In praise of our preschool

When we decided to register our son to a preschool, we first visited the brand new one that was due to open in the renovated YMCA near our place. It was not open yet; the toys were still in wrappers, brand new, all wooden and good quality. The room had been made to measure for a preschool with tiny desks and toilet. At first, we were very enthusiastic, but it felt… how can I explain it? It felt sanitized. Institutional. And a few things bothered us.

First, the schedule was weird. In the hope to get parents to take their kids to swimming lessons before preschool, their schedule was 10:30 to 1 pm. In that period, kids would have a snack and lunch. It made us wonder if they would have time for anything else. Plus each child’s snack was to be put together and shared among everyone. Also, they were not planning on going out of the building. They would go to the rooftop garden, but it certainly doesn’t qualify as a playground. All the kids would be together at the same time (3 and 4 year olds, some full- and some part-time). Finally, when reading the documentation, it seemed to us a bit… foo-foo, for lack of a better word. You know, full of long educational principles that are hard to imagine translated in actual real action.

Then we visited our preschool. It’s much older, some of the toys look worn. But there are great big windows, it’s clean, and it’s very homely. We went to visit while preschool was in session and our son was invited to stay with the other kids while we were talking to the administrator. She insisted on the importance of healthy snacks low in sugar. She explained how the 3 and 4 year olds would be on different days, all part-time, so that the group is always the same from one day to the next. They would go out to the park when the weather was nice, and if that wasn’t possible, they would play in the gym within the same building. The classroom was decorated with the children’s artwork, the teachers were nice and warm, there were lots of books. We liked it right away. We were given a very long questionnaire to fill so they would get to know our child better.

We were leaning towards that preschool, but I think what sealed the deal was a conversation I had with another mom I know whose son went there. She said it wasn’t bad, but she found they didn’t do enough academic activities. That suited me just fine: I think school lasts long enough without starting academics at 3. We enrolled our son into that preschool. We explained in the documentation that he had never been babysat outside the house and that he would have a sibling just before the beginning of the school year, so we feared separation anxiety. Then we spent the summer talking to our son about the preschool, which he knew since he had spent some time there.

On the first day of class, the teacher greeted me with a “I thought your baby would be born by now”. Yeah, she had read the sheet! They spent a lot of time with our son on the first day and he loved it right away. He never shed a tear. The next day his sister was born. The day after that was the second day of preschool. He was already at home there. We never looked back. We heard that the YMCA had trouble getting their program established and changed teachers a few times. It’s just hearsay, but if it’s true I’m glad our son had the stability of the place we went with. He’s always happy to go in the morning and he asks us when his next day of preschool will be. He has learned to recognize his name and is starting to write it. They do arts and crafts, they read books, they dance, they sign songs, they bake, they go to the park, he plays house with his friends, he plays trucks with his friends…

One of the kids in his class is autistic. Everyone loves it. He is extremely well integrated, and the worker who attends class with him is one of our son’s highlights from preschool. Sometimes our son will come back saying “X didn’t want to paint today”, or “X was banging his head on the table”, but despite the differences, the kids love him. And it gives us a chance to talk about differences. I love what my son is learning, and I don’t mean academically (although that is happening too). I mean learning to deal with others, live as a micro-society, do stuff for himself, etc. I’m not quite as keen about his discovery of Dora and Thomas the Tank Engine, but eh, we knew that would come eventually.

All in all, I would totally recommend our preschool to anyone looking for one in Vancouver. There is even one little girl who moved several Skytrain stations away but they will not leave the preschool. It’s worth the trip…

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