Here's a guest editorial from reader and friend, Karen Marsh. Thanks Karen!
Have you ever discovered a new hobby or talent, perhaps spurred by a class you took? After you go to class for awhile, what seems to be the next step in developing your new area of interest in an optimal way? For me, I tend to turn toward the idea of a private instructor. I don't know that I've actually had a private instructor since the days when my parents paid one to take me through my scales on the piano, but that's not to say I haven't wanted one. And I definitely believe in the potential benefits of private instruction, above and beyond what a classroom can provide, when one really wants to master a skill. In fact, one of my interests is yoga, and one of the aspects of yoga in America that I have heard lamented by yoga instructors is the classroom approach. Apparently, if we were to "do it right," as was done in the days of old in India, the practice would be a much more private and personal journey, built out of a relationship between a student and a guru. Since a private yoga instructor around here can easily command a $75/hour fee, as compared to the $9 cost of a yoga class, there must be something that truly distinguishes the experience.
Well, what if your new hobby is "life"? You are a three-year-old child in need of mastering skills that will last you a lifetime -- sharing, being nice, eating good food, finding positive roads to happiness, etc. Which would you prefer... the private instructor or the classroom experience? This is something I've been thinking about lately. I know that I could learn more effectively from the private instructor (aka a parent). I think that those of us who are staying home with kids can look at the value added to our children's lives in those terms. If you dedicate yourself to the job of raising a child the way that a yoga instructor dedicates herself to a private session with a client, then the value of which you're giving your child can be, give or take, 8x that of what the child gets from a daycare classroom. This is not to say that every waking hour with your child has the qualities of an intense private session, but it does mean that your focus is there. Unlike a paid private instructor, your performance is not contained by a designated time period. More like a contractor on a retainer, you are standing ready to perform when a job presents itself (i.e. Bobby takes a truck from Jimmy and hits Jimmy over the head with it... time for a life lesson).
By contrast, a pre-schooler learning many life lessons in a classroom is learning not only from the teacher that is trying to guide 8-10 children through a day, but also from all of the other children in that room. Recently, I read this referred to as "horizontal socialization," whereas time with a parent is "vertical socialization." The article argued that vertical socialization gave a child a much more solid footing for life. I would have to agree that in the early years, this is the case. Would you rather have Jimmy learn his life lessons from Bobby or from a loving parent? We know the benefits and drawbacks of peers, and a child has from K-12 to experience that quite fully if you opt to send your child to school, as most of us will. The first four years of life are so fleeting. And what have you got to lose if you spend them with your child, except a little cash? Even if you're not the greatest private instructor, you're definitely the one your child would choose.