Monday, March 31, 2008

big decisions

There are very few things that I know for sure.

I know that I am going to start using Zicam again, even though there are concerns that it could be linked to anosmia. Minus the one week I was away on vacation, I have been seriously sick for EIGHT weeks straight. I've been coughing so much that I pulled all of my ab muscles and one in my neck. All four of our children have been sick, three of them with ear infections - one of them twice. Since this level of impairment never happened when we were using Zicam, this family is going back on the gel (and Q-tips).

I know that tonight for dinner, we'll be having fresh bread because I just made a batch. But the rest of the menu - as of almost 3:00 PM - is a puzzle.

I know that our house seems very small at times with six people, and the idea of a larger house sounds great. But I have no idea when, how, or where we will move ... if we ever do.

I know that I am supposed to return to work part-time May 1 and that a year from that date, I am supposed to return to work full-time. But whether or not I will actually return to full-time work, is uncertain.

I know that a structured education is something that our children will need in their lives. But whether I will send them to school - or teach them at home - is something I have not yet worked out.

Charlie says that I am an enigma wrapped up in mystery. But I believe that given time, any answer to any question will slowly unfold and present itself.

Last week was a difficult week, but the first week back from a vacation always is. Add to that, everyone was sick - we went to the doctor's office three times in five days - and we purchased a gargantuan play set that is now in parts across our patio, rendering the backyard "OFF LIMITS" to three curious children.

By Thursday (even before we had the play structure in parts across our yard), I was really struggling. I felt like our three-year-olds had been ascending to a point in their lives when they needed more than what I could provide them, every day. So out of sheer desperation, I called several preschool and Montessori schools in the area and lined up appointments for this week.

Today, while Charlie took all four children back to the doctor's office (that would be four times in seven days), I met with the director of a local Montessori school. I sat in on a classroom of four-year-olds and what I saw shocked me.

They were orderly.

They were disciplined.

They were organized.

They were polite.

They were engaged.

They were quiet, speaking only in whispers.

I'm not sure if the reason that they were so controlled in their emotions and behavior is because they are four-years-old (as opposed to three) ... or if it's because they are in a Montessori environment.

I don't know what kind of picture I paint of our children on this blog. I give snippets of their behavior, but that can change from day to day or hour to hour. For the most part, they are really wonderful kids. They are respectful, funny and if I may say so myself, extremely bright. They definitely have their moments when I'm ready to hang them by their toes, but I think that's par for the course at three-years-old.

It surprised me to not only see how well behaved these children were, but how I, turned in to a weepy mess as soon as I sat down. How is it possible that my babies - my tiny babies - are at a point in their lives where they could be sitting in a classroom setting and working on their decimals? And continents? And planets?? And raising their hands to get the attention of the teacher - and carrying a little backpack - and doing educational things ... without me??

I was biting my tongue so hard to hold back the tears, that I started to bleed.

After my 30-minute observation, I could actually envision our three children, in their three separate classrooms, learning, absorbing, and coming home with the ability to speak in Spanish. I believed - and still do, to a degree - that if we were to send them to Montessori, we would be providing a different (better?) educational experience, than what we could give them at home. And that experience, could - potentially - pave success for their entire lives.

But then. I could feel my wallet bleed when I picked up a tuition schedule and saw that it would cost $700.00 a month, per child, to send them to Montessori school, part-time. That does not include the $350.00 registration fee, per child, that is required at the beginning of each year.

Let's do the math.

$2,100/month X 10 months = $21,000 + $1,050 = $22,050.00

Because it is recommended that in order to get the full Montessori experience, children stay through kindergarten >> and since our children aren't slated to begin kindergarten until 2010 ... we need to triple that estimate. The grand total works out to $66,150.00, without any consideration to a possible increase in their fees, nor the 5% discount that is offered to families with multiples. But that deduction is pretty negligible, given the full cost.

I love being home. I love teaching our children and I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job, but I know that they are not receiving the same level of structure - and independence - and potentially, education - as they would in Montessori. And the question is, cost aside, does that really matter?

At three, four, five years old - how much education and structure do they really need??

Would they blossom more, and would I blossom more, if they were in Montessori, five days a week for three hours a day?

At this moment, I seriously don't know.

