Ask the grumpies: How do you pick a preschool?

Leah asks:

How do you pick preschool? Our best options are the Catholic school ($6,300 tuition, and that includes lunch and the before/after care, but Catholic school), public school ($6,300 tuition and does NOT include those things, so we’d pay an extra $2k for lunch and care), or staying at our current daycare/preschool that our daughter seems to be aging out of (~$5,500ish, includes full day, breakfast, lunch, all snacks and no random vacation days). The other two preschools have random vacation days. We’d have to send in snack about once a month at the Catholic school, but at least they have snacks.

We are just so torn and are not sure what’s the most important and whether it’s worth it to pay $2k more for public school. That’s a lot of money for us.

Here’s our answer to a more general question 4 years ago on how to pick a daycare .  The fundamentals are still the same– visit the schools and look for teacher/student interactions and student/teacher happiness.  What’s slightly different for older kids is first that your child will be better able to tell you if something is going wrong, and second, intellectual stimulation may be more important.  So ask about differentiation if applicable.  (I also have to say I am in love with the way Montessori gets kids to clean up after themselves– a huge benefit, so keep an eye out for who cleans up after activities when you visit.)

Given that your current daycare is cheaper and less of a hassle (those random vacation days are no joke, also remembering snack once a month is non-trivial for us, though at least it’s just once a month), have you talked to their administration about getting more intellectual stimulation for your kid?  It may cost less than 1-3K to provide materials.  On the other hand, if the school just isn’t set up for that, it isn’t set up for that.

What is most important to us:

  1. Happiness
  2. Hassle
  3. Intellectual and physical exhaustion by the end of the day
  4. Actual learning

But YMMV.  Happiness is non-negotiable for us.  There are tradeoffs with hassle and learning that we’re willing to make, and indeed, getting DC1 to start K early was significantly more hassle than just keeping hir at preschool another year.  DC2’s public school isn’t leaving hir exhausted at the end of the day (zie still misses hir Montessori director’s math classes), but zie is learning Spanish so that’s pretty cool.  Thankfully we have paid care options for the random days off.

Regarding the religious aspect– ask them how they handle the Easter story.  That’s a good test for if they’re creepy religious or story-based religious at these ages.  I want to say that most Catholic preschools are story-religious, but I was a little traumatized by the Easter story in my Catholic kindergarten– how they handle these things really varies, even among preschools with the same denomination (as we found out with two different Missouri Synod Lutheran preschools).

Grumpy Nation:  What advice would you give Leah when making this decision?

 

A mother’s day rant

1.  If you’re a full-time daycare, don’t have “Muffins with Mom”.

2.  If you decide to have “Muffins with Mom” anyway, don’t put a sign-up sheet in the lobby where everyone can see which moms obviously don’t love their children enough to leave work to spent 30 min eating store-bought muffins with them at daycare.

3.  Also, the next day don’t ask the moms who weren’t there why they weren’t there and then tell them that they were the only mom who wasn’t there and little DC was so upset.  (Especially if the reason according to DC that ze was upset was because ze had to have grapes instead of muffins like all the other kids because ze’s allergic to wheat.  Or maybe especially if that’s not the reason.)

I wonder how many moms are going to show up in Dad’s place for Donuts with Dad, which I assume they’re also having.  Of course, little DC2 won’t have dad there either because he’s traveling for work that week.

I’m actually only slightly irritated, and mainly at the patriarchy.  And to be honest, I would have checked the no box even if I hadn’t had a P&T meeting scheduled a month and a half in advance at exactly that time.  I am willing to sacrifice DC a little bit so that other mothers can also feel free to check the “no” box if they need to or want to.  (And at the time I checked “No” there were two other “No”s, one with a written “I’m out of town” excuse.)  I suppose that makes me a terrible mother, but I don’t want hir to feel like this is a big deal, and based on conversations with hir the evening of the event, ze was indeed upset by the lack of muffin and not at all by the lack of mommy.  (And yes, a “better” set of parents would have brought gluten-free muffins, but DC2 has gf cookies provided specifically for these kinds of events, and I didn’t really realize that it was Thursday until I got to daycare and saw the ladies setting up for the party, because the end of the semester is busy.)

I have the solace that deep down I believe that these little upsets truly are character building and learning to weather having to eat grapes when the other kids have muffins so as to avoid getting a rash is just one of those things that makes a person stronger.  Obviously we shouldn’t try to create character building incidents because that’s sadistic, but it’s not such a big deal when they happen.  Especially when grapes are actually better than grocery store muffins.

or with music

Updates

Because everybody cares about my life as much as I do.  (Not really!)

Daycare:

After one week at the new daycare, DC2 decided ze loved it.  Ze proudly proclaimed that ze had friends and named some.  Dropping off only took a little lingering.  After two weeks, ze stopped having nightmares.  Dropoffs became, “Yeah mom, bye, whatever” (though more in body language than words) and instead of clinging and crying ze complained about getting hugged if my coat was wet from rain.  Ze informed us that ze loves hir teachers.  Every day when we pick hir up ze says, “I had a good day.”  Since starting, hir eczema has also been entirely gone, which makes me suspect that they’re a lot better about making sure that ze doesn’t accidentally eat wheat.  Either that or there’s some topical allergen ze isn’t being exposed to in the new place (that just happened to not always be present at the old place).

