Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Montessori Preschool In Review

Okay, so in fairness... I'm not sure what I was expecting.  I dont want to say it was a bad experience- it wasnt...  It just wasnt what I thought.  I wanted to fall in love on sight- and I didnt.

So, there's a joke... "Did you know Lansdale has a Montessori school???!!!"  I was so excited about this fact a year ago that, every time Sarah and I passed it on a run, those words would slip out.  To the point that now it is a private joke that is sometimes said whenever there is a need (someone brings up something for the umpteenth time).  Needless to say, I'm in love with the Montessori Method for educating kids and the fact that we had a REAL.SCHOOL.WITHIN.WALKING.DISTANCE made me super excited.  Even though I love the idea of educating at home... Even though I'm not sold on the idea of 'traditional' school settings... Even though the pricetag knocked me over...  But, we promised ourselves we'd consider it and, once the kids hit two, I knew we needed to make an appointment to tour it if we had a chance of getting in for their third birthday.  So, we did.  I read up on how to interview, what questions to ask, and even blogged and FBed about it.  (and thanks for all the suggestions!)  So, this morning, we made sure the kids were clean, we looked presentable, and off we went! 

And that's about where it fell apart.

We pulled in and, although classes were in session, there were parents still doing drop off.  And one let us in.  Actually, she held the door open for us.  So, although there was a keypad and doorbell 'security' system, we got in with no administrator the wiser.  And then, since we had no clue where the office was, we proceeded to walk upstairs to where the classes were... And all the kids...  And, no one stopped us.  We finally stopped a parent and asked where the office was.  And when we got there, the secretary looked, in her own words, like a deer in headlights, wondering how the hell we'd gotten in.

Yeah.  Not cool.  I have anxiety about sending my kids to traditional school settings for exactly this reason.  So, security?  I wasnt impressed.  You can assure me all you want that you try to avoid these instances, but... Yeah...  No.  I walked in where the kids were.  Where the classes were.  I could have snatched a child in a heartbeat.  And then, to make light I'm sure, the secretary said "We havent lost one yet." Really?  That's reassuring.  When we visited the classroom, too, Peter's comment was that Bobby or Maya could easily (and quietly) slip out if they felt like it and based on where the 3 year old room was (and how easy it was for us to get in), getting out of the building, while no easy feat, wouldnt be impossible for the daredevil duo.  That, in and of itself, isnt as concerning to me, though, as the fact that someone could get in.  I realize the door is locked.  And there's a keypad.  And, really, Peter and I had 2 kids in tow- that mom probably thought we were just doing drop off, too, and that she was doing us a favor.  But it left me with a huge stone in the pit of my stomach.

The classroom was nice.  It was definitely Montessori-esque and they'd even made the sandtable/watertable into one with the peanuts people use in posting items, for easier clean up.  Loved that idea.  May try it!  So, loved the classroom...  But, it looked like the school/playroom we have here.  Which I guess is good on the one hand, but I dont know, I guess I expected more?  I mean, I'm not a teacher and, although I've read a fair amount on the Method, I guess I just expected there to be something that wowed me.  The skills of the 3 year old room (academically speaking) seemed to be things we are learning now... at 2 years old.  For example, my kids can count to 20 already.  This room was learning 23.  And the toys/learning tools...  90% of what they had, we have and they are learning those and mastering them...  So, I guess I just expected more?  Maybe I shouldnt have?  (more on this later)  But, all in all, I liked the classroom.  And a primary thing was how well the kids interacted together and with their teacher/aide.  Loved that.  The teacher explained that they've been working on this skill since the term started in September, but the kids were doing really well in my opinion.

The other thing that really bothered me was the teacher/student ratio.  And, again, maybe I'm off (teachers- especially you, Paula!- weigh in for me).  There were 14 kids in the room and 1 teacher/1 aide.  So, a 7-to-1 ratio.  For 3 year olds, that just seems really high... I guess I expected maybe double that?  2 teachers/ 2 aides for that large of a room?  Am I nuts?  Is this the average ratio and good for that age group?

And, while we are on teachers, only one (the director who is also the kindergarten teacher) is Montessori certified (in addition to being state certified).  The other teachers are state certified and the director then educates them in the Montessori method, but they are not certified Montessori teachers.  This doesnt bother me as much; the classrooms looked to be set up in the style, and the room we saw was definitely being run in the Montessori way, which we are happy with.  But I guess I expected more by way of that certification, too.  But that's not as big a deal to me as the student/teacher ratio, and the security issue.

So, overall, I'm left a little bummed.  When I talked to Sarah, she asked if maybe part of the reason is that I'm not sold on traditional education in the first place.  I think that's definitely a part of it.  But I know that the kids need more socialization than what we have now.  They love to run into kids at playgrounds.  I want more of that for them. 

When Peter and I were decompressing, he had a more positive view of the school then I did.  The security didnt trouble him as much (WHAT????!!!!) and he said that he expected our home educating and the school's to match up (so he wasnt expecting that wow factor that I guess I was).  His big thing is socializing them for both that and the independence, as well as increasing their verbal communication skills.  In that way, he liked the interview and felt the school was fine.  But he's okay in viewing others too.

