Anyone of you with more than one kid will almost certainly agree with me on this: they may have come from the same DNA, spent nine months each in the same stretch-marked belly, and eaten the same goldfish crackers (with differing lengths of the “5-second rule” following a drop), but no two kids are alike.
My kids are no exception. There’s Ellary: my planner, rigid schedule-follower, constant reader, big emotion-feeler. Then there’s Emerson: my constantly silly, only physically still when sleeping, fly by the seat of her pants, mover and shaker.
Added to their fundamental personality differences is the different ways they’ve grown up (so far). I was still working in an office as a lawyer until Ellary was in first grade. She went to a “big box” daycare/preschool with long hours. I started staying/working from home when Emerson was almost 15 months old. She’s a COVID kid so she didn’t get out much from about that age (I started as a stay at home mom in mid-December 2019 and the world shut down, of course, just three months later) until she was about 2 ½ and she started a very part time preschool program.
Besides their very different personalities and very different daycare experiences, I have found myself parenting them very differently; especially when it comes to “hard skills.”
When Ellary was little, we knew we had a smart cookie on our hands. She hit all her milestones at normal times but there was something about her wide-eye intake of the world, her ability to grasp ideas and concepts, and her amazing memory for details (including reciting books she had memorized before she was even two) that really sold us on her being “gifted.”
Enter my version of Tiger Mom: Smart Kid edition.
I was determined to make sure my smart kid had everything she needed to be her brilliant self. Wipe-off books to practice pre-writing skills, flashcards for everything from letters to animals, beginning reader books before she even hit Pre-K. This kid was going to be reading before Kindergarten, I just knew it.
I was THAT parent.
So there I would be during our precious time together flipping through cards (“A is for aardvark”…) and putting her tiny hand in a vice grip to help her hold a dry erase marker “properly.” We’d sit and read together, pulling out the Level 0 or 1 books I had purchased somewhat obsessively, trying together to learn the concept of “reading” when all she knew, very age appropriately, was which letters were which. The English language just ain’t that simple, of course, and my efforts were in vain. She didn’t get it, and I didn’t get how to teach it.
Did my kid learn to read before Kindergarten? Nope. Did she do anything “early” given all my efforts to encourage her genius? Nope.
Did she learn to read? Of course. Her wonderful Kindergarten teacher got her there. Did she learn how to use scissors and write her name and color in the lines and and and?? Of course, and it wasn’t because of me.
Enter little sister during Fall Break of Ellary’s Kindergarten year. Emerson, our little squishy last baby.
Emerson is now 3 ½ and at the age where my (embarrassing) full-court press on Ellary began. Fortunately for her, I’m a much different mom than I was before and I am approaching her preschooler-hood much differently, too.
Two things really jarred me into reality. First, my good friend and colleague, a former special education teacher-turned lawyer, lamented to me how much pressure schools put on kids beginning as early as Kindergarten when she said very authoritatively, “it’s still developmentally appropriate for them to be eating dirt.” Second, I happened across a meme showing the difference in X-rays between the hands of a preschooler and an elementary school student. The difference was astounding – many of the preschooler’s bones looked like they were still sort of floating around in a mush of a hand. The point? Little kids’ hands aren’t even physically ready to hold a pencil and use it well before they hit elementary school.
Armed with fresh perspective and a view towards cherishing every minute of my last baby being a baby, I have decided to ditch the flashcards and leave our days open for play. Play is the work of childhood – a lot of smarter-than-me people have said that and I’m going to take their guidance on this.
Emerson is just as bright as Ellary was at this age but I push nothing. I force nothing. I require nothing of her. Instead, I try to invite her. We have provided her with as many open-ended toys and activities as possible. Some of our favorites are rainbow counting bears, magnet-tiles, figurines from her favorite Disney movies, and sensory items like play-doh and kinetic sand. She gets to call the shots with how she uses them and what little games she develops. Sometimes she just wants to wash the (kid-safe) dishes in the sink and I’d just like to see you try to get her off a swing once she gets started. We add in fixed activities from Instagram mommies like Susie Allison (the genius known as “Busy Toddler”) only when we need to spice things up in our routine.
The difference in this second mothering experience is huge. Emerson is a less stressed-out kid. I’m a less stressed-out mom. We work on the skills of joy, imagination, exploration, and kindness. We throw in colors, shapes, and letters in fun ways for good measure.
Will she read before kindergarten? I don’t know. I don’t really care. She’ll get there when she gets there. And that’s the way it should be.
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