There is a lot of research that says it's not always right to go with your gut instincts. For instance, my 2-year-old is suddenly into painting and coloring. He runs into my office and proudly says, "Look Mommy!" and holds up a picture of 8 squiggly circles. My gut instinct is to say, "Wow Luke, that's awesome!" because I see the smile light up his entire face with praise. Instead, I say, "Look at all those colors you used!" or "Did you do that all by yourself? It looks like you worked really hard on it!" Why? Because I've read all the research about the pitfalls of "good job praise," and try to avoid it whenever I can. I've been practicing the "specific praise" for years. It still feels unnatural. And you can tell they just want you to say, "It's Beautiful!"
So as parents, our gut instincts are not always right, even when they feel right.
But when it was time to decide where my daughter should go to Kindergarten, I had no choice but to use my gut instincts (which apparently isn't some mysterious inner source, but a form of unconscious reasoning—one that's rooted in the way our brains collect and store information).
When our oldest daughter, Sydney, was three, she started preschool at a private Montessori in our neighborhood. The school is for 3, 4 and 5-year-olds, and ideally, children stay for three years, including Kindergarten. That last year is very important for leadership development, because the five-year-olds are setting the example for the classroom and helping teachers with the younger children.
Montessori is all about independent work and learning through repetition. The teacher presents a lesson once, and the child returns to that work over and over until she's mastered it. That's all great, until you have a child who doesn't want to return to something she's already done. She only wants more and more lessons on the new things. Sydney would drive her teacher crazy over lesson requests, even when she'd already had a new lesson, or even two, that day (keep in mind there is lead teacher giving lessons to 30 children in a class!).
Sydney learned so much in her two years at Montessori, probably even more than we can see at this point, but my fear was that she'd spend another year avoiding work she was already familiar with and never learn how to master anything. I thought the competition and camaraderie of our public elementary school, which everyone in the neighborhood rants and raves over, would suit her personality much better. She'd make friends who were reading at a higher level and want to read more. She'd run harder because there were other kids who were faster. I'm sure there's research that says fostering competition is bad too, but I'll worry about that another day.
When I asked Sydney where she wanted to go for Kindergarten, and briefly explained her two choices, she chose the new school. Which I thought was interesting and a little surprising, since she didn't know much about it and would be leaving the friends she'd made over the last two years. But that was the final kicker for me. She was ready for a new adventure, and this is our I'd rather stay home than go to the park or the pool kid. The child who rarely wants to do anything new. So we decided she'd head to the public school for Kindergarten.
How'd that decision turn out? Nearly every day this past year, Sydney replied to my inquiry about her day with, "It was the best day ever." She went to the doctor with an ear infection and the first question she asked him was if she could still go to school the next day. She had never loved school this much before. The environment ended up being perfect for her. And I hope she will stay this enamored with school in the years to come.
Now Sabrina, our three-year-old, just finished her first year at Montessori. Unlike Sydney, she loves perfecting a lesson and teaching others. It's very likely she'll stay for all three years and learn even more from a classroom and leadership perspective than she could from public Kindergarten.
At the end of next school year, I'll have to go with my gut again, and hope that I've made the right choice...