Sunday, August 22, 2010

Stella's Start in Montessori

In late June, our nanny of over a year gave her two week notice. She was getting farther along in a somewhat difficult pregnancy and keeping up with her own 2 1/2-year-old daughter and Stella was just a bit more than she was able to do. We were sad to see her go; she had been a steady, happy and loving presence in Stella's life for a long time. Then again, we knew as soon as she told us she was pregnant that the end was in sight--it was just a little sooner than we expected.

At around the same time, we felt like Stella had turned a developmental corner of sorts. While I had been really happy to have her mostly home all that time, I felt that she--and we--were ready for her to be in a setting that would get her around other kids and give her some new experiences. So, sad though we were for Tirza's departure, it felt like an opportunity to find Stella another child care arrangement that would work well for her now that she was older.

We started looking into different child care options. We checked out our local resource and referral agency which provides information for licensed child care options, but while helpful, it's daunting to have a list of 100+ places that aren't rated in any way. So we ended up mostly calling places that we knew were close to home, en route to my office or recommended to us by friends. Even though Stella's older and the ratio of staff to kids is bigger, it's still hard to find an open spot, which meant Tyler took a break from freelancing to be a summer stay-at-home dad for about a month, but we finally did a few tours and found a place we liked and finally decided to make the transition to center-based care for Stella.

We decided to go with a Montessori center. People have lots of different ideas about what Montessori means--some positive and some less so. Montessori method is based off of practices developed by an Italian doctor, Maria Montessori, in the early 20th century and focuses on giving young children freedom in an environment prepared with materials designed for their self-directed learning activity. The focus on seemed a perfect match for Stella who's independent and very curious.

And we were really impressed when we went to visit Minor Avenue Children's House, a new place that I can literally see from my office window. Fortunately for us, it was just opening, which meant we were able to get in. Right away were liked the feeling of the place. The teachers and director are all very quiet and calm. It's built for kids--a good outdoor area, child-sized sinks and tables and potties, and lots to explore.

They had a nice transition plan. For four days, Stella slowly eased into visiting the center. The first day, Tyler took her and stayed for about an hour. The second day he dropped her off and came back after about a half hour. The next two days I decided I should participate since I'd be the one dropping her off and picking her up on my way to work. At first all went well. We walked in, Stella showed me around, Tyler showed me the routine ("Her diapers go here, her cubby is over here, you set her lunch here"), but as soon as Stella realized I was leaving she panicked. Grabbed me, cried hard and was kind of frantic. Ouch. But she seemed fine when Tyler went to pick her up after lunch. The next day, same routine, but no papa. Less frantic, but still really upset. And she was fine when I picked her up after nap. Well, after nap time. When I arrived, she seemed quite pleased to walk me over to her little mat and show me how she could lay down on it with her blanket, but that was as close as it got. It was a fun evening.

Then, the next week, it was starting in earnest. Four days a week, all day while I was at work.

Stella on the first day of "baby school"

Day 1: "Are you excited to go back to Montessori today, Stella?" "(head nod/teeth nod), but this day she cried as soon as I parked outside the front door. And then, in my flustered hurry to get her settled and leave with as smooth a goodbye as possible, I left with her shoes. I couldn't not take them back--she'd need them for play time and they often take walks and even have picnic lunches in the neighborhood. So I had to go back. And I had to put them in her cubby, which meant going *back* into the room. It had been about 20 minutes, and she was still red-eyed and sniffly, with the teacher still trying to distract her. (The teacher is very nice, but I did detect a bit of an impatient look when I walked back through the door; I couldn't blame her--she was the one who had to hold screaming Stella and still also keep up with the other children already there). Stella soldiered through--she was still resigned, I think knowing that it really wasn't time to go yet--but it destroyed my illusion that while she was sad when I left, she was OK pretty quickly. Another ouch. But that same day I was also able to leave a little early to stop by and join a little circle time, hoping that my presence for a little while would affirm to Stella that it's an OK place.

Day 2: "Stella, just so you know, we'll be leaving for school in about 15 minutes." She cried and sat sadly on Tyler's lap while I finished getting ready. And she was crying when I left the room, but the crying was more resigned, though definitely sad. The teachers shared she was transitioning well, though they also said one day she cried every time one of the parents left.

Day 3: All smooth at home and in the car, and when Stella realized it was time for me to go, she got her big, pre-cry frown, but then engaged with the teacher in something and wasn't crying when I left. Yay! She was still definitely looking for me when I arrived, but she seemed to be interacting with the other kids. The teacher said that every once in awhile she'd say "mama" and cry, but she was doing really well.

Day 4: No crying when I left! She actually went to a play area in the room while I dropped off her various things and then waved and blew me a kiss goodbye. She still seemed a little solemn, but not tears! And she was having fun when I arrived--running in the outside area, drawing with chalk, excited to show me what she was doing rather than being ready to leave immediately.

So the transition wasn't so bad. It seems that she's already learned some new things (better with a fork, can take off her shoes, "sings" songs with hand movements) and says she's had a good time at the end of the day. And I still really like the center and the teachers, who always take a minute in the morning or the afternoon to check in. And I think even the sad moments are going to be worth it. I think it's going to be a great place for Stella. And eventually--when she's really transitioned--it will be nice to be so close by. I could stop by for lunch or during the day. Even though I can't see any children, I am comforted by seeing the place she is while I'm at work.

Now, we'll see if it "sticks" tomorrow, as week two begins...

1 comment:

Emily said...

What a tough transition, although it sounds like it's heading in a positive direction! Will look forward to more updates on "school"