If we were to send the children to Montessori, I would need to work. Not full-time, per se, but we could not afford to send all three children to Montessori, pay our mortgage, fuel our vehicles, feed and clothe a family of six ... in California ... on one income.

Unless we ate potatoes every night and wore the sacks that they came in.

31 comments:

  1. I don't think it's just Montessori -- my just-turned-4-year-old goes part-time to a small preschool where the kids are as you describe (she started there at 3-1/2). So you ought to go see some of the other schools, too. Maybe you'll find a non-Montessori one that's cheaper but also looks great.

    Leslie

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  2. Okay Jen, deep breaths!

    That's most definitely a LOT of moolah. Are you really convinced by the Montessori method? I mean I like that method, but it's sort of . . . well it has some rigidity to it. Anyway I just read this book and LOVED it:

    http://www.amazon.com/Better-Late-Than-Early-Education/dp/0883490498

    And also please read (in your spare time lol!!!) A Child's Work: the Importance of Fantasy Play.

    Both are wonderful books to reinforce the feeling that you and I both seem to have that these years should be as unstructured, as free-wheeling if you will - as open-ended as possible.

    They will have many, many, MANY years of structure and formality in school from K-12. It's okay to kick back and just hang when you're three or four!

    Unless you just really need the break - which is completely understandable!!!!! - don't feel pressure to get your sweet little bundles of chaos all orderly quite yet.

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  3. We just decided to send Shayna to preschool. This summer, she'll be spending 2 days a week and 5 days a week this fall, from 9-1 at the Jewish Community Center. It's not cheap, but it's not $700 a month. That seems a little expensive. Look somewhere else. Don't forget to check out the bathrooms. That's the first place I check because if they're not clean, nothing else matters!

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  4. We love the Montessori. Our daughter has really gained a lot of confidence in, well, everything. I don't think there is any rigidity to the Montessori approach. Sure, there is structure to it but kids need structure. The children work at their own pace, with the materials they want when they want. I'm pro-Montessori! I also understand the costs involved and if we had three kids the same age, we wouldn't be able to afford for all three to go (ours is about $780 a month in LA).

    I did a lot of research as well. I don't think we'll be sending our two to Montessori for kindergarten. I like the K-5th plan at the local public school.

    Just my two cents. If you guys can make it work, I think Montessori is wonderful.

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  5. Ummm...my kids 3 year old classes were the same way and I paid less than $3000 a year. I just can't believe that educating a preschooler is worth that much money. Sorry.

    But I know what you mean about the crying. When my DD does something so independent it makes me want to weep.
    -twingles

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  6. If you are convinced you want to give preschool a try, I would definitely go with observing some NAEYC accredited preschools in your area.

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  7. My personal opinion is that Montessori is overpriced...nothing wrong with the experience, just not any different than what I got for a fraction of the price (and I looked at a million schools). My boys went to Mother's Day Out at a local church twice a week (for 5 hours each day) for two years. It was just as you described at the Montessori school. The children listened! They sat on their little chairs at the little table...without getting up! They layed on their nap mats...and they didn't get up! They listened to the teacher so amazingly well! And the things they learned and came home talking about astounded us. All for the amazing price of $450 a month. FOR BOTH! This year they are in full-time preschool at the same school and I pay $730 a month. FOR BOTH! One is reading at *almost* a 1st grade level and one is reading at or above a 1st grade level. Their math skills are amazing and they are so inquisitive and their teachers are fabulous about answering all their questions. So, my two cents would be to check out the local churches!!! I have nothing but good things to say about our experience.

    Kelly(Houston)

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  8. Wow! I had no idea that it was so expensive! Not that I think a good education isn't worth it, but still - that is a large expense!

    Good luck sorting it all out - it's not easy no matter how you look at it.

