Friday, February 28, 2014

Montessori Preschool

Summer, through a series of bumbling steps on my part, is finally going to the preschool of my dreams. It's a Montessori school. There are significant disadvantages to it. There is the distance. Seriously, she commutes to preschool. How crazy is that? It's a 12-minute drive away, but there are preschools three minutes away. The cost is pretty crazy too. And then I don't really even know that Montessori is going to have any significant long-term advantages on her well-being in the long run.

But I still think we made the right choice. Montessori is a philosophy I believe in. It emphasizes students learning at their own pace, and what they are interested in. It emphasizes carefully teaching a concept before the student is expected to learn it on her own. It emphasizes communal learning--in the mixed class sizes, the older children teach the younger children. It emphasizes self-reliance because each student is expected to do as much as they can by themselves. It emphasizes respect and order. In short, it is designed to prepare the world for the world as it actually is, rather than focusing education around a curriculum designed by adults (who usually don't even teach!) that has an emphasis around the academic world as opposed to the real-life world.

Several years ago I watched this TED talk about how schools kill creativity (a bit of a dramatic statement, if you ask me, but whatever):

Here is an excerpt from the talk:

Kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. Am I right? They’re not frightened of being wrong. Now, I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. If you’re not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies like this, by the way, we stigmatize mistakes. And we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is, we are educating people out of their creative capacities.

And another:

Academic ability has really come to dominate our view of intelligence because the universities designed the system in their image. If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized.

I don't think Montessori is 100% in line with what I think education ought to be. There isn't much emphasis on dance. If I want my kids to get the perfect education, that is something I'll have to figure out on my own. However, I feel very lucky to know that Summer goes to a school that aligns with my values.

Summer goes to school every day from 9-3. This is a lot of time away from home for a four-year-old, especially a four-year-old with a stay-at-home parent. I didn't expect that she would settle into her school schedule that she would have for the rest of her years at home so soon. But it has been wonderful for her and wonderful for me.

She doesn't have separation anxiety. She looks forward to going to school almost every day (she still has her moments). And when she comes home, we have really lovely, precious times together. I think absence has made the heart grow fonder.

And I feel like she is really cared for there. Each teacher truly respects the students. Summer will never be belittled, bullied, lost in the shuffle, or made to undergo busywork that doesn't suit her. So if she is gone for a long time each day in that kind of environment, it doesn't bother me one bit.

So what am I doing with my spare time? Not much. Well, I am taking care of another child. But I do look forward to the time he is in Montessori so that I can work and have a little more time to myself. Because maybe absence will make our hearts grow fonder as well.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I Don't Like DC...Right Now

Lots of people are asking me how I like the DC area. I can't help answer with a "meh," but it's not really a fair answer. We have lived here two summers, the summer of '10 and '11, and those summers were fantastic. One summer was spent in Derwood, Maryland, which is a suburban/rural place about thirty minutes outside of DC (with no traffic). There were lots of trees, and it was hot and humid and there were tons of fireflies. It reminded me of Georgia, my second home. It was just really lovely.

The second summer was spent in Arlington--the same city we live in now but a different neighborhood. It of course has a very urban feel, and getting to the city in five minutes by car (and is) just fantastic. As I have said in a previous post, we often took Nathaniel to work, and then drove to the mall and waited for the parking to start around 9, and then hit some museums. It was really a lot of fun, and again, I didn't mind the humidity.

So then there is now. It's February. It's snowy. It's cold. We live on the ninth floor of a high rise on a street full of hotels, and getting out of the house is an ordeal. The kids don't have snow clothes. So do I like living here now? No. Will I like it when it warms up? Yes.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Elevators, Then and Now

Have you ever read The Phantom Tollbooth? It is one of my favorite books of all time. It’s about a boy named Milo who learns, in traditional hero’s journey fashion, how to enjoy life and all it has to offer, especially education.

At the beginning of the book, Milo rushes home from school every day, takes the elevator to his floor, goes to his room, and flops on his bed, bored out of his mind. As a child, the main thing that struck me about this sequence of events was the elevator. Milo got to ride in an elevator every day? I was insanely jealous.

Perhaps because I spent most of my childhood years in a town with a population of around 8,000, I always dreamed of living in a big city. It seemed so exciting, and people there rode elevators every day!

Now, I live in a big city in a big building, and I ride an elevator every day. And it is the worst. If you have never lived in this situation before, just imagine: you have to wait for your turn just to leave the building. You have to carry groceries not just from your driveway into the house, but across the parking garage, through the door to the building, in the elevator, and then out the elevator, all before you get to your front door. And when you finally get to the car and realize you've forgotten something, it takes a full five minutes to go get it. It is no fun.

And then there is the issue of kids. They love to push the elevator button, and I think at first they liked the general idea of elevators. But they also love to push ALL the elevator buttons. And if you leave the your front door open for a minute, a kid can rush down the hall, push the button, and hop in an elevator, all without you. That hasn’t happened yet, but I can’t ignore the possibility. And then getting them in and out of elevators before the door closes? Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

I suppose I am glad I am having the experience of living in a high rise with nice views and an elevator, even if it’s just to say that I have done it, and I don’t want to do it anymore. It should come as no surprise that when our lease is up, we will move. There are tons of really great places just a few blocks from here that cost less and have…wait for it…driveways! And no elevators! Right now nothing sounds better.