Choosing a pre-school for the highly sensitive toddler – SCARY UPDATE! - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 13 Old 03-17-2009, 04:12 AM - Thread Starter
 
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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?

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#2 of 13 Old 03-17-2009, 05:11 AM
 
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I checked back over your old treads, and it really is a complex situation.

Do you think the IB school really meant it about "no accidents?" 3 yo are going to have accidents, it just happens. Heck, most 4 and 5 yo still have occassional accidents. What do they plan to do, call you at work? Leave the kid in cold wet smelly clothes?

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#3 of 13 Old 03-17-2009, 09:16 AM
 
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We've tried play-based, IB-inspired, quiet church-based - my boy flat out rejected Montessori (said the playground was pathetic!) - and we're back to square zero right now - homeschooling.

But like they say, if you don't try, you won't know. So just bite the bullet and go with your guts.
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#4 of 13 Old 03-17-2009, 10:39 AM
 
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Another thing to try is a home-based Montessori. I see ads on my CL all of the time for women running Montessori's in their homes. Maybe that would be an option? Usually they are smaller than the centers.

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#5 of 13 Old 03-17-2009, 10:42 AM
 
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Do you need it for child care right now?

If not, I would think about maybe waiting a bit. 2.5 is on the young side for preschool and maybe he's just not ready. Our son was a sensitive introvert and really it was a stretch at 3.5 at 2.5 no way would he have been ready.
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#6 of 13 Old 03-17-2009, 12:42 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you for your thoughts, everyone!

Quote:
Do you need it for child care right now?
If not, I would think about maybe waiting a bit. 2.5 is on the young side for preschool and maybe he's just not ready. Our son was a sensitive introvert and really it was a stretch at 3.5 at 2.5 no way would he have been ready.
Roar, I'm thinking about making the move from daycare to pre-school in September, and he'd be three in October. Still on the young side for pre-school, I guess - that's why I'm wondering just how much difference six months will make, and how much difference a year would make. We do need it for childcare, but at a pinch, he could stay until 3.5 or so in the daycare class (I wouldn't want to wait longer than that). However, I'd then have to look for pre-school openings during the school year, and depending on how far those places fill up right now in September, there might not be any or not at the school I then want unless a family moves (good reminder, that's definitely one of the questions I need to ask!).
I'm thinking that the move might be beneficial, too, insofar as older kids might be qieter and more predictable, and their activities might be more interesting for him - when he is absorbed, suddenly it doesn't matter so much whether mommy is there or not! At daycare, I'm sure they're running out of options even now, because all their toys must be toddler-proof.

Eepster, I really don't know what to think about the accident thing. I mean, it's not just toilet training - there could be spills in the cafeteria, in art class, a big puddle in the yard... I'd always want to make sure there were a change of clothes kept at the school. That's what this friend meant - she said she knew other parents at the school who she knows wouldn't stand for this and promised to get us in touch. I'm thinking they might call people at work - I'm sure that would fit right in with that head's philosphy. If it is that domineering even in the EYP program, it's probably a place to stay away from. What a pity for those international kids who really have no other option.

daytripper, deminc, I live in Europe (sorry, I just realized I didn't make this perfectly clear in the OP), and there is such a strong tradition of public (or publicly subsidized) preschool in my country that other options for that age-group simply do not exist - that's also why the programs, apart from the odd Montessori or Waldorf school, are so standardized and traditional. Homeschooling is illegal from first grade and up. They're even planning on extending this downward to kindergarten, to reach immigrant children and help them learn the dominant language before they need to learn to read. So in two years, three years at the latest our child will have to fit into a traditional classroom, and until fifth grade there will be no gifted provision and very little differentiation available (this society's idea of "differentiation" is making the "stronger" kids tutor the "weaker" ones. Note the terminology - only one group obviously who needs protection. While I am sure my child can handle any academics a traditional school might throw at him just fine, I just can't think of my child as a "strong" one right now.
Oh, and if we home-schooled a four- or five-year-old, which isn't an option for me for various reasons, we'd expose ourselves to serious censure in our community. It would be considered beyond weird, criminal almost, and people would wonder what was wrong with our child and with us.
I do live here and will continue to do so, even if I sometimes don't like it much. Part of what I need to teach my child will be how to conform in a very conformist society without losing himself in the process.

