Is it really necessary to take an entire week off of school in order to share with parents whether or not their child has mastered finger painting? I have nothing against parent/teacher conferences, obviously they are an important part of the educational process. But when we are talking about kids who have only been out of diapers for a year, it might be a bit much.
Last week, I met with my daughter's preschool teacher to go over her development. It did not go exactly as I had planned.
Socially, I thought they would tell me that my daughter is a happy, outgoing child that is normally a pleasure to be around. Academically, I thought they would tell me she had some work to do...and this I took full responsibility for. Let me explain...
When my son was little, I would spend hours with him in the bath going over letters, making all the sounds, and teaching him to spell. We would do flashcards, listen to kid’s songs, and read a hundred books a day. My son started each day out with Sesame Street and ended each day by reviewing the countries on the life size World Map we had tacked to his wall.
By the time my daughter came along, I had lost my steam. During bath time, instead of reviewing the alphabet, my main objective was to keep my two kids from drowning one another. My second goal was to keep them from splashing water outside the tub and causing the already moldy grout to get even more black and disgusting. Instead of reviewing flashcards, I somehow found myself spending the afternoons with her shopping or going through my closet. As I pulled out clothes, she would tell me if she thought I should keep, donate, or throw each item away. Based on the fact that my ‘throw’ pile was always the biggest, I knew that although she didn’t know her shapes, she had the fashion sense I had always desired.
Instead of listening to kids music like “Wheels on the Bus”, she and I spent most our time perfecting dance moves to songs like “Get on the Floor” by JLO and Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind”. I have always thought that knowing how to break it down in the dance circle at your first middle school dance was way more important than math or reading, and because of this, I was prepared for the fact that academically we probably had some work to do.
So you can imagine my surprise when the teacher told me that in terms of academic progress, she was doing very well.
Me: “How can you tell?”
Teacher: “Well, she knows her letters and was able to identify the color grey.”
Me: “Knowing the color grey makes her smart?”
Teacher: “Yes, at this early stage in development, most kids can’t identify the color grey.”
If only I had known it could be that simple! In one quick color recognition exercise, she went from community college attendee to Ivy League hopeful. Things were looking up. Next, the teacher pulled out two pieces of paper from a folder and placed them next to one another on the table.
Teacher: “The drawing on the right is from September. The drawing on the left is from January. As you can see, she has shown a lot of improvement over the past 5 months.”
Me: “Really? They both look like scribble to me.”
Teacher: “Yes, but see how much better her scribble is in January?”
Okay, I didn't see it but I was still proud. She was a good scribbler, she knew the color grey, and she hadn’t had to use her extra pair of underwear. Maybe these conferences were great. For a quick moment I thought maybe I should write a parenting book and share my child rearing secrets with others.
But then, everything changed.
All of a sudden, the mood at the little table with the little chairs changed. The teacher and the two aides looked at each other and nodded. They closed her glitter and glue folder and looked at me with concern in their eyes.
Teacher: “Although academically she is doing well, we do have some concerns.”
Me: “What do you mean?”
Teacher: “It seems as if she has fallen into the ‘wrong crowd’.
Me: (visibly confused) “She’s three. What do you mean ‘wrong crowd’?”
Teacher: “Your daughter used to be a very sweet girl. Not anymore. Unfortunately, her behavior has gotten worse and she is hanging out with a group of kids that are getting in a lot of trouble. They are pretty exclusive and don’t really include anyone else in their group.”
Me: “Wow, that doesn’t sound good.”
Teacher: “And another concern is that she spends almost all of her free time playing “husband and wife” with one of the boys in class. We feel it is not age appropriate”
Me: “What in the world could possibly be fun about playing Husband and Wife?”
The teacher nodded and agreed with me…she had been married for twenty-five years.
Teacher: “We suggest you help her change her social life and encourage her to make some new friends. Here is a list of nice girls and their mothers that you may want to start scheduling play dates with.”
I didn’t like what I was hearing and I didn’t like that they were telling me this while I was sitting in a small chair at a tiny round table that smelled like a mixture of glue sticks and rotten milk. I wanted to understand…Was she in a preschool gang? Did they find her sniffing finger paints in the bathroom? When they played 'husband and wife' did that mean they ignored each other the entire time or that they glared at each other while arguing about money problems and household chores?
I understood this was their job, but I feared we were getting ahead of ourselves. Of course I didn’t want my three-year old to be mean or hanging out with the wrong crowd. And I certainly didn’t want her playing husband/wife all day. But ‘falling into the wrong crowd’ was a bit premature. Her friends at school were the first friends she had ever made, how could she have picked so wrong, so soon?
I wanted to take all of this seriously, but I was struggling with what this information meant. Maybe she was just a kid that liked to do her own thing or possibly the 'nice' girls bored her to tears. All I knew is that it was a little early for us to be making a reservation at a Christian boarding school or grounding her for the weekend. I felt like we were doing okay. But my husband on the otherhand took it a little bit harder.
When he heard the news about her choice in friends, he was very upset. He immediately thought his dream of having the perfect daughter was shattered. He kept saying, "I always hated the girls that were in the "bad' crowd...what a waste!" I gently reminded him that all they were doing was coloring together and sometimes sharing paint, but still he wasn't happy. His idea that his daughter would be the classy girl who follows the rules, plays a division I sport in college and marries a nice guy was replaced with visions of motorcycle riding and marijuana problems.
As we discussed the situation over wine that night, we decided that for now we aren't going to be too worried. But we did go ahead and schedule some play dates with few ‘nice’ girls in her class. We had one little girl over earlier this week. They dressed up like princesses, had a snack, and then ignored each other the rest of the time. It wasn't perfect, but at least it was a start.
In the end, I still think conferences at this age are a bit much. Instead of taking the week off from school, I would rather have the teacher just drop a note in my kid's lunchbox that says something like, “good news is her colors and numbers are great, bad news is she thinks it is fun to play ‘husband and wife’ with a trouble maker, may want to get on that asap!”
But who knows, maybe they are important. Next year at her four-year old conference, they might tell me she knows the color Fuchsia. Can you say “genius”?