Monday, March 31, 2008

Preschool search - II

I registered at Montessori C - end of last post.

One of my sisters is a CPA who works for a children's NGO and as part of her work she evaluates preschools for allocating funding. At some point in her career she wanted to quit her CPA profession and go into teaching kids. So she got a Master's degree in education and taught fourth and fifth graders in a public school. But they had to move cities at some point and she realized if she wanted to be the kind of very dedicated teacher that she was, she was not having much time for her family in the evenings. So she went back to her accounting profession. She has two children, one now in college and the other in high school, both really sweet kids (not so kid anymore) and very smart and doing very well in school. Why do I bring this all up? Well, my sister from her experience as a teacher and a parent has very strong, let's say - sure - views on this whole preschool issue.

After registering in Montessori C, I had a niggling feeling that it may not be the perfect choice in terms of the money spent and the time involved in dropping off KB (since it is out of the way for B and a 15 min drive for me). I had toured a neighboring preschool run by a church which had a good reputation. But somehow I just did not feel good about that school. I toured that school a second time with B and when we went, all the preschoolers were sitting in one group in a classroom with the pastor holding some picture and telling them some bible story. I grew up in a school where we were taught a lot of Christian hymns and nearly 90% of the teachers were Christian. It is not that I have a problem with them teaching bible stories - I just did not want so much religious instruction at such an young age. Oh my God, as I write this I realized that I had forgotten to mention this in the minus point for Montessori C as well. They too have some bible lessons every week - except that if KB went MWF for half days, he would miss it for the first year. Only the next year when I put him five days a week, he will have to attend bible study class on Tuesday mornings.

Anyways - I talked to my sister again about my concerns. That I was spending $300 MORE (so you can imagine how expensive - just for 3 half days!) than the regular preschools just because it was a "Montessori" and that the drive itself would take some 35 min each way - door to door getting both kids in and out of the car. She had gone along with my Montessori decision until then. But after seeing that I was not sure if it was necessary to spend so much for age 3, she came on more strongly with her views. In her opinion a)it does not matter at all which type of school they go to at age 3 if it is a nurturing environment b) In fact it does not even matter if they don't "teach" much until they go to Kindergarten because at age five pretty much a lot of children just catch up with each other. She felt very strongly that there was no need to spend that much more for Montessori just because I feel KB will learn more there or because it is supposed to foster the child's creativity by allowing for free play.

I decided to keep Montessori C as a back up option and check out more schools. My neighbor's friend, another Indian woman, had told me about another preschool - also a 15 min drive for me, but on the way to B's work. I decided on a whim to call them up and check it out. The admissions coordinator told me that she could give me a tour right then since the registration process was the next week itself. So I went along with KB and KG (B had already left for work) to tour the school. Let's call this preschool W. I went at the appointed time and as I was trying to enter the gate, another parent was coming out, so I walked in while she held the gate for me. (Will get to why I mention this).

The first thing that struck me was that this school somehow had a completely relaxed and very sunny atmosphere to it. It had a central playground and the class rooms all opened out into this playground. There was a roofed corridor outside the class rooms - it had a bunch of stations - a large bin with colored rice and macroni with a bunch of pots in it, a station with a ton of wheeled toys of all sorts, another station with a table and six chairs and many mini tubs of paint with brushes and paper laid out...the open play area had toy shopping carts, rope ladders, a small rock climbing area, a little covered house area with a little sofa inside where I found a child playing on a toy cash register...

On the other side of the play ground, I saw a "gross motor development" specialist with a bunch of little children running through hoops, hopping into tires laid on the ground and what not. She applauded one child who pushed a hoop down but held it up for the next child to go through and said "Great cooperation, keep it up". She did not put on a stern voice to reprimand that child for pushing the hoop down, instead applauded him for doing things right after that.

The thing that really struck me overall was how happy and at home every child seemed to be there. The classrooms were spacious enough (not huge or small) and had a "pretend play" area with all kinds of dress up clothes and toys (a little girl had put on a "fairy" outfit as I peered into that class room and looked at me cheerfully and smiled), a toy area, a writing area, a craft area and books on low lying shelves.

