This post was originally published in 2008, but is still relevant for many parents. Sadly two readers who commented here, Helene and RivkA, passed away within the last few years.
It’s bound to happen at one time or another when you are out with your toddler. Your neighbor asks you the question you were wondering yourself earlier that day, as you tried to talk on the phone while your son climbed the bookcase: “Isn’t he bored at home with you all day? How old is he again? [Insert any age here.] Shouldn’t he be in a misgeret?”
In honor of my 4-year-old starting gan in a few weeks (we did have an informal two-child playgroup, technically a misgeret I suppose), I share my answers to the suppositions of nosy and rude advice-givers. They don’t deserve a reply. But at times we must address concerns of family members, or, more likely, we ourselves need the reassurance.
- “The child needs to get used to being in gan for half the day.” Or, “She will be behind academically.” When I mentioned to one mother that our three-year-olds would be in gan together the following year, she asked how I could send her when she hadn’t been in gan at age two. According to this theory, children need a year in a misgeret to prepare for the next misgeret.
- [This one is for late talkers.] “Gan will help him learn to talk.” I don’t believe this is true. Children in gan generally spend little time talking one-on-one to an adult. And the less the child communicates through speech, the less verbal attention he is likely to get from teachers. Children develop speaking skills at vastly different ages and unless you have reason to suspect a problem, it’s safe to let them develop at their own pace. Gan will not make a huge difference either way.
- [For olim] “The child needs to learn Hebrew.” Gan-aged, immigrant children still have plenty of time to become fully bilingual. But language is a balance. If your child spends most of her day in a Hebrew-speaking environment, her English vocabulary will be smaller. And vice versa. You can teach him Hebrew yourself, or make playdates with Hebrew-speaking children, to ease the transition. But immigrants to all countries have survived the experience; emotional maturity is more important than language. [My daughter is concerned about this despite more than adequate Hebrew skills.]
- “He needs to play with children his own age.” I question this assumption. The younger the child, the less equipped to compete with others for the attention of adults. Since making aliyah the age of starting group care has lowered, while time spent in care increased. Children learn social skills mainly from their parents, and they can play with other children while parents are present. If all neighborhood children are in gan, they can meet in the afternoon or on weekends. They don’t need thirty hours a week away from parents to learn cooperative play. Unfortunately, preschool for fewer hours is unheard of in Israel. (Let me qualify that–I heard of a gan run by the city of Tel Aviv where you can leave a child on a drop-off basis.)
- “Immigrant children need to develop a tough, Israeli exterior.” (I mentioned this here.) Okay, but at what cost? I read of a doctoral student who spent months observing three-year-olds in an Israeli gan. She reported of a complex social structure that included children bringing treats to appease bullies. The children’s teachers remained unaware. When put into such an environment children may learn healthy ways of defending themselves. Others become aggressive, or conversely, withdrawn.
- “Aren’t you bored?” Mothers are supposed to be doing adult activities, not playing games all day with their children. (See my next point.)
- “Do you sit with her?” I get this all the time; they are asking whether I use worksheets or teach letters and numbers. (I visited a highly-recommended gan where three-year-olds did worksheets each day.) The short answer is no; I enjoy a loose daily structure. We read, play, color, go to the park, run errands, do chores, and meet other mothers and children. The children who are interested pick up letters, numbers and even reading. They play by themselves a good deal of the time while I do “adult” things. In turn, I expect frequent interruptions.
- “Your child is too shy/aggressive/wild/attached to you/disobedient/spoiled/slow/bossy. It’s because you don’t send him to gan.” Children develop differently and have personality challenges, even the ones who attend gan. Who doesn’t? But if you keep your child home, you will be blamed for those issues.
Over a million American children are being homeschooled for elementary or high school. Surely that puts keeping a two-, three-, or four-year-old at home for another year in perspective.
(I wish I didn’t need to add this caveat: I am not trying to convince parents to keep their kids out of gan, or quit their jobs. I do wish to support parents struggling with this issue.)
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