Thursday, March 15, 2012

Second guessing

Last fall, we started looking at preschools for T, for this spring when she turns 2.5.  Where we live, if you want a preschool with more than a few half-days a week, you need to look early and "reserve" your spot.  There are a lot of working families here who are also looking for good preschools/daycares/etc.  (In fact, for infant daycare, you are recommended to get on lists *while you're still pregnant* even though my company offers 20 weeks of maternity leave.  Yikes.)

Her corporate daycare was great, but I felt like she would benefit from a little more structure and learning.  Not full-on academics, exactly, but just a little.  She knows all her letters and their sounds, can count to 20 in English and Spanish, and can count up to 5 objects on a page, without us "drilling" her on this stuff - she just likes it.  She asks a lot of questions and listens very carefully to explanations of things.  She loves to "read" her books and speaks in very detailed, grammatically correct sentences.

So back to preschool.  I like the Montessori style of learning - child-directed, learning advanced concepts while they play with the cool materials. OK, I freely admit, I looooove the materials.  Most Montessori programs encourage potty training and actively help in the process.  (Hooray!)

So we focused on Montessori preschools and looked at one "regular" preschool. 

One of the Montessori places was nice, but eerily silent despite being full of kids.  Apparently they were all about "quiet and orderly".  We ruled it out as soon as we saw two preschoolers who were enjoying a spontaneous hug and giggles, get told that was "not appropriate" and they needed to be quiet.  No Montessori Boot Camp for us.

Another one had great facilities, but we never met the director on the tour.  Parents at work had some pretty bad feedback on the management at this place - tons of teacher turnover, parents' concerns being ignored, etc.   So that one was out too.

The "regular" preschool was interesting.  It was more of a standard age grouping, rather than the Montessori mixed-age classes.  There were tons of toys, art projects on the wall, kids gathering at little tables to eat snacks.  But it felt a little chaotic (as a room full of preschoolers might) - our eyes didn't know where to rest.  There was *stuff* everywhere and it felt a little cramped.

The last Montessori school we visited was the one we chose.  It's not super-strict Montessori, but has the little activities on trays and "work periods" where kids choose their trays and work independently.  This school also does some more traditional learning, when the preschoolers are older, with workbooks and letters and writing.  It is accredited for Kindergarten so we can keep her there for several years if we like it.  It wasn't eerily quiet.  But what *was* interesting is that nearly every kid there is Indian or Asian.  Not entirely unexpected, giving where we live and its proximity to my workplace, but odd nonetheless, since I've only ever attended schools that very much were mostly white.

T has been at this school for not quite 2 weeks and here's what's been awesome:
  • She loves it.  One tiny bit of crying on the first day when she saw TJ through the window, but otherwise, she's adjusted well and talks about preschool excitedly on non-school days.
  • She has told her teacher on more than one occasion that she needs to go to the bathroom.  Like, before she goes.  Woot!
  • It's less than 10 minutes from our house, and for less than the cost of 2 daycare days, we get 3 preschool days (albeit shorter days).
  • One of the other teachers comes and speaks Spanish with her for fun.

But there are a few small things I'm second-guessing.  T doesn't know the names of any of her classmates but one (and she's usually pretty good with names).  Part of that is that she's a little slow to warm up to new people and situations, and she's also one of the youngest in the class.  Also, her class is huge - 30 kids or more (with 4 teachers) compared to 10-12 in her daycare.  But I'm not sure how much they are being encouraged to play and work together.

For the past few days, I've been coming across the message that "play-based preschool is best" from a lot of disparate sources:  the forums, Gluten-Free-Girl's blog, and random conversations with other moms.  It's got me wondering if we're inadvertently pushing T too hard.  She has been coloring worksheets with letters on them, and "practicing" writing numbers with help.  I feel like it's too soon for those things.

But I wonder if we should really worry about it, since she seems to be really enjoying her new school.  No crying at drop off, in fact, she's so absorbed in her "work" that I have to interrupt her to say goodbye.

So maybe it's fine.



  1. It is fine. Stop worrying.

    Seriously, there was an exodus from our day care/preschool last year. I'm not sure what triggered it, but several of the people leaving said they wanted "more academics". Now that they're at their new center, it turns out that the program is pretty similar to what our day care has- i.e., mostly play-based with increasing amounts of instruction as the kids get older.

    So my 2.5 year old is coloring letter worksheets and the like, but mostly plays all day. They do some directed play, too, with the idea of that being enriching.

    My almost 5 year old still plays a lot, but is doing more "class-like" work as they get her ready for kindergarten.

    I suspect T sees the "work periods" as just a different type of play period. If she's happy and safe, it is all good, in my opinion.

  2. We have a blog post in our queue that's about how different Montessoris are different and not to throw out the Montessori concept just because of something that happened at one Montessori. (Mainly based on people saying, "Don't do Montessori, X happened at one a friend went to" and me thinking, "That's not even Montessori philosophy and would never have happened at the ones I've had experience with.") When we were touring schools on sabbatical DH saw an eerily quiet one like what you were talking about-- apparently that's actually a specific sect within the Montessori that's more "traditional", trying to be more exactly like what they envisioned the orphanages to be. So I'm glad you wrote the post-- we might not ever get around to it!

    Re: Academics. It bugs the CRAP out of me when people say that allowing kids to learn or allowing kids structure is somehow destroying them. It's like these adults have never met a kid before! They're little sponges, and not just kids like my kid, ALL kids. They LOVE learning new things and they thrive on routine and structure. (I say this as someone who has heavily volunteered in summer migrant programs and public schools and someone who has spent a ton of time observing my own kid's preschool while nursing.) "Play-based is best" is garbage. Everything is exciting and fun when you're a preschooler. Especially expanding your world.