From what the admissions coordinator described to me, it seemed as if the kids played pretty much all the time. They had more than one hour of play time in the playground outside and in the corridors outside the class room. One hour of in class time where also they played a lot. And some twenty minutes total of circle time. I went to this school just randomly to see what it was like - I just did not expect to like this school as much as I did. KB just did not want to come back home with me - I had to physically pick him up and drag him out and convince him that it was time to go home!
(Only thing though I am sure if he had been allowed in the classroom at Montessori C, he would have done the same thing).

Now to my decision:

- Preschool W is $300 cheaper
- Teacher student ratio is 1:6
- it is NAYCE accredited - which according to my sister is a big deal.
- except for one teacher who is new and has been there for two years, every teacher there has been there for 15 years!
- they do not give time outs. If a child's behavior is disruptive, they are taken to the office and made to "think" about what they did. If it persists, they talk to the parent and work with both the child and the parent to get things in order.
- We managed to get admission for the MWF 9 - 11.30 slot by standing in line well ahead of time and getting our names on top of the list!
- They do not have any religious instruction except for Christian songs during X-mas time.

Concerns about preschool W:

- the second time I toured with my SIL and nephew, I found that I could walk in through the gates without any problem. We peered into the two empty classrooms in front and walked to the other side of the U to enter the director's office. I am not sure if anyone noticed that we had walked in. This still concerns me. I found that there are a few other parents who are not happy with this either but three other parents I talked to love this school so much that they don't even think of this as an issue.

- well, this is not a concern, but more something to contend with. The popular "Indian" parent choice seems to be Montessori that is "academic". I get a little worried as to why I am gravitating more towards this preschool W where they only pretty much play all the time. The teacher reads them a couple of books a day, a music teacher comes once a week, the teacher herself sings songs every day. But there is nothing "academic" about this school. And what ever they do teach for age 3 kids, KB knows quite well already. Colors, shapes, numbers, letters...I mean what more does a three year old has to learn in an "academic" setting - I really am not sure. It makes me a bit nervous if I am making the right choice or not when I talk to a couple of my Indian friends who are very serious about the academic part at preschools. I feel KB will enjoy Montessori and may even learn a lot of different things there that he may not learn in this developmental preschool W. But I feel my goal at least at age three is that he should have fun - what ever basics he needs to know to go to pre-K or KG, he will learn at home anyway. I just don't know if I am missing something when I think about why a lot of other Indian parents don't like this kind of play oriented school. Left to myself, I will be happy if he played played and played all 2.5 hrs that he is there. I want him to learn to be with other kids and have fun interacting with them. There are parents who send their kids to Kumon at age 4, have a phonics teacher help them read at age 3 and it really makes me nervous if KB will be behind compared to these kids at age 5. And then if I pause to think about it, I realize I am just nervous around such parents. When I am in the peace and comfort of my home, I feel this is the kind of school I want for KB at age 3. What I will want for him at age 4 when he will understand a lot more and may actually benefit more from any other interesting things he might learn in a Montessori, I am not sure. But for now this is my choice. Except that the gate issue is really worrying me. I don't have too many options. Two other schools I looked into - one does not have an outdoor playground - forget that. Another home based Montessori - I have not toured it yet - but out of four hours, they only have 20 min of outdoor time. They have* to read a book every weekend and talk about in class every Monday. Too rigid for my taste. As of now I am down to these two options: preschool W and Montessori C.
If I am able to come to terms with the gate issue, I will choose preschool W. If not Montessori C is my only other option as of now.

For the kind ones who managed to read this far, thanks so much! :) I really mean it! I just wrote down my thoughts as fast as I could before the kids woke up!
I welcome and appreciate your comments on this topic!

By the way - both schools require KB to be completely potty trained. Am hoping and praying I should be able to do that by September for sure!


Balaji said...

could relate to this one since we're in the same boat - our 2nd kid is starting preschool in Fall. our choice is pretty much made since we want him to have the same education path as big sis, esp. since we're really happy with the foundation her preschool laid for her. But I remember going thro all this when our daughter was ready for preschool :)

anyone could go into her preschool too since the gates weren't locked. but with someone like a teacher or another employee always walking around, I found that one couldn't really loiter around without being accosted. so it wasn't much of a concern :)

Candyfloss said...