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  9. Hi! I just found your blog... and thought I would share. My daughter started at a dual language (spanish/english) Montessori Preschool/Elementary school at age 3. We have loved every single day! At $450/month for the half day/full week preschool, it seemed expensive. (one income house) But then I shopped around. It was a very average price for the 'nicer' pre-schools in our area (outside of Raleigh, NC). Now that she's in Kindergarten we don't have to pay tuition - it's a Charter Elementary school. She understands and speaks quite a bit of spanish already too! I wrote a post about it not too long ago if you want to read it. I'm sure you will find something that works well for your family - even if you stay at home and work with the kids yourself. There are a lot of ways you could use the Montessori philosophy in your house if you decide that's what you want to do. If you are looking for more info on that route, I am sure I have some helpful links I can share! Em

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  10. YAY!! WE LOVE MONTESSORI! Did you see this post about my 3 year old in his Montessori classroom? Does it look similar to what you observed?
    (to those who argue against Montessori, our son goes 2 1/2 hours a day, 5 days a week. There is PLENTY of time for fantasy and imaginative play after school, not to mention the outside play time during school)
    Here's the post:
    http://bookids.blogspot.com/2008/02/quinn-in-school-at-3-13-years.html
    Pam

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  11. I went to Montessori for a year when I was little.

    I'm at the same level as my friends who didn't go to preschool at all, or went to a preschool that wasn't Montessori.

    It's a personal decision, but any preschool that you've checked out and can deem high enough quality for your personal standards would be fine. There's no reason it has to be Montessori school (which really is Private School and that's why it's super expensive).

    You just need caring, knowledgeable teachers and caregivers. That's what you look for. There must be other options than $66,000+ per year on education for three year olds.

    I don't have kids, but I do work with a lot of children in childcare/kindergarten situatons and I am heading into the field of education. I'm not against Montessori in any way (as I said, I went as a kid, but it's not like I really remember it!)... but I just think it's a good idea to shop around.

    Part-time childcare that will help you to have some time for yourself/work part-time is good at this age even for the social aspect, and your children will learn to listen to others and learn some more independence. The early skills (letters, numbers, colours, etc) that you might like them to know before kindergarten can be fit in in every day learning at home (even just through talking to them about what you see in the world, no real extra work is required as kids absorb so much!). So even if you just look for a part-time, high-quality childcare centre (not necessarily "Preschool" by definition), you might find a great situation for your family (the kids will still be learning, just not in such a structured "This Is For Learning" environment; most childcare centres are committed to helping children learn and prepare for kindergarten).

    Never rule out the importance of meaningful play, either. A lot of times we try to structure the day of a child because we think that they can only learn through direct instruction; but what children need is time to play and learn through their own methods. Through make-believe, and experiments, and just PLAYING.

    What you do with your children is already remarkable, we can see that on this blog! Keep up that great work, and best of luck with whatever decision you make. Just remember - there's no right or wrong in this, it's just a matter of what works for your family. :-)

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  12. My brothers (now aged 28 & 26 respectively) attended a Montessori preschool and absolutely thrived, though how much this had to do with personality and how much to do with the school I don't know. My belief is that the school philosophy has to fit the child, otherwise it's not going to work out for either.

    As for the money side, that's a scary sum to look at all lumped together. Probably you've been asked this before but have you considered putting a Paypal "donate" button somewhere on the blog, or putting up some kind of advertising? If only to put a dent in the kids education payments. Might not seem much to start but with the sort of traffic you mentioned getting it might add up over the course of a year... just a thought.

    I guess the main function of preschool or any early learning centre is make the child school-ready, so as long as they're on the right path, I think your job is done.

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  13. Oh Jen! You have some big decisions ahead of you. No one can answer these questions for you. I will give you two bits of advice though, based on my own personal experience.

    First, I agree with Steph, the most important thing is that your child's teacher is top notch. Lots of public schools have excellent teachers. I plan on sending my little girl to our local public school, but trust me!!!...I'll be scoping out the teachers ahead of time and placing her with the one I think best fits her learning style. I taught elementary school for a few years before I became a SAHM and I loved, loved, LOVED those kids. I felt blessed everyday that I could positively influence the lives of the little people in my class.

    Second, I think your three would rise to the challenge and would totally surprise you (behavior wise, I mean) in a school environment. I taught my little girl's Sunday School class at church for a few months and she was AWFUL!...misbehaved, talked out, etc., etc. As soon as someone else took over, she was gold. Seriously, an angel. Her teacher actually commented to me how well behaved she was. I'm not saying that to discourage you from home schooling. You know your kids better than I do and you know what would be best for them. I'm just talking from my own experience.

