School decisions in Reality Land

Things are getting all kinds of real around here.

Today, I pre-registered Corin for kindergarten at our local public school. (He now has a nap mat and official Scales Elementary canvas bag!) I also met with Lina’s TEIS (TN Early Intervention Services) coordinator for her six month review, in which we updated her therapy goals and discussed her transition to the public school system in September. (Kids under three who qualify for special ed receive therapies through the state early intervention system and then transition to the local school district on their third birthdays.)

I’m thankful to still have five months to prepare for the fall; it’s going to be something. In August, I will be putting my firstborn on the bus for his first taste of full-time school (and the first taste of public school for all of us – but that’s a different subject). A few weeks later, I will begin driving Lina nearly 20 minutes one-way for a four day/week, three hour/day preschool. In addition to her highly-qualified teacher, she will have speech, physical and occupational therapists in the classroom all day. Her class will be 50 percent special education preschoolers and 50 percent “peer models” (typically developing kids her age).

This may not sound like a big deal to a lot of parents, but to this “let little kids run free and learn by reading cereal boxes and digging in the dirt” mom, it really is. My instinct for as long as we’ve been thinking about the subject has been that the ideal early education for very young kids happens mostly in an unstructured home environment, with educated and engaged parents. I’ve read some pretty solid research along those lines, particularly related to the key role of play in early learning. I have concerns about increasing academic pressure on kindergartners, who are still at an age when a highly-structured environment can backfire.

But life is life, and we don’t dwell in the ideal. We live in our own complicated reality, as does every other family on the planet. We don’t make decisions based only on research and ideology; we make them based on our unique kids and our specific life circumstances.

That’s why my kids have been in a Mother’s Day Out program. It’s how two church school-educated parents moved to the other end of town, to a painfully expensive housing market, to access the best public schools in the region. It’s how a “less structure is better” mom is enrolling her five-year-old in a public kindergarten and her three-year-old in a four-day-a-week preschool. Jon and I have spent a lot of time wrestling with competing needs and priorities. We’re working to find the right balance of what’s best for the entire family. We’ve prayed a lot, researched a lot, talked a lot to other parents and therapists, and this is where we’ve landed. I am (mostly) at peace.

Just don’t ask me about it as I’m putting Corin on the bus in August or dropping Lina off at her classroom in September.

And, just for kicks, I will leave you with this gem of Corin dressed for Dr. Seuss day at pre-K. (That would be my belt as a tail and a hat I stapled and glued together this morning, between packing his lunch and combing his hair for school pictures.)

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