Noon, I think you've found the right school. Don't worry about 'academics'. You'll be surprised how much they learn in an slightly structured play environment.

Moppet's school has no syllabus at all - every year, the teachers just decide a particular theme and do stuff around that. This year it's growth. So they've been planting beans and watching them grow, measuring their own heights, looking at their own baby pictures, etc.

And if you're keen on him learning the alphabet and numbers and stuff, you can always do that at home with him...

Aryan said...

School W sounds good, but as you said the security matters. Infact how much has a 3yr old kid needs to know, Shapes, colors and ABC is good enough..and more over teachers have 15yrs expereince, that means they know in and out to handle children..I feel that is good....
Hmm..waiting to know where to KB atlast...

noon said...

Balaji - thanks for visiting and commenting...
Did you write about this topic for your daughter/son? If so can you please send me the link to that post...
So what kind of preschool did you finally choose?

Candyfloss - I can't believe you are doing this to me! Having to address by a name I don't even connect with you!
Moppet's school seems really good...what a nice way to teach concepts!

Like I had said in the post - KB knows the alphabets, numbers 1 to 10 and some more too, colors, shapes etc very well. I am not worried about him learning that - it's more like - why is every one now suddenly talking like Montessori is the only good way to learn...I mean I do like Montessori style v much - even the half baked ones they have - it's just that I feel pressured when two (Indian) moms meet up at some party and discuss exactly what their kid is being taught etc...they are all so into "how much academics does this school give you" type evaluation of preschools...Anyway - hopefully my choice will work out well!

noon said...

Aryan - tell me about it! I too am eager to know which school KB will finally go to! :)

Rohini said...

Hey...I had studies child psychology in college....not very seriously...but I had studied, well, so I have a kind of idea what kids are like when they are that age...3/4/5...they really need to be let alone to play with other kids their age and discover new things their way...if there's too much reading and studying sna training...they might get to be geeks....from what I read from your post, Montessori C is good...but if I were you, I think I'd go with Preschool W....I like it...and don't worry about the gates....I presume there should be some teacher or someone always around to take care that no one loiters around.

And, yeah! Best of luck with your potty training...I still have years to go before I get to that...but I hope I can fall back on you for some really good advice~!!!

Kodi's Mom said...

noon! school W, as you described it sounds heavenly.
the gate issue: I would persist and speak to the management about it - it might or might not be huge to others, but if it bothers you, and if it is a tipping point in the decision, then it is important.
is there some sort of security to enter the classrooms or can anyone go right in?

I was in a very similar state before I decided the playschool. I figured this was the best time if any, for a play based school. it is easy to switch to montessori later on - say a year from now - but switching the other way around is somewhat improbable.

and believe me, he will learn stuff. may not be counting or names of vegetables and things like that - but more fundamental things that you cannot teach him - like how to get along with other kids.

ok my comments are getting ridiculously long - email me if you want to talk this out some more.

DotMom said...

I'll pick School W. Kids this age learn through play. As to learning - he will learn. Also, to try an introduce concepts before kids are ready can be disastrous. The kids will be put off that subject for a very long time. Kids this age need to play and discover things around them and themselvles. About the door issue, talk to the director. I am sure it will be sorted out.

priyanka said...

delurking for the 1st time though have been reading your blog for a while. I can imagine what you must be going through.... preschool W seems the one! The environment, focus on play and the free flow of activity sans time outs sounds really great. Security is a concern and like several others suggested you could have a word with the teachers and management and get reassured on that. Option C seems too structured and boxed in as I see it especially after W.
Good luck with the final choice and also potty training....and pass on all the tips!

Balaji said...

noon, no didn't do a post on it. no surprise that we chose one of those preschools with a heavy slant on academics. i think's that just in our genes. but as i said, we were real happy with it and so didn't have much thinking to do in case of our son :)

Poppins said...

Noon, I think you know this already but Preschool W is the school for KB. It sounds and feels right for him.

You only said it: "I want him to learn to be with other kids and have fun interacting with them"
That's what he will do at Preschool W and that's what matters.

Screw the other pushy Indians and their opinions.(Indians are indians everywhere in India or abroad bah).

noon said...

