Aviana has been in the toddlers class pretty much since she mastered how to walk, not long after her first Birthday. At first we weren’t sure if she would thrive in the class, she seemed to be crying constantly in all the videos we were being sent. But after a few months she turned a corner and she seemed to be doing very well there. She was clearly advancing quickly and was meeting all of the milestones for the next class up – “twos”, except for one – actually turning two! Due to state regulations on teacher-child ratios she couldn’t move up sooner. So she often visited the twos class for short periods of time and seemed to be excited to be in the big kids class.
All was good except for one problem became apparent – we felt that one of the teachers in the next class up didn’t meet the standards. She made a great infant teacher when she was Aviana’s carer in infant class, so loving and caring with the babies, but not so much of a twos teacher. At this age toddlers need a lot of direction and boundaries. Strangely she then left (for some unknown reason) and another teacher replaced her who was simply worse. I often noticed she would yell at the kids in a way that made me feel uncomfortable, so much so we complained about her. She didn’t seem to have much patience and Aviana really didn’t care for her at all – Aviana loved all the other teachers, literally all of them but her.
The twos classroom was also uninspiring to me. It always looked a bit depressive. The ‘library’ had about 4-6 books in it that were mostly ripped and were very random. I picked one up that wasn’t so badly trashed and it was all about Ants…fine but the pictures were pretty much the same throughout the book and had a lot of text. Not good for kids to pick up and be excited about. I know the kids were read stories by the teachers all the time, but these decent books were all hidden away in a locked cupboard. I just didn’t get the same warm fuzzy feeling about this class as I did in the toddler room.
Meanwhile in Aviana’s toddler classroom her usual teachers were being shifted around the classes a lot as the school suffered a shortage of manpower from a high teacher turnover. The director also suddenly decided to quit and not come back after a long weekend holiday. As an indicator of how bad the turnover was, when it came to Christmas gifts we couldn’t keep up with who was or wasn’t Aviana’s teacher that we didn’t know who we should give gifts to, so we put two boxes of goodies together and said it’s for everyone. It seemed the school was in turmoil and it was time to leave the sinking ship to give Aviana some stability and kick start her pre-school education.
It made me think a lot about pre-school education. I had read a book called ‘The Importance of Being Little’ and how America doesn’t do enough play based learning or teaching practical or problem solving skills that are important in early childhood development. Instead kids as young as 5 were being given ‘worksheet style homework’ and forced to do activities that lacked enablement of child centered creativity. It was an eye opening read and got me thinking about Aviana’s education at this young age. I never thought it would be important, but as she is with someone who is not us for so long in the week it was clear we needed to think carefully about where, what, how and who she was with.
We decided to look around for a new school, but our standards were already set pretty high and specific. It had to be full time, open til 6pm ideally, not too far away from our house as Chris works from home or from my commute and not religious. We felt play based learning is important during pre-school, so focusing too much on tests, worksheets, homework etc was not attractive to us for pre-K classes. Suddenly we were down to just one alternative – a Montessori school which was within a stone’s throw of Aviana’s current daycare.
We did some research into Montessori and what it is all about. Admittedly we thought this style of teaching and learning would suit Aviana well. Generally a Montessori school follows these principles:
- Mixed age classrooms; classrooms for children ages 2½ or 3 to 6 years old are by far the most common, but 0–3, 3–6, 6–9, 9–12, 12–15, and 15–18-year-old classrooms exist as well.
- Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options.
- Uninterrupted blocks of work time, ideally three hours.
- A constructivistor “discovery” model, where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction.
- Specialized educational materials developed by Montessori and her collaborators often made out of natural, aesthetic materials such as wood, rather than plastic.
- A thoughtfully prepared environment where materials are organized by subject area, within reach of the child, and are appropriate in size.
- Freedom of movement within the classroom.
- A trained Montessori teacher who follows the child and is highly experienced in observing the individual child’s characteristics, tendencies, innate talents and abilities
We took a tour of the school and it was remarkably quiet and calm – even with a few toddlers who were crying. It was clean, spacious, tidy, yet not ‘sterile’. We watched a couple of classes and observed how the multi-age classes (3-6) were working on the activities they chose. In the pre-school (2-3) class the kids were in a circle singing and dancing to some Spanish songs. There was an indoor and outdoor garden for teaching botany, a kitchen for cooking classes, a ‘STEM’ class room with a couple of computers and science experiment equipment, various animals (bird, tortoise and fish) a gym and some awesome outdoor play equipment. Overall our impressions of the school were good.
But there was no room immediately in the toddler class – a class size of FOUR! They did have a space in the toddler class in their sister school which was another 20 minutes away, but that was too far out of the way to make it worth it. So we signed up for the waiting list to register for September’s class. If Aviana was accepted into that cohort then she would be eligible for their summer camp and could start in June/July. That was sooooo far away – a lot can change in 9 months! It was disappointing that we had to wait so long and the thought of Aviana with that awful teacher in her next class filled me with sadness.
Thinking more about the Montessori method I began to worry whether it was truly right for Aviana. I had read many articles about the pros and cons of Montessori, how it’s not for every child and family. I had read from teacher testimonials that Montessori kids were coming to school with poor reading and writing skills. Yet would be well mannered and behaved kids who found it hard to adjust to the state education system. I read testimonials from parents whose kids were simply doing nothing all day because it’s child led rather than teacher led learning. Was this right for Aviana? Well the decision was a little away because it was February that we would have to register her.
We returned to Aviana’s daycare after the winter break with Aviana turning 2 she was moving permanently into the Two’s class. The first day back in her new class there was a new teacher – I felt sudden relief…wooohoooo the one we didn’t like had gone! Perhaps we didn’t need to change schools after all? As expected when changing classes and returning from a long period of time away Aviana had a tough time at drop-offs. Aviana screamed and clung to me refusing to go to her new class. From when she woke up she kept saying how much she didn’t want to go to her new class. It was breaking my heart to hear her say this and very difficult to leave her when she was so upset, she’s always been a crier at drop-offs when with me, but this was a totally new level of crying. It was breaking my heart.
On Aviana’s fourth day in her new class I got a phone call from the Montessori offering Aviana a place in their pre-school class immediately because a military family had just left. We jumped at the chance and accepted. The timing was just right. She could start the very next week.
It was very hard to tell her current teachers who have been at the daycare since Aviana was 4.5 mths old because they have cared for her on and off as Aviana has been an infant and toddler. I questioned whether it was the right decision. But when I showed Aviana around her new school her eyes lit up – she was so excited for her new classroom and to take her own packed lunch box. My worries started to dissolve away thinking this is the right thing to do. Aviana’s new teacher has been there for 15 years so we are excited for Aviana to have a bit of stability.
In fact Aviana starts her first day in her new Montessori school today! I’m unfortunately out of the country for work right now so I am excited to hear how her first day goes. I imagine there will be some crying and we need to get into new routines….packing lunches, new school times with before and after school care hours we are charged by the half hour so we will be getting used to all that. As it is a school and not a daycare they follow the public school holidays so we will need to figure all that out too. But I’m excited for her. It’s nerve wracking making a big decision like this, I just hope we made the right one!