How hard can it be to pick a preschool?

Investigating kelp on the beach

That was my Facebook status a month ago.

Sometime in April, Curt and I decided that we wanted to send Laird to preschool (PS) in the fall.  The only problem was most of the preschools in our area adhered to the strict guidelines set by Portland Public Schools requiring kids to be 3 years of age by September 1.  If you’ve read my previous post, you would know that although Laird’s birthday *party* was in August, his actual birthdate is not until after this September 1st cutoff.  However, after calling around to a few schools, we came across a Christian program that would allow him to start in the 3’s class.  Thinking there probably weren’t many that would be flexible with their age requirements, we didn’t really look elsewhere, paid the registration fee and were done with it.  L would be starting in the fall on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Things changed when Curt recently started a new job and now had Mondays off.  We realized that it would be nice to have 3-day weekends as a family and actually preferred L go to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays instead.   Unfortunately, there weren’t anymore openings for those days at the school L was registered at.  Now what to do?  So, I started calling other PSs and asking friends and it seemed that most would require him to be 3 before he started.  However, there were a few, mainly play-based parent coop programs that would be flexible with the guidelines and also had openings on Tues/Thurs.

“Parent coop?  What exactly is that?  Play-based?  I want my kid to learn, not just play,” were all naive thoughts of mine.  So I initially wrote them off and hoped that someone would give up their tues/thurs spot at the PS where L was registered at.  In the meantime, though, for some reason I began to investigate these play-based programs more.  Actually, now that I think about it, I ran into a few parents who highly recommended a couple of these PSs to me.  My next step, naturally, was to google “play-based learning.”  I was bombarded with a wealth of information in the form of scientific studies and anecdotal reflections on why play is incredibly important in early childhood education.   It didn’t take me long to realize that perhaps the “academic” program we had signed L up at (and yes, the director called her preschool program “academic”), was not at all what we wanted for him, forget about the days being unideal.  This realization hit me just as I was beginning to really see Laird’s personality develop from being with him at home full-time.  Suddenly, the idea of him in a classroom reciting the ABC’s and numbers seemed completely wrong and I couldn’t imagine him trying to sit still and be good for a teacher.

I visited an additional four PS programs and narrowed it down to three.  One was Christian (much like the place where L was registered at, only cheaper), one was play-based and one was a play-based parent coop.  L was thrilled when we first visited the parent coop PS.  The space is actually a kid’s utopia.  The kids are free to run outdoors as they please and have sandboxes, a jungle gym, water tables, trucks, rakes, toys, etc to play with outside.  He quickly started playing with the water and the sand.  Indoors is equally as inviting with blocks, puzzles, art tables, a dress-up area, story book nook and loft for quiet time.  I was immediately drawn to this space and so was L.  I initially planned to be there for a half-hour, but ended up staying for almost 2 hours!  L even scored special treats because they were celebrating some birthdays.  I also spoke to a few moms there and all had rave reviews for the teacher and the program.  I was sold.  Until I discovered the parent responsibilities: Helping in the classroom 5-7 times a year, 5 mandatory business meetings, 2 3-hr workday commitments, an assigned job to help with the operation of the PS and fundraising.  Ai ya yai.  Really?  That much involvement?  Who has the time?  Especially with an infant?

So I began to consider the other two programs.  I liked the idea of sending L to a Christian PS, what a great foundation to build upon.  But, I just wasn’t drawn to it.  Their primary focus was on teaching the Gospel, which I believe whole-heartedly in.  And they do cool art projects as well as put together Christmas and Easter programs.  But, I kind of got the sense that the programs were more gratifying for the parents and less of an opportunity for the kids to be creative in their own right.  That could just be me though.  Suddenly, my pendulum was swinging in quite the opposite direction.

Lastly, was the play-based non-coop program.  It cost a bit more than the other two, but it was closer to our house and the hours were a little longer, so I would actually have time to do other things while L was there.  The big positive was that it wasn’t a coop, so no responsibilities for us as parents.  We could just drop L off and pick him up when 1:00 rolled around.  Easy peasy.  No other commitments.  Between the two play-based programs, clearly that one seemed the most convenient.

And so I went back and forth, and back and forth, pro-ing and con-ing the two.  This PS has this, this one has that, etc, etc.  I was literally losing sleep over this and I couldn’t enjoy anything because this is all I could think about.  Where do we send Laird?  All the while, I dragged Curt through this completely ridiculous drama by being utterly indecisive as usual.  More than once I got the make-up-your-d$%#-mind-already look.  Curt, Mr. Laid Back, really doesn’t care where we send L, defaulting to “I never went to preschool.”  I have yet to respond with, “Well, it only took you 10 years to decide on a career.”  Anyway, I finally gave myself a deadline to make a decision.  Sadly, I have to admit, it took me weeks of agonizing to finally pray about it and ask the Lord for guidance.  And, He answered me, at midnight.

I stumbled upon a blog that made me realize what I had been seeing as downsides for a parent coop were actually huge benefits.  How often do we, as parents, actually get to be inside our children’s classrooms without feeling like we are interfering, or get to have a say in how our kids are educated?  Soon I began asking myself, “How can I not be involved in my child’s education?”  This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to nurture L and to play an active role in his learning.  I don’t know how I didn’t recognize this all along.

Finally, I have peace about this and it feels good.  I am ecstatic for L to begin this new stage in his life, to be in his own space, with new friends, learning through doing what he loves…playing.  I should add that this is sooooooo unlike me.  The asian in me wants to drill him and make sure he knows his ABCs and numbers, draws in the lines and recites shapes and colors.  But, I know that to do so would restrict him and smother every bit of creativity he has.

Playing with snakes!

When describing the teaching philosophy at the coop, one parent paraphrased what the teacher told her, “Most kids learn to take the highway when learning.  These kids will learn that there are other roads that lead to the same end point.”  I am reflecting on that as I type this and realizing how well that describes Curt and his meandering career path.  Yes, it would have been easiest for him to have become a dentist right from the get go, but how would he have known that the other career paths weren’t the right ones without trying them first?  If nothing else, his resume is twice as long as mine. 🙂

How fun it is to just run…


One response to “How hard can it be to pick a preschool?

  1. It is quite a big decision on where to sent your kids for school…wait till you have to decide private or public school…mac and I went through that phase with McKaylee for elementary school, but quickly decided on public school. There are days I wonder if it is the “right” decision…knowing that there is no right or wrong choices, you just have to do what you are comfortable and happy doing!
    And, yes, playing = learning at this stage in life…baby steps…LOL!

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