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#7 of 13 Old 03-17-2009, 07:41 PM
 
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I'd really check into that Catholic school and hope they will let you come observe. I feel like that might be a great option for you. My DS goes to a preschool with the "no accidents" rule. He wasn't 100% reliable with the potty when he started school, but luckily for me, he managed not to have any accidents there, either. I think they would have allowed him to wear a Pull Up if he needed to, but they wouldn't change him if he pooped in his pants. They would have called me at work (or my mom, or my DH) to come clean him up or pick him up. I was totally worried about it at first, but it ended up being OK.

With your son's age, I might consider keeping him in daycare for a while longer and doing preschool next year. The potty thing is hard to learn and you don't want to add the stress of having to be fully trained before September to his plate. Maybe you could also talk to him about how he can deal with class when it gets too noisy (hands over his ears, maybe singing to himself, something that makes the noise more manageable for him). He's getting to the point that he should be able to think of some solutions to his problems himself. I find that my DS does a LOT better when I ask him how he could handle a certain problem at school than if I try to tell him what to do or give advice.

Good luck with your decision. It sounds like a tough situation!
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#8 of 13 Old 03-18-2009, 05:38 PM
 
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I'd pick the school that works best with your son's sensitive personality. Perhaps stay in daycare for a while longer.

My DD (3) is very sensitive and prefers structured, group activities over independent, free play. I was going to send her to a Montessori preschool in the fall, but at the last minute (the day before the $300 deposit was due), I decided to just leave her in daycare. She moves up to the 3 year old room next week. Although it wont be as challenging or "academic" or creative, I think she will develop better socially and emotionally there.

mama to DD (7), DS (3.5), and another DS arriving in August!

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#9 of 13 Old 03-18-2009, 06:20 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tigerle View Post
daytripper, deminc, I live in Europe (sorry, I just realized I didn't make this perfectly clear in the OP), and there is such a strong tradition of public (or publicly subsidized) preschool in my country that other options for that age-group simply do not exist - that's also why the programs, apart from the odd Montessori or Waldorf school, are so standardized and traditional. Homeschooling is illegal from first grade and up. They're even planning on extending this downward to kindergarten, to reach immigrant children and help them learn the dominant language before they need to learn to read. So in two years, three years at the latest our child will have to fit into a traditional classroom, and until fifth grade there will be no gifted provision and very little differentiation available (this society's idea of "differentiation" is making the "stronger" kids tutor the "weaker" ones. Note the terminology - only one group obviously who needs protection. While I am sure my child can handle any academics a traditional school might throw at him just fine, I just can't think of my child as a "strong" one right now.
Oh, and if we home-schooled a four- or five-year-old, which isn't an option for me for various reasons, we'd expose ourselves to serious censure in our community. It would be considered beyond weird, criminal almost, and people would wonder what was wrong with our child and with us.
I do live here and will continue to do so, even if I sometimes don't like it much. Part of what I need to teach my child will be how to conform in a very conformist society without losing himself in the process.
Hi Tigerle,

Are you in Germany? I understand the constraints and concerns are very real. Homeschooling is not so hot over here either, and I will be sending my child to school at 7, though in our case, the real test of surviving in a conformist setting will be when DS1 is drafted in the army. It's compulsory in our country for all males. I cannot imagine how DS1 will cope if I do not have a series of action plans to "toughen" him up in the coming years. School-wise, gifted programme starts at age 10, so it's a three-year wait before children can benefit from a teaching and evaluation style specifically tailored to gifted learning.

Some things I found that have helped when Ds1 was attending school(s) - taking one day off every week, skipping assembly, downtime and favourite snack after school (v.v. impt), role-playing and books on situations that might have been difficult in school etc. For taking days off and skipping assembly, I do not tell the teachers that my child needs a break - most teachers would not understand. When asked, I will just say there are some conflicts in schedule that can't be helped.