    Well, enough rambling. You'll make the right decision. You're doing a great job with your 4. Those of us that only have one child, think you walk on water. Seriously. You're amazing.

    Take care!

    Laura
    from Ohio

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  14. The kids classroom is the same way at the Community Center. They are well-behaved and attentive. They have fun. They are like that because I'M NOT THERE! I swear to you. I've done the home school preschool thing for over a year. They act completely different at school than they do at home. They really do get a lot out of it. It's not even really about the break. (I mean it's about the break. I'm not totally crazy.) But I think it's a nice break for them too. They get out of our home environment and get to be in a place where it isn't about getting mom's attention and competing with each other. I think they deserve that break from each other.

    But I would never pay that kind of money. NEVER. Keep looking.

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  15. I think it is your sanity and your feelings that matter more than the school. I don't think that a child needs that head start - that it will define them in any way. It is preference.

    If you want to work outside the home, and want send your kids to school, they will thrive. If you want to stay home and educate them, they will thrive.

    You cannot go wrong with this decision...unless you are making a decision based on what someone else wants...instead of what you and Charlie want.

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  16. um, holy crap! that figure alone was astounding to me, being that my husband's associate makes about that amount (a little over 22) and he doesn't make a lot more than that. we are living off just his one income alone and now I am frightened (my tongue is bleeding for a whole different reason) that as much as I REALLy want my kids in private (language immersion) schools that we will NEVER EVER EVER be able to afford that!

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  17. Ugh. Did you have to do the math for me Jenna?? :-)

    We are still going back-n-forth between Tate's awesome AMI Montessori school v. 2 day/week local play based preschool with a great reputation and same child dev philosophy as Derrick and I . . . . . read $850 x 3/month v. $250 x 3 month . . .... .

    And as for back to work - You go back May 1 - the very day I am officially laid off!

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  18. No way! That's a ridiculous amount for preschool, even if it is 5 days a week. It would be right out of the question for our single-income triplet family.
    However, some kind of preschool is terrific for 3 1/2 and 4 year olds. We found a neighbourhood preschool that was very reasonable, something like $150 per month for all 3 children, several years ago. The kids went for 2 mornings a week when they were 3 1/2 years old, and 3 mornings a week when they were 4 1/2. The classroom had one teacher and one assistant for a maximum of 16 children. Our kids LOVED it, learned a great deal through play, acquired some listening skills and independence, quite a bit of pre-reading skills, lots of fine motor work, they made a craft every day... it was terrific for each of them. They did a lot of activities in a couple of hours, and were happier the rest of the day after all the stimulation and play time. So that was great for me too!

    Some local preschools are run on a co-op plan, where one teacher has one or two parent helpers in the classroom each day. This was not the best choice for our family, since they wanted me to volunteer several times a month (because of having 3 kids in the class). I felt that might diminish the children's sense of independence, and their listening to the teacher. Also I'd rather have two teachers who work together all the time and have consistent routines, rather than one teacher and a different parent helper all the time. But the co-op programs may be less expensive.
    Shop around! I'm sure you can find something that will give your kids a good learning experience for 2 or 3 days a week, which is plenty at this age, and won't break the bank!

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  19. I totally agree with "blackorchid" (second commenter) The resources she quotes are excellent. My question is why do we want four year olds sitting properly in place when they have so much energy and large muscle development to explore? I will tell you from an educator's point of view, children who came to school reading usually have leveled out by third grade and their non-reading (at age 5) peers, caught up with them by third grade.

    I think Montessori is a great program for K-6, but I do think it is over rated, as I taught children who had started with Montessori and there was little difference that I could discern from their peers who had been in regular classrooms.

    Since you shared openly about your thoughts and questions, I assume you didn't care if we put our two-bits worth in.
    ...so I did-- for what it is worth.

    You give your children so many experiences that are learning experiences. Don't sell yourself short as the best there is in these early years with your sweet babies.

