unwavering faith and belief that she reaps the most benefits and learning from unstructured play and from time spent with her parents.
I don’t really buy into the whole “Mula social hotat” argument (It helps kids with their social skills). In a country like India, it is impossible to escape social contact on a day-to-day basis. The bell rings, and it’s the maid, the guy who collects the trash, the milkman, the neighbor who gives us pulao in a bowl, the watchman ….the list never ends. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, drop by on a regular basis. We are enmeshed in a net of social contacts and that is the beauty of living here, something we miss terribly whenever we are abroad.
I also believe that Rumi learns the most and the best from us and the people closest to her, who she shares a comfortable and loving bond with. Without a structured effort of any kind, she knows the letters of the alphabet and numbers and colors and shapes, from her playing blocks and toys and books. I don’t fret about these learning milestones at all and I think there is plenty of time for her later to get into the rigidity and discipline of 45 minutes per subject.
The second thing that most parents talk about is how their child gets bored at home. With a little effort and pre-planning, it is possible to create fun activities with materials that are available at home. Trish Kuffner’s “The Toddler’s Busy Book” is a great source of 365 things you can do with your toddler. Even with a line-up of fun activities, there are times that your child will be bored and clingy but that’s fine. Getting bored is a good way for your kid to stretch their creativity, by trying to figure out what they can do next.
Another point, and a very valid one that parents make is the time they get away from their child. Whether you are a SAHP or a working parent, there is a lot of work that gets done in the two or three hours that the child is away at school. This kind of time-pocket is invaluable for parents working from home or double-income parents or those who do not have a support system in the form of grandparents or other caretakers who can spend time with the child on a regular basis. Every family and parent is different. We all do the best that we can within the means that are available to us and do not need to take on additional guilt about the number of hours we spend with our children. Quality above quantity, every time. But the time that you spend with your child is truly invaluable and irreplaceable. And nobody can replace YOU and what you can offer.
Rumi’s only two and I already feel like time is running out! It seems like only yesterday that she was breastfeeding and in her tiny onesies. Very soon she’ll stop sucking her thumb, she’ll be out of her diapers. She’ll stop needing me around all the time and prefer to play on her own or read without my help. Time flies by so fast! So, in spite of all the frustration that it sometimes brings, I am holding on to this time with her for as long as I can.