Last night was parent orientation at Buddy's new school. Given his emotional issues, preschool was really challenging for him last year and we've spent a lot of time trying to find the right environment for him going forward.
Before last year, I thought all preschools were basically the same, just places where kids run around, fingerpaint and have storytime. I've learned this is not the case. The school we chose last year was recommended to us by Buddy's therapist b/c it regularly works with children with minor special needs and also didn't require students to be potty trained. Overall, it was a great school and the teachers were very accommodating of Buddy's issues. However, it was a play-based preschool, which for those of you who don't know, means learning happens through playing rather than structured lessons. This is great for many kids, including Buster, who will be going there this fall. For Buddy, the classroom was too noisy and active and he often was too overwhelmed to participate or even talk while there.
After visiting several schools in the area, we decided the best place for Buddy (and eventually Buster once he's old enough) would be a Montessori school in our area that serves children age 3 to 14. I hadn't been back to visit the school since we enrolled Buddy last spring and as the end of summer nears, I've been feeling nervous about our decision to move him to a new school rather than just sticking w/the one he already knows. Last night's event reminded me why Chris & I both loved the school so much.
For starters, one of the guiding principles of the school is to create a calm, focused learning environment, which Buddy really needs in order not to become overwhelmed. At the same time, each student is responsible for deciding what activities he or she wants to complete that day and can work on something that interests them as long as they'd like. Every student has an IEP (individual education plan) and the goal is to help every child gain confidence and discover their own unique talents and interests. If it takes Buddy longer than other kids to master fine motor skills like cutting and tracing, his teacher will work with him as long as necessary. At the same time, he can move faster than other kids at pre-reading activities if he wants.
The learning environment is definitely wonderful, but my favorite thing about the school is the sense of community it has. All the students, even the 3 year olds, help maintain the garden and facilities. The classes are mixed age groups (3-6, 6-9, 9-12, 12-14) and the older students in the class are responsible for helping the younger ones learn the classroom procedures and also tutor the younger children. There are many weekend and evening events that parents, siblings and extended family are encouraged to attend. All parents (not just stay at home moms) have lots of opportunities to help out with various events and to attend parent-only education and community nights. Its a place where parents actually know each other's names (not just "Jack's mom, Ben's mom") and where everyone contributes to make the school a great place and I love that.
I'm so excited to become part of such a wonderful school. I think that it's a place where Buddy can develop both self-confidence and a love of learning. I'm sure we are in for some rough weeks as Buddy adjusts to a whole new set of surroundings and I'm sure there will be more than a few tears shed from both of us. I think once we get past all though, this could really be the place that allows Buddy to overcome the crippling anxiety that up until this point has kept him from enjoying life outside our home.