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  20. Ditto what blackorchid said. They will be in school (whatever you decide) from K-12 and more if they go to college. Let them be children and play. Whatever you teach at home now but reading, maze books, coloring books, painting, listening to music, going to parks, playdates and errands is enough!!!! My boys don't go to school and they are "smart" and play well with everyone and know some sports too and know how to ride a bike and climb a tree. We never signed them up for anything either. Age almost 3 and almost 5. I know for your sanity and time for yourself it sounds nice but it will be coming soon. Go on playdates and when the kids are in bed, go out and treat yourself to coffee or movie or whatever. The time will go fast, you'll see. I'm talking to myself now too. :) LOL

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  21. My little one is nowhere close to being in pre-k. But he does go to daycare while I work FT. His personality NEEDS to be around other children, other authority figures, and other environments other than home with momma. His spirit is fed by more interaction and stimulation than I can provide alone. I pay $220 a FT week...about $950/month. And I think it's worth it.

    And I think I'm a better quality momma by working. I have my own life, my own accomplishments, my own space. I do wish it were PT and not FT, but I'm looking...in time it will come.

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  22. My twins are several months younger than your trips -- they have been going to preschool since September (2.5 hrs, twice a week). Ours is through our community rec center and costs $400 a semester/ kid. The montessori's were too expensive for us, and this preschool is awesome.

    While we do a lot of cool stuff at home (like planting the garden this weekend) they do a lot of stuff we don't do at home. We tend to do more active things -- ride bikes, go to the park, ride the train, etc... while at preschool they do a lot of crafts. Yesterday, for example, my boys came home with a windsock with a bunny design on it. I hate crafts -- definitely not my thing, but they get to do all that stuff at school.

    Definitely complementary to what we do at home and the right choice for us.

    Aren't your trips scheduled for kindergarten in 2009? I thought the state deadline was your child's age on Dec.1?

    Kristen

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  23. Karen in Buffalo4/1/08, 2:20 PM

    Yikes! That's a lot of money! My husband and I are struggling with the same decisions. My girls just turned two and people are already telling us we need to get them on enrollment lists for schools. I didn't know where to begin, but all of the comments here have been helpful. Whether they will go to preschool or not is still up in the air. We'll see.
    Good Luck in making your decision. Obviously you're the only ones who know what will be best for your kids.

    And... I hope you all get better soon!

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  24. Hey Jen,

    I know you haven't decided between homeschooling or outside Preschool. Did you realize you can homeschool using the Montessori method? On the pro side, you'd save all that money. On the con...you'd have to do it and wouldn't get a much deserved break.

    Anyway, here are two books I'm using with my toddler and then an online Montessori resource I use a lot (The Joyful Child by Olaf-online)...

    "How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way" by Tim Seldin

    "Teach Me to do it Myself: Montessori activities for you and your child" by Maja Pitamic

    Online "The Joyful Child"
    http://www.michaelolaf.com/JCcontents.html

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  25. Oh my God. I just grabbed my head when you quoted that price. That is outrageously outrageous. I'm not sure if my entire college education cost that much. I mean I'm all for Montessori, I think it's very very cool. I'd love to have my children submerged in that kind of environment, but oh my holy hell. 66k. wow.
    It hurts my head.
    Hows the playset coming along?

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  26. As a teacher (8 years), and after checking with a wonderful elementary teacher, you will not be disadvantaging your children if they are not put in Montessori.

    Many preschools can be considered Montessori as they are set up for independent learning and play exploration with a degree of structure.


    Honestly it's only as good as the teacher and I would find a preschool that you adore the teacher, with a small ration between care workers and kids.
    My experience tells me a good principal means a good staff.

    Little boys seems to be held back in many structured classrooms as they need to run around and many learn best while standing, moving and building and doing things. More and more studies are coming out stating this.

    Preschool can be wonderful for kids. Think though of what a family vacation (and other learning opportunities) you guys can experience for that kind of money. Just my 4 cents. Take it for what it is worth. I am sure this place is amazing but I am sure there are other more reasonable amazing places.

    Darcie

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  27. Rachel from Kentucky4/1/08, 8:30 PM

    My honest opinion and this is as an individual who will be graduating with her bachelor's degree in Child Development in 8 weeks and an individual who has worked, observed and volunteered in various preschool environments...

    Preschool is absolutely NOT worth that kind of money. College is. My best advice would be to find a cheaper preschool program that you like and put the money you save in a college fund. The reason that Montessori preschools (and other preschools) are so expensive right now is because preschool is not yet mandatory in the public school system -- this will likely soon be changing and only then may there be a decrease in the prices of some preschools.

