This week my elder son, shy of three, started preschool. I had been prepping him by reading him various books on preschool a couple of weeks before he started. He seemed excited but I wasn't sure whether he understood that it would be a new daily routine in which I would not be present, for while he would exclaim he was going to preschool through an amplified smile he added "and you come too" as if it were an epithet.
Finding the right preschool was a travail, admittedly because we were a tad (or more) tardy in our approach. San Francisco has long waiting lists and anxious parents and I had made the novice mistake of searching for preschools the same calendar year as I wanted my child to begin. Even though it was the beginning of the year, most schools had already closed their admittance for the 2017-2018 school year. I knew grovelling before their Admission Directors in which I would beg them to forgive my indiscretion and take my money, wasn't going to get me anywhere so I ventured on a new plan in which I veiled the truth.
I called up each school I was interested in and explained that even though I understood admissions were closed, we had recently moved and was wondering whether there was a waiting list. Empathy may render rigid rules elastic and one would have more empathy for one that found themselves in an unavoidable conundrum than someone that admitted carelessness. The intercourse of a conversation is much more than the mere exchange of words (hence why I prefer face to face encounters and failing that, over the phone in our electronic age where we mediate most of our communication through bytes). When we meet, our integrated intercourse is comprised of words, gesticulation, expressions, eye movement, tone and pauses. Every pause is pregnant with narrative. From our primeval existence we survived based on our ability to form patterns and deduce conclusions therefrom and when we encounter a new person, our minds instinctively and methodically interpret te gaps. Did you jst notice the two typos I wrote or did your mind simply read the previous two sentences and fill in the letters? Our words are patched into a tapestry that other people weave for us as they subconsciously fill in our narrative.
In my particular case, I flexed the adjective “recently” in order to obtain an interview. What’s recent is relative but if you attest your urgency, the other party will most likely impress their own understanding of what temporal period that is. I attested that we recently moved from New York and invariably was interrupted by an eruption of emphatics. Most likely the person on the other end of the line didn’t assume that “recently” was nearly two years ago, but assured of their own impression, they never asked for me to quantify. If they weren’t so pliable, I added that I recently gave birth. I also did this to seed in their mind that I had two potential students and attendant tuitions.
We were thus fortunate to have received interviews. It may seem a tad laughable that toddlers have to interview for preschool and have supervised playdates in which their suitability is assessed, but one crude chord may compromise a composition.Thankfully, my affable, extroverted son easily won over his potential peers and teachers.
We were on the fence between two preschools and decided to entreat both so that we would be the ones to decide which offer to take rather than have the schools make the decision for us. Fortunately one sent over a draconian agreement that allowed me to question some of its terms and the manner of writing while we played out all the pros and cons. A bunch of our friends told us to pick a preschool based primarily on scheduling. When can you drop off and pick up? How close is it? All very good considerations.
However, my husband and I were determined to find the very best curriculum for our son because we are of the opinion that these early, impressionable years are the most important. You can learn at any time, but learning to learn, which is a predicate to learning anything, occurs at a young age. At the least, it is easier to mould these fundamental characteristics at a young age.
Before we looked at preschools, I decided to study the Waldorf-Steiner, Montessori and Reggio Emilia approaches and decided that the holistic, community focused Reggio approach in which children learn through explorative and cooperative projects was most aligned with our philosophies. I had also read Positive Discipline which I continue to re-read and adopt this approach with my children at home. Serendipitously, a Reggio inspired positive discipline school was a short walk away and we got in!
We were given the option of accompanying our son for the first half of the day. I decided to go, if only to be able to witness his routine. The other parents mostly kept by their kids and played with them, but I was determined to keep away as I didn’t want L to include me in his understanding of what preschool entailed.
It was easy to do because as soon as we entered, he ran off to play! I was surprised to see how my son reacted in a new social environment - he was the class clown! Slightly disruptive, he was overall pretty obedient but certainly intent on attention. He made loud jokes in a clownish voice, once even interrupting a song about monkeys jumping on the bed to state they were jumping on poop and then to ensure everyone was on the right page, he exclaimed “that’s funny!” - indeed. Thankfully the teachers understood his behavior as a means to endear friendships and found him more hilarious than disruptive. I decided not to intervene and leave them to discipline if need be, for I didn’t want to undermine their authority.
At first he ran to the trains, which he remembered from his playdate months ago and then rocked to the sandpit where he stumbled upon a penguin which he began to play with and after a while my little copacetic carnivore proudly proclaimed he was cooking him! A teacher nearby nervously laughed and betrayed her surprise by the enlarged circumference of her eyes.
After free playtime, the kids rounded into circle time where they discussed their feelings and the activities of the day. Next, armed with orange vests and holding a rope, they trudged up to the park. It was Tuesday, so park time was free play. Other days they have structured activities – Wednesdays is Playball, for instance (which L loved). On return to the school, there was story time, lunch time, nap time and then project time. L made friends with a boy, S, the first day and he seems to still be his best mate there (interestingly, I note that S was born on the very same day as L’s best bud, W).
L didn’t cry the first day but I did. He seemed so grown up! His life away from our nest was beginning. It was a bittersweet bite of a moment when L, who was having trouble donning his orange traffic vest, went to his teacher for help. I had not wanted to intervene because I wanted him to do exactly what he did, and yet, when he showed the independence and aptitude I had hoped for, in a shatter of a second I turned triste as I digested my demotion. Ah, the calamity of change!
Only one other kid cried that first day, her mother with her. I assumed that the girl had never before been at preschool or had any other carer but her mother and shot her mother what I thought would be understood as a supportive look. Later, when we were talking and I said it seemed really difficult for both of them, her mother sighed in agreement and related her story which was pretty much the exact opposite of what I assumed (hence the problem of filling in gaps as I explained above – which you can use of course to your advantage). Her daughter had been in day care for a long time but had developed very strong friendships and didn’t want to leave for preschool.
L's school is very proud of its curriculum and the teachers are constantly being trained to finesse their pedagogical programme. Tonight we have a two hour presentation on their method so we can apply it at home. And I thought it was a meet and greet!