Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Schools, society, and dilemmas

Today I went looking for preschools. I have heard great things from people in the area about one of the top-rated schools in the downtown area. So I go check it out. It is a machine. There are 4 or 5 different classes, at least three teachers in each, multiple rooms for different activities, learning equipment, playgrounds, waiting rooms with cookies on the coffee table, and chic moms standing around in high heels or matching juicy couture track suits waiting to pick up their kids after school. But they're not necessarily all in business attire. Which leads me to believe some of them may actually stay at home with their kids. Luckily I actually took some effort to look good that morning or I would have felt even more intimidated and out of place - which I'm wondering why I do anyway, because this is a pre-school for heavens sake.

An accented woman takes me around rapidly explaining the school, the philosophy, the school in Italy it's patterned after, the organic lunch package that's brought in fresh daily that you can order for your child for an extra monthly fee. Finally we sit down on the fashionably matched furniture so I can get in a question or two. Since I'm thinking of starting in September, and Cash will be three by then, he'll be in the 3-4 class that is only full-time (9am-3pm), she informs me. "Only full time?" I ask. "Full days, five days a week? There are no part-time options?" I had felt certain there would be. Apparently that is only for younger children. "So what if I put him in for the rest of this year? Are there any openings?" She discusses the three day a week option, and I ask for possibly two. She strongly discourages it, even though we look at her chart of students and realize there is an opening on two days. She's actually really pushing full-time and all of it's benefits. "But I stay at home," I explain. Truthfully, I just want like three hours, maybe twice a week. I don't want an excuse for a parent. I just want some social interaction for my somewhat reserved child, some exposure to structured settings, someone with charts and pictures and materials that better explain seasons and our senses, and....

"And here's the price list," she says. Choke. There's a $700 registration fee per year, a $200 fee per semester for materials, and for full time it's $990...a month. Plus there's a sign warning of the $35 fee you'll be charged if you're more than 10 minutes late picking up your child. Even talking her down to two mornings a week for three hours was $450 a month.

Wow. Maybe it's the intimidation of the place. Maybe it's the heavily scented woman with the accent I don't fully pick up on. Maybe it's the fact that it somehow just seems wrong to pay 8 times what a year of my college tuition cost me, but I just want out. And I want to keep Cash with me. And I don't really want him to ever go to school. I never understood that before when people were so sad to see their kids go off to school. I always thought it would be a welcome break. But not like this. Not from people who think I should just shell out money and they'll take my kid off my hands so I have more time to go look for items of clothing that say "Juicy" across the butt.

So we leave, and I think I'll stop and look at the Jewish place that is only a block away, and that I also know people personally who take their children there. A Jewish school - they must have some good values I can more closely relate to, right? So we go in there. My first question is, "Now, is this a day care or a school?" "This is a school," she tells me. As she's getting out information to hand me, she says, "The hours are 7:30am to 6:00pm. It is a full-time program." "Wait," I say. "Only full time? 7:30-6:00 five days a week?" "Yes," she says. "Oh, I'm really only looking for a couple of days a week..." I trail off, still grasping the enormous amount of time that two and three year-old children are expected to spend in this place (that so far seems dimly lit and somewhat unimpressive). That is more time than they're even with their parents in any given week. "Well," she says as she stops shuffling for papers, and looks up at me, "this is not the place for you." And those words resonate in my heart. This is not the place for you. The same phrase that enters my head almost daily that I've been trying to beat back ever since we moved to Miami.

And I leave, gritting my teeth, wondering why we didn't end up in a place like Iowa, or Utah. Somewhere where the nice lady down the street does preschool out of her house a couple mornings a week and probably charges you $100 or less a month. Somewhere where I don't feel this same frustration welling up inside of me when I get lost trying to figure out which of the 17 high-rises I'm trying to find so I can go visit a friend, where I will valet park my car and take my stroller and my kids and sign in with security and get buzzed in and travel up to the 30th floor just to hang out. Whatever happened to just walking down the street or driving a few blocks to park in someone's driveway?

I know, I know, it was just a downer of a moment, and I really am enjoying it here. Sometimes I just long for the simple life, you know? I think a lot of my resentment is also towards the people that must surround me here. Who are these people that do this to their kids? And then I remember the kind of people. Like the nice couple in our building with the cute little boy Cash's age. I had high hopes when we first moved in that we could be friends with them. But then I noticed I only saw them around at nights. She was the one who told me about the Jewish school. Then we saw them in the pool with their little boy while we were there one Saturday. That was a nice family afternoon, I thought. They must both have to work, but at least they're good parents when they're home. Then a nanny came down and took the boy away so the parents could relax by the pool. The wife told me I should really send Cash over to play sometime (I can tell by her comments she feels very sorry for me with all of my children by myself all the time), and that it would be no trouble because she has now got this nanny to come on the weekends. Of course, I think, recognizing her mentality. If you spend the whole week working, how can you be expected to work all weekend taking care of your child? When would you ever relax?