    Don't get me wrong, I love Montessori preschools and think that they are wonderful for the children who thrive in them... some children don't. I personally prefer the preschools that focus more on play and social skills over how well a child can count to 100 or write their name or do decimals.

    Also, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that children who come from one particular type of preschool do better than another.

    Preschool should be fun :O)

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  28. These comments are fascinating, and I think people make great points about the value of no preschool, play based preschool and Montessori.

    I want to point out a couple of things, in defense of Montessori education. Who says it's not fun? It's incredibly fun! Montessori schools allow young children to do things they typically aren't allowed to do at home, which is why most of them LOVE it. Using spray bottles & squeegee to clean windows, washing dishes using real soap and real china, using tweezers and tongs to pick up objects, using real screwdrivers and wrenches to build stuff, slicing bananas with real, but dull, knives, pouring your own drinks for snack with tiny child-size ceramic pitchers, using scissors to arrange and clip real flowers and setting the table, polishing silver with creams and brushes, sewing, using eye droppers to mix water and food coloring, taking apart a real flashlight and learning how to put it back together, the list is endless. NOT FUN? Just the opposite! My 3 year old can hardly wait to get out of his carseat every morning.
    When people criticize Montessori for being too academic and not fun and too rigorous and stressing "work" instead of "play"....it's simply not accurate. The children are very engaged and intensely focused in a Montessori classroom--true. Why? Because the majority of them find what they are doing to be incredibly stimulating and reinforcing, and very different than what they're allowed to do at home.
    Also keep in mind that for most 3 and 4 year olds, Montessori is 2 to 3 hours a day, leaving a LOT of time for typical "fantasy" play. My son is home by 11:45, and has 8 hours of imaginative play before bedtime. I think it's a fair balance for him.

    We do not send our son to Montessori preschool because we think it will give him any specific advantages later in life. I believe "play" based preschools are incredibly valuable, too. I simply choose Montessori because it's the one envirnoment that offers so many things that he isn't exposed to at home, and quite simply, he enjoys it. For him, the work IS fun. I have no doubt that he would probably also love a more traditional play-based preschool, if the teacher and program were good.

    I pay $292 per month for my son to go 5 mornings a week. It's a PUBLIC Montessori classroom, through 6th grade. It is free starting in 1st grade. There are more and more public Montessori schools these days that are cropping up. I hope such an option is in your community, and I'd encourage anyone to observe a Montessori classroom--if they haven't already.

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  29. wow, that is pricey. i think they could still get a lot out of a less expensive option.

    the change in atmosphere and structure of any class with a teacher other than mom would be a great experience.

    if you want them to learn a second language you could hire a mother's helper who spoke a spanish or french. you would have the option of playing with her and the kids or running errands, taking a nap as your heart desires:)

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  30. Hi Jen: Just catching up some reading. My kids always enjoyed the preschool atmosphere. Just make sure that whatever you do - there are no more than 10 or fewer kids in the classroom.

    Anyway as you know I am now homeschooling. So I wanted to give a heads up on foreign languages - we are studing German and found a program through www.homeschooling.com called Powerglide. Your kids are a little young for it but when they enter into K5 it's great.

    Just wanted to give you a thought to ponder - one thing that I have always asked myself is "who do I want my kids to be?" not what.

    As you know James is 19 (yeah, wow) and in the big skeem of things it really doesn't matter that he was a "C" student in highschool or that he went to one of the finest preschools - Right now my son is a wonderful, 19 year old young man who is in college trying to complete his goals. It's funny but the one thing that makes me the proudest beside knowing he has a good head on his shoulders; is that he opens doors for others, says please and thank you, really is repectful and loves his mother and grandparents too!

    Good luck. Your kids are beautiful, smart, and it's obvious you both are doing a great job.
    ;-) Love, Marg

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  31. Back when I took Early Childhood classes I observed a Montessori class and was just as impressed as you with the orderliness and attention of the kids. Then I observed a play based preschool and realized what seemed odd at the first place. Kids that age should be running around playing and laughing and jumping, that's how they learn. Puzzles and counting beans are great toys, but too much orderliness isn't for everyone.
    And just WOW that's a lot of money!

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