Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Preschool Saga Continues

Ever since the exasperating debacle of the JCC 16 - 24 month class that fell apart days before Bee was slated to begin, I have been scrambling around trying to find a preschool for her. My poor beleaguered mom could use the time off, and Bee is at the point where she will really benefit from spending time in a stimulating classroom environment with other kids. The problem is, Bee is at that awkward age, at least where nursery school enrollment is concerned. Most places will only accept kids starting at age 3, and the few that have programs for younger toddlers require that they turn two by September, meaning she would not be able to start until next year. We can't wait that long!

Given all these roadblocks, I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that Bee will be enrolled in the JCC's two-year-old class in January, despite the multitude of frustrations I have enumerated on this site regarding the Center's disorganization and lack of follow-up. While I hate to give them any more of my money, I am comforted by the fact that I know and like the teacher, and that many of my friends send their kids there so Bee will see plenty of familiar faces. Plus - and this is no small matter - I have no other options.

Or at least I thought I didn't. On a whim, I decided to call Springfield Montessori, located right across the street from my office, and arranged for a tour. As soon as I walked in, I thought "Now this is what I am looking for!" They have a huge, well-appointed playground with slides, climbing structures, sandboxes, play houses, and all kinds of toys: shovels and rakes, water tables, mixing bowls and sifters, tricycles, cars and trucks. The inside of the school was a regular child's wonderland of textures and colors and touchable surfaces. "We rarely have to use the word 'no' here," the director explained as Bee ran around picking up seashells and Play-Doh and paintbrushes and books and fabrics, "because we make sure that everything they can reach is safe to play with." She showed me the plans for the new site they are building, which is even closer to my office - in the same business park, actually. The new school will be surrounded by fruit trees and great, canopied live oaks, and there are plans for a children's garden, picnic areas, and a spacious arts and crafts studio.

I was very impressed with the way the classrooms were run. Maybe I just visited the JCC at a bad time, but it seemed to be a fairly chaotic, clamorous environment, with kids constantly whizzing by from one activity to another. I rationalized it by figuring that two and three year olds probably don't respond well to a strict schedule anyway, and that the best you can do is to give them a safe place to play and let them go at it. Yet, while the staff at Springfield repeatedly reassured me that the kids are not forced into any sort of rigid structure, I was amazed at how well, and how happily, the students naturally followed along with the planned activities. During circle time, Bee joined right in as the others sang, danced and clapped. Next, it was time for the kids to perform their assigned "jobs." One little boy picked the proper day of the week out of a stack of cards and stuck it on the bulletin board, and another sifted through a series of weather-related pictures and selected the ones that matched what he saw outside the big picture window: sunshine with a few fluffy clouds.

The students were a diverse group, representing a wide spectrum of ethnicities. One of my concerns about sending Bee to JCC, and later to the Jewish Day School, is how overwhelmingly white and upper-middle-class her peers will be. At the Montessori school, they celebrate many different holidays - Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year - and use them as opportunities to learn about other cultures. In the older classes, they even begin teaching French and Spanish through songs, stories and pictures. By the time I left, I was convinced that I found the perfect place for Bee - and the director agreed that Bee was completely comfortable in her surroundings and absolutely ready for preschool.

All that said, I don't think we will be able to send her there. The soonest they can enroll her would be this summer, or possibly even September. I put her on the waiting list for January, but if nothing opens up then I will have to send her to the JCC. Which is fine - I mean, it's not a bad place at all, it is just that the Montessori school is a hundred times more conveniently located and has a far more cohesive program, staff, and philosophy. I'd consider signing her up in September, but that is when our synagogue is supposed to launch its own preschool program. Given that my best friend J. is in charge of the planning committee, and that I have pledged my unwavering support of the project from the start, it wouldn't be a very good idea for me to enroll Bee somewhere else. And in fact, I am really excited about the new school and think it will be an awesome program - with J. in charge, it won't be anything less. I just wish Bee could go the Montessori too, at least for a little while.


Blogger Another meshugannah mommy said...

Wow - you could really be my twin! I have been through the preschool wringer, as well. It all works out, I promise.

8:01 AM  

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