High quality daycare is amazing and awesome.  What a difference!  I am a bit worried about next year though… I feel like we haven’t quite been fair with DC2 compared to DC1 who never had to experience a bad schooling experience.

Nice kitty who sometimes pees on cloth:

So far we’ve tried having 4 litterboxes for 2 kittens (6 litterboxes for 3 cats, but the other two are in the utility room instead of the master bathroom the kittens use as home base).  One covered litterbox (formerly 2 covered litterboxes), 3 uncovered.  3 with standard litter, 1 with special pine litter.  Different depths of litter.  Scooped every single night whether they need it or not.

They stay in the master bathroom (~100 sq feet, lots of windows, cupboards, scratching posts, a cat house, etc.) overnight until the late afternoon.  This keeps our older kitty from feeling overwhelmed and has allowed us to minimize pee damage.  They’re used to it and willingly go back to their home-base at night when it’s time to go.  If we let them out earlier they often just stay in the room.

We’ve tried not leaving cloth out, for example, putting our bedsheets away before letting the kittens out.

We’ve tried litter retraining (not letting the kittens out of the master bathroom while we’re out of town for a few days).

All of these have worked to decrease the amount of peeing on things, but none eliminated it.

The most recent thing that we still have our fingers crossed for was Prozac.  Nice kitty did not like being pilled at all, and while on Prozac she would hide from us and mostly stay under our bed or in the master bath during their family time.  The vet said to try it for two weeks.  During those two weeks she didn’t pee on anything (other than the litter, presumably), even though it seemed to make her more anxious rather than less anxious!

After the two weeks, we stopped the Prozac, because nice kitty really hated being pilled, and the vet said it was possible that even after stopping Prozac after the two weeks her peeing on cloth habit might also be gone.  So far so good.  But we keep waiting to find something peed on.

So those are my updates.  Fun times.

On preschools and biting: Part 2 — what works

There are lots of reasons that kids bite.  Many of them relate to developmental exploring our senses things and teething, particularly with early biting.  This post isn’t focusing on those– this post is focusing on biting for behavioral/emotional reasons.  Feeling bored.  Feeling frustrated.  Feeling threatened.  Not knowing what else to do to get what you want.

We bought a couple of books.  One of them is really good, On Biting.  The other one, The Biting Solution was less so– the advice basically boiled down to, here’s some questions to ask… then figure out your own solutions with the kid’s help.

The thing about biting is that generally it really is a symptom that something else is not going well.  Same as any kind of conflict.  Treat the underlying problem, not just the symptom.

In DC2’s case there’s a couple of things going on.  The first is, well, let me quote DH here:

Environment:
Many RI and some RII children are very possessive.
Several RI children use physical violence as the first response to any issue, including biting, hitting, kicking, grabbing, and pushing.

Conflict resolution:
The teachers handle all problems the same way.  They lecture the aggressor, almost always using phrases that emphasize how the teacher is sad about the action.

Result of current methodology:
The victim learns that other kids will try to take things from him/her, and must develop a response. Typically he/she becomes more protective/possessive of things. Since he/she is observing/experiencing physical violence, quite possibly that becomes his/her future response.

The aggressor learns that the teacher is quite regularly sad, and that the other kid gets to have something he/she wants.

If the teacher didn’t see the start of the issue, she often treats the more angry child as the aggressor and the more sad child as the victim.  Sometimes that labeling is incorrect and both the aggressor and victim learn that physical violence can work.

The second thing, that we found out recently, DC2 is a bit bored.  When there’s more to do and more to play with and more interaction, there’s less time to get into these kinds of scuffles and any one toy isn’t as important.  I wouldn’t have thought of this, but it’s in the book and the current temporary solution addresses this issue (temporarily) even if not the lack of conflict resolution.

I hate the way that so many things about this parenting thing have forced me to become an expert on things that I’m not trained in.  I shouldn’t have to know more about PCOS and infertility than my big-city OB/GYN (I’ve had better luck with my small-town docs!) and I shouldn’t have to learn more about biting in a group childcare setting than someone who has been running a daycare for over a decade.  But there you have it.

How to run a daycare:

Culture

In a good daycare, culture will be consistent across classrooms.  Instead of relying on the teachers coming in knowing what they’re doing, a good daycare will train the teachers in the culture of the school.

At DC1’s first school, they had property rights.  Whichever kid was playing with a toy would get to play with it until she was done.  If another child wanted to play with the same toy, he was encouraged to trade toys.  If the first child didn’t want to trade, then she didn’t have to.  Those were the rules that everybody followed.

At DC2’s second (religious) school, they focused on sharing.  If a child wanted to play with a toy that another child had, he asked politely.  Assuming that the first child hadn’t just picked it up, she would say, ok, and then hand it to the first child.  A teacher would praise the interaction in the background because yay sharing.

