Wednesday, November 19, 2008

and to think, this is only preschool

Yesterday when I dropped the triplets off at school, Elizabeth didn't want to go. She laid down on the pavement and kicked her legs. Fortunately, I had captured a prime parking spot in front of the school and Henry was sound asleep in his carseat. So I scooped up my crying child and carried her 30 feet to the gate, while Henry snoozed on.

William and Carolyn ran in to their classrooms to drop off their lunch boxes and as I was signing the children in, I could feel the panic start to rise in my chest when after scanning the crowd of children, I could only see two of the triplets. Just as I was about to call out to the teachers that were congregated outside of their rooms if they'd seen Elizabeth, her assistant teacher actually took her from my arms and said, "Hi Sweetie! I'm so happy to see you today!"

That's right. She was in my arms, still crying, and I was so exhausted I didn't even realize it. Maybe because I've been holding a crying baby all day every day since Sunday and Elizabeth weighs only slightly more.

Once Elizabeth saw her teacher, she brightened up and I felt a pang of guilt that I have been thinking such negative thoughts about a school that really is quite nice. When I drop our children off, I generally leave with the feeling that they are in a good environment where they will have fun, explore, and play. I feel like they are well supervised and the teachers are capable.

Although, it doesn't seem that the head teachers in the girls classrooms are nearly as capable as William's teacher. When I visited the classes during the birthday parties, I was swept away by how wonderful William's teacher appeared. Yet, when I sat in on the girls parties, Elizabeth's teacher seemed almost unfriendly, and Carolyn's teacher didn't seem to have a handle on her class. Interestingly enough, it was William's teacher that both Charlie and I observed during our interview of the school. We suspect that the Director realizes just how good she is and how well her classroom comes off to prospective families. Moreover, all of the children whose parents appear the most involved, are also in this particular class.

From what I have seen, read and heard, I do like that the children are engaged in traditional Montessori activities for a solid two hours a day.

But.

I don't like the commute to school. Spending almost two hours a day driving and picking the children up is asinine. I also don't like the full-time schedule. Having six hours a day apart from the children certainly has it's advantages. But I don't like being separated from my four-year-old children for the better part of their waking hours, five days a week. I'm working part-time so I can be home with our children and yet 3/4 of our children are gone most of the day.

I don't like that the school is not challenging itself - or the families that fork over large sums of money - to provide better, healthier snacks. I don't like that birthday parties and holidays are a free for all, where candy is passed around like ... candy.

I don't like that when I have spoken to the teachers and Director on several separate occasions, they have attempted to downplay my concerns. I don't like that they do not appear willing to provide more nutritious food and establish rules regarding the food that parents can and cannot bring to school for their children - or their children's classmates.

I know that these issues that I am having with our school are limited to our school and are not characteristic of the Montessori program, in general. I know this, because one day last week, I called several Montessori schools scattered around the country and spoke with a lot of different Directors. And all of them were appalled that our school would serve Fruit Loops and Oreo cookies as a snack.

Even if it was only "once a week."

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you would know that coming to the conclusion that we would send our children to school was no easy task for me. Researching and selecting a school was even more challenging because Charlie and I made the conscious decision when our triplets were born that we didn't want to place them in daycare. We adjusted our careers so that we could both take an active roll in raising our children. But beginning last year, I could see that what our children were beginning to need, was more than what I could provide.

I could see that they needed more structure, more individual quiet time, more instruction from a source other than their parents. I could see that I needed help because it didn't seem possible that I could positively engage them, without wanting to negatively disengage them from the atmosphere.

(If you know what I mean.)

(If you've ever had three-year-old triplets, I'm sure that you do.)

We researched preschools and we ultimately decided upon Montessori because we were greatly impressed with how grounded and involved the children appeared to be. And we selected the Montessori school we did, because from what we could tell, it was the best in our area.

From what I could tell, it was the only "real" one in our area.

It's important to note that at no point was I looking for daycare for our triplets. Sure, it would be an added benefit that I would have a few hours alone with Henry several times a week. But what I specifically wanted was a structured, disciplined and engaging environment that offered more than what I could provide to our children at home.

I wasn't looking for someone to simply watch them.