    It's adults who don't like learning anymore and they're projecting on their kids. They're the reason kids eventually get the love of learning beaten out of them. It is insidious that they start so young.

    On the mommy forums they were always bringing up this straw man of the all academic preschool where kids sat and did work-sheets all day. Such an animal does not exist. Even the places people "heard" were like that weren't really like that (they just tended to be really expensive!). And it would be impossible for that to exist, I mean seriously, think of trying to get a classroom of 3 or 4 year olds to sit still for 8 hours. It just isn't going to happen.

    Montessori when it is done well I think is one of the most awesome kinds of play-based learning. It's self-directed, they get to choose things, most things are hands-on and manipulable, and just fun in general. They DO things and explore the real world around them. And they get to work at their own pace. That's nothing like the worksheet straw-man the play-based people are always complaining about. (Though when on sabbatical, our DS did end up at a school with coloring in the lines and worksheets and the experience doesn't seem to have scarred him or any of the other 3-4 year olds in his class. The teachers were loving and there was plenty of playground and imaginative free play time. He perhaps enjoys the regimented approach a bit too bit, so in some respects Montessori was better at getting him out of his comfort zone.)

    Another good thing about Montessori-- the kids learn how to be independent and to clean things up, put things away, and get things out on their own. DC is more organized than I am! I love the way Montessori kids are so capable.

  3. Seconding @nicoleandmaggie's praise of the Montessori approach when done well. Montessori has been a good fit for our son, who was reading at a 1st grade level at age 3 and was frustrated and bored in his former unstructured, "play-based," standard-aged grouped preschool. Montessori lets him move at his own pace and interact with the older kids; and at age 4, that's precisely what he needs.

    Funny, my DS is all about the "eerily silent" and hates when others try to interrupt him while he's working.

  4. I agree with everyone else. Stop worrying.

    T is not a typical 2.5 year old, why would a typical preschool program be right for her? What's important is that she is doing what she loves to do. I wouldn't be surprised if you find that she goes through periods of play-focus activities.

    I had some anxiety when we switched to Montessori. Although I loved the program in concept, active participating in it was a huge change. I am so happy we made the switch; it has been the best thing for my kids.

  5. I don't have kids so take my advice for what its worth.

    You have a special little girl there. She's not like most other toddlers I've met in my life. And from what you're saying it doesn't sound like you're the strict parents forcing her to do anything she doesn't want to (within reason of course).

    I appreciate your concern for T because of aforementioned specialness, and can understand you wanting to giver her all the best you can. But I am with Cloud, stop worrying. Sit back and watch and maybe open up a bit to not being like everyone else.

    My two cents.

    Now about those "materials"....= )

  6. Few things.

    1 - there is no ONE right way to educate children.

    2 - if she is happy, you can't make her happier.

    3 - True full time cooperative play doesn't start until age 3ish so not surprising she doesn't know their names.

    4 - if she is happy, you can't make her happier.

  7. p.s. 100% playbased is better on what metric? (The "let kids be kids" metric? How do you even measure that?) Those women on are talking out of their guts, to quote Stephen Colbert, not out of their heads. It just *feels* like doing nothing but running around (and maaaybe doing the occasional art project) is what kids should be doing with 100% of their time.

    (But not if you ask a kid... nothing is more amazing than a preschooler learning something new for the first time, advantaged or disadvantaged. And learning is play-based in most preschools because that's what works.)

  8. @n&m - I KNOW. I just feel like somehow the Internets are ganging up on me this week. With these vague handwavy statements about how introducing letters/numbers/whatnot too early is ruining kids forever :P

    Thanks everyone - you guys are smart, and awesome.

  9. (or MDC in mommy forum lingo) was always too judgmental for me... and I dabbled in plenty of mommy forums. That would be the last place I would let someone make me feel guilty about something that was working just fine. (Maybe second-to-last place... I'm reminded of the judgmental mainstream forum Babycenter.)

    And I say that as someone who is totally AP, organic, cloth diaper etc. etc. etc. You'd think I would fit in. But the culture there doesn't really get AP-- the "do what works for you and your kid" philosophy seems to just be a check-list where you're not one of them unless you hit every piece of the extreme whether it actually works for your family or not. Totes the opposite of the Sears philosophy.

    The way that majority culture (even when the forum majority is a minority IRL) makes mothers feel guilty and bad or forces them to do things that aren't right for their kids is one of the things that makes me really angry. YOU know what works for your kid, and forums are useful for getting ideas but they should never be allowed to make you feel guilty that you're not doing something just because all the other nutcases in that specific area are doing the same thing. Especially when what is the norm on Baby Center is diametrically opposed to the norm on mothering.

    (And yes, there are a few voices of sensibility on, but that's not the dominant culture there. Scary place. Good for looking things up, not good as a place to ask how to live your life.)

    The internet can be supportive and helpful, but it has a very dark side. Don't let yourself get sucked in. Keep your cultural anthropologist hat on as you wade in. Isn't it interesting how they say these things and react these ways? When in reality, none of it matters except to make other women feel cruddy and to second guess good decisions.

    p.s. You might want to reread our Tuesday post! Ganging up in the opposite direction. Laura Vanderkam also has some posts in a similar vein. Perhaps there's an internet war on this week... with one side telling you to let things go!

  10. I'm late to the party, but I also want to echo the "If T is happy, then don't worry." sentiment. Her preschool sounds fantastic, and she appears to be happily challenged. Woo Hoo! Do the happy dance!

  11. Thanks everyone, as always, for your supportive and helpful comments.

    I think sometimes these transitions take me longer than they do BabyT to get used to :)


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