Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Preschool Checklist

The first time I scouted for viable preschools, I was clueless. I had just moved to New Orleans, and my daughter was only two years old. The consensus seemed to be that school was in my daughter's imminent future. (Apparently everyone in New Orleans sends their children to school by the age of two.) 

I toured a few places. (I won't name them here out of respect for their viability and those who choose their programs.) I was unmoved. But I settled on one, not really knowing if it was right. I was so naive. I simply succumbed to the insistence of society that it was time.

Anyway, long story short: My daughter hated the preschool I had chosen for her, and a few months later, we pulled her out. 

Fast forward to today. I'm going through the same process with my son, who just turned 3 years old. (See? I'm learning already - this go round I waited a little longer to introduce school.) I've just begun to hunt down the right school for him, but in my search to find the right fit, I'm much better prepared to identify a place that truly meets his needs.

Here's my list of important questions:
  1. What is the teacher / student ratio? This question can make or break an experience for a child. For one who needs lots of individual attention and encouragement, it's important for this number to be low. A more reserved could easily get lost in the shuffle if a teacher has too many children on her hands.

  2. How many children per classroom? More than anything, this question gets at the noise level. If you have a child who's got a sensitivity to noise, a small classroom size is critical.

  3. Is the school licensed and / or accredited? This can help weed out a home-grown operation and ensure that an unbiased third-party is holding the school to a higher standard.

  4. Does my child need to be potty trained before starting? Some say being potty trained is a signed of school readiness. But either way, this is a question that can't be left unanswered!

  5. How do the teachers handle discipline? Personally, at preschool age, I'm a fan of redirecting. Time outs are isolating and aren't that effective with young children, and frankly other "forms of discipline" are a deal breaker.

  6. What's the philosophy driving the classroom? There are plenty of preschools that claim to be play based but introduce plenty of academics into the mix. For me this is a turnoff and a sign that the school isn't up on the latest information in childhood development. Play is how children learn. Early academics do not belong in a preschool setting.

  7. Is the curriculum child led or teacher led? The best fit here depends largely on the child's personality. Montessori is known for being child led. It's probably the ultimate in child-led curricula. And then there's Waldorf at the opposite end of the spectrum - teacher led all the way. That's not to say that Waldorf preschoolers have no say in what they play, but many find comfort in the the daily and weekly rhythm.

  8. What type of snack do they serve? Are sweets allowed? Can my child have seconds? This might sound like a small issue, but I maintain that it was a big part of why my daughter so deeply disliked her first preschool experience. The snack was a paltry serving of sugar-leaden animal crackers and juice. She was hungry and probably experienced wild swings in her blood-sugar levels.

  9. How much outside time do they get? This may be the ultimate question. Too many schools ignore this crucial component of education. Bottom line: Children need outside time, and plenty of it.
  10. How do they deal with a child's introduction to school? Many schools have a "rip-it-off-quick-like-a-band-aid"approach, allowing absolutely no parent contact inside the classroom. Personally, I don't think that will work for my little one, so we're going to need some flexibility here.
So that's my list. I don't expect any preschool to answer "correctly" to all of my questions. And, yes, some questions are more important to me than others. My hope is that one will stand out among the rest. But my biggest hope is that no matter which place I choose for my little boy, he'll be happy.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mommy Wars: The Great Depression

It's not the first time I've seen a reference to how Stay-at-home moms are more liable to be depressed than working moms. Today a news story was making the rounds about a new study on the subject confirming what we already know.

Yes, being a SAHM can be isolating. That's no big secret. Isolation equals loneliness. Loneliness equals depression. But not for everyone! For one thing, most "stay-at-home moms" don't stay at home very often.And many of us jump at the chance to socialize. We meet each other at the playground. We join playgroups. We participate in mommy-and-me music classes. And when our children get older, we of us volunteer our "free time" to worthy causes.

Opting out of the workforce can be difficult. I've had some tough days at home with my son. I went through a couple of tough years with my daughter, from the ages of two through four (until she gained the ability to reason). But through all of it I've felt so lucky to be with my children and to be such a constant influence in their daily lives.