I was looking for someone that could supplement the love of learning that Charlie and I were attempting to instill. Some people might say that Montessori is too rigid. But when you are a triplet - your home life can often be anything but rigid - so I was also looking for a program that would provide the children a disciplined space where they could grow and learn.

I was looking for a good quality education for our children and for me.

I was looking to the school to set examples.

And although I could recreate a lot of the preschool classrooms I observed, the Montessori classroom was absolutely not something that I could recreate in our home. So I went back to work and have been writing exorbitantly large checks to cover tuition, ever since.

Like every parent, I want what is best for our children.

Although currently, I feel overwhelmed with the choices I have to make. I feel myself get pulled in to the realm of private schools - and then I find myself becoming convinced to give them the BEST of life, I must send them there. I know this train of thinking is ignorant and if I really ponder it long enough, I'll realize just how flawed it is. I know that there are other programs around that would probably provide just as good, if not better, preschool experience for our children. But, I really do love Montessori and sincerely want for our children to have the experience.

I'm just disappointed that our school isn't everything that I thought it would be.

I'm disappointed our school isn't more like this one.

This is my first time down this parenting road so I am constantly doing an assessment of what is important and what is not. I try to be an advocate for my children. Not a control freak.

But it troubles me that the Director who when confronted with my concerns, indicated that there was one other child whose parents were like "that" and any of the issues I had could be resolved by sending in a private stash of snacks for my children. It was her position that they didn't want to change their snack options because they wanted to provide food that they knew the children would eat and enjoy. So if we are to stay in this program, I need to tell my children to not look at the chocolate cookies that little Domenic is eating.

Or the Fruit Loops that Paige is separating in to clusters based on color.

I think I've mentioned that the Montessori school our children attend is largely Hispanic.

Largely, as in upwards of 90%.

Whenever we drop the kids off at school, we are surrounded by fancy cars with Mexican plates. From what I can tell, very few parents speak English as their primary language. The reason that I mention this (and I sincerely hope I don't offend anyone) is because I believe that the emphasis on "healthy" nutrition is not as advanced in Mexico as it is in other parts of the world. And I believe that because the student population is predominantly Hispanic (as are all of the teachers), it is important that the school caters to the wants of the majority.

In the almost three months that our children have been in school, I've met and spoken with only one other parent. And when I spoke with her on Friday morning, I cut right to the chase. Our conversation went something like this, "Hi, I'm Jen. My son William is in your son's class. So, I was wondering, what do you think of the snacks?"

She told me that her son had been at a Waldorf school in San Diego and when she first interviewed this school, she was quite surprised to see that they were feeding the children Ruffle potato chips (POTATO CHIPS!). But, because she only sends her son part-time, he isn't really affected and she feels like the school is so good on the whole that their snacks are of little to no consequence to her overall opinion.

Meanwhile, I'm freaking out. Me, the one that just this morning, snuck a huge oatmeal cookie in to my gullet for breakfast when the children weren't looking.

See, I know how easy it is to eat poorly. It is so easy to eat a half tray of O'Henry bars for lunch. It is so easy to swing by a drive through on your way home. It is so easy to cave to the convenience of bringing donuts to school as opposed to banana bread. Or carrot cake. And once you start eating and feeding "easy" food to children, the healthy food becomes less and less appealing.

By and large, we try to eat healthy at home. I know we could do better, but that is one of the primary reasons why I want our children's school to supplement and enhance what we are teaching our children at home. I want for our impressionable children to be surrounded by good influences. Influences that on this particular front will hopefully be better than me.

Influences that will inspire me.



This past weekend, we had plans to go on a beautiful hike out at one of the local beaches. I had packed a small picnic and stored it in William's lunch box, which was then tossed in to our large backpack. Included with the cheese sticks, carrot sticks, apples, whole wheat crackers, and ice water I had packed, was a 5-oz Hershey's chocolate bar, that I slipped in to the mesh pocket at the front of the lunchbox. A little something that we could enjoy at the conclusion of our hike.

A motivation, if you will, to get tired children who can't take another step, back to the car.

