Saturday, August 16, 2008

Preschool Dropout

So I changed my mind. Not that I think preschools are evil. I don't. I'm just not going.

This past year seemed so successful and good for my son, I didn't question that I would want to do a preschool again this coming year in addition to our Waldorf parent-child program. I did look around at other schools that would have less intense cooping commitments, but I settled on staying where we were because of its very play-centered culture, proximity to our house, and fabulous wooden playground.

But as the less-scheduled summer wore on, I found I was dreading the cooping, dreading all the time to prep his food and label every single little thing (and not be able to include raisins or carrots or other foods on the no-no list, and feeling less and less comfortable about all the compromises I'd have to make -- antibacterial soap, bleach water, snacks I might not approve of or packing extra just for my son.

But the big thing was time and community. Once I'd attended two events through the Waldorf school, I realized how tough it would be to fully participate in two different communities. And three hours of preschool on non-cooping days really meant only two and a half hours of "childcare" and also came along with the expectation of staying after school for 30-45 minutes to play on the playground, sharing the responsibility of watching the cooper's child while she was cleaning the classroom. Add onto the cooping once every five or six school days the additional commitment of performing a job for the school, completing continuing ed hours, and performing buildings and grounds cleaning (with yucky toxic products). With a coop, there's always more you can be doing to help other people out. I want my lines cleaner.

I realized I'm ready to do more work from home, and what I really want is just childcare -- preferably in a home without toxic products or questionable food and preferably with just one or two other kids, not eleven. I want my time with my son to be my time with my son and my time alone to be my time alone -- not have them mixed together, especially since my son usually had a better time at school when I wasn't cooping. I couldn't fit in additional childcare along with two days of coop and one day of Waldorf school plus keep up with my playgroup and maybe take another session of Music Together or pursue a French class my friend recently started. I care more about E enjoying music and art and learning the language his cousins speak and maybe also learning the language lots of folks in our community speak (Spanish). With him at school, there wouldn't be any mornings left for us to just go to the zoo or hang out at home or run errands together.

Finally, when I read Wendy Ponte's article, "No More Homework" in the current issue of Mothering magazine, I found myself becoming less open to the idea of public school for my son in the future. Although I taught high school English for six years and believe that most kids do need to be assigned books and writing assignments, I also don't like the idea of my son getting pumped with worksheets and drills at age six. I don't think I'm up for the challenge of homeschooling if I don't like Waldorf, but I'm certainly leaning more in that direction now than I used to be. So why start with the structure of school so early?

The one day program last year was of great benefit to a kid who had a strong social side but was struggling with intense separation anxiety. Now my son asks about new friends and even new babysitters after just one meeting. I may be proven wrong in a few months, but right now it looks like E does not need the consistency of a preschool community.

So I quit. I sent one letter to the school and one to the school friends. Maybe I'll post those and comment on them later. For now, here in short form are my reasons, which might serve to help others quesitoning the same decision.

1. Time
-Too much structured time out of our week, excluding other activities I'd prefer
-Too much prep time for me, especially compared to having a sitter in our home
-Unlimited time (that I don't have) that could be put into community
-Not enough consistent free time for me to work

2. Green compromise
-Shared snack that might not be gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free, sugar-free (and not sure I want to force the whole group to conform to our needs & preferences). The last day of school featured color/HFCS-containing ice desserts
-Products I don't approve of (cleaners, soaps, etc.) - and soap is used A LOT
-Other kids have plenty of commercial product awareness, TV exposure, etc.

What we'll miss:
-Unstructured play time with lots of great manipulatives and projects
-Seeing the same kids regularly
-Learning from other parents
-Lower cost of preschool vs. nanny share or in-home daycare

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