This is long...
My son is 3.5 years old and we are looking at starting him in a preschool this fall. He is a very boistrous, active, enthusiastic child. He is currently in a daycare/preschool, has been since age 2. He has done very well there. He was there 3 long days a week (10 hours) and has recently cut to 3 half days a week since I cut my work hours from full-time to just moonlighting here and there. We have 2nd baby on the way in April. My inlaws will be with us from overseas for 5 months, so we are pulling him out when they get here and he will be at home from April through the summer. We are looking at starting him in a new place in the fall because
a) we are interested in Montessori and if we can start him at age 4, he will be guaranteed a spot for kindergarten and beyond and
b) the place we currenly have him at is very expensive.
So...we have looked at 2 Montessori schools and 2 play-based co-ops. Both the co-ops are lovely and I think he/we would be happy at either, but then we still have to figure out what to do a year later for kindergarten.
The first Montessori school we looked at has 3 primary rooms, so it is the larger school. We went to an open house, then I did an observation wherein I stayed most of the morning and visited all 3 classrooms. The experience left me with a lot of misgivings. First of all, it was so QUIET. I know that is part of the Montessori deal, but I wasn't buying that this was a natural thing due to the kids being engaged, it felt more like an enforced thing. It was just too eerily quiet. Most of my uneasiness with the place had to do with an overall vibe--I felt like there was an undercurrent of extreme control. The only concrete examples I can give are a) I saw a teacher's assisitant grab a kid by the wrist and b) while a teacher was talking with me, a boy about 10 feet away from us picked up a toy phone and said "ring ring ring." To my mind, what could be more appropriate? The teacher interrupted our conversation to ask him to "make another choice." I asked her why that was not OK. She said "Because he was purposely trying to be loud." I couldn't help myself, I said "That was loud?" (People, it was not loud). She said "Well, when you know their personalities...." So I'm thinking great, either she really does think that's loud, and it sure isn't by my kid's standards, or she has decided this boy is loud so she's going to be on him even when he's not. That'll be my kid.
Also, to me an important thing about a school is the people running it--like if there was ever an issue, are these people I can talk things over with? I couldn't get a feel for the director at all. She was nice enough, but not what I would call open and approachable.
So, DH and I decided we were leaning toward ruling the place out, but we would go ahead and go through with the admissions process to be sure. Next was the school's observation of DS. It was a half hour visit and there were about 5 other kids there. They had half a dozen "works" set up on the rug and all the kids were directed to that area when they came in. DS went straight for the book area and sat down with a book. I was watching from another area of the room. A teacher went over to him and engaged him a bit about the book, but quickly tried to direct him to the stuff on the rug. He had no interest in that and went to check out the pouring stuff. He was told that was really interesting but those materials aren't available today. He then went to a matching material, and the teacher did stay with him and let him work with that for a couple minutes, but again, it was all about getting him to stop that activity and go over to the rug. He did go there for a few minutes but wasn't interested in the bead thing and got up to walk around saying he's a fireman. I visibly saw this teacher give up. I knew then for sure that he was not performing as expected.
BTW, the other kids were of course nicely doing the works on the rug. This is not our first experience with DS doing something none of the other kids are doing. At Music Together as a young toddler, for the first half of the session, he would head for the door, more interested in exploring the temple it was held in than the class. The teacher was cool with that, so we would come in and out. At outdoor concerts, he is the only kid standing in front of the stage watching the bands set up and break down. Just a couple examples. These things have made me appreciate his individuality. He has no trouble focusing on an activity for long periods of time at home. And as stated, there have been no issues at his current daycare/preschool. I just think that because he is an explorer by nature, he was inticed by this whole room full of new interesting stuff and is used to being allowed to explore his environment at will.
My husband and I had pretty much ruled the school out. Especially after we looked at the other Montessori school and liked it SO much better. Kids very engaged in their work, but just seemed happier, and there was a much more "normal" noise and activity level to our minds. The place just had a much warmer, more relaxed vibe. Also, the director was a very down-to-earth, open person who we felt very comfortable with.
Then, we got the letter from the first school saying our son was not a good match and was not accepted. (Even though we had ruled it out and I was not surprised at all, this bothered me, as we were supposed to reject them, not the other way around...but that is another thread for the personal growth forum
.) I called the director and said that I had gotten the letter and was mainly motivated to call because I had been told that it was rare for a child not to be accepted. I asked if she would mind telling me more about why that decision was made. She said it was because he wasn't able to follow directions and it was difficult to redirect him to another activity. I told her that I had noticed that he wasn't doing what all the other kids were doing, but on the other hand I was confused as to why, if Montessori is about self-directed learning, the whole focus of the observation was making sure the child was easily led to a teacher-directed activity. She said there is freedom, "but they can't choose all day long," they are in a group, they have to be able to listen and follow directions, and especially considering he'd be coming in as a 4-year-old, etc. I told her that there had been no issues in his year and a half at his current school, and that while they don't focus on the quiet environment, the children certainly sit for group time, circle time, etc. and are expected to follow directions and adhere to certain rules. She said their experience has been that when they accept a child they are concerned may not a good fit, everyone ends up unhappy. She did offer, however, to have us bring him for another visit and to talk to his current school. I thanked her for the offer and said I would call her if my husband and I decide to take her up on that. We have no plans to do so.
So now, I will be VERY curious as to what happens at his visit with the second school, the one we were much more comfortable with. My husband and I have had a tour/observation, but DS has not been there yet. His "interview" is in a few weeks.
I guess my only specific question is, is it unusual for a child to be considered ill-matched for one Montessori school and a good match for another? That and any other thoughts would be much appreciated.