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!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Guests, preschool hunting, sleeping...

Those are some of the reasons why I have not been posting for a while. I have had a bunch of guests - some family, some friends. My sister visited one weekend, my SIL and nephew another. It was a lot of fun but it also meant less time for blogging when they were here. And somehow I have been lazy to write anything. Also some days I feel very sleepy a little earlier than my usual sleep time past midnight...I enjoy reading what others write - and if I do that and also post comments - that's it - I don't have time to write a post. Since I am half asleep by that time.

A lot of posts came to mind - but I just did not get down to writing it. I figured some of those little things you want to write about - you either write it that day or it loses it's punch. Even for yourself. But the preschool search is very much on my mind and I talk about it almost every day to my sister or a friend. A lot of us are going through it now - so will post about it here.

KB will turn three in August'08. Initially I wanted him to start school in March or April of this year. But the one school - let's call it Montessori A - I had toured last year - which is quite popular in this city - had a ridiculously long wait list. They told me he would get an afternoon slot this year. Which meant I would have to drop him at 12.30 and pick him up at 3.30pm. This would mean that he would have to give up his afternoon nap. I did not want that for sure. So that school was out.

I had been so set on this A school when we moved to this city because at least amongst the few Indians who I knew in this city, this school was considered really good. So I was a bit lost when I figured this school was not an option in my mind since they could only give an afternoon slot. Another friend sends her daughter to Montessori B. I had toured that school last year with KB when they had an open house. As soon as KB entered the classroom, he started playing with the marbles and started sorting them into the different colors and put them into the respective bins for each color. He seemed quite at home and enjoyed playing at the different stations they had there. So I assumed he would feel at home there and we went to tour the school this year. We were just shown around the class room this time - we could not go in and see what the kids were doing. It was group walking in the corridor peering into the class room while the director kept talking about the school. I did not get too much out of the tour really. But since my friend's daughter goes there, she could tell me a lot of details about the school. Half an hour of play time first, then back to the class room. Once they are in class, they had part teacher directed activity and part free play - what ever the child wishes to do from all the play stations laid out in the class room. They had snack time for 15 min and after some more class room activity (all totaling about 2 hours), they were allowed to play in the play ground for another half an hour. So about one hour of play ground time and an hour and forty five minutes of class room time.

The plus points of Mont B:

a) KB seems like a Montessori kind of kid in my mind. He likes to tinker around with puzzles or sit quietly transferring water from one container to several smaller ones and have his own elaborate ritual and plan while doing so.

b) Well to put it bluntly - it is a "Indian-approved" kind of school. A lot of Indian parents around here seem to favor Montessori - which I didn't know about. Nearly every Indian parent I know here favors the Montessori system. When I put this in the "plus" list, I only mean that there is not much resistance to your choice - a lot of people think it is a great choice so you may feel like it is indeed a great choice.

c) My friend's daughter who is mild mannered (like KB) goes there. And my friend has no complaints about that school - she really felt her daughter was learning a lot especially after she turned four. According to my friend, she did not learn much at age three but she sees a lot of difference at age four.

d) May be a mixed age group (Age 3 - 5 are in the same class room) will be something KB will enjoy since he likes playing with kids older than him.

Minus points of Montessori B:

a)It costs nearly $300 more than a developmental school in the neighborhood (also considered to be a very good school, except it is not a Montessori)

b) It is not on the way for B to drop KB off in the morning. He has to go the opposite route, drop KB and trek back to the other end to get to work. And it takes about 15 min to reach the school by car.

c) Personally I am not at all sure if KB should go to Montessori at age three at least - spending all that extra money. Also, irrespective of the money spent, I felt KB will quite happily sit in one corner doing some little activity obsessively for a long time and may not even really interact too much with the other kids. My primary goal for sending him to preschool at age 3 is so he will interact more with other kids and engage in a lot of physical play.

After much discussion B and I decided to register KB at this school anyway. Seemed like a safe choice. I paid a fee of $150 for registration and walked out. As I walked out, I met another Indian woman who sends her daughter to that school. She was looking to send her second child (a few months older than KB) to this school. We started talking and she commented, "you know I feel they don't teach much at this school. Kids don't learn too much here. I am looking for some school that is more academic than this school". Now this came as a surprise to me. I thought this school was reputed for being "academic" oriented. But not too much either. I guess each person wants a different thing out of their chosen school. I felt a bit knotted up wondering why I don't feel so strongly that it be "more" academic. I liked the Montessori philosophy and I got the impression that this school had a good balance of "academics" and play. But here she was telling me that the school doesn't teach much etc. Nevertheless, I just decided that I did not care about that/her opinion and that KB would still go to Montessori B.

I will continue this post later. Sleepy for one. The post is lengthy as it is. And I have to write about two more schools. Will do so hopefully this week.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What makes me happy

Kiran tagged me to write down things that make me happy. It's funny that a cheery tag like this can actually send me into melancholic mood...

Because I wonder about what makes me happy and I wonder if the answers are taking a while to come to my mind, if I am not happy now...or is it just that I am sleepy and my brain has turned off?!

I really enjoyed reading Kiran's list. I actually wished I could have written a list like that. To know so clearly that some of those things would make me happy...that would do me good.

Shoes, perfume, bags, a gift from husband (not that it happens often - he assumes now that I don't like what he gives me anyway!), chocolates, mom's cooking...none of those would feature in my list. I used to delight in "Kit Kat" chocolates when I was a kid - it really used to make me happy. My sister used to bring it from the US when she visited and somehow we used to get a stock every few months. Now it means nothing to me. Kind of sad when those simple things don't make you as happy anymore! Well, I love mom's cooking - but I don't know if that's what would make me "happy". On second thoughts, a "thoughtful" gift from husband may make me happy - just because he thought about it and got it! See, I am taking this tag so seriously.

