In my last post, I mentioned that my husband and I had been touring new schools for Koukla – Montessori schools, to be exact. It’s important to me that I make this distinction, because the decision to go school shopping was not an easy one, and I need to emphasize (for my own sense of guilt, I suppose) that we didn’t just decide to go looking for someplace with a nicer jungle gym. We decided that a major change was in order.
My husband and I spent a lot of time weighing the pros and cons of disrupting Koukla’s routine, in part because she is very, VERY shy when she first encounters new people (big or little), and in part because we both went to lots of different schools growing up and want more stability for our own kids. Koukla has been in the same daycare for a year and a half and she’s grown really comfortable – she loves her teachers, she loves her classmates, she walks around the classroom giving everyone hugs when I drop her off in the morning and spends the whole ride home jabbering about what all of her little friends did throughout the day. But in the past few months, I’ve been feeling that this school just isn’t the right fit for her. Of course the biting incidents have had something to do with this (both the bitee/biter sides of it), but those are not much more than a minor subplot to this story.
When we chose Koukla’s current school, we were operating in crisis mode. I was still reeling from the near death experience of Koukla’s birth, my return to work from maternity leave had been rocky at best, and neither the highly recommended nanny nor best daycare in town had turned out well for us. I just couldn’t get myself together long enough to do the kind of research more diligent parents than myself are so good at, and so our only concern was that Koukla be in a nurturing, safe, clean environment, which is exactly what we found at her current school. I sort of assumed that this would be enough, indefinitely.
So what’s changed? The teachers are great, the facilities are nice, the staff are friendly. Most of my complaints are miniscule in comparison to everything they’re doing right – they do everything they promised and then some. Before I could find a newly tailored toddler program, I needed to understand where exactly we had outgrown the suit we already own. How can I solve a problem when I don’t really know what the problem is?
It took me a while, but I finally figured out that the problem is not the school or the teachers or the other little kidlets in her class, the problem is the curriculum. As much as she loves seeing her teachers and playing with her friends, there is too much play, too much noise, too much FUN. By the end of the school day she is simultaneously over-excited and over-tired. All of this stimulation works well for some kids, but lately I’ve noticed that when I pick Koukla up at the end of the day, she tends to be off in a corner where nobody will bother her, working her way through a challenge of one sort or another. On the weekends, she’ll spend a half an hour (also known as an eternity in toddler time) quietly reading books to her dolly or lugging a watering can around the backyard. It turns out, she really likes quiet (except for when she doesn’t – she is still a toddler, after all).
What a relief! I know next to nothing about diaper changing regulations, early child development theories, or daycare accrediting agencies, but curriculum I can handle. It’s all downhill from here!
Or not. Aside from being time consuming (each tour takes 2-3 hours out of our workdays), expensive (each application costs $100!!!), and stressful (because they’re basically admitting the student based on how much they like the parents), our preschool visitation jag was also really, really confusing. Not only was there no good clearinghouse of local daycare facilities or preschools for me to refer to (anyone interested in helping me build one of these?), there was no clear explanation of what the theoretical approaches to curriculum were at the schools that we did find.
Which is where we circle back to Montessori.
I work in education and I study education, so maybe I’m becoming a little more, err, fastidious, about what’s happening in my daughter’s classroom (disregard the fact that nearly all of my graduate work has focused on writing and pedagogy at the college level – hopefully I will have loosened this vise by the time my daughter is actually enrolled in college writing). So I took a step back and decided to reverse engineer our preschool planning. I printed out the lesson plans from Koukla’s current school, laid out the brochures from schools we had visited, and started connecting the dots between these real life classrooms and the little bit I knew of educational theories. For a moment I even had the grand idea of using this blog for something useful for once, just in case some of my beloved MaW followers were asking themselves the same questions I’ve been dealing with, trying to make sense of what exactly their kids are up to all day. I thought maybe I could break it all down into an easy daycare for dummies (If your child loves jumping in mud puddles, try the Waldorf approach! If your child loves gazing at the night sky, look for anything marked Reggio!), but this quickly devolved into educational theory for educators who know way less than they think they do. So I decided to focus on the one very important task at hand.
It turns out that the school where Koukla gets about thousand times too much stimulation, which seems like absolute all the time playtime chaos, is “child-centered,” which is technically – much to my surprise – not a play-based curriculum after all. Which meant that as nice as child-centered sounds, it would be less than centering for the only child I was concerned with. And so with this, I put a great big X through nearly every school we had seen so far, and drew a great big heart around the three local Montessori listings.
The discipline and self-direction of these schools isn’t for everyone, but it only took a few minutes of me sitting on a miniature chair in a beautifully calm classroom to know that this approach is going to fit our Koukla like a glove.
Assuming we get in. Which, of course, is a story for a different day.