While most of the reaction to the news of an “adult preschool” opening in Park Slope, Brooklyn has been met with ridicule mixed with political angst about the decline of our society, I found the entire notion charming—not to mention smart business. We’re living in a time when many of us, no matter what our jobs or home life are like, feel increasingly pulled in many directions. According to Fast Company, Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, found herself, prior to writing her book, unable to sleep because she was so worried about forgetting something, or because of panic attacks.
I can relate; I woke up this morning at 5 a.m. and had trouble deciding whether to go back to sleep for an hour or fully committing to getting up and starting my day. I wound up splitting the difference, lying in my hotel bed with the lights on, thinking about my impending deadlines but not actually opening my laptop. This left me grouchy and behind on my tasks, which feels like a semi-permanent state for me. Hence, I can’t begrudge anyone doing whatever works for them, as long as it’s not hurting anyone, to make their way in the world as a fully functioning adult. As a workaholic who has trouble separating from my iPhone for longer than half an hour, I certainly wish sometimes I could pretend to be 3 than actually be 39, which is exactly the sentiment Preschool Mastermind founder Michelle Joni is tapping into.
It’s easy, but lazy, to make fun of those taking part in such exuberantly kid-like activities such as finger painting, musical chairs, show-and-tell and a slumber party, but it’s more challenging to ask ourselves why we want to mock others for indulging their inner children. Is it because, maybe, just maybe, they’re doing so with self-awareness but sans the irony we think they should have about it? The Wall Street Journal summarizes the school as “largely about escapism.” Isn’t that the exact same thing fueling pricey vacations or spa treatments or whatever your mode of checking out of the hard work of being an adult is when you need a break? To conclude that we should all love the daily grind of paying bills, getting up early, taking our vitamins and generally being responsible every minute of the day is insulting, not to mention unrealistic.
Plus, escapism is, in this case, especially, about a temporary escape. These adults aren’t moving to a 24/7 pre-school, but rather, paying their own grownup hard-earned money to feel like a kid again. That alone differentiates what the participants are doing, because hopefully, if they can afford to indulge in this alternative education, they, unlike actual pre-schoolers, know the value of a dollar. They aren’t giving up on “real life” in order to laze about, but instead are harnessing whatever stress their jobs or circumstances conjure and using it for something positive.
Yet online commenters, especially those on the political right, are having a field day with this idea, even though, to my mind, Joni is combining her love of whimsy with financial savvy. Here’s what the Daily Caller had to say: “In a country full of millennials, she’s selling an infantile denial of reality to emotionally stunted baby-people.” Because being judgmental is the highest form of adulthood, right?
The people shelling out for these classes aren’t idiots; The Wall Street Journal reports participants include a weight-loss coach, a website developer, and a white-collar criminal defense lawyer. Presumably, they weighed the pros and cons of such a decision and made the choice that’s right for them. So what if you think it’s frivolous? Plenty of people blow money on things I would never spend a dime on, but that’s their choice.
Now, adult preschool wouldn’t be my first choice to access my inner child; I would rather blow any extra cash I may come into on a few hot stone massages and hotel room service, and maybe a new dress (which, again, isn’t that different from playing dress up, but grownups call that “fashion” and many spend far more than Joni’s top fee of $999 to indulge their sartorial whims). But I still believe we could all use a little more fun in our lives. When I’ve hung out with actual two- and three-year-olds recently, I couldn’t help but admire their pure, unadulterated joy in whatever they were doing, from knocking things over to playing with trains to shoveling dirt in a yard. They live in the moment, whereas I manage to do so, if I’m lucky, maybe 10% of the time.
It’s not all fun and games though. Joni told ABC News one adult signed up “because they want to learn not to be so serious” and another to be more confident—both of which are skills that could in fact prove useful in the job market. Not only that, but Joni clearly knows how to launch a business with a media-savvy hook, so it’s clearly not all child’s play for her.
Look, I can be as cynical and mean-spirited as the next person, but I don’t think it’s my job (or, frankly, anyone else’s) to police how adults spend their money. So happy finger painting and enjoy your naps, adult preschoolers! I am going to work on sneaking in a nap myself today.