Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The preschool question.

I've written about it before, but we were truly blessed when we found our current daycare situation (believe it or not, it was all through an ad on Craig's List of all places.) J has been going to the same in-home daycare for 3+ years, since he was about 5 months old. We love the setup and the lady who runs it. The benefits have far outweighed the negatives: small group setting (I think 7-8 kids right now including Jr. and her own son who's in school all day), very low turnover (literally the same group of kids for the past 2 years, she hasn't had an opening for new families in a long time), reasonable price, warm and inviting atmosphere where the kids feel like they're at grandma's house, fun activities, home-cooked meals, parties on the holidays and their birthdays, a very open-door policy...

But recently, since Jr. was born really, TH and I have been wondering if J is starting to outgrow his daycare. As much as he loves it there, I can tell that every day he's more and more ready for a classroom setting. There is a routine every day and some learning activities, but the daycare is really geared toward the infant/toddler set. There isn't a "curriculum" in any sense of the word. J is a very intelligent kid, already reading dozens of words, doing basic math, and navigating the computer like an old pro. The other day he asked me when he could go to school like a friend of his who left daycare this semester and started preschool. When I told him if he starts going to preschool that means that he won't go to daycare anymore, he said, "I don't want to go to daycare anymore, Mommy." When I asked him why, he said, "I like it but now there's too many babies." (Backstory: All of the kids at daycare are roughly the same age, 2.5-3.5 years old. Three of the 'daycare moms' including me had babies this past year between August and September, so now there's a whole new crop of infants there.) Hmmm.

So what's the problem? I'm not sure if we can afford preschool right now. Our daycare is very reasonably priced, and one of the best features is that we pay per day attended, meaning that if J only goes to daycare for 2 days in a week, we only pay for 2 days, instead of the full-week-tuition-no-matter-what policy of most daycares/preschools. That works out well with my current schedule, because I only work every other week - therefore I only pay for daycare every other week. We've found a pretty good preschool that we want to look into, with a fairly decent tuition, but it's still going to be almost twice what we're paying right now for daycare for the two kids. And of course Jr. will still go to our current daycare, so the kids will be in two different childcare situations, which I'm not too keen about.

I also feel a little strange putting J in such a formal setting for so many hours during the day. 7:30-5:30 seems like alot of time to me to be in school. Of course that's how long they're at daycare now, but it's so much more informal there--like I said it's like being at grandma's house, with cookies and playing in the backyard and afternoon movies on rainy days. I think some of my resistance is just me not wanting to face the fact that J is not a little toddler anymore (he'll be 4 in THREE MONTHS. Holy moly.). It's so strange to think of him going to "school" already, carrying a little backpack and a lunchbox and not taking naps and having parent-teacher conferences. Which one of us isn't ready, I wonder.

We went ahead and set up an interview this week with the preschool so we could take J to see what it's all about and talk to the teachers. I'm still not sure how we're going to pay for it, but if it seems like the right step then we'll just find a way I guess, we always do when we need to. We'll see.....


LauraC said...

On the structure side, I think once you see an actual preschool and visit there, it will make a lot more sense. There is quite a bit of un-structured time throughout the day. For example, they'll have open play for an hour during dropoff and the kids can do whatever they want - art, reading, playing in centers, etc. And the playground time is definitely unstructured, just lots of time to run around and burn off energy.

I've found our school to be a good fit because they balance the learning aspect (circle time, fundamentals of reading, spanish) with fun time. Plus every day I am amazed at the things coming out of their mouths!

The other thing to consider is it does seriously help the transition to school to have some structure before real school. And we only have 1.5 years until that happens. SCARY!

(I want to cry thinking about how much money we will save when free school starts!)

Steph said...

Cooper started at a 'real preschool' when we moved in September and made the transition out of daycare just fine. He is there from 7ish-3:45 and only 1/2 of the day is really structured preschool type stuff, and even that is fun activities like art, music class, story time, etc. They get in their learning things in the morning, then have lunch, a 2 hour rest time, and basically free play in the afternoon (2:30 on) where they do art or puzzles, and then play either outside or in the gym. The other day I picked Cooper up early and he was upset because he wanted to go to the gym. While it's still lots of fun for him, he definitely is benefitting from more structure and being with kids his own age. My niece turned 4 in November and is in a home based daycare that matches her teachers schedule (summers and school holidays off, etc) where she is one of the oldest kids. My sister just had her in for a checkup and her pedi recommended a more structured preschool for her to gear up for kindergarten so she's on the lookout for a new program for her too.

JenFen said...

I think most preschools are structured (with fun time) in the morning and more or less a daycare in the afternoon. If there was a way for him to go to preschool only 2 or 3 days a week and then the home-based daycare the other days, that might give him what he needs and cut down on cost. Just like for me as a WAHM, Jadyn only goes 2 mornings a week and will bump up to 3 days a week next year. Of course she only goes mornings but getting him from preschool to daycare might be problematic but splitting it up by days might be a viable option.

At any rate, let us know how it goes. Good luck!

Joanna said...

I really struggled with this question to. In fact, I should have dealt with this in the fall, but my mom's surgery really stressed me out and I just wasn't in the place to think about it.

It seems to me that you are thinking of this as a decision between preschool and home daycare, but it's more than that, it's a choice between different preschools and your current home daycare. You may go to the preschool and find that you don't like it, but that doesn't mean that the home daycare is the best solution either. Different preschools have different philosophies and they handle the teaching part of school differently. While you want him to learn, I doubt you want him sitting at a desk all day memorizing letters. At this age, learning needs to be fun, so you want to make sure the school is the right fit for you and for J.

Another thing to consider is that if J is starting to read and doing math, he's probably more advanced than most of his classmates. If the school's curriculum isn't addressing him on his level, you may encounter behavior issues (or in some cases teacher issues)

The biggest benefit that we have seen so far with our preschool/daycare situation is that Michael gets to play with kids his own age. His teacher is not in a situation where she needs to attend to various age groups at one time, so the whole day is focused on 3.5 year olds (poor woman).

Oh, and I can't leave out some of the discussions I've had with Michael, some days he loves daycare and only wants to go there. Other days he loves grandma's and only wants to go there. 3.5 (I guess 3.75 now) is not an age that is good at determining what they really want beyond the next 5 minutes.

Sorry, rambling...I hope I said something benificial in there.