Right now, it takes me almost fifteen minutes to get her to school, twenty if there is traffic. As much as I love her school, that’s just too much time in the car.
I have agonized a little more over this decision than is probably necessary, visiting preschools and soliciting opinions from everyone who will talk to me. I’ve gotten positive reviews of all the schools I’ve been considering, and all sorts of advice, with the general consensus being pick the most convenient. The problem, of the two schools that I am deciding between, neither is as good as the one she is leaving.
There’s basically three main shows in town (if you don’t count the school run preschool). One, I’ve already done. I liked it, and we probably would have stayed there, but Little Lady wasn’t potty trained and the 2 1/2 program (you can wear your diapers) was just too short, probably to avoid diaper changes.
So, I switched to a new school, sight unseen, because they were in the middle of construction, and just went for it. Who knew I would love it? Certainly not me, because for the first month, all I did was remember (through rose colored glasses) the down home churchy feel of the boys’ preschool. But that feeling passed quickly as I came to love her teachers and the program.
So, this week, I visited two schools that a neighbor told me the school district recommended. Unfortunately, I was left feeling so-so about both.
The first one was like walking into a kindergarten class, not a pre-k class. The kids were seated orderly in front of a blackboard doing sight words. Very impressive. They, then, moved to carpet for circle time, to “read” the weekly reader (which, I’ve always found to be a total snore fest). I asked about the art, a very telling indicator of what type of school it is, and I was presented with very neat and orderly projects, and a bulletin board filled with duplicate colored snowmen.
Then, I asked about worksheets. Sure, worksheets have their place, but in preschool? I’m not really convinced of that, and neither is the current research. In fact, I used to work at a school that was responsible for educating the local preschools in best practices and worksheets were definitely a no-no (and not currently part of Little Lady’s preschool life).
The director responded that they did do worksheets because that’s what was expected of them in kindergarten, and her job was to prepare the students for kindergarten. Even lunch and learn, which I always thought should be called lunch and play, was designed so that every day, the kids received a different subject, art, Spanish, movement, etc….
It all seemed a little much for preschool.
Then, I went to the second school, and well, I might as well have been walking into my living room. That churchy feel that I missed so much, two years ago, now felt more shabby than quaint. All the centers were toys we already owned, and sadly, one of the centers consisted of coloring a worksheet, that dealt with the letter N.
I asked the director about play. She said they believed in the importance of outdoor play, everyday, which is good, because so do I. I asked about art, she showed me three year old art work that was not done by three year olds, and four year old art work that looked a little closer to the real deal. We talked about the idea that art should be kid directed. The director agreed, but sadly, commented that many other parents did not feel that way. Who knew there were parents in the world that feel disappointment if their Johnny’s snowman doesn’t look as good as Susie’s? Isn’t it more important that your child’s artwork be their own?
I was hoping to love one of the schools I visited, but as it turns out, I felt ambivalence towards both of them. Worse, I then visited the classroom that she is currently enrolled in for next year, at her current school (because I put a deposit down, just in case) and there they were, in all their glory, engaged four year olds getting reading to make hand prints in salt dough, after having read a story about animal prints in the snow. I left feeling bad about taking her away from such a dynamic, creative, and positive atmosphere.
But not bad enough to waste 30 minutes each day driving back and forth.
I was torn. Little Lady plays all day. That’s her life. What she doesn’t get, is too much academic learning. Sure, we read, but I don’t worry about her reading early or knowing her letters, let alone writing them. Maybe, I’ve been too lackadaisical with her education.
On the other hand, she’s four. I want her preschool to be a warm, loving environment that encourages her to play and explore her own interests. She’s got the rest of her life to sit still and learn.
So, after a little soul, and Internet searching, I came to a decision. As it turns out, the only people who think an overly academic preschool is important are the parents, who send their kids there. Experts agree that learning, at the preschool level, should come from play, not memorization. In fact, one study showed that even though the nature of pre-k and kindergarten have changed to become more academic, it has done nothing to change the overall outcome of education.
So, in the end, I took the practical advice of other mom’s and chose the school that was both most convenient and most aligned with my preschool philosophies. I nixed the academically oriented classroom, and registered for the one that more resembled my living room. It’s three minutes away. After all, this isn’t college, this is a two and a half hour a day, of eight months of her life. I’m pretty sure, had she gotten a chance to make it, she wouldn’t even remember her salt dough hand print, anyhow.