I have come to a realization this week. Education, being educated, is important. Liking school, having a strong desire to be there, is not important. Surprised? Strange coming from an educator? Let me explain.
How many times have your heard your kids say, “I don’t want to go to school” or “I do not like school”? I’ll be honest, before O started preschool, I don’t think I heard this phrase uttered in my house, at least not often.
My girls have always loved school. Although, we did go through periods of tears and clinging during their preschool years, I have generally had no problems getting them motivated or interested in school. They just are. That being said, it has been very easy for me to tell when my girls are really sick or are experiencing problems at school, as this is the only time they protest going.
This is not the case with O. He will tell me numerous times a day that he doesn’t like school. He also asks me, at least once a day, “What’s tomorrow?” Meaning, “Where am I going tomorrow?” He knows he goes to school three days each week and he knows which days those are, but he continues to ask.
As annoying as it is to hear the same questions daily, I love that he is expressing himself using words, now. I remember when he was between one and two-years old…we really started to notice self-injurious behaviors. O would bang his head, not on soft surfaces, but on the hardwood floor. I just remember being so scared, thinking, this is not a good thing. Once we got into speech therapy and gave him some communication skills, the head banging decreased. Eventually, we were able to eliminate the behavior.
Now, at nearly four and a half, he has such an extensive vocabulary and his communication skills are so much more developed. His ability to recognize what is bothering him and communicate that to us has improved so much and has helped us to meet his needs. I am looking forward to the continued blossoming of his communication, because I know that it will enable him to express his difficulties and even request things his body needs.
Now, do I really think O dislikes everything about school? No. I know that there are many things that he has fun doing at school. I know that he loves academics, learning about numbers and letters. I know he has grown so much since being in preschool, learning how to play with others, and learning what it means to be a friend. He is always talking about his friends and their interests. He excitedly tells me about story time and explains the games the class plays together. And, when I ask him, “Did you like the story?” or “Did you have fun playing that game?” he will most often say, “Yes.”
Now, for my revelation. The other day, O says to me, “School is just too much!” That’s when it hit me. (Insert tears here, because this is where they came for me.) There are so many more things that he has to deal with, to process, than the rest of us. Thinking about school for him, is not just knowing the schedule, which he can rattle off in detail to me, including all those things that he likes. It’s whether there’s going to be new friends, if the lights are going to be too bright, if there is going to be a noise that he doesn’t like, if he has to try something new, or if he’s going to have to sit next to someone who smells like peanut butter (which he has a strong aversion to, by the way). It’s all those things, and more.
Even being in an environment that he is familiar with, he is expressing that it’s too much. It was that moment that spoke to me…my little boy may never love school in the same way that his sisters do. It may always be “too much” for him. I’m not trying to be a defeatist, just a realist. Can he cope? Will he go? Can he love the things that happen there? The answer is, yes.
But, it will not be an unconditional love. When he’s tired or stressed or when he starts thinking about all the things he has to do or try at school, it just feels like too much. It’s at those times that it’s my job to help him focus on the things about school that he does enjoy and figure out a way to help him cope, to tolerate those other things that he doesn’t like or is nervous about. I have some tools to do that, now. But, O doesn’t have to love school. It’s okay if he doesn’t.