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Preschool - Elizabeth Unexplained
Lots of data but no answers
September 8th was a big day for us. Margaret started preschool.

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.
11 comments or Leave a comment
epicureanangel From: epicureanangel Date: September 14th, 2011 10:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
> It may not go anywhere, but given that none of my friends have three year olds, potential pre-school friends are a plus.

My kid is now 3 years too ... unfortunately I live a continent away from you :)

But yes, it's really nice to see your kid make her own friends... (and of course experience all the other drama that will slowly come along with it)
jaedian From: jaedian Date: September 14th, 2011 11:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
Preschool is more important now than it was when we were kids. (and I didn't go to one)
But now kindergarden is more like what 1st grade was when we were kids. So it is a much bigger jump to go to kindergarden without any preschool. You have to sit still a lot and they are trying to teach reading already. it is a much harder transition for kids that didn't go to preschool. (and I am having trouble thinking of any, although I vaguely remember one)

2 mornings a week is a nice start. I couldn't afford more than 3 mornings, and it leaves us time to do other things. But the nice thing is she will have same age mate friends and you will possibly be able to set up playmates. (not sure how that will work with Hongmei) And she will learn kindergarten critical skills, like waiting in line, sharing and having friends.

Is Hongmei not able to do the pickup for you? (no car, no license?) That is typical at our preschool - when there are nannies - they often do pick up.

20K is outrageous. I am pretty sure Andover montessori quoted me $5K for 5 day, half day program. 20K is the cost of high school private school tuition ( I recalled Philips Academy in Andover is that much)

greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: September 15th, 2011 02:29 am (UTC) (Link)
I agree it's steep, but the Montessori schools that are nearby can apparently charge a lot. There are some very rich people in Cambridge and Lexington it would seem. Even if we could swing more monetarily, I need to work from home two mornings a week to make the whole thing workout, and more than that would not be so good politically at work (not with my immediate co-workers, but others might object).

Hongmei doesn't drive for us. She has a Chinese license, but it's not valid in the US, and we don't have a car for her to use.
jaedian From: jaedian Date: September 15th, 2011 02:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah that is a pain. Unless their is a montessori within walking distance it doesn't help much

Honesty, I think 5 full days for preschool is a bit much. Obviously if you need it for work that is one thing, but I don't think is by any means necessary.

Yeah, I guess as long as there are people who can pay it, they will. Being closer in to the city, I am guessing there are a lot more families where both parents work and presumably can afford more. Here we have a decent number of stay at home moms, at least when children are younger. Which means all day isn't as much of a win, and also they have potentially less cash available.
psychohist From: psychohist Date: September 15th, 2011 02:56 am (UTC) (Link)
To add to what Elizabeth said: it's the schools in our area in particular that are around $20k. This particular school is far enough into the suburbs that it would only be about $12k for full time participation. However I suspect that they are also not as demanding of their students as some of the better known montessori schools.

Both of our cars are used for commuting and thus unavailable. If it fit into our budget, I suppose we could buy a cheap car for Hongmei and get her licensed, but I don't think it fits.
chenoameg From: chenoameg Date: September 15th, 2011 01:20 am (UTC) (Link)
I am glad you have found something that works for you, but am still confused about how the driving around is working.

It seems weird to me that you mention what you are doing for Margaret about education, but not about what Warren is doing.

Personally I have no intention to try to teach Smiles reading or math, but I'm also doing stuff with her all the time like playing with bananagrams tiles, so maybe that counts. Then again I'll also be picking a preschool based on proximity and cheapness to get a few hours to myself each week, so I clearly have different educational priorities than you do.

Lastly, I'm totally with you on the Disneyworld vacations :)
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: September 15th, 2011 02:35 am (UTC) (Link)
I guess I'm confused about what is confusing you, but the plan is for me to drive Margaret out to preschool Thursday and Friday mornings, then drive back home and work from home, then drive back out and pick her up, drive back home, drop her off with Hongmei, and drive into work. Yes, it will be a pain. There will be exceptions like this Thursday when I need to be at work at 11 and Warren will do the pick up.
jaedian From: jaedian Date: September 15th, 2011 02:38 am (UTC) (Link)
How long does the drive take?
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: September 15th, 2011 02:42 am (UTC) (Link)
45 minutes going out there in morning rush hour, 30 minutes the rest of the time. Did I mention it was a huge pain? They do seem to be a really good program that we can actually manage, which is why I am bothering.
jaedian From: jaedian Date: September 15th, 2011 02:37 am (UTC) (Link)
I didn't go for the cheapest school, at least not for Alex and Juliette. (Sara's school was much cheaper) but I am not going for the most expensive either. And I am not putting Juliette in as many days as I could. I figure she will be full time in school soon enough. I would rather have some times to do other things like playmates, and ballet and stuff.

I still am not even sure I can bear to spend the extra money to put her in all day kindergarden (it is $4600 this year I think) It would be nice for me, but not working during the day, I am not sure it would be justified.
psychohist From: psychohist Date: September 15th, 2011 03:01 am (UTC) (Link)
For what it's worth, the deal was presented to me by Elizabeth as, "I will drive Margaret to this school if you can come up with the extra money to pay for it."
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