Anyhow, I realize now why all of my close friends here just don't send their kids to preschool. It's just a different world here. It's a business. It's not to enhance your time at home being a child, but to replace it. But I'm still torn because I loved preschool growing up. I think I had two years of it. I think it's great stimulation, great interaction, and different from what I can give at home. Besides the fact that I've never taken an early childhood education class in my life so I have no confidence in that area and I just don't have the energy or the structure to my life to get supplies and lessons together and a dedicated time so I can do it well.

I know friends in New York who have very successfully done co-op preschools. Our playgroup here has tried to do a little preschool, and while it's been fun, I have to smile and say we use the term "preschool" rather loosely. All the moms and all their kids come, the kids sit and listen...or not, and it's a whole range of ages, which is hard to cater to. I think one time there were 12 infant seats, gabbing moms, nursing moms, kids all over and someone trying to teach a lesson all in one small living room. I'm not sure it's really soaking in.

But really, Cash is only TWO years old, why do I even have to be worrying about this yet? But even 6 months ago even our doctor here was asking if he was in school yet. They all go so early here! And for such an intense amount of time! Whatever just happened to playing in the sandbox??

21 comments:

Melissa said...

Holy crap? Seriously, holy crap!! My jaw was on the floor when I read this.
Just to make you feel better though, we were one three waiting lists for preschool for Katie starting last January. I had to call and beg the day before school started for the preschool she's in. No neighborhood preschools near me. I never thought it would be so ridiculous to find a simple preschool. But now I know I have nothing to complain about.
Try looking in the phonebook at the local churches in your area. They always seem to have the small simple programs. (The Jewish program here is pretty hard core too.)

Marci said...

Oh man, I can't believe it! I know how hard it is to take that first step sending your baby out into the world, but I've never heard of such a thing you're going through. Maybe you could contact the local elementary schools to see if they have any recommendations. Or maybe someone in your ward has gone through this and can help guide you to the right place. Good luck!

Jess said...

My heart is breaking for all those kids at those schools.
Sophie starts 4K this fall...it is for 2.5 hours, 5 days a week. Yes, in 5K it is all day. But at least I get a year to warm up to it. Sophie didn't do preschool...she does go to Sunday school 1 day a week for 1.5 hours. The nursery teacher is the same one I had-a comfortable situation for someone who has stayed home. It is like having a grandma do her first school experience.
I hope you are able to find a more old-fashioned preschool soon!
(By the way, the prices are ridiculous of the ones you went to! I choked, too!)

liz said...

wow. I had no idea it was like that there to that extent. it sounds like manhattan! with sunshine.

doctors in ny and ca both told me at preschool age the most important thing was play and opportunity for him to socialize with other kids his age 2-3 times a week. that's it. the structure and other details aren't as important at that age they are just still learning how to communicate with one another without hitting or throwing things at each other and take turns.

i bet you could pull together a co-op with a lot more control maybe only limit it to 3-4 kids tops and make it a drop-off thing with no other kids so the mom gets a break and the teacher can concentrate. even if you only have a buddy over once a week and take turns it's getting him the social part.

email me i want to share with you what i learned from laura b. when i did a co-op with 2 other moms in CA (liz_a_fuller@gmail.com).

Angela said...

I am stunned. You're totally right, it's just business. It's not really about the kids in these people's minds. And I love the part about freeing up your day so that you can look for more items of clothing with "Juicy" printed across the butt. Sweet.

Ty and Trista Swartzlander said...

I am so sorry Jen! That makes me want to cry. I know you just want the best for Cash and Miami isn't always in line with what is best for our kids. I love it here, but I know my kids are not experiencing there younger years as I was able to. You are an excellent Mom and Cash and the twins are lucky to have you. Keep up the good work. :)

Julie M. said...

Are you serious?! Why do people even bother having children? I can't imagine putting mine in a "preschool" for all day. What the heck?! I'm sorry! We looked through the school district here, and it's actually wonderful! And I seriously can't even imagine paying that much for half a day! YIKES! We did a co-op and it was great, as long as you are all dead serious about it. I loved preschool too! I did it through USU, and it was amazing! Anyway, good luck!!

todd & nicole said...

It was a little like that here in Oregon. Most schools were all day every day. There are a couple of churches that do preschools and after looking A LOT we finally put her in one with another little boy from our ward. It's still not my favorite. I really wanted something part time that had a little learning, but I guess she is getting the social time. At least that is what I have to keep telling myself. I got a couple of workbooks from costco that we use for learning time after preschool that she loves.

Spar-Mar Girl said...

Wow. I've read articles about preschools like that, but I thought it was just in the NorthEast. That just bites! I know my sister had a hard time finding something "reasonable" in Alabama, and finally found a church program close to their place. Although reading about the cost, I won't ever complain about the cost of preschool out here again! Good luck finding something that works!!!!!

Heather said...