I've found that the teachers are much more accomodating after DS1 has had a professional evaluation. But at the same time, it gave them increased expectations which I felt was a burden to DS1 who is shy about his abilities. So for the next preschool - if we do venture there again - I will not say anything unless necessary.

After school, I try to maintain his love for learning by introducing interesting things and projects, excursions, and on advice of his psychologist, opportunities for crafty stuff to balance out his very logical self.

hth, and good luck with your search!
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#10 of 13 Old 03-19-2009, 05:15 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Interesting update, but scary too - how much more clarity a couple conversations can bring!

A friend put me in touch with a Montessori-trained elementary teacher who'd pulled her child out after a year. I started out the phone call with "hi you don't know me I'm the friend of x and she suggested.." and we ended up talking for three hours, only finishing up reluctantly when we realized it was past 11 p.m. I want to meet her!
She told me some more stories about the Montessori school which clinched the issue.

They left a child who wouldn't finish lunch sitting in front of their plate till 4. They left her little boy sitting in front of pearls someone else had spilled for 2.5. hours because he wouldn't pick them up.
Children would hide under tables, behind bushes, in the toilet to escape the relentless observation. She said she knows of some who are in therapy after spending time in this school.
Her little boy, who is a chatty child, would spend hours at the snack table because it was the only place where he was allowed to talk. (She asked him "but you couldn't be eating all this time?" He replied: I only took tiny little bites, mama!" I told her her little boy would go far!)
She said none of these incidents or concerns are in anyway secret or in dispute, they have been discussed at PTA meetings, with teachers, with the head. The head defended them as the Montessori way. The teachers would complain about her dominance, but defend themselves with the job market (one admitted to hiding leftover food from the head so children wouldn't get punished). People at the local Montessori association would just shrug. The parents would moan and complain but not pull their children out - to this day she is in disbelief about this! She thinks that (like the other friend) that very young children seemed to cope better and that the head was very kind als long as they weren't testing limits, which lulls parents at first. Also, she has this amazing depth of theoretical knowledge and commitment which comes across very well when dealing with grown-ups - we agreed that her enthusiasm for her own program seems real - and lulls parents by telling them that their children are gifted if they can cope with the program and should leave if they cannot. Also, there is almost a cult-like situation going on with those parents who defend her whole-heartedly - and she's got the minister of the parish (it's a Lutheran school) behind her as well, so she doesn't have to face up to criticism. She felt guilty about not noticing sooner - but after all she is not alone. We agreed that the head had serious control issues going on, that the situation was sick but that, as all the responsible people seems to be perfectly aware of the situation, as long as people sent their children nothing would change.
I'm not really so good with my gut (my head works much better) but boy am I glad it tipped me off here.

Ironically, she always blew off this woman's saying "he's gifted" as flattery, but after the teachers at his new pre-school insisted, she had him tested and he is! So we had a wonderful talk about her little boy, my little boy, the gifted little boy in her second grade, the gifted program in the area that starts at fifth grade - so nice to have a RL person to discuss all this with. I have to ask our mutual friend to have us both for tea.

I also had an appointment with the three-years teacher at the international school, which cleared up the accident issue.
They had had a little girl who would pee in her pants ten times a day so she'd have one of the teachers to herself and so they devised this system where they put a mat on the floor, lay out the clothes in the right order (they want to sets of dry clothes kept at the school) and let the child try for herself to change, stepping in where needed. At the end of first year there, they want all children to be able to dress themselves, wash their hands, brush their teeth etc. So, while strict, not a sharsh as it sounded at first.
At the moment, they have only 11 children, she's not sure whether they will fill up next year. Because of their plan for the year (she talked about how they start out with fewer toys to keep the stimulation down, work with toilet trips, then add teeth brushing, try to get them skilled at changing before winter sets in and clothing gets more cumbersome) I don't think they'd want to accept children during the school year, unless someone had just moved there (I'm sure they can't really say no if they have the space because they're all-private and need the fees) but it's certainly not encouraged.
She isn't warm and cuddly - I can't get a feel for whether she truly likes children, she interacted kindly and respectfully but a bit distantly with my little boy, but I coudl tell she was observing him closely. She encouraged us to drop in during class time -I want to see her interact with her kids.

