I am definitely thoughtful about my choices as a parent, but I think sometimes (ok, fine, often), I am too thoughtful. Thoughtful might not be exactly the right work – it’s a mix between thoughtful and obsessive, fueled by FOMA that makes me not want to miss out on the thing that is going to be best for my kids.
Right now, we are in the process of narrowing down preschool options to our top choices. The things that we must have are loving teachers, intelligent/well trained teachers, teachers who are capable of and encouraged to talk with students about difficult subjects when they arise (race, poverty, current events, etc), diverse students/families (race, SES, family structure, etc), free time outside, relatively convenient location, affordable cost, pleasant looking/feeling facilities, healthy food/snacks. There are other things that I would like, but aren’t deal breakers (male teachers, Spanish immersion, dance/movement/music, etc). Picking “the one” involves decisions on several levels:
Montessori-ish vs Reggio-Emilia-ish
(I added the -ish suffix because it turns out, particularly for Montessori, that there’s a whole range within that.) I’ve visited a few Montessori schools and while I like the philosophy in theory, I’ve felt slightly uncomfortable with what I’ve seen it in practice. It’s adorable to watch little kids “working” by themselves, but I’m not sure I really want my kids to be so independent and structured at such an early age. I read a disturbing post from a mom whose daughter went for her interview at a Montessori preschool and was admonished for using something from a work tray for a purpose other than its intended purpose. I know this has the feeling of an urban legend, but I believe it after visiting a very strict, traditional Montessori school where they strongly emphasized that they only admit kids and parents who are a “good fit” and that parents get sent notes home if their kid is late more than 3 times! Still, I haven’t ruled out a more relaxed Montessori preschool, but I can’t seem to shake the feeling that Montessori has become a brand that is popular because it’s popular instead of because it’s amazing for kids.
I really like the Reggio-Emilia philosophy and the more I think about it, the more I think this is what’s right for my kids. (Even writing this post has made me more sure this is what I want.) The Reggio-Emilia school that I really like explicitly tells parents that if they care if their kid gets dirty at school, it is not the place for them. I love this. I love the idea of my kids playing outside, getting muddy with dirt under their nails and learning in response to their natural curiosity. When I toured this school, I took a ton of pictures because it looked so cozy and inviting that I immediately started thinking of projects to make our home look more like the school (my partner did not like this at all!). My only concern is that after learning in this ideal environment, how will my kids’ transition to public K-12 be? I asked and was pleased with the response, but will it really all work out?
It’s important to me that my kids learn Spanish. They are in Spanish immersion daycare now and I hope they’ll be able to go to K-5 bilingual immersion elementary school. (There’s one in our school district, but whether we can get in is unclear to me even though it’s public.) There’s a Spanish preschool we’re considering and it’s neither Montessori or Reggio-Emilia. (How do I decide which is more important?) It’s very popular, but when I visited, it felt a little too academic to me. A friend whose son went there agreed that she would have preferred something more play-based. Her feeling, confirmed by another friend who visited, was that since the students come from very diverse backgrounds, the school focuses on academics and standards to make sure everyone is Kindergarten ready. She also told me that she thought her son would magically learn Spanish by being there, but that he lost most of it in elementary school. I really needed to hear this because I don’t think this is the school for us, but I was being swayed by its popularity and Spanish. My kids already understand a lot of Spanish at 20 months, but if they don’t go to Spanish preschool, I think they’d easily keep picking up Spanish if they went to bilingual elementary and if they go to Spanish preschool, but not elementary, they probably will lose it.
BIG TAKEAWAY – IT MOSTLY DOESN’T MATTER
The thing that I have learned, loud and clear, is that it mostly doesn’t matter. Of course, if I pick a terrible preschool, it will matter, but among good choices, it really doesn’t matter. I know, I know, it sounds crazy and I have a hard time truly accepting it even though I know it’s true, but in the end, I know that no matter what, my kids are going to learn how to clean up after themselves (and they won’t always do it even if they go to a Montessori school), they will learn how to read and write, they will learn to be considerate, they will get dirty and play, and they may or may not learn Spanish, but the two or three years they spend in preschool won’t be the deciding factor.
I am also trying to embrace this philosophy because I have no idea if we’ll get in to our top choice. Whether you get off the waitlist at the Reggio-Emilia school (my current top choice) depends on creating a diverse class, not when you got on the waitlist, which I love, but it’s impossible to know whether or not they’ll have space for us. So, if we end up somewhere else, I will remind myself, it mostly doesn’t matter!
Does it sound like I have found some peace in our not-yet-made decision? I feel like I have!
UPDATE: I think this Slate article is a nice reminder, though a bit oversimplified.