The hunt for a new daycare

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.
  • 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

montessori

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!

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An unexpected visit to the ER

Last summer (2018) I left my work conference in Washington DC a day early – I took the greyhound home because it was the quickest I could get back.  Chris described his symptoms to me…he was crawling up the stairs, his legs were extremely painful – inexplicably painful that he could barely walk.  He had numbness and tingling spreading up his legs.  Chris went to urgent care where the doctor couldn’t really explain what was going on, but took several gallons of his blood to test for various things including Lymes Disease.  The doctor sent him home and told him if it started to spread up his body to immediately go to the Emergency Room.  I made it home and it was clear Chris was very ill, with what exactly we had no clue.  It was all very worrying.

The next day when Chris woke up the numbness and pain had started to spread to his hands and arms, so we sent Aviana off to daycare and headed to the nearest ER.  It was there that Chris was admitted into hospital for tests and observation.  The doctors were very concerned and he became that patient that would have had House M.D. appearing at his bed.  It was a mystery.  Each day they ruled out various diseases with tests and observations, new doctors and specialists appeared with their theories and hypotheses.

It was very difficult for me to leave Chris in hospital and go home to look after Aviana in the evenings. It was difficult for Aviana to understand why daddy couldn’t play with her.  The hospital is generally a terrifying place for a toddler, beeps, noises, wires, strange people etc aren’t overall very welcoming.  I had friends who helped to look after Aviana whist I visited Chris in hospital.  Of course this all happened when our regular sitter was out of town otherwise it would have been a whole lot easier to handle.  It made us realise how far away our family is in a time like this. Of course we were all worried.

Eventually Chris was discharged and told it was probably a virus and one of these things that happens. (Ummmm yeh, just one of those things???!)  When he became an outpatient Chris had some nerve tests done which confirmed he had nerve damage in his legs…and so was diagnosed with acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, also known as Guillain Barre syndrome.  It is basically an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system mistakenly attack the outside of the nerves and damages the myelin insulation.  It is often triggered by an infection of some sort (he had some kind of stomach bug thing a few weeks before), but it can happen to anyone, anytime. They don’t know why it happens. Scary. Chris was told his recovery could take from 6 months to a year.  He was off work for several weeks, exhausted as he slowly gained his strength back.  He also suffered from a lot of ‘brain fog’ as well, so mentally he has had to build his strength back up before going back to work. There are still unknowns if this would ever come back again (chronic form), but so far, it’s looking promising.

Chris was lucky that this did not spread further to their parts of his body and that the damage did not require him to need physiotherapy nor need much longer hospitalization.

So that’s where I was and where I went to.  It was a crazy summer and I decided to take some time off blogging to focus on my family.  Then I got busy with learning how to sew and knitting blankets for local families who lose their babies (that’s another story for later).

I miss blogging but I have also been thinking very carefully about this blog and what I write about here.  At the forefront of my mind has been Aviana’s privacy, especially after reading an article about a kid asking her mother to stop blogging about her and her mother refusing to.  I don’t want to be that kind of parent, but at the same time I want to share my experiences as a parent. So I will return to this blog!

(Ps. the post I posted the other day was SOOOOO old and incomplete, sorry about that- I have a lot of draft posts I have yet to finish!  My goal is to finish them within the month!)

Goodbye 2018, you have been full of highs and lows.  Hello 2019 – what will you bring us this year??

Happy New Year Everyone!!!!

Tips for Flying with a baby

So I discovered a few things about flying with a baby and thought I’d share them with you!

I flew from Norfolk International Airport, connected at Philadelphia to London Heathrow on American Airlines and returned connecting at JFK New York on British Airways; so my experiences are somewhat limited to these airports and airlines!  I also travelled on my own when I flew back from the UK, so I experienced solo travel with a 3 month old (Yikes).  Please do share any of your tips and experiences below too 🙂

Before Flying.

Reserve the right seat.  Not paying for a child seat and carrying an infant on your lap?  Try and book a bulk head seat or phone up the airline and ask for one because you have an infant on your lap and want to use the bassinet.  This only applies to larger aircraft, so if you are traveling on a smaller plane you will have to have baby on your lap. Ughh.

Generally infants flying on your lap are free if you are traveling within the US or if you are traveling internationally it depends on the airline, but it will cost about 10-20% of your ticket price.  And you don’t get any extra baggage allowance so you have to fit all your baby’s stuff in your bag!  Luckily they are tiny!

Packing Carry On Bags.  Pack a diaper bag as your personal item and pack a BACK PACK/RUCKSACK (or vice versa if your diaper bag is a back pack already).  I was going to take my small roll on and thought it would be easy to carry….but actually pushing a buggy and rolling a bag is not a good idea.  If you have paid for a seat then you can take a diaper bag and two carry ons – one for you and one for baby.

Pack diapers/nappies, wipes and change mat in a smaller bag within the diaper bag.  Why?  Because you will be going to the toilet lots when on the plane and it is easier to carry that down the aisle than the whole diaper bag and knocking people’s heads as you juggle baby and bag on a bumpy plane!

If you are traveling for more than a few hours, don’t think you will only need one change of clothes.  Believe you me it will typically be the only time you get TWO blow outs.  Yup, speaking from experience here! Just pack sleepwear to save space.

Pack a comfort toy and one other non noisy toy.  I didn’t want to be the person with an all singing dancing toy…baby is loud enough as she is!

If you are breastfeeding then you are lucky you don’t need to pack lots of formula and bottles! Sorry I don’t have tips for you formula feeding parents.  But I did pack an empty bottle and two portions of formula powder just in case for any reason something happened.  I think I was over thinking things and really didn’t need this.

Baby carrier/sling/wrap.  BEST THING EVER.  This gave me so much flexibility and I needed it when my buggy didn’t arrive at the gate and I had to walk about a mile from the gate to passport control/baggage claim in London Heathrow.  Hands free baby carrying for the win.  I use the baby hawk Mei Tai which rolls up nice and small into the diaper bag.

Checking in buggies and car seats.  I spent aaaages researching this. I bought gate check bags to put my buggy and car seat in when I get to the gate.  These little bags fold up nice and small, so I could put them under the buggy.  If there are two of you traveling, definitely buy these two items so the carseat/buggy don’t get scratched or wet.  Remove cup holders and any other items hanging off the buggy, they will get broken because honestly, the baggage handlers really do throw these things around.  But if you are on your own? Don’t bother…honestly just leave them at the gate without a bag, it is way too difficult to carrying baby and trying to put these into the big bags. Just make sure any infant inserts are secured tightly into the car seat. Yeh lesson learned there!

Incomplete….