The small class size and the structure - snacktimes, free play, circle time, downtime, music, outside, nap etc. seem to be carefully planned and follow within reasonable time frames - sound good; I know our little boy is done after an hour of free play . I'm nost so sure about her and about the emphasis on independence. My neighbour who had her daughter there knows some of her kids and will put me in touch with the parents, and I want to meet the assistant, too.

Yeah, well, and it's not quite ten times as expensive as publicly subsidezed pre-school - not quite out of our reach, but a BIG investment.

I will speak to the head at the Catholic shool next week. The appointment is in the morning, so I hope after I have explained my concerns she'll let me sneak a peek in the classrooms!

Thank you for listening - I feel much better right now. If there weren't so much at stake, can you tell I would enjoy researching all this hugely?

Edited to add: Having written all this down it's been keeping me occupied all morning now just how scary the situation is for the kids who ended up in this school. It was the look on one mother's face as she told me about her daughter that made me keep researching this, I realize now. I really feel horrible for them all and I am wondering whether there is any authority to tip off...

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#11 of 13 Old 03-19-2009, 08:53 AM - Thread Starter
 
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deminc, I am.
And while I do think conformism in a society has its values, the aggressive egalitarianism it often translates into in our schools is not one of them.
I don't even have a beef with compulsory schooling as such, but if it IS compulsory, there needs to be a lot more differentiation (internal and external) than the system is offering now. (I really like what I read about cyber charters on this forum).

There was a post a while back by VanessaS headed "Thank God we're moving" about leaving Germany, my particular state actually. It made me very sad. And while I do think the little girl she described was spectacularly unlucky for meeting up with such a backwards establishment, I'm sure they're still around. What can I say? 30 years ago in elementary school I was this little girl.

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#12 of 13 Old 03-19-2009, 10:58 AM
 
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I haven't read all of the replies and it sounds like your options are different than were ours with you being in Germany. However, my oldest sounds similar in some ways to your ds. Dd is an introvert, has some sensory issues with noise and light, is quite sensitive, and got very overwhelmed with large, loud environments. We, too, focused on her emotional needs more than academics early in her schooling. I'd try to find the smallest, quietest environment you can with teachers who are warm and loving.

The Montessori sounds totally out, so you're left with IB and a Catholic preschool, right? I'd check out the Catholic school and see how the teachers are b/c the IB teacher didn't sound particularly warm and loving as you described her. However, if the Catholic school is no better or worse, I guess that IB is your best choice. Are there any options for a parent run coop or anything else there other than the preschools you have mentioned?

eta: in terms of him growing out of some of his sensitivities, dd didn't really get a lot better with that until closer to her ninth bd. Sorry! However, she made a lot of progress btwn nine and ten. She's 10.5 now and has done much better than I would have expected with a move to a middle school/jr high environment that is certainly loud and chaotic. She is also doing well with one teacher whose personality isn't a good fit for her. Two years ago, in 3rd grade, the same type of teacher personality had her coming home shaking and crying.
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#13 of 13 Old 03-20-2009, 02:02 AM
 
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Just to add in my personal experience, my ds is very sensitive and anxious, especially to noise and stimulation. The conversation between your son and the daycare staff -- he would totally say that. He also has a fall birthday -- Sept. We only have one preschool option in town -- with a 3 yr old and 4 yr old class, and we kept him out until this fall, when he was four. I am glad we did. He is having a little trouble socially -- getting teased a bit by some kids and having some problems entering a group of kids who is already playing -- but other than that he is fairing well. He has a few friends, and he mostly enjoys it. I don't think he would have been ready a year ago, he was way too intense and emotional. We spent a lot of the last year doing things with a few familliar kids, and learning to be aware of when we are getting overstimulated so he can back away from a situation before he blows up, and figuring out how to calm himself down. I think he has lots of time to excel academically, and, for us, at three his emotional development was more important.

You know your own child best, however, so go with what works for him.

Jill , mom to Andrew (09/04), Aaron(01/07), and Emma (11/09)
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