Last week I made the decision to visit the co-op preschool one last time. My husband told me that it would be a big waste of time, (he has been voting for the traditional preschool since January), but I wanted to make peace with my decision once and for all. I also wanted to meet the woman who might become my son’s teacher.
I was welcomed into the co-op with open arms. The teacher invited my son to play with the all of the toys and I was told to make myself at home in the classroom. When snack time came we were not asked to leave, but instead were offered crackers and apples alongside the rest of the class. I’ll be honest I loved that welcoming atmosphere. I also liked the teacher’s philosophy and the way she interacted with the students.
Sounds positive so far, right? So why did I choose not to send my son there?
First, the classroom was quite tiny for the number of children in attendance. By the time you accounted for tables, chairs and toys there was little room for the twelve kids to move about. The toys were scattered all over the carpet, which is to be expected, but there was little ground to walk on. The children play outside twice a day so this might not be such a big issue, but on rainy days 2.5 hours in this tiny little room seems like it would be a bit much.
Second, I saw very little consistency in discipline. One mom said nothing when children pushed and shoved each other in front of her. When a boy grabbed a toy out of another boy’s hands the mother did not step in to calm the crying child or discipline the aggressive one. When this happened in front of another parent she stepped in to help.
In the first instance the teacher stepped in to soothe the crying child but by that time the situation was somewhat escalated and it took a bit for the boy to calm down. Since the teacher hadn’t witnessed the incident she did not discipline the aggressive child for taking the toy away. I think that is as important an action as quieting the one who is upset.
In general I noticed much more aggressive behavior in the children at the co-op. I am not saying that all co-ops contain children who are more aggressive, but at this particular school I noticed a lot more grabbing, pushing and general snarkiness amongst the children. None of the boys wanted to share the toys they were playing with and a number of them grabbed toys right out of my son’s hands. I realize that two and three year olds don’t typically like to share, but I witnessed the opposite behavior at the traditional preschool. Two young boys willingly handed over toys so my son could participate in an activity with them.
In general the co-op took a more hands off approach to the children. I understand this philosophy, but given my son’s quiet, sensitive nature I am not certain I want him to start school in a dog-eat-dog world. It was clear that the quieter children stuck to the perimeters of the room while the more aggressive children controlled the main floor.
At one point just before parent pickup one child dumped sand over the head of another. The little boy sat crying in the sand box. One of the parents brushed the sand off his neck and shoulders, but the little one continued to cry. When his mother picked him up, (which coincidentally happened moments after the incident), she said “he has sand in his eyes.” The teacher responsed, “he does?” Now I understand letting kids work things out themselves, but it seems to me a quick check of the child would have made that fact rather obvious.
In general the co-op approach appeared very hands-off. They gave the children 2.5 hours to play with no formal activities other than a five or ten minute story time. Again there are perks to this approach, but I am not certain it is the model I prefer for my son.
I also didn’t love the idea of taking other children to the bathroom and changing their diapers. It seemed that was one of the mom’s main duties. Every time I looked up she was taking another child to the bathroom. When I asked specifically about it I was told that wet diapers don’t typically need to be changed as they are only in the classroom for 2.5 hours. I took this response to mean they allow children to sit in wet diapers for most of the morning. My son should be completely potty trained before preschool starts, he is almost there now, but in general I’m not a fan of allowing kids to sit in their urine.
The teacher also mentioned that children cry just as much at a co-op as they do at a traditional preschool. She said eventually all parents have to leave, (because there would definitely not be enough room for all twelve parents to stay), and when they go the tears often fall. This made me realize that regardless of my preschool selection my son may be sad on those first few days there.
Add to this the fact that I would need to help fundraise, clean the school, attend mandatory meetings and hold an administrative position and I decided that the co-op was not the right choice for me or my son. Although I certainly felt welcomed into the co-op family I decided I did not want to send my son there.
Instead he will attend the traditional preschool located within walking distance of our home. I’m still not a fan of the longer hours, (4 hours versus 2.5), but otherwise I am happy with this decision. I talked to many parents who said the time flies in the morning and that their children love the longer day.
I’ll be honest, I’m not ready to part with my little guy and although I want him to interact with other children I know in my heart that I will miss spending those early morning hours with him. I will miss making his lunch and sitting at the kitchen table with him, but I have to remind myself that he will only attend school two days a week and that he will love making little friends and having a long list of activities to tell me about when the school day ends. At least I hope so…