I can think of some moments that made me truly happy. But when it fades into memory, it all seems so fleeting and hard to attain again - it makes me sad again. So I don't even think about it. I tend to thrive on just silly jokes and laugh so hard over nothing and somehow those moments are when I would say I am happy. But yes for the purpose of this tag - there are a few things that do make me happy...

- when I catch up with an old friend and I feel like I spoke to him/her only yesterday...that warm feeling makes me feel happy.

- the other day I was about to go downstairs to make my decaff tea and come back up to the office room (where I use the laptop) after saying "good night" to B. He walked out of our room to get something and somehow we end up talking in hushed tones (so as to not awaken the kids) right there by the stair case and laughed so hard over some silly joke he made...those unexpected moments of laughter just make me really happy. I just thrive on such moments.

- when I receive a nice long hand written letter or even a meaningful, warm email from a friend - who is truly making conversation with really makes me happy.

- There are a few friends with whom I talk and somehow we end up spinning silly jokes - taking off from the other person's last line - just keep spinning on and on and laughing over nothing - it happens every now and then when we talk - I love those kind of conversations. We just laugh and laugh and just enjoy ourselves so much.

- I sometimes randomly make small sketches on pieces of paper (looking at some other sketch and copying it) - occasionally I paint it in color - when they turn out well, it makes me happy.

- When I was pregnant with KB, I could not find maternity clothes that fell nicely on me - especially the sun dresses. So I got myself a sewing machine and bought a couple of patterns and sewed a few sun dresses for myself. I felt really happy when I wore them - I never had the patience to sew nor did I think I could sew at all - that unexpected piece of my own creation made me happy. (OK, so sewing a good outfit makes me happy!).

- When I sing a song and hit the high note perfectly, and I hear the reverberation I feel truly truly happy. I wish I could sing more often and well. I would be much happier as a person over all I think!

- my children make me really really really happy. When the four of us sit together as a family and play with them, I wish I could live in that moment for ever. I feel truly happy and blessed. And even as I think that I have this fear that something may take that away from me.

- If my dad was also alive and if my parents still were living in our house in Chennai and I could go back to visit them there...spend time at would make me so so so happy! Sorry Poppin - I know you are shaking your head saying "What's this obsession about a home in India?!". But the image of it fills me with happiness and that it will never be - that my children can never go back to a home there - makes me sad.
Now I am moving a happy tag to a sad tag - so I better stop here. It's pretty late anyway and B wants to leave early for work tomorrow - so I better wind up now. Sorry Kiran - this is just a random list of things that make me happy. Thanks anyway for tagging me - helps me realize that there are definitely some things that make me happy! :)

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

KB ate what?!

Avocado parathas?! Wow! I mean this kid is really too much. I give him apple juice, he says "No". I ask him if he wants to have tutti fruti ice-cream - No. I think he just doesn't like food. No, just like his mother he is picky. That's all. Totally random.

We went to the Indian store the other day and B ordered Sev Puri. KB immediately asked for a cup of the same stuff - minus the puri. So he wanted the Sev - which he calls "Maggi" on taking a quick look. I feel excited if he just wants to try any new food. I can't explain why this fills me with excitement but it does. For a lot of parents, they are used to their child wanting to eat a lot of different things even if they are not good eaters. But for me, if KB even agrees to try something new, I feel happy - since he doesn't do so easily.

I saw this recipe for avocado chapathis. I give both KB and KG avocado every now and then as part of their meals. Mashed in the blender for KG and just sauteed for KB.
I decided to make avocado parathas today since I had a little bit of time since KB was in a good mood and looked like he would give me time to experiment with stuff.
These parathas turned out so yummy - I thought I should post about it so the few people who read my post can try it out. Especially since avocados are so good for health - it would be nice if some kids end up liking this stuff.

I took about 3/4 of an avocado (chopped) and added a pinch of turmeric, coriander leaves, two green chillies and put them all into the blender container. Just as I was about to blend it, on a whim, I just added a 1/4 teaspoon amount of MTR kothamalli thokku (coriander thokku). It gave it a bit of spicy twist. You can skip adding the thokku of course.

I blended this to paste and added enough chapathi flour (I used Laxmi brand) to knead it into a soft dough. No extra water added to the flour.
It gave me about 7 medium sized parathas. It is so easy to make parathas this way - once you blend it all as part of the flour - esp with avocados, it just yields to the motions of the roller so smoothly. No cracks, nothing.

By the way, two people (Neera in her comment) wrote to me that they tried out my MIL's pulav recipe and that it turned out to be awesome - I wish I could call my MIL now and tell her that. It is during these moments that you miss the person. But she lives on in the memories she has created for us and now in all the yummy pulav that a few people have had.

Oh back to the original story - so I made these avocado parathas and B just loved them. He could not guess at all what he was having until I told him. Note, this is "B" who loved them, not "KB" - if KB had "loved" the parathas, I would have been in heaven and still floating there! I cut half a paratha into different shapes (since KB had macroni with butter for a snack late evening - he did not want dinner) and lured KB to the table. I could not believe that he didn't actually run away looking at the green stuff in front of him. He actually had a few pieces. I think he stopped after a few pieces because he was not very hungry. But I still felt elated that he ate a few pieces of my new (borrowed recipe of course)creation. Am hoping to somehow get him to eat this good stuff more often! Hope some of you try this as well - good stuff for the kids especially!