Rohini - yeah enjoy the years you have until you have to potty train - though as another friend - you don't do any formal "potty training" in India - they just learn more easily there I think!
Yeah Montessori C is good as well...preschool W is very different but seems just as good.

Kodi - thanks for your long comments - really appreciate it. I did not expect to do an about turn from Montessori and go to the totally play based school. But I too felt that if at all he can afford to play all the time it is now. Of course there are a lot of people who tell me this is when they absorb most - so they should be taught more. I don't know - hopefully what I feel instinctively turns out to be good for him. I am not at all worried about him missing out on learning what they may teach him at age 3 - he learns so much from just casual play and books at home...I feel it will do him a lot of good to play a lot with other kids his age...something I cannot provide at home. And I am hoping all the physical activity will make him eat better. And pray for me that he be toilet trained by then! If not after all this discussion, no school! :)

noon said...

Balaji - wish you would do a post on it now ! Curious about your views.
But really - I think as long as your child is happy at the school she/he goes to - that is what matters really. If not at age 3 and 4 it is pointless. And I agree it must be in our genes! :) I am fighting my genes I guess in sending KB to a play based school. But knowing KB I do worry that if he goes to Montessori from the start he will happily sit in one corner by himself or with just one other kid and do some puzzle or sort all the time...even at home he spaces out thinking deep thoughts...and backs out when kids are pushy and aggressive on the slide - in all somehow felt this play school was good for him. Really hope it works out well!

noon said...

Dotmom - like I said in my previous responses - I do feel a lot of play is esp good for a kid like KB...
And door issue - am not sure if they will do anything about it - but the director may just nicely tell me that there is nothing to worry! :) Even this morning I spoke to a Japanese mom who sends her child there - she said "yeah I worried about it initially - but the teachers always know where the child is...and I just keep my fingers crossed that in a neighborhood like ours no weird stranger will walk in"...

noon said...

Priyanka - thanks for reading and also for commenting!
Yes, will surely pass on the PT tips if it works out well! :)
Yeah the other two schools don't seem like real options...have to figure out if there are any others or just stick with this school despite the gate issue...or if it really worries me, go with Mont C! :)

Poppins - yeah, I tell you - the pressure builds much earlier than I thought you know...the other day my friend here was in tears literally over - you won't believe it - how much pressure she faced about how her kid performs in Bal Vihar! Goodness - am not looking forward to all that!

Sunita said...

Good read and I am glad you found something that you liked except for the gate issue ofcourse. i hope you can sort that out with the concerned people.
Me, I am just sitting duck right now thinking & reading and mkaing up my mind for now or latter :)

Sunita said...

Good read and I am glad you found something that you liked except for the gate issue ofcourse. i hope you can sort that out with the concerned people.
Me, I am just sitting duck right now thinking & reading and mkaing up my mind for now or latter :)

Balaji said...

noon, my daughter was quiet, shy, aloof too. but though hers was an academic preschool, she did fine. some things worked for her there. for eg. at her daycare, the teachers told us she wasn't interested in drawing/coloring and that we have to take more of an interest. but within 2 weeks of joining the preschool, she was drawing and coloring with enthusiasm. she just needed the push to get started and know if she liked it. the daycare, which was a montessori, didn't give the push with their policy of "we let kids do what they like". so we thot the preschool worked her.

what i've seen is that kids always adapt so well and learn whatever they want to learn, wherever they r. so i'm sure ur kid with do great at his preschool too. Good luck!

Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

Noon, I do understand your concerns about the gate in school W. Other things really sound positive about school W.
My only thought would be, if you would be comfortable with KB continuing in the same school till kinder garden. I feel that the kids should not change schools more often. I am sure they will get adjusted to new schools in this age... but its just me. I think too many school changes at a tender age may not be just the best thing.

the mad momma said...

honey - this one is a no-brainer. you know my views on school and 3 yr olds. they shouldnt have to learn at all. they're learnign as they breathe. really. everything around them is something new.

i wouldnt worry abt the gates either. i guess the teachers are with the kids. and will notice if one wanders far from the group. and that apart i dont know what would entice any body into an area full of noisy toddlers! :)

Tharini said...

i wrote u a loooooooooooong comment and lost it. :(