In both of these cases, the teachers were consistent across all rooms and all ages and the kids trained each other.  It was amazing seeing little hellions start at the school and turn into angels within a week.  (And new teachers go from being completely lost to being completely in charge!)  Because culture is strong.

When we asked at this current daycare what their culture was, the director told me, “taking turns” which means that when the second child grabs the toy from the first child, the teacher is supposed to say, “It’s not your turn yet” and then wait and remember to give the toy to the first child when it’s that child’s turn.  She admitted that usually by that point the second child had forgotten if the teacher remembers.

When I asked the assistant director, she said no, taking turns wasn’t what they did, it was sharing.

When DH asked the teachers, different teachers gave him different answers.

In any case, none of them are actually doing what they say they’re doing.  There is no method for sharing/trading/property rights other than violence.

Spreading culture

In a good daycare, not only will there be training from the director and from lead teachers, but teachers will work as floaters (an additional teacher or substitute teacher) on a regular basis and occasionally switch rooms.  They’ll share playground time.  They will train each other and help each other.  The director will also float on a regular basis.

What they should do

There are a number of different options for dealing with conflict.  The best stop conflict before it starts and makes each conflict that does occur into a learning experience so that conflict is less likely to happen in the future.

When something happens, they should talk with the victim first.  They should engage the aggressor in the discussion as well.  They should explain why the action was wrong, not just that it made the teacher sad.  And, importantly, they should talk about the alternatives to physical violence.   What should the child have done instead?  If there’s a good and consistent culture at the school, the child will know the answer to this question.  If not, then the school needs to decide what the answer is going to be and start teaching it.

As we said before, the best thing is to keep conflict from happening in the first place.  When there’s a strong culture and kids know what they’re supposed to do, that helps.  So does that 6th sense that many great daycare teachers have.

Here’s DH again on conflict prevention:

When a child starts to get frustrated, the only responses being used are redirection or lecturing. Redirection is not being done with engagement, but more like just shoving the child off in a different direction.

The teachers are not seeing problems before they start.

And on communication:

“Use your words” is a fine phrase, but being more specific is more educational.  Teach children gestures and words to help them communicate. The 18 mo room teacher, for example, does a good job teaching kids how to handle issues with other kids.  She teaches them body language and phrases.  “Stop”, “no”, (hand up palm out).

There should be no discrepancies between what is told to parents and what is actually done inside the classroom.  Directors and teachers and kids should all be on the same page.

So where are we now?  Well, we visited a few more daycares and got on the waitlist for one of them, a new Montessori where two of DC1’s former teachers are now teaching.  The director said all the right things and believes in continuing education for the teachers and has Montessori certification.  It’s a bit more traditional Montessori than we’re used to, but the culture of the school seems to be good and it seems to be conflict free from what DH saw.  There will be slots available in both the 2s room and the 2-3 year room in January.  It’s also very close to DC1’s school so we’ll be back to only having to do one set of pick-ups and drop-offs.

In the mean time, the current Montessori requested that we move DC2 up to the next room (I’m guessing too many other parents complained).  All of the kids in the new room are 6 mo to a year older than DC2.  The teachers are still not perfect, but they’re a lot better.  Instead of constant Lord of the Flies behavior and screaming in the morning, DH only counted 4 incidents of violence in the 90 min period he observed when DC2 was transitioning.  The kids are mostly better behaved.  (DH related a fun incident this morning– the bully in the room kicked down another child’s block tower, and the morning teacher told the child that she could make another block tower and kick it over herself, and then all the kids there turned to the teacher and told her, “No!  We don’t kick toys!” So maybe some cultural training going on in the new room.)  The teachers are more alert and more cuddly and excited.  DC2 hasn’t bitten since ze was moved.  (The teachers do not seem to have been informed that they shouldn’t praise DC2’s intelligence in front of hir, despite conversations with the director who said of course it would never happen.) DH suspects DC2 will get bored of the room before ze ages out of it.  We think this solution will work until January, but we’ll definitely be moving then.

Update:  related post from Wandering Scientist

Update 2:  Yesterday when I picked up DC2 (which I do one day a week) when I walked through the I room on my way back to the playground there were about 8 kids and no adults in the room.  I waited for the teacher to return (with a child who had just made a break for it) and on my way out told the director that there had been no teacher in the room when I went through.  Before I made it out of the parking lot, the director came out and told me that it wasn’t the teacher’s fault, a kid had made a break for it, she hadn’t been gone any time at all, it was a parent’s fault for leaving the door open, etc. etc. etc.  And I said I’d just informed her because I thought she would want to know.  And she said that she was just telling me that it was a safety issue and that’s why the teacher left the room and it was just for a second, and I said that they should have better systems in place so that a teacher wouldn’t have to leave the room. And then she asked what I would suggest, and I suggested having/calling for a floater, or opening a door and letting another teacher know the situation, and she said that she could tell that something wasn’t working for me and they’re doing the best that they can and that if I was having problems with them I should set up a meeting.  The conversation only ended when I got out my phone to call DH.  I’m pretty sure they will be glad when we’re gone.  But I couldn’t say anything then because we can’t be gone until January.