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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Preschool for Astrid

Went to our first preschool orientation today at Oak Knoll Kinderhaus Montessori school in Pasadena. I found it on a search of "best preschools in the LA area", and also a mother I know in Eagle Rock highly recommended it. Her daughter goes there and is in the younger class. I was also intrigued because it was a Quaker school in the early 1900's.

The Upside
  • It's conveniently located on Lake Avenue (about a mile from the 210 fwy exit).
  • The atmosphere was calm, cozy, and clean.
  • Each classroom has it's own small kitchen.
  • There's a garden for the kids I was told about (although I didn't see it when I was there).
  • The kids were fairly well behaved.
  • They offer music and dance classes.
  • The teachers all have undergraduate degrees, and went through a graduate program to be MSI certified.
  • For an additional fee, the school has a morning and afternoon daycare program (open before and after school) to make it convenient for working parents.
  • Only healthy snacks are allowed.
The Downside
  • We waited outside the front gate for 5 minutes trying to get inside for our 10 AM appointment. There's an intercom but everyone was outside and didn't answer it, or our phone calls. It's secure but also means I can't stop by unannounced.
  • A strict interpretation of the Montessori Method.
  • Astrid would be the youngest one in the older class (ages 3-6).
  • The Administrator's daughter was the worst behaved and wasn't wearing socks. (Read further explanation below.)
  • No hot lunches and the school doesn't have a fridge. So you're required to put a cold pack in your child's lunch each day.
  • They are closed 3 weeks out of the year.
  • A small yard that would feel cramped when filled with kids, and had playground equipment that was too basic.
Overall Grade
U. gave it a B. I gave it a C+.

Our Observation & Orientation
U. and I each took turns observing the class for children 3-6 years old, while the other one watched Astrid outside. Currently this class has 12 children, but they're enrolling more and hope to have up to 21 kids in that class. Wow. It's a tiny class and today we saw 9 kids in there, which seemed ideal. I can't imagine more than 12, let alone 21. I have nothing to compare it to though so I don't know if 21 is the norm.

The kids seemed pretty well behaved, but one girl in the class kept saying her doll was a bad girl because it pooped in her bed, and saying "we're bad girls" and talking about pooping in general. Then she shouted, "What the heck?!" a few times and a couple other girls were complaining to the teacher that she was saying "What the heck" again. For a 4-5 year old that's equivalent to motherf*cker. I'd be concerned that Astrid would pick up bad habits from her.

Afterwards in conversation the Administrator told me that the girl who asked if she could bring her doll to class when we first walked in, was her daughter. This was the same girl who I was concerned about. I also noticed straight off that the child wasn't wearing any socks on a cold rainy day. Her mom was dressed to the 9's, but her kid had no socks on. Not a good sign.

The Administrator explained how they follow the Montessori philosophy to a T, which includes not doing anything for a child unless they ask for it. Example: "We don't change their clothes or socks unless for example they step in a puddle and get their socks wet and ask for their socks to be changed. Then we tell them to get their socks and put their socks on."

When I remarked that Astrid's not quite there yet and that she can't put her socks on by herself yet, I was given more of the Montessori philosophy and told this:

"We always say that Montessori is for every child, but it's not for every family. That may be something you want to think about."

So initially although I was understandably a little put off by her comment, it did make me question whether Montessori is right for my child. While I've always liked the Montessori philosophy that everything should be the size of the child - small chairs and tables and bookcases, and fostering learning through discovery, I don't agree that you shouldn't do anything for the child unless they ask for it. I think that's too broad of an interpretation. If my child's face is dirty she's not going to ask for it to be cleaned because she can't see it. She's still a child and doesn't always know what's best for her. For example: I don't care if she doesn't want to wear socks on a cold day. We're not leaving the house until she puts socks on. And I'm all about independence, but I'm not going to feel guilty about caring for my daughter and making sure she's clean and well taken care of.

I saw two adult women in the class. One sitting away from the rest of the children writing "911" on cards and putting a police sticker next to it. The one or two kids standing next to her, watching her were bored stiff. She didn't talk to the children, and was intently writing her numbers on the card. When each child was done they'd go back to the rest of the group that was drawing on a large butcher paper with markers where an older lady was sitting and chatting with them. She asked one boy, "So what happens when you call 911?" He responded, "The cops come." And she asked, "And who else can come?" When she realized he was stumped she said, "A fireman or an ambulance can also come when you call 911." She was interacting with the children and the Administrator's daughter even sat on her lap. She also told the girl, "there are no bad girls here" when the girl kept repeating they were "bad girls."

From my observation I thought the older lady was the teacher and the other younger girl was the aide. But I had it wrong. It was the other way around. I was told the older lady had her graduate degree but not in Montessori, and she just helped in the mornings.

According to the Montessori Methodology
The role of a teacher is to introduce children to materials and then remain a “silent presence” in the classroom.

Another point that I don't fully agree with.

So Montessori or no Montessori? I'm not ruling it out completely. I'd like to check out another school and see how it compares.

The Ideal Preschool
  • Conveniently located close to my office (Wish me luck on my interview!)
  • Friendly, colorful, whimsical, and stimulating environment (oh and neat/CLEAN!)
  • A variety of activities - music, dance, drawing & painting, story time, arts & crafts, cooking
  • Lots of books and puzzles
  • Warm, engaging, and educated teachers and staff
  • A large yard with a variety of playground equipment (swings, slides, bridges, play house, jungle gym, sand lot, and grass)
  • Small classes segregated by age with a class for 3-4 year olds (lots of kids Astrid's age)
  • Well behaved children
  • Healthy hot lunches (Waldorf school has a personal Chef)
  • Open from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM
  • A plus - German language is spoken
The Most Difficult Adjustment - for ME
  • Not being there.