Here's the part I don't get: Why is this issue so important that it warrants study? To me, the research is divisive. It comes across as just another piece of ammunition in the Mommy Wars. And while it's hard not to notice the differences between the two opposing groups, there are similarities that are not to be missed. (I've outlined the basics of the study below.)

About half of ALL mothers suffer from "stress." It was a pretty close call on the "anger" front as well. And the outcome wasn't that different in the "worry" category, although I'm still a little confused about exactly what the word "worry" refers to. I mean, don't we all have worries? And for those who denied worrying in the study, I want to know what they're smokin' cuz I need a vacation.

SAHMs Working Moms
worry 41% 34%
sadness 26% 16%
stress 50% 48%
anger 19% 14%
depression 28% 17%

At any rate, this mommy is anything but depressed. A little tired, maybe. But I'm fairly certain that that's one thing we moms all have in common.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sometimes Laissez Faire Fares Best

Parenthood has made me look at myself in a new light. I guess it's largely due to my fear of screwing up my children. Like the obsessive I am, I find myself examining my habits, my point of view, my gut to ensure they're all driving me to send the right message.

I struggle with my action-oriented tendencies. See, I'm a doer. I'm utterly organized. I can see the most efficient path to the finish line almost instantaneously when presented with most any issue. So naturally, when it comes to parenting, my instinct is to attack any challenge with action. But I'm slowly learning that action is not always the best policy. Many problems solve themselves without any intervention at all.

Take the latest big event in our household: My 3-year-old has graduated to his "Big Boy Bed." Before it happened, I wasn't terribly concerned with this transition. In fact, it wasn't even on my radar. But I was certain, in the back of my mind, that the day would come when I'd have to force the issue and somehow extract my unwilling son from his crib. However, in my rare moment of procrastination, the universe would choose to enlighten me. One evening, just before bedtime, my little boy announced that he wanted to sleep in his "Big Boy Bed." I had my doubts - surely this was nothing more than a cavalier declaration. He didn't really understand what he was asking. Still, I said "yes" to his request and prepared myself for a very long night. But miracle of miracles, he slept peacefully all night long! And here we are, a two weeks later, still going strong. That kid loves his "Big Boy Bed."

Note to self: Procrastination sometimes has its merits.

This lesson goes against my every instinct. But I'm not going to ignore it. In fact, I'm doing my best to embrace it. Que sera, sera....

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why Schools Are Broken

I've ranted before about mainstream schools. But this time I'm thinking about the reasons why they're dysfunctional to me. And I've come to the conclusion that they only educate part of a child.

They're so bogged down in the academics, with homework and testing and assessing, that they totally ignore the social and emotional components of a person. Unfortunately, in today's world, the art of parenting has been lost in many homes. Many parents often either aren't given the tools to address the social / emotional or they don't realize the importance of it. So between schools denying the responsibility and parents shirking their duty, we're producing generations of half-developed people. That translates to a population with little compassion and a puny social conscience. And in the case of New Orleans, it renders a city bogged down in crime and poverty and an inability to embrace progress.

Until parents demand and schools acknowledge that the "Whole Child" be educated, schools will keep failing. The education they offer will remain incomplete. And our future is a broken record of mistakes.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Top 2 Reasons Reward Charts Aren't Rewarding

Am I the only one who hates reward charts? They drive me crazy! Here's my problem with those wretched parent traps:

1. They don't teach a child to be self-motivated. Whatever behavior you're trying to instill is overshadowed by the child's desire to earn stickers and ultimately the big payoff at the end of the week (i.e., the trip to the zoo or staying up 30 minutes later Saturday night or whatever).

2. They're another job for me! Like I don't already have enough to keep up with between lunches and laundry and baths and, well, everything else. Now I have to make time to march over to that blasted chart every time my child actually accomplishes the desired behavior.

So it's official: I am anti-reward chart. I don't see that changing anytime soon. I guess my children will just have to learn how to do all those tedious things without a tangible reward. But hopefully they'll enjoy a feeling of pride when they master those new things. And maybe I'll throw in a kiss or two and a few words of praise while I'm at it.