Ellis & Barnes: Serious Mothers!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Trusting My Instincts aka That Preschool Sucked

Last week I took my daughter to her first day of preschool. It was what they call a transition day where I would be staying in the class room and helping her adjust.

Katy Belle will be 3 in August. I recently was lucky enough to become a full time stay at home mom and while it is great fun it can also be a little Yellow Wallpaper-esque and I was going a bit crazy having relatively no time for myself. Our sitter was away for the summer and Katy Belle seemed ready for preschool. She is a good communicator (hello, she is my child meaning the girl can talk) and she is potty trained. She would get to start socializing with kids her age and I could go 3 hours straight without something sticky or muddy or unidentifiable on me. To dream.

I thought putting her in a program this summer for 2 days a week, half day was a good idea.

I still think it is a good idea, just not at THAT school.

I did my research. I visited the school. It has only good reviews. In fact, post this whole ordeal, people keep recommending it as the place they sent their child...and LOVED!

They seemed nice and the school seemed like your basic preschool....finger paints, playground, tiny potties, and a good chance your kid will get sick a million times more than they did when they spent their day not surrounded by other toddlers, aka, walking disease bags.

So when I went in on her first day and started feeling like something wasn't right, I chalked it up to my own separation anxiety. I was raised to be empathetic with others and as I get older I wonder if I have allowed that empathy to cloud my instincts. This was exactly what was happening at the preschool as the day progressed. My instincts said "They aren't listening to the kids!" and "Is anyone going to introduce themselves to Katy Belle and show her around?" while my empathy was saying "It must be hard for 3 adults to watch 8 toddlers." or "Maybe we should be taking more of a lead in integrating ourselves into the class."

By the time we left at noon, my instincts and empathy were both saying "Go fuck yourself preschool! We are never coming back!" My instincts and my empathy can be a bit crass.

I kept it together till we got home and Katy Belle was down for her nap and then I started to cry...and cried and cried. I called Stefan and said, I really don't like this school. She wandered out twice and no one knew and no one was helping her and when I looked at her in that classroom I watched her spark start to fade and she just looked like one of the herd! Now all the while I still have this weak little voice saying "maybe you should give it one more could just be crazy."

I love my husband. He never hesitated in saying "pull her" and reminding me that I am a good mother and I have good instincts and that we have a special, intelligent child and there is a school out there that will help her grow.

I then called my Mama and she was impressed I didn't rip every teachers head off.

When I had gathered myself I emailed the school.

After experiencing today's transition day, I do not feel that (School name) is right for Katy Belle. It began with her wandering from her classroom twice, and was added to by a number of things that I felt would not provide a safe or nurturing environment for her. If you would like me to go into more detail I am happy to.

Please do not cash the tuition/enrollment check.

Thank you,
Elizabeth Lawrence

They responded:

Hi Elizabeth,
I would absolutely appreciate you going into detail. Any feedback or information that can allow us to best ensure the children are safe at all times and nurtured is welcome. I am aware of the two times Katy Belle walked out of the classroom and have brought that to the teachers attention.  
We will not cash the check but if you feel more secure you are welcome to pick it up.

Here is my feedback. Again, part of me kept wanting to make excuses for them, but I had made that mistake staying after the first time my child wandered out of the classroom into the lobby where I was sitting and no one noticed. I decided to listen to my instinct and tell them exactly what I witnessed and to make it clear I found it unacceptable for my child. If I sound pissed...good....because I am.

I appreciate your being willing to hear my feedback. 

The overall issue was one of poor communication between the staff and me and the staff and my child. When we arrived, you took us to the classroom and introduced us to the teacher and showed us into the play room. Not only did the staff not know Katy Belle was starting, not a single staff member in the playroom came to Katy Belle and introduced themselves or welcomed her to the school or tried to show her around the room or try to introduce her to other students. She was essentially put in a strange room with strangers and left to figure it out. When I left her in the room for a moment to meet, I believe it was Lisa, I found it falling to me to ask what the daily procedures of signing in were, where Katy Belle would go first and other details of the daily routine. When none of the teachers asked me anything about Katy Belle, I again, found myself volunteering details about her temperament and needs. I emphasized her discomfort for physical contact, as I had on the forms I filled out and as I had with you, and despite this, the teachers used touch to get her to do what they wanted. I actually noticed this was the case for how they dealt with all the children. If they wanted a child to sit, they tugged their hand to sit. If they wanted them to move left or right, a little tug or a little steer. 

I went back into the playroom and after a while it was time for breakfast. It was hard to tell who was to stay in the room and who was to go. Some children were sitting and some were exiting. Katy Belle as a result sat at a table in the playroom and I thought it was correct as well as neither of us knew who was in what class. Not once did a teacher come to me or Katy Belle and explain that it was breakfast, that her class would have it in her classroom and help her to find that room.  The only time a staff member spoke to her was to say she shouldn't be sitting. If I was not there to step in I assume at some point she would have been herded into her room without explanation. 