When I picked the children up from school and loaded them in to the car yesterday, William mentioned that he cried and cried (and cried) in class. When I asked why he cried, he said that his teacher wouldn't let him eat his candy bar. At first, I misunderstood and assumed that he was disappointed that he wasn't able to enjoy the snack that the rest of the class was enjoying. But then, I remembered the chocolate bar that I had slipped in to his lunch box on Saturday and completely forgotten about.

I can only imagine what the teachers at the school must think of me.

Here I am, specifically requesting that they NOT feed my children any of the sweets that they serve up to the rest of the student body and yet, I send my son to school with a chocolate bar that is the size of his forearm.

Yes. I realize that is hypocrisy at it's finest.

8 comments:

  1. Black Orchid11/19/08, 2:11 PM

    uhh . . . so far preschool was way harder than regular school imho. of course my daughter is only in Kindy! but oh! it's been so wonderful so far!

    aaand I made myself crazy trying schools and visiting schools and deliberating and doing this and that . . . but it was worth it. I cannot express how much I love her school. All the research was well worth it.

    I have no advice for you - I just want to support you in being thorough in going thru the various options - that's a GOOD thing. I can only imagine how the logistics of the current situation are treating you. Actually I *can't* imagine it cos to me it seems kind of really hard to do a commute like that every day for preschool. So I feel for you, Jen!

    I'm sure you'll make the best decision, even if the best decision is to stay status quo!

    hope Charlie is back soon!

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  2. Oh my...that's unfortunate about the chocolate bar. I'm sorry that happened. Are you going to thank them for not letting him eat it? Kind of awkward.

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  3. I would have loved to have you as an advocate/friend back when my son was in first grade. He's twenty-one now, but back then he complained about how much television he had to watch. Of course, when I spoke up I was told I was the "only parent to complain".

    Jen, keep speaking up. And if your views are not addressed accordingly, vote with your feet. Education usually does not change quickly enough when you have little ones.

    In our case, we ended up homeschooling him. It was strictly for academic reasons. He'll graduate with his bachelor's degree next year.

    Hang in there...

    KarenM in NC

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  4. Jen,

    Just offering you a cyber hug. I have, at various points in my kids' lives, freaked out about their schools. And this would be a long freak out...I am talking when my daughter was in third grade, starting to worry about middle school. And this would go on and crescendo and my poor husband was SO TIRED of hearing about it but I had to talk it through and worry and and and.

    So keep working it through. You will get there. And then you can start worrying about middle school.

    Leeann
    niccofive.blogspot.com

    PS- my oldest is now an eighth grader. For two years, the worry is public school vs parochial high school. Ad nauseum. I am even sick of myself. lol

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  5. You didn't ask for advise and yet I find myself wanting to give it, because I am a pain in the ass I suppose. I have been reading for years...about your struggles to decide if you should homeschool, go back to work, work part time, send the kids to preschool and work full time, etc. And really, although it drives you nuts (nutsier?) you seem happiest when your kids are with you. Could you not work at all and keep them in YMCA activities and plan things with friends so you are doing something at least once a day? I don't know what finances afford, but it feels like you want to be home with them - even if it it is hard.

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  6. ignorant hispanic assumption. just ignorant.

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  7. Anonymous @ 9:26:

    What would be YOUR assumption??

    See, in my opinion, my assumption is not ignorant and frankly I'm offended that you would be so fast to judge. Based on WHAT?

    This is MY experience. In my neighborhood, which is within a stone's throw of the Mexican border, to not be Mexican (or of Hispanic descent) is to be a minority.

    We are among a very few number of people in our neighborhood that don't speak Spanish. We have a lot of friends that are Hispanic. Some of my best friends are Hispanic. EVERY TEACHER at my children's school is Hispanic.

    EVERY ONE OF THEM.

    Every children's birthday party that we have been to, in which the honoree is Hispanic, has an EXORBITANT amount of candy. There are pinatas. There are goody bags. There are sugared drinks. Not just a little, but IN SURPLUS.

    The Directress herself specifically told me that the reason they feed the food that they do to the children is because that's what they will EAT.

    So pardon what you might see as an over generalization, but IN MY EXPERIENCE the emphasis on "no sugar" or "healthy eating" is not as strong with Hispanics as it is in other cultures. Or at least it's not in THIS part of the world.

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  8. BAHAHAHA! Poor William.

    (not laughing at you; WITH you, my dear)

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