Friday, June 8, 2012

Choosing (and Sticking With) A Preschool That's Right For Your Child

Syd's last day of preschool was last week. It was my turn to work in the classroom so I got to be a part of all the festivities that took place that day. It was exhausting and emotional, and I'm glad I was there to be a part of it. I realize as we near the end of the school year, the last thing some of you may want to talk about is more school, but I wanted to share a bit about our experience now that I've had some time to reflect on the entire year, and hopefully some of our experiences will help you in your preschool search along the way.
We found our preschool through a friend that recommended it for Taylor.  We started Taylor at a very traditional type of preschool when she was 3 1/2, and aside for some tears in the beginning, the year was pretty much uneventful.  There weren't any real opportunities to volunteer in the classroom so I could see what went on in there, and the artwork Taylor brought home was pretty much scripted pieces of pre-cut squares and triangles that she was prompted to glue together to represent a penguin, Abe Lincoln, a snowman.   In other words, nothing terribly creative, or messy, for that matter.  But her teachers and the rest of the staff were loving and caring, so I figured I'd let sleeping dogs lie.     
As she started her second year though, minor tears turned into full fledged screaming, terrified meltdowns.  She was clearly unhappy and scared and just miserable everyday that we went to school.  After a month, we trusted our gut and what our daughter was telling us, and we pulled her out.  The last thing we wanted was for her experience before she started Kindergarten to be miserable.  We started her at The Children's Garden Preschool, and Syd continued there when it was time for him to start preschool.
With a year under our belt, I knew there were a few things I wanted for their preschool experience:
  • A developmental preschool where learning through play was the philosophy.
  • Loving teacher(s)
  • Opportunities for parents to volunteer
  • A creative environment where children were not only allowed to get dirty, but it was encouraged
  • A place where he would learn the fundamentals to prepare him for kindergarten, like sitting quietly, waiting his turn, working and playing with others
The first year for him was overall a great experience.  I was working full time so never really got much of a chance to connect with the other moms in class, or set up play dates for him with the other kids.  I felt guilty about it, but when you're working, what can you really do?  I saw relationships form between some of the other moms and kids in the class and it stung a bit, but as the school year ended and I quit my job, I looked forward to the new school year where I was now going to have time to focus on fostering some relationships for my little guy.  After all, in our group of friends, he is the only boy out of a sea of girls and he was ready to start playing with boys.  
The second year started and it was a bit crazy, if you will.  Lots of boys in a large classroom with lots of energy, boy energy that is.  Since I volunteered in the class twice a month, I got to see what transpired in there throughout the day.  There was aggressiveness, some pushing, lots of well, just frustrating behavior.  My son was starting to pick up on these behaviors.  The teachers assured me they had it under control but I had my doubts.  I was hoping for some punishments, some time outs, some stern talk.  But that wasn't our teacher's styles.  I appreciated that when I wanted them to be loving and understanding when our children were having a tough day.  But being naughty?  I wanted them to be tough.  I wanted to have it both ways.

On top of that, I was trying to assimilate into the circle of moms but just wasn't getting very far.  Aside from a couple of ladies that I really enjoyed talking with and now consider friends, I just wasn't connecting with anyone else.  Our views were different, our lifestyles, our parenting philosophies, whatever.  And because I wasn't connecting with many people, neither was my son. Play dates were being made between lots of other kids in the class, but not with Syd.  I started to feel hurt on top of frustrated, and I started to take things personally.  For someone that overall makes friends fairly easily, it felt so weird and odd to be in this situation.  I started to look for a new school.

We looked into and applied to the preschool where some of my best friends sent their children.  It would be a natural fit after all.  Syd would have built in friends, and so would I.  I took Syd there one day to show him around and he clearly showed that he was not happy with this turn of events.  He said over and over again, "I don't want to leave my school, I love my school.  I love my teachers."  We talked about our possible move for a few days and tried to convince him this was the right move for him, but he wouldn't budge.     
Had we seriously felt Syd was in danger, or that he wasn't thriving at his school, despite any of his objections we would have moved him.  But the more he protested, the more I realized that this move wasn't about him, but about me and my feelings about the situation.  He didn't care that he wasn't being invited on play dates, he didn't mind that some of the kids were rowdy and rough.  Overall he was having a great time at school, and felt loved and safe and comfortable.  I realized that I had to make this decision about him, not me. 
We decided to stay.  The teachers did get things under control, through a combination of their loving way, with a bit more sternness added in.  They didn't bully the kids into behaving but taught them through example.  Within a couple of months the energy of the classroom was completely different than the beginning of the year.  I still never made any real connections with many of the women there (just one or two), but at the end of the day, it didn't matter.  His experience was the same regardless of how many play dates he was invited to or how many birthday parties he went to.

The last day of school was a carnival of fun, literally.  There were regatta races with boats the kids made, obstacle courses, art projects, and sliding down slides in boxes, an activity I'm sure would be banned at most schools out of fear of a lawsuit.  The kids made popcorn and ice cream from scratch, and they got filthy dirty.  To collect their diploma, each child slid down the twirly slide and shook hands with Mrs. Hill and Mrs. Bailey.  It was an amazing day.

Art and I texted each other later in the day and both said the same thing; we were so glad we stuck it out and kept him at that school.  Syd is now going into Kindergarten with a great set of social skills, and with the experience that learning can in fact be fun.  I couldn't have asked for anything more. 
What factors did you look for in choosing your child's preschool, and was their preschool experience what you had hoped it would be?

This post is sponsored by Disney Baby. I'll be joining the Disney Baby blogging team next month, and look forward to sharing these kinds of stories (projects/ideas/etc) with you over there! Stay tuned for more details!


  1. This post speaks to me Andrea. I *hated* Dylan's preschool this year too. I felt his teachers were not genuine, I had no 'proof' of learning, and mostly, I didn't like the parents. They were unfriendly and unwelcoming (most of them had already spent 2 years together and formed friendships). I felt like an outsider the entire time. I stuck it out for this school year and signed Corbin up for our 'first' preschool-- it is farther away, I'm gonna have to be more selective for the days I work, etc. The year end slide show showed me a completely different school than what I *thought*. If I had been patient, I may have kept Corbin at the more convienenient school. Then I could have been the welcoming face to the new skeptical parents.... :P

  2. You have a beautiful blog with a lot of inspiring posts! Congrats on your work! Would you like t follow each other?:)


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