Downside - I'll worry myself to death about whether she's dressed warm enough or too warmly, and that her hairstyle will last throughout the day without me being there to brush it and redo it after her nap, and if she's being bullied or isolated, or needs me in any way. It breaks my heart that she will be without me and have to fend for herself when she's not quite 3 years old. Plus things will go on that I don't know about, and at her age she won't be able to tell me about it.

Upside - I'll have more time for myself and can focus on my career after a one year (almost) sabbatical.

  • Astrid being dirty.

Downside - I won't be there to wipe Astrid nose, wash her hands, quickly clean up messes and clean her clothes so they don't turn into stains. I doubt there's a school that will change her clothes after her nap and tell her not to crawl around or her pants will get dirty - so this will be a difficult thing to adjust to.

Upside - Astrid will just have to have a larger wardrobe.

The Most Difficult Adjustment - for ASTRID

  • Nap Time

Downside - Astrid will find it difficult to 1) fall asleep with other children in the room (and all the strange sounds), 2) be sleeping on the floor rather than in her crib, and 3) without Mommy singing her songs. I'll have to ask the preschool what their routine is to put the children to sleep. Do they read to the children? Do they sing them lullabies? Can we bring her sleep sheep?

Upside - Astrid will learn to fall asleep easier in foreign places. Hopefully it'll be easier for her to fall asleep in hotel rooms.

  • Mommy Leaving
Downside - Astrid is extremely attached to me. When she's in a strange environment her initial reaction is to cling to me. I'm not looking forward to dropping her off each morning (and rushing off to the office) because I know I will have many days of "No Mommy don't leave!" ahead of me. I'm the person she turns to for love, security, and protection. Will she feel like a fish out out of water and lost without me?

Upside - Astrid will make many new friends and have lots of kids to play with. And hopefully it'll be a positive, fun experience for her.

The Decision to start Preschool
Our original plan was for me to stay home with Astrid until she turns 3 years old in April 2008. Why 3? Well that would give me a year with her and for some reason 3 sounds like a magical number where she wouldn't be a tiny baby anymore, and old enough to be in school during the day. That would allow me to return to work.

I think Astrid's almost ready for preschool, and would thrive on the social interaction and classroom learning. Obviously the perfect situation would be if Astrid went to school part time, like half days or 3 days a week, but financially it just doesn't make sense for us.

As always, timing is everything. A friend and former coworker of mine recommended me for a new position with her firm and they need someone right away. I have an interview scheduled, but don't think they would wait until April. So my timeline has suddenly gotten shorter. I'm flexible, but I do need to find a good preschool for Astrid and feel comfortable about the arrangements before I start working again.

I'm looking forward to working again and the second income it will bring, but I know it will be a big adjustment. U. said he didn't want me sitting at work my first week feeling sad, so he offered to take a one week vacation when Astrid starts preschool, so I can focus on my work and that way he can take Astrid to school and leave her there for longer increments each day so she can get acclimated. I think that will make it a lot easier on me.


Amy said...

Ohhh, there are so many things I want to say about this post. I KNOW how hard it is for you to think about sending her off to a daycare--I took 14 months off when B&B were born, and then went back to work. It was torture for me (awesome that U says he'll take a week off to help her acclimate!).

I agree with your assessment that maybe they are taking the Montessori mindset a little far in requiring students as young as 3 to request assistance before they'll give it. The class seems large to me, too. Mine have 8-10 students in their class, and are grouped with other 2 year olds only. I like that. What I don't like is that while they do curriculum in the morning, it seems to be a lot of unstructured play in the afternoon, including t.v. I'm not categorically opposed to t.v. (love Sesame Street and my kids love Dora), but I limit it and am not sure I like them being exposed to things that aren't of my choosing. I'm glad mine are only there 2 hours after they wake from naps (love the schoolteacher hours!).

I worried about many of the same things--naps (I laughed OUT LOUD when they told me they would sleep with the other kids in the room on mats. Then I saw it for myself about a month after mine started. Turns out the daycare knew what they were talking about.), food (ours is the opposite--they won't let you bring your own lunch, barring a medical reason. I was worried b/c we eat organically and pretty healthy at my house. While they don't serve organic milk or fruits/veggies, they do serve healthy, hot meals each day and my kids have become better, more well-rounded eaters as a result), and the attachment issues (which are rarely a problem for us. After a break, like this Christmas one, Brayden may whine a little when I leave them, but my kids truly LIKE going to "school").

While I didn't initially want to go back to work, now I am so glad I did. It affords us financial freedom, as well as a little grown-up time for me. That may sound selfish, but I'm reminded at times like 2 week Christmas breaks just how much easier it is to go to work everyday than to stay home with B&B. That's not to say I'm 100% happy 100% of the time--I, like you, would prefer a part-time job.

The bottom line is that my kids are happy, healthy, and learning so much more than if I were at home with them everyday. And? The daycare we use displays such love for my kids--from the manager to the teacher, I have always felt like they consider their job to be loving the kids.

I know it is hard, and I wish you the best of luck. I hope you find a place that gives you that peace of mind.

Rose said...

Thanks so much for your post. It helps to know other moms have gone through it (and survived!) and I'm not alone in my trepidation about sending her off to school all day without me.

I'll feel a whole lot better about it when we find the right preschool and from there things will fall into place.