Ask my three-year-old son to show you downward dog, and he will, with enviably flexibility, get the pose exactly right. He can also show you some zumba moves, differentiate between a ukulele and a guitar, and recognise greetings in Japanese.
He’s not a genius. He’s just a good listener and – like all three-year-olds – he’s inquisitive and got a memory which doesn’t let him down.
At his former nursery (he left two weeks ago), this natural inquisitiveness was fed with a range of classes. There were Spanish and Japanese lessons. There was yoga and zumba and music and art and sport. The timetable was full.
Milin loved his nursery, and I did too. I didn’t particularly care if he could recognise Van Gogh’s sunflowers or count to ten in Japanese, but I liked that he had fun, came home happy, and seemed stimulated and entertained while he was there three mornings a week.
I initially had a vague sense of unease about the need for ‘lessons’, but trusted these were all done in a relaxed fashion and with an emphasis on fun. Plus, as my husband pointed out, when you’re paying £600 a month to the nursery for three mornings a week, they’re going to have to show you that you’re getting more for your money than shop-bought play doh.
A couple of weeks ago though, Milin finished up at his beloved nursery and we moved him to the state nursery down the road.
The decision was based purely on economics. At the state nursery, Milin’s hours are almost free. Because he qualifies for 15 hours of state-funded nursery, we now pay only £6 a week. We used to pay over £600 a month.
At Milin’s new state nursery, there’s no timetable. The children don’t line-up and toddle off in neat rows to Zumba. They don’t go up to the science room or music studio. They spend their time either inside one big room or outside it – it’s their choice. Inside, there are numerous stations set up which cover all curriculum areas. There’s painting, cars, building blocks, books, a water tray, sand tables etc. Outside, there’s a sand pit, climbing equipment, a mud kitchen, a playhouse, etc. They go wherever they want and play with whatever they want, when they want.
Milin, as far as I can tell, spends every session outside. He come home with a beach in his clothes because he appears to live in the sandpit. Every day. For hours. He loves it. He has settled in quickly and he is happy.
Yet last week, after a few days of Milin apparently spending every morning in the sandpit, I started to wonder whether I’d done the right thing. By moving nurseries, had I somehow stopped Milin from accessing the teachers, lessons and materials that he was learning so much from? By taking Milin out of his old nursery, was I doing him a disservice and preventing him from the opportunities which had seen him thrive?
I talked to my husband about this, and, I think I’ve resolved my feelings.
Milin is three years old. He has an entire lifetime ahead of him in which to live by a timetable. He has at least 15 years ahead of him of sitting in a classroom and following a curriculum.
When I really watch my son, I see that his natural inquisitiveness is sparked by the smallest thing. He doesn’t need a lesson in art history to notice colours and shapes and the scent of flowers. He doesn’t need a music studio to hear the different notes produced by banging a spoon on different saucepans.
Milin is three years old. What do I want for him? I want him to spend as much time as he possibly can having fun. I want him to know what it’s like to laugh and play and enjoy being silly, without doing it within the confines of a schedule or ticksheet.
Milin is three years old. I want his mind to wander, I want his hands to feel how light dry sand is and watch it run through his fingers in a way that a liquid or gas wouldn’t. I want him not to know why it does that, but to notice it, and then to move on to the next game. I want him to make friends because they like running together after a ball, not because they must sit still next to each other. I want him to be a child.
I don’t think either nursery is necessarily better than the other. Milin loved his first nursery, he loves his second. But I’ve made peace with the fact that he’s not going to come home and talk to me in Spanish. It doesn’t mean he won’t do well at school one day. It doesn’t mean he’s missing out. It just means he’s busy doing something else. He’s busy playing. He’s busy being three.