"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Saturday, March 12, 2011

preschool diaries: decision time

We've been Preschool Shopping....

Contestant #1: The Independent Academic-yet-Child-Centered Preschool
Pros: (There are tons. Here are the highlights.)
It's the same school ("daycare facility") that we had enrolled Evan at for infant daycare when I naively believed that I could return to work....so we were already sold on the basics like safety, teacher training requirements, school philosophy, warm/loving environment etc.

It's close....10 minutes drive time.

It's "School." While I was in the classroom on the tour, the teachers in the room Evan will be in were leading Circle Time. There were world maps and globes on display around the carpet while the class was discussing The Continents. The conversation turned to Canada, then The Arctic Circle...then Polar Bears. This is right up Evan's alley. We were actually just talking about a Polar Bear named Bonnie that turned green. True story: In the 70s, there was a Polar Bear at the San Diego zoo named Bonnie. Her hair started to turn green! When put under a microscope, researchers found that algae was growing INSIDE her hollow hair shafts. Who knew Polar Bear hair was hollow? Well, Evan does. Anyway, as it turned out, Bonnie's swimming pool was filled with fresh water, which allows for the growth of algae, as opposed to salt water, which doesn't. The fresh water/algae was getting into the hair shafts and giving Bonnie the appearance of having green hair. The water was replaced with salt water and the problem of the Green Polar Bear was solved. Same thing happened, by the way, in Tokyo just a few years ago. 

While Sam and I were happy with our choice of a small, church-run, play-based preschool for Evan....we were never really sold on the "church-run" part of it. We're not church people. While Religion doesn't play a huge role in Evan's current curriculum, bible stories do make their way into Circle Time. We were okay with it (and actually, I kind of took the attitude of, "Well, at least he'll learn the story of Noah somewhere" in the Exposure to Historical Literature sense...) but I'm not sure that he's getting anything out of it. Copies of the bible stories are sent home in his communication folder, and he never even seems to remember having heard the stories before. Bible stories just may not be that interesting to Evan right now. But Polar Bears, maps and globes? Yup. He'll soak it up.

Small class size + Large classroom. 10:2 student:teacher ratio. Large, bright classroom with plenty of cozy nooks for quiet time if the class becomes too stimulating.

Lunchtime. If Evan attends this school, he will be eating lunch at school. This would be GREAT practice for eating lunch in the cafeteria in kindergarten.

Field Trips. There are field trips in Evan's current school, too, but at this place, he would Ride The Bus! Talk about great practice for that first big day of kindergarten!

Cons: (just one)
The "half-day" program runs from 9:30-3!!!! We had been considering a five-day/half-day program for Evan but if we went with this schedule I'd never see my Big boy!  However.....maybe it's not such a "Con" after all...in addition to the five-day program, the school also offers a three-day program, same hours. This would give Evan GREAT practice for the full-day kindergarten program he'll be required to attend. AND, it would still give us two mornings a week to stay home or do a fun family thing (parks, picnics, children's museum, etc.). He'll get the same amount of "school" a week, just packed into three days instead of five....and I'll still get my special Evan days before I turn him over to the school system for good.

Contestant #2: The Educational DayCare Chain
It's Just Like Kindergarten. It'll be great practice for kindergarten because IT IS KINDERGARTEN. They just call it preschool.

IT'S KINDERGARTEN. And Evan will be FOUR. And a YOUNG four at that. He's not ready for that. I'M not ready for that. As much as I want him to be successful in school, I'm not going to Tiger Mother him into kindergarten a year early...even if they do call it preschool.

They only offer a five-day program. But they do offer true half-days.

He would have to eat the lunch provided by the cafeteria.
He would have to wear a uniform.
I don't know about your kids, but my kid eats the Exact Same Thing for lunch every day (and Sunbutter Pinwheels are NOT on the menu. I checked). His lunch has to be prepared the same way and presented the same way on his divided plate every day. I just can't see him eating cafeteria lunch. And a uniform? My kid has issues with sock seams and underwear tags. We have seasonal meltdowns transitioning from short to long sleeves and vice versa. He approves all clothing before I buy it or he won't wear it. I can't really see him wearing a uniform. Maybe pushing these outside-of-his-comfort-zone things would be "good" for him, but really, they're just two daily meltdowns I'd like to avoid.

Contestant #3: Our Current Church-Run, Play-Based Preschool
Evan already knows the school, would recognize the teachers, and would know most of the kids in his class.

It's a GREAT school. I love the philosophy of encouraging development on each individual child's timeline, and not pushing kids too far, too soon.

I appreciate the fact that, according to the director, preparation for kindergarten involves more than just acquisition of kindergarten "facts" (letters/numbers/etc.)...but also social and emotional development that will truly encourage school success. The director said that one of the most predictive factors in school success, yet the factor that is talked about the least, is the child's ability to make and maintain positive peer relationships. If a preschool program is all work and no play, kids don't have an opportunity to learn the skills necessary for friendship-building...teamwork, negotiation, compromise, listening, turn-taking, leadership, etc....without an adult's intervention. This is what Evan needs: time to play, time to develop friendships, time to learn the social skills necessary for school, and life, success.

Hmmmm....this one is a bit tricky, because I truly feel as though our current school would be a perfect choice for most kids. But Evan isn't "most" kids. He's MY kid. So I'm allowed to be extra picky. I think it was the PERFECT first school experience for Evan. He needed a low-stress, high-support, warm and loving first time away from home. His teachers love and "get" him (and he loves them!). They have given him a chance to warm up to school, and are now going to start pushing him a little more to encourage engagement and participation.

HOWEVER: I presume that Evan will be going to kindergarten after next year (I have no reason to believe otherwise--he does, after all, know all of his letters, sounds, and numbers, can add and subtract to about 10, is curious, loves to be read to and to look at books, and shows a keen interest in learning) and I couldn't help but notice how, during our conversation about the 4s program, the director kept bringing up the fact that the school offers a junior kindergarten class after the 4s class. It was mentioned as the ideal transition between preschool and kindergarten for Evan. I'm not ready to hear that Evan won't be "ready" for kindergarten. It's my job, as his mom, to GET him ready for kindergarten. If we find, at the end of NEXT year, that he could use another year of maturation/confidence building, then I will agree to hold him back. But don't assume that he won't make adequate social progress in the next 18 MONTHS to get there! The director of the Independent Preschool spoke of Individualized Instructional Goals and Plans that address the particular areas of weakness that each student faces. Together with the parents, the teachers identify and teach towards the areas that the students most need to develop in order for Each Student to achieve Kindergarten Readiness. It just *feels* like a more optimistic approach to my child's education.

And, to be perfectly honest, I just can't shake the stories that I heard from Preschool Mom about her son's experience at our school. I'm finding, as I get older, that I believe that there really isn't such a thing as coincidence. The fact that I should find this mom--whose son is so similar to mine, whose concerns and hopes for her sweet little boy mirror mine so exactly--Right Now is telling me something. For some reason, I was brought to reconsider Evan's preschool education over the last two weeks. I have done sufficient research into different preschool programs and have met with three very committed directors of three very successful schools. I'm not judging the schools as better or worse places of learning, I'm judging them for Best Fit for Evan.

Lesson Learned:
It's not a bad thing, in motherhood and in life, to change course as you learn more information. Over the past six months, we've learned a lot about Evan. Over the past two weeks we've learned a lot about preschool programs. We have put the information together and have found, what we believe to be, the Best Fit for Evan. He will be attending the Independent Academic-yet-Child-Centered Preschool. And we couldn't be happier about our choice.

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