Every month I have a real conversation about different aspects of motherhood along with some other mamas in the blog-o-sphere as part of "The Real Mom Series." This month we're talking about education, and since we're in all different phases of motherhood you'll get to hear from many perspectives. Be sure to visit the other blogs to read more:
This topic of education is timely because Elle just finished her first year of preschool, and we are reassessing where she should attend next year. It's times like these where I wish I majored in family studies, psychology or education so that I know what is the "best" and "right" way to educate children. I wouldn't say we made a mistake this past year, but I would say we didn't really make the best choice for Elle and here's why...
I chose our past preschool based on recommendations from moms and educators in the area. You would think that's a surefire way to know if a school is good, but you know what I have found to be a better way to choose a school for your child? Your maternal instincts. Something told me that she just wasn't enjoying herself and she always came home tired and quiet. I thought it was because she just wasn't used to four hours of a classroom environment.
In my gut I was 100% sold on her preschool, but I just kept telling myself, "But, it's the best in the area. Everyone says so." Well, this summer she has been attending a summer preschool program at a different school, and she has been coming home so rejuvenated and happy. It's an even longer day that her other school and she goes daily. I was preparing myself for a super tired three year old, but I was wrong. So, that got me to thinking, maybe her other preschool isn't really the best even though everyone says so. But, that really begs the question, how do I know what is best? Here's my two cents from a mom that is still figuring it out.
Well, I think the first step is to assess your child's personality.
Elle is an extroverted leader, and I think some teachers would classify her as a strong willed child because she argues everything to death (just like her mama). I love that about her, but it makes things challenging for a teacher. If Elle can't see the personal benefit of something she simply won't do it. In fact, if you start any sentence with a command she will just rebel against it to try and assert power. It's just who she is and how she was made. All that to say, how schools handle behavioral issues is a very important aspect to how we need to pick a school. I felt like her past preschool constantly was telling her "no" and "don't" and "timeout." I also didn't feel that they embraced that part of her personality and tried to channel it in a positive way. So, we need to find a place that approaches correction with positive affirmation of good behavior. For example, "Good choice, Mary. Thank you for sitting on your square. Good choice, Ben..." and so on until the person not making a good choice realizes that they can receive the positive affirmation they are looking for by sitting down. Because Elle is extroverted, more time to play with friends is also a factor. Here past school only offered three hour mornings three days a week for her age, but there are other schools that offer daily school with longer days.
The next step would be to tour the school and see if you have a good feeling about it.
Sometimes you just need to trust your intuition. You can read about a school on paper and it sounds fabulous, but until you tour it and talk with the teachers you won't know if it's a good fit or not. I've toured about five different preschools, and I definitely had better feelings about some schools than others. I would look at whether the school was clean, if it was safe, if it was organized, if the student/teacher ratio was good, etc. We also have a serious nut allergy in our home, so how they handle food at school is a bit of a factor. I also would ask about the teacher/student ratio. Children learn better in smaller class sizes because they can have more time with the teacher. It's just the truth, so if you can find a place that has a good student/teacher ratio then you're on the right track for success.
The next would be to see if the communication between the school and the parents is frequent and friendly.
Anytime a teacher seems bothered to talk to a parent there should be a red flag. Parents and teachers have to work together to make learning enjoyable. Sometimes when Elle's teacher would ask me to work on something with her I felt at a loss as to how to do that. I really wish they could have given me some examples of how to work on fine motor skills. Instead, I just went to Pinterest to look up idea in hopes that those ideas would work. I also wanted to know more about what they were going to learn in the coming months so that I could reinforce those ideas at home.
There's no surefire way to find the right school. Sometimes you just have to try it and see. I thought I would screw Elle up by taking her out of school and putting her into a different one. I also thought I was a bad mom for making her go to school in the summer for longer days. You know what? Your kids may surprise you, and trusting your gut works better than you think!