Jen, we live in a crazy place. South Florida is like some alternate universe. You are a good momma. I can't imagine sending a THREE year old to school all day and paying such a high price to do so. I hope you can swap with a couple moms or find a little preschool to put Cash in. He certainly is very smart, so no doubt he is getting the stimulation he needs. As long as he has a couple little friends to play with, I would probably call it good. What a crazy experience!

Melanie said...

I echo Melissa - HOLY CRAP! and here I was feeling funny about signing Harrison up for 3 mornings a week at our local catholic preschool. That Jewish places sounded crazy! 11 hours a day! She was right - this place is not for you because you value your time with Cash and are trying to do whats best for him. By the way, Im not worried about Cash at all - the child is basically reading at age 2. You are doing a lot right! Miami is like a different culture! There has to be some sort of part-time deal there. Did you look for Waldorf or Montissori programs. They are suppose to be very nurturing and relaxed philosophies. May be pricey but you never now. Good luck!

Melissa Bigelow said...

Check into the the Methodist church programs. That is where Noah went for preschool and I loved it!...plus remember, Florida has free preschool for 4 year olds. the VPK program. Do you know about that? So you only have to pay for his 3 year old year.

I was glad that I put Noah in preschool while he was 3. He was also reserved and quiet and it helped him socialize. I didn't put Max in at 3. I didn't think he needed it.

AnnaMarie Ferrell said...

Hey Jen, I'm so sorry. That makes me cry. It's so hard to send your child away, especially sweet, quiet (at least around me) Cash. I'm totally on your side. Don't worry about it. Don't do anything you're not completely comfortable with. What a horrible place. Best of wishes.

Jenilee said...

I hear about preschool situations like that a lot and I am always amazed. I totally agree with the desire for the simple life. Reading that makes me very grateful for what we have right now. The high school seniors here who are interested in teaching do a preschool three days a week for a couple hours each day. We are actually going to register Savannah tomorrow. I have heard the students are at the stage where they are really excited to be working with the kids and learning how to teach. Is there anything like that down there?

Corinne said...

That is a CRAZY story. We're lucky in Columbia that there are co-operative preschools in every village, otherwise it's pretty crazy. Not as crazy as YOUR hood, mind you :)

laura said...

Wow! That is insane. I cannot believe it's that extreme out there.

I must say that Connor, who is shy by nature and only had social experiences in coops and playdates is doing great in kindergarten.

I am positive that you can make it work with a co-op of some kind. Even if it's not academic at all, just a playgroup, but with only one mom so she actually focuses on the kids. Anyway...

This is my passion, so I'd love to chat with you sometime. Give me a call!

Laurie Jones said...

Are you serious? People would really leave their 2 and 3 year olds there all day long even when they don't work. Weird. And paying almost $1000 dollars a month? Crazy!!

I was having a hard time deciding if I wanted to send my 3 year old to preschool for two years. But, I did decide that he needs the interactions and he will love it. Plus, it is only twice a week and is $60 a month. I was even thinking-"Do I want to spend that much?".

Canyon only did 1 year of preschool. We tried to do two, but he wouldn't go for it. He wanted to be home with me and cried for the first 2 days. So I took him right out.

Then we started a co-op with 4 of his friends and he loved it. It was only once a week for 3 hours. If you rotate then you are only doing it once a month. We would have the first part be for learning/craft, then snack and then play time. It worked well. I am not sure what you would do with your babies though, that might be tough. Coleman was baby when we did it and he slept most of the time.

Good luck! It seems like there has to be some other options out there.

Kimi said...

All the kids in China start school at 3. they go from 8 am to 5 pm. Once they turn for then they start to spend the night at the school and only go home on the weekends. It is torture walking through the kindergarten the first week of school and hearing all the babies crying for their moms.

I definitely don't want my kid going to school for that long, I have witnessed first hand what it does and I don't like it. The kids become starved for love and affection. Even my 16 year olds are all still starved for praise and attention, they just don't get enough of it because they are at school all day long competing for it.

Hope you find a simple school for Cash, if not I would just keep him at home.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with Kimi! You are your son's best teacher! All the socialization he needs at age two almost three are the morals and values and give and take he is learning in your home. If you wish to teach him to read (I know he is already doing such) there is a great book, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Days - the Distar method. I taught all five of my children BEFORE they went to kindergarten using this book only. You are totally right in all your thoughts.

H. said...

Wow! That is CRAZY! I'm sure you'll figure out what is best for you guys. And really, I'm not convinced that preschool is as necessary as everybody says. I was reading before kindergarten and I never went. If you teach Cash as he's interested, and give him playdates for socialization, I'm sure he'll be just fine.

Lofgrens said...

I feel you. I've tossed the idea of sending Trey to school twice a week for a few hours too. And for the same reason- I'm just not structured enough to start him on reading, counting, writing... I am sporadic at best wtih those things - mostly I let him watch a video, play outside... while Jada naps. Then we go to the partk or visit some friends or just hang out. That's good for them too. Just not sure what to do yet! Good luck with all this!!