Here’s what experts have to say on when to send your child to a playschool.
By Ankita A Talwar
With parenting, everyone has an opinion on everything you do, or for that matter don’t do and yet there are no perfect answers. A case in point-the right age to start your child on playschool. You’ve given two years of undivided, focused attention to your little one, literally dedicating all your hours to their upbringing and now when he or she is two years old, it seems the right age to send them to the friendly neighbourhood playschool. Or is it?
The amount of information out there is baffling-from experts to studies-each prompting us to take the plunge or warning us of the consequences, besides well-meaning advisors, siblings, neighbours or the gym trainer. And so here, we bring you insights from experts that include school heads and child psychologists. Together, they can help you decide whether your precious little one is ready physically, cognitively and emotionally for a more formal structure of learning.
A smart environment creates smart kids
Nandini Sen, chairperson, Our Montessori House chain of preschools, Gurgaon and administrator, Indian Montessori Training Centre opines, “Two years is considered a suitable age to send children to playschool. Children, by the time they’re one or one-and-a-half years old, have already gained exposure outside the home, interacting and meeting neighbours, relatives, etc. By the age of 2 years, they are ready to move ahead to a more stimulating environment.” She adds that since the growth of a child’s intellect happens the most between the ages of two to six years, parents should explore options where there is stimulus for healthy development. A patron of the Montessori Method of education, Sen insists that it is important for parents to look at schools where there is a “prepared environment” that lets the child use his hands, explore his senses, and move around as freely as possible since these are the most prominent developmental parameters for this age group.
Also, since children learn social skills by observation, being around their peer group and teachers help them pick on cues of communicating, absorbing information and thus learning faster. A research published in the Neuropscyhology Review, 2012, shows that 90 per cent of a child’s brain develops by the age of five years and, therefore, it might be worth it to put those grey cells into action in a structured way.
Dr Rajiv Chabbra, senior paediatrician, Gurgaon, also suggests that a good age for children is around “Two to two-and-a-half years of age is suitable for a mother-toddler group to start with and, depending on the child’s coping abilities, they can be moved to a more independent structure.” He recommends graduating gently from home to school as it helps with the moral and emotional development of the child.
“At the risk of sounding like a helicopter or neurotic parent, my daughter, Myrah, went through a three-month mother-toddler programme, then a year of two-hours of playschool, followed by a year of pre-nursery in a formal school before donning on a uniform for nursery. I felt the need to move her away from home step-by-step and it seems to have paid off. There have been no episodes of tantrums in my house about not going to school,” says Shivani Gupta, mother to now five-year-old Myrah.
“There really is no age to start off a child with playschool, though the common practice in India is of two or two-and-a-half years of age. The decision should rest with the parents, not just for the benefit of the child but for themselves as well. Do they feel the need for some time off from their parenting duties to focus on their careers or home chores? In that case, a playschool is a good option since it provides a safe, secure and stimulating environment for children,” says Dr Rachna Khanna Singh, HoD, Clinical Psychology, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon. She puts into perspective the fact that after two to three years of dedicated parenting, most parents start feeling the strain and the need for a break, with the child is away at school, is but natural. This time can be used by parents (especially the mother) to get back to work, or simply focus on herself-join a hobby class, bond over a cup of coffee with her spouse, or reconnect with friends.
Is your little one ready to take the leap?
Research and doctors’ opinions aside, parenting is also about trusting your own instinct. The pace at which the child is developing-picking up language, exploring their environment, showing curiosity, reaching out to other children-will also signal towards the child’s preparedness. Some of these include how well the child is able to communicate about basic needs-needing water, using the washroom, pain/discomfort, etc; how much physical stamina the child shows and if her engine can rumble on for two hours at a stretch without losing steam; and how far they can avoid infections. “I put Kiaan in playschool when he was two years. I wanted him to meet other kids and develop social and interactive skills. But he used to fall sick frequently. My paediatrician disagreed with my decision and so the second time around, with my daughter Kiara, I put off putting her in school till she was three years old,” says Priti Jai Prakash, a homemaker.
Mom is the North Star
Any criterion for taking a parenting decision is very individualistic and relies heavily on instincts. A playschool for a couple of hours is the best bet for starters. Toddlers are not meant to be away from parents for long periods of time. If and when they need refuelling-emotionally or physically-they must be able to reach a parent. The mother for a little one is the North Star-children orient their lives around her till they are ready to be on their own.