It was sort of a last minute thing, in the sense that we signed her up in August. Warren has been pretty interested in the Montessori method for a while, and has purchased a couple of the educational toys for home. He also has been worrying that Margaret is not learning enough at home. Warren went to preschool himself in Hong Kong and the US, and he feels that it was helpful to him. Initially I didn’t think Margaret really needed preschool, after all I never went to preschool and I turned out OK, but then I realized that my mother stopped working for a few years and became a stay-at-home-mom starting when I was three and a half. Hongmei has been doing an OK job of taking care of the kids, and they are getting Chinese from her, but she’s no teacher and she’s unlikely to teach Margaret the basics of reading and math. I do work with Margaret on these things a bit, but I work full time and I expect to keep working full time. Since having an au pair was our childcare choice we weren’t really planning on sending her to preschool, but over the summer we were becoming increasingly worried that she really needed more opportunities to learn than she was getting at home.
Last spring when a friend posted about Montessori schools in the area I did some initial looking at them, and promptly made choking noises because most of them are in the neighborhood of $20k a year. That happens to have been the estimated cost of MIT my freshman year, and I’ll grant you there’s been some inflation since then, but still, that is not cheap. Also, we just can’t afford it, not with the au pair, and if we didn’t have the au pair we’d still need to pay for care for Duncan too. Still, I occasionally browsed sites for Montessori schools because one of the ways I amuse myself when I have time to surf the web is imagine what I would do with the money if I won the lottery. It probably says something about my priorities that my top three fantasy browsing activities are looking at floor plans for my fantasy dream house, planning fantasy trips to Disney World, and now scoping out fantasy private schools for the kids. During one of the last type of fantasy browsing sessions I noticed that one Montessori school offered a two mornings a week option at a price we could almost afford, and suddenly the browsing session became less about fantasy.
I discovered that there are two Montessori preschools in the area that offer options for either two or three half days a week. The original one I noticed was south of Boston. We live north of Boston and while I do work south of Boston (for now), having Margaret in half day preschool there would have me driving through the city at least 4 times a day, possibly more, and what little sanity I have left would evaporate. The only other preschool I found was 15 miles from our house, but north and a bit west, so not quite as bad a drive. (It’s still bad, spending two hours driving between the drop-off and pick up round trips, just to get her three hours at school, but I think it’s worth it.) As far as I can there are no other two day Montessori preschools in the area. I think anything closer to us is in a more populated area and can afford to insist on five days a week. I forwarded the web site to Warren, he liked what he saw, and we decided that if we liked the school when we visited we’d find the money.
To make a long story short we liked the school when we visited, and more importantly Margaret seemed to like it. She played with the toys while we spoke to the director. The director admitted that the three day & two day options were a concession to economic reality, they’d really rather have the kids five days, and I’m glad she said that. It reassured me that the school was serious about being a school and not just day care dressed up as a school while understanding that what parents want for their kids and what they can manage to give them aren’t always the same thing. After talking to us for a while and while simultaneously observing Margaret she offered us the two half-day slot we wanted even though she’d been looking to fill a two full-day slot. That was mid-August. We scrambled to get the paperwork in before we left for vacation, but I’ve been so happy about getting Margaret into the preschool ever since that meeting.
It poured rain the first morning as I drove Margaret in for her first day. The drive was pretty hellish, and it’s a good thing that I used to work near where the preschool was so that I knew it wasn’t normally that bad. In spite of leaving “plenty” of time I was one minute late, but there were plenty of people who were later than I was. Margaret must have remembered the place, because she seemed eager and happy to be there, and drop off was uneventful. Other kids were crying and clinging to their mothers, but Margaret’s only qualm was being a little hesitant to sit in the circle between two boys. Margaret was clearly not so interested in me once she got there, so I pretty much just left, my one concession to the whole ‘first day of school’ thing being a hastily snapped picture at the door of the school in the pouring rain.
The first two days (Thursday the 8th and Friday the 9th) were just for new students, and only two hours long, so didn’t bother driving home. Instead I found ways to entertain Duncan for two hours before picking Margaret up at 11. Margaret claimed to have had a good time the first day, and given that she was pretty happy about returning the second day it certainly seems to be true. On Friday I spent most of the time waiting for pick up in the parking lot. There were two other moms there who also had long drives, though not as long as mine. The were both Chinese, and I spent some time talking to them. There kids are also bilingual in English and Chinese, and one of the other mothers said she’d encourage her son to seek Margaret out. It may not go anywhere, but given that none of my friends have three year olds, potential pre-school friends are a plus. Margaret seemed to have had a good time on Friday as well, and wasn’t psyched to leave the playground at pick up time. While she lingered the intern in her classroom got me Margaret’s ‘work’ for the day, a paper Margaret had cut a series of slits in around the edges. The intern gushed at me about how advanced it was for a three year old to be coordinated enough to use scissors, but I was less than impressed and informed the intern that I didn’t let Margaret have scissors on account of the time when she was 14 months old and got hold of my yarn scissors for ten seconds and cut a slit in the bodice of her dress. I’m hoping the actual teachers have higher expectations of her, but I suspect they do since they didn’t even want me hanging around to help Margaret with her shoes on Friday morning.
Tomorrow will be our first regular day of preschool. I’m still excited about it and hoping for good things.