We have an appointment to tour the local Friends (Quaker) preschool.  I talked to the director today and their pricing for 2 days a week for the kids would be around $3k for both, and 3 days would be around $4400.  While the 3 day is about average with the Montessori school, we hadnt really considered the idea of a 2 day, which may work better for us.  (St. Stan's, the local Catholic church school, also has a 2 day, and we will be touring them too).  In thinking about it, a Tues/Thurs set up would allow us to keep the kids with their current visit to the paternal grandparents on Wednesday and with my dad's visits on Fridays...  So...  We shall see.  We're touring the Quaker school on Friday and I have yet to make the appt for St. Stan's, but will this week.  Even if they do go to a preschool, be it for 2 or 3 days, we will still continue the Montessori homeschooling.  And, if they dont do preschool, then I'll just continue it more formally.

Some friends recommended meetup.com to find playgroups.  Most of the ones I've encountered do afternoon playgroups- right in the middle of our naptime.  But I'm hoping to find either morning playgroups or ones close by that we could do after naptime.  Because, at this age, play is important, and doing that with other kids, would help with their socialization, independence, and communication.

So, all in all... I guess I need to really evaluate where I'm coming from.  Is nothing going to be right, because deep down I dont want it to be?  I hope that isnt the case; I truly want what is best for them (be it home school, private school, or public school).  But, as a cousin said, knowing what feels wrong is just as important as knowing what feels right.  And, as much as I wanted the local Montessori school to be the right fit, it just doesnt feel right...


Shawna said...

As an option, you may want to look into "standard", privately-run daycares in your area. Granted, I'm the whole way across the state from you, but ours (which is not billed as "Montessori" at all) does incorporate a lot of the teaching styles that you'd find at a Montessori school. That may be a fluke, but it's worth checking into. My daughter is 2 days older than your twins (although she was born at 42 weeks), and spends a small part of the day in group activities, but the rest of the day is more of the Montessori style with Montessori materials. By her 2nd birthday, she could count to 20, knew all of her shapes and colors, and knew the alphabet to say it. By 25 months, she could point out indiviual letters and say what they were. Her social skills are phenomenal, and she's comfortable with indiviual play and in a group. I'm certainly not bragging--my husband and I give A LOT of credit to her daycare. Even if I had the choice to stay at home with her, I don't think that I could have gotten her to the point she is today. Actually, I KNOW I couldn't!

Paula said...

I had trouble finding PA regs but in MA there's a 10:1 max but site said that 7:1 is better (makes sense). Jess had more aides in her room but she was in an inclusion preschool because, as a special needs teacher, I felt the inclusion piece was very important. We all do what works for our own family. Jess missed K cutoff by a few weeks. I didn't want her to be the oldest kid in the class when she did go and not able to follow directions, etc so we sent her to the town public preschool for a year so that she'd have time to get used to being in a class, following directions, etc before going to full day K (I am anti half-day kindergarten; Jason went to private fullday K. Jess goes to public but that wasn't an option when Jason was little). Before going to preschool, Jessica had major separation anxiety; I couldn't even talk to someone across the room during Sunday School without her freaking. She hit some maturity at preschool and absolutely loved it. Had I not been concerned about the separation anxiety and the ability to follow directions in class, we probably would not have sent her to preschool. Jess was far above the other kids academically.

Paula said...

About the security - that would be a red flag to me. The offices at our town's schools (not sure about the high school but the preschool, elementary, and middle schools) all have the office right in front and a security receptionist to buzz people in and if they do trail in behind someone else, stop them and ask if she can help them.

Barb said...

Thank you for the update. We are VERY nervous about this. And good luck on the adoption.

amazingk8 said...

We are in a similar boat. We're leaning heavily towards homeschooling, but like you we definitely want our girls to have plenty of time to play with other kids and be able to take direction from other adults. Our decision is a little easier because we can't afford preschool right now (silver lining to be laid off, lol) so I'm trying to cobble together the experiences that I think are important from play groups and homeschool coops. We'll see how it goes!

ashleyjnc said...

There is not an excuse for the security issue. Go with your instincts.........pray about your instincts, if it is what you are to do that it is abundantly clear. Mama Instincts are there for a reason :) Really and truly your kids are not going to be developmentally behind unless you sequester them from the world. I was raised around all adults (and I didn't necessarily get along with other kids as well as I could have for part of Kindergarten) but I was always very mature for my age and loved the fact that adults didn't use a "kid-voice" with me. I wouldn't say I was equalto an adult by any means but I felt validated by that. Your kids are advanced for their age, you are doing a great job. They will not be social outcasts, I was homeschooled and I'm fine, I promise. lol

MtnGirl said...

If you can't find a "formal" program that you like, check out library story times, gymnastic classes, or other ways for your twins to get socialization experience. Also, mother's day out programs. I am a preschool special ed teacher and early intervention specialist - the teachers at my school barely have associate's degrees. To me, there is a huge difference between a classroom who has a licensed teacher versus a state preschool teacher - just my humble opinion! I think if you don't feel comfortable with security, then I would not send my children there. Nothing may ever happen, but then again it might....