T1 started preschool back in September of 2012, shortly after we moved to Palo Alto. We knew it was the right time to put him in school because of the way he responded to church nursery time, and because we thought it would advance his language skills as he was forced to navigate a new environment and voice his needs. He was 2 1/2 (29 months) when he started.
Obviously things like safety and loving caregivers were our top priority; price, location, and schedule were also determining factors. I’m not so married to a certain school of thought when it comes to preschool education that I was ruling things out automatically based on the style. I love the idea of Montessori for young children (as of right now we’re thinking public school once our kids hit kindergarten) but the nearby options were well outside our budget or distance I was willing to travel. I also wanted to find a place with full-day options because I didn’t like the idea of dropping him off and then picking him up 2-3 hours later. The commute looked like it would be at least 15 minutes one-way and that’s not a lot of time to get anything done (I don’t know about you, but I work best when I have long chunks of time to attack my to-do list).
The place we chose is called Children’s Pre-school Center (CPSC for short) and it fit all three of my criteria regarding price/location/schedule. A commute that isn’t too bad (I’m able to avoid rush hour freeway traffic if I take a side road), drop-off as early as 7:15 am (though it’s closer to 10am by the time I get us out of the house) with pick-up at 6:15 pm, and a price that worked for us. He would be grouped in a room by age, and would be one of the oldest kids in his classroom.
I liked that I could pack his lunch and they would reheat as needed. I liked that they would allow him to be in diapers/pull-ups (we were going to potty train him right before he started and didn’t know how successful it would be). I like that they have “sports time” with Mr. Dave on Wednesday mornings. I liked that it was play based and that the weekly themes for the classroom activities were based on interests shown by the children (for example, they did a babies week because several of the little girls love to spend time playing with baby dolls). I most loved that they could get him to nap! Something I can’t do on my own no matter what I try (unless it’s going for long drive or walks in the stroller).
We enrolled him for MWF. The teachers are all very kind, and I enjoyed having 3 full days per week to myself with enough time to go to the gym, run errands, shower, eat, and still have a few hours to pay bills and attack my inbox. Not to mention the million home-decor projects I assigned myself when we moved. And to take a nap as I advanced in my pregnancy and became more tired each day! I love having some time to myself while T1 is able to have social interactions with other children/learning to navigate the structure of other environments and I’m really grateful to be in a place (physically/financially) where we can make that happen. I love that I can make to-do lists that involve things on the computer and I don’t have to let T1 destroy my office in order to write a check to PG&E for our electricity that month. Or that I can go to bed at 8pm instead of staying up late doing that stuff when he is playing with toys in his room (instead of sleeping) each night.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays when there was no school we would either clean the house or go on adventures (if we were really ambitious, we’d do both in one day but I’m rarely that ambitious). On one of those adventures I was at the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo (great little place, right next to the children’s library in Palo Alto!) and another parent raved about the preschool his daughter attended. She (the daughter) also had dealt with some speech delays and this school not only had highly educated teachers but the option to simultaneously enroll T1 in speech therapy and preschool at the same time (meaning he could have his speech therapy while he was at preschool). They had an open house the next weekend and so I decided to go and find out more.
The open house sold me, and so we decided to enroll him in on TTh in the new preschool (let’s call this one “speech therapy optional preschool” or STOP for short) and keep him at CPSC on MWF for the full days as well. He loves being around “friends” (what he calls every kid his age) and this was a great opportunity to see how he liked a completely different environment and approach.
Over time we realized that STOP is a superior program in many ways. CPSC is more of a glorified daycare, and (though they are lovely people) the teachers there are more like care providers than instructors. The teachers at STOP have master’s degrees and that extra education makes a big difference. And you know what? For whatever reason, T1 seems to prefer STOP as well!* STOP also mixes the kids by age which is really good for his speech. He has a huge crush on a girl named Lexi, and when I tell him it’s the day when he gets to go to school and see Lexi he claps and cheers in excitement.
As we discussed our schedule and plans for the arrival of T2 we decided it was time to re-evaluate. We gave our 30 day notice at CPSC** and decided to switch him to MWF from 9am-12pm at STOP. This will give him some time with Lexi and his other friends as well as the awesome teachers at STOP days with mama and baby to go on adventures (or you know, to do dishes and laundry and stuff). In the Fall we’ll talk about 9-12 preschool at STOP 5x/week instead of 3x/week if that feels right for him. I’m really grateful that we have all of these options for us and opportunities for him!
T1 has been thriving at both schools, and his teachers are constantly telling us how sweet he is and how much they enjoy having him there. (This must mostly be temperament because I can’t think of anything specific we’ve done to warrant a child who thrives in this way). He comes home singing songs I have to look up on YouTube and we’ve seen incredible leaps in his language development that I attribute in part to the time spend socializing with other kids/adults and mimicking their speech as well as being forced to vocalize his needs in ways he hasn’t had to before.
So we ended up with a 3-hour-a-day school after all, which yes, means a lot of driving or a lot of time sitting at coffee shops because my errands are done but school is not, but as with most things in parenting it’s about figuring out what is best for your child and what you can personally make work. I’ll miss my large chunks of productive time, but having a baby meant I was going to be giving that up anyway. The best part of having him in school? The moment when I walk in the door to pick him up and he screams my name and runs over and jumps into my arms. That doesn’t happen when we spend all of our time together and I treasure that look of pure joy on his face each day (and hopefully he enjoys seeing the same sentiment reflected in mine).
*I suspect that this might be in part because he doesn’t like being away from me for such an extended period of time.
**This is why I’m comfortable sharing the real name of CPSC with you (he doesn’t go there anymore) but am using a made-up one for STOP