Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Eenie, Meanie, Miney, Mo

As a teacher, pre-kids, I always thought I'd want to start academics with my own children at an early age. Once Curly arrived and I saw how precious his face was when engaged in some serious playing, all twisted and contemplative, my whole tune changed.

My teacher training means I know where kids should be academically by Kindergarten and my expectation for what they should know in order to succeed is high. But seeing how excited my students get when given free time to explore and imagine reminds me that the only standards they should meet are the ones that help them achieve a smile. My mommy training means all I want for them is happiness.

As Curly's first year of preschool approached I became nervous about finding the right school for him. One that would balance both of the above desires. I put him on the wait lists at 6 different schools before he was 9 months old. Three near our home and three near my work, not sure if I'd be staying at home at that point or back to full-time teaching. As 2009 would have it, I was blessed to be home full-time with the 3 boys so Curly was able to enroll in my first choice of preschool near our home. A HIGHLY recommended, play-based preschool with no required emphasis on letters or counting other than the obvious teachable moments and seasonal theme curriculum.

Two weeks into the school year my friend's daughter brought home a project for her "Letter of the Week." I drooled with envy. Curly's beautiful art work hung in the living room window but it appeared as if the only letters he knew were the 4 spelling his name and he learned those from working with me.

I spent that whole night tossing and turning and analyzing whether or not I'd made the right decision for Curly. My first real decision with regard to his education. Had I screwed him up for life ALREADY?

Trusting my gut, I discussed my concerns with a few friends and they reminded me of what I already knew - he'd be fine. Wasn't I the first grade teacher who reassured my students' parents that most, if not, all kids read by third grade. Didn't I repeat 20 times each year that just because the Dept. of Education says kids must know x,y and z by June that it's not realistic to expect EVERY kid to do so?

I remember asking a parent of an older child how she made the decision to enroll her son in the pre-K program at our district instead of send him with his age-alike peers. Her son was the most well-adjusted, curious, independent, kind, bright kid I knew. She said, "Would you rather your child have another year of childhood or another year of adulthood?"

For me the answer was and still continues to be simple - I'd rather my boys have the former, but along with it, another year of play, not work. So what if I have to remind myself of that every once in awhile. I'm learning to play more too. =)

And for the record, yes, I do "Letter of the Week" with the boys. I want to engage them in play-based, child-centered activities that have learning as a by-product. But for heaven's sakes, the teacher in me can't just let that beautiful easel and those perfect teachable moments just sway in the wind. Curly knows 20 of his letters and can count higher than the number of times he gets off his bed at night...and that's a lot =)

This article, Choosing a Preschool from Disney is the best summary I've found so far about the different types of preschools out there. It really enlightened me to the different curricular goals of each type of school and also helped me to justify how I know my son is in the right place for him. For now.

PS - Last week at Spike's Mommy & Me class, the director of Curly's preschool spoke. Here are the notes for you to eat up too:
Best Way to evaluate a preschool: By recommendations or "dropping in."

What to look for in a preschool:
The Benefits of a half day vs. a full day. ( Full day of school has its benefits but can mirror daycare)
There should be large blocks of time for a child to get engaged in an activity
Minimum Paperwork/Dittos
A clean and Safe environment
Title XXII Regulations should be followed (e.g. school has proper licensing, ratio of 12:1 not including administrative staff, etc)
Children should be behaving appropriately in class
Low staff turnover
Calm atmosphere
Do children seem happy?
How is the staff handling unhappy children?
What a good preschool offers:
Opportunity to develop cognitive skills
Exploring through five senses
Has toys for learning through discovery
No sitting for long periods of time
Books available for reading
Topics covered at school are different that what is learned at school (e.g. themes like citizenship, rain forests, etc)
Opportunities to learn and trust outside the family
Children learn to share, follow directions, verbalize feelings, how to handle negative behavior, and finding one's place in a class
Builds a positive self image
Encourages creative skills
Teaches separation, citizenship, and small and gross motor skills
Art materials
Reinforces foundations learned at home in a new environment


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