In my recent introductory post, I asked for advice about choosing a pre-school for our (most likely) gifted toddler, who is 2.5, and most of you who weighed in recommended a play-based program.
I did some more research and things suddenly got a lot more complicated!
We had a long talk with his current head teacher in his daycare class (12 kids up to three years old, but mostly around two, 3 DCP). It appears that in verbal, cognitive and fine motor development, he is way advanced (at the level of a four year old or higher, they think, they say they’ve never had a child like him). But while they love having him, they have a hard time meeting his social and emotional needs.
He loves doing artwork and participating in teacher-led activities, but as soon as free play starts and things get a little wilder, he complains about the noise and tries to talk them into letting him go into the bedroom or into the hall to be by himself. They do try to integrate him and get him to participate but he will be overwhelmed very soon. Also, he cannot cope with having one of the teachers leave his side and will have a meltdown - it's worse when he's been home sick for a time, so we're all hoping for spring... Sample conversation: Why are you going away? Teacher: I need to go to the bathroom. DS: Don't go! I don't want you to go away. Teacher: But I need to go pee. DS: But you don't have to go away for that. You could pee in your pants right here!
They are confident it'll get better again (it WAS better in fall, sickness does throw him back a lot, I've noticed) but she's said flat out she can't imagine him coping in their 3-6 classrooms by fall, which have 25 kids with 2 teachers, are play-based and are very noisy, and strongly recommends Montessori. Well, really she recommended leaving him in their classroom till 3.5 or so, but agreed he might need a lot more academic stimulation soon which they could not provide.
The problem is that play-based, 25 kids, 2 teachers describes basically every program around. We live in a small town right at (the equivalent of) a state line, and regulations prevent us from sending our child to (publicly subsidized) pre-school across the line.
There are just two alternative options: the local public Montessori, which has one inclusive class with 15 kids (five of which special needs) and 4 teachers, another with 25 and three teachers and the IB international school’s Early Years program, which has 15 kids and two teachers.
The program at the public Montessori school is very controversial - I have heard from several parents who pulled their kids out because they felt the atmosphere to be oppressive and overly controlling. I have observed for a morning and the kids do seem a bit joyless to me – and so do the teachers! They seem very distanced and cool, and while they pay the kids lots of attention, they lack, dunno, something like warm-heartedness. Also, they push the children around physically a lot – gently, but more than I was comfortable with (and more than my little one would be comfortable with, I think), leading them to their chairs, turning her head back to the work when a very little one got distracted, holding her arms to push the broom when cleaning up.
A friend who pulled her child out after two years feels the atmosphere in the school is due to the personality of the directress, who is extremely knowledgeable and committed to her school and genuinely loves children, but has a hard time showing it, and has a hard time letting other teachers show it too, as she imposes her personality on the rest of the team. That said, she felt her own daughter did thrive there initially and problems started only in the second year; possibly because this teacher cannot let kids' personalities grow so well either. She actually recommended trying it out for a year and just watching our little one very closely, and also recommended trying the IB Early Years program either later or right away.
Apparently the IB program has a big emphasis on independent work and child-led academic stimulation. It’s noisier than Montessori and initially her daughter had a hard time adjusting, but loved it soon.
I went to their open house and while I liked the physical space and what I’ve been able to observe in the classroom, the head’s presentation of his school didn’t sit well with me. I asked him, as an aside, about their experiences with asynchronous kids (you know, never be in-your–face with “gifted”) and he didn’t know the term. When I tried to describe the mismatch in development in my kid, he seemed to think I was talking special needs and insisted that their school was very traditional, couldn’t cope with learning disabilities at all and to set up an appointment with the EY teacher.
However, when I brought up gifted kids in the general discussion his face lit up and he waxed lyrical about how perfect their program was for them, as it allowed them to work ahead in all areas.
Setting up an appointment with the EY teacher, I had a quick chat and she talked about how their kids had to be self-sufficient, perfectly toilet trained, no accidents (they won't change them), put themselves down for naps etc.
The friend who sent her daughter there thinks it is all rubbish and puts it down to the new strategy of the head (who’s taken over only recently) who wants to turn the school from an inclusive school for a certain demographic (expatriates and internationally minded local families) into a very exclusive selective school, and needs to put those local families who want to choose the school as a last resort for their children who fail in our (academically selective) public schools thoroughly off. She feels the teachers are all wonderful and wouldn't go along with this in the classrooms – even if they have to support the public show.
At both schools, there is a definite ethos of “if a kid wants to read at four, more power to him!”, whereas at some play-based programs they might try to stop him. (I live in a country where kids are expected to learn reading in first grade. No earlier, no later. Period).
Parents from my community speak highly of the play-based Catholic school too, which they say is fairly quiet, with well-behaved children and loving teachers, but with 25 kids to a class I’d need to go observe for myself, and they don’t offer that (I might try to insist again, they’ve already turned me down once).
I’m very conflicted and I wonder whether I’m overthinking this, whether this might really be a phase that might go away within six months or a year, as the DCP seem to think, or whether it is a personality trait we will just have to work with? How did your highly sensitive children develop?
I have appointments with both the head of the Montessori school and the EY teacher on Wednesday.
Thank you for bearing with me. Anyone who’s read this far – what should I ask, what should I look for, what should I think?