She went with a group to wash her hands and I was standing in the other room watching while Lori was in the bathroom with that group. I watched Katy Belle be unable to turn the water off and she said loud enough for me to hear by the classroom door, "help, help, help." When Lori turned around and told her to wash her hands, it was I who had to say from across the room, "she has washed them and has been standing there calling for help with the water." 

We have raised Katy Belle to communicate and it seemed no one was listening. An overall issue was that the teachers only seemed to communicate to the children commands and rarely listened to them or spoke to them for fun.

It was clear that the staff wasn't sure what the field trip for the day was. They were unsure if it was the farmers market or puppet show. This doesn't seem like too big a deal except I had to watch the kids be told "farmer's market" by different teachers and then corrected 3 times, which I found confusing for the students. It emphasized a lack of communication between the administration and the teachers, suggesting there is no formal staff meeting or daily discussion where these sorts of plans are shared.

I was unsure about what I was supposed to be doing as an observer. It would have helped if a teacher had suggested what previous parents have done or what they felt was the best for the class and Katy Belle. I wanted Katy Belle to have some time on her own in the classroom and get used to not seeing me, so I went to the lobby. Five minutes later I heard her calling for me as she came down the hall. I walked her back to the room and it seemed that her teachers were not aware she wasn't in the room till I walked her back in. Just a few minutes later she came back out and that was when you came out and asked why she wasn't in her classroom and I believe my response was "You tell me." Her teacher Lisa came out and said "Did you explain she has to stay in the classroom?" I wanted to throw my hands up and shout "No one has explained anything to us or to her about anything!" Once back in the class, another teacher said,  "She can open doors!" in a tone that suggested it was her fault she wandered out. Of course she can open doors. She is almost three and over 3 feet tall. Are you telling me no other kid can open doors?

I expected a teacher would take the time to be with her more than the others to help her learn about the expectations of the class and the day. You can shout out "Circle time" all you want but if a child has never been to circle time before and you aren't giving her candy as incentive to join and especially if you have given her no reason to feel connected to you or the other children, why would a child care about circle time. 

As the different groups were leaving to go to the library, the door was left open, unattended, for 5 minutes. I was watching the door. What if Katy Belle had wandered out at that moment? 

During this same time I watched a teacher who had two infants in the infant play space by the lobby, texting on her cell phone and not looking at the babies.

When the classes came out I noticed the kids were wearing (School Name) shirts, that I assume someone put on them to identify them for the field trip to the library. I thought this was interesting as I had said my child has personal space issues and no one had told me they would be dressing her. She came out holding hers. 

I cannot begin to describe the number of problems and potential safety issues that I thought could have been avoided with the field trip leash if the staff was vocalizing better with the kids, but to watch a group of 3 year olds walk onto an elevator all holding a rope and facing one way and then being expected to get off that elevator where the last person on the leash is now the first person on the leash but clearly still facing the opposite way as are all the other kids was just dumb. On a number of occasions children were caught in the middle while the rope twisted around them and the two ends walked off in different directions. At one point the children were asked to snake around to cross the street next to a fence where 4 nails were sticking out by 2 to 3 inches. 

No children had been given their hats to wear. Katy Belle had hers on because I never took it off her but the other children had hats in their cubby boxes but they were not put on them for the walk. They also had sunscreen in the cubbies but that was not put on them. 

I never saw a child get checked for illness when entering the school as suggested by the paper work we signed for registration.

I did not see how this was an environment that was going to teach her about sharing or playing with other children when the teachers were not involved in fostering it. They seemed to be involved only when trying to manage a situation that has already arisen out of lack of supervision. After lunch I watched 5 children, one of which was Katy Belle, all trying to work the same 3 puzzles. Katy Belle had one piece and was trying to place it in the puzzle but another child was demanding it was her puzzle and kept trying to snatch the piece from Katy Belle. No one stepped in to suggest sharing or taking turns. 

Overall, I did not feel that the actual experience of the day matched the expectations given to me on the tour. The day seemed to be made up of herding the children from one activity to another where they were expected to roam without guidance or structure. To be blunt it was like a kennel for children.

I believe that children excel with clear communication in an environment that makes them feel safe and at the same time is fun. I do not want Katy Belle in a program where her interests and intelligence are not able to be fostered. 

I share this for all parents who at times doubt their instincts.

I am going back to look for new preschool options for Katy Belle. She doesn't need to go now and I won't feel pressured to get her in the system until we find a place that is right for her. I love my child more than anything in the world.



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