For the last few months or so I have been agonizing over where to send Noelle to preschool this fall. In true Renee fashion, I have extensively researched every preschool in the area and spent many a night tossing and turning weighing the options of each one.
You see, we tried a part time preschool last December. Long story short- it was a complete disaster. Noelle ended up being violently ill for three weeks straight which we ended up figuring out it was situational stress. God bless pediatric specialists, and God bless health savings accounts.
So you see the big picture here....Noelle could possibly react the same way so I wanted to really make sure this second time was a pleasant experience for her and that if something did not go well, the teachers would be equipped to handle it.
I am not a big fan of daycare centers. I have never felt 100% comfortable walking into one and as happy and go-lucky as most of their teachers are, I can never quite shake the feeling that the chain centers all after one thing- the bottom line. Not that there is anything against them, but the places around here were not turning out to be the places I want Noelle spending the better part of the next two years. Due to our work schedule, Noelle will have to attend a daycare/preschool combo, which I was not especially happy about.
After sharing my frustrations with our in home provider, Lisa, she recommended a place we'll call Noelle's preschool (NPS). I'll admit that I have driven by this school for the last 3.5 years and sometimes (ok, a lot of times) thought, UGH that place looks like a dump! Who'd send there kid there?! How good can it actually be?!
I know. I'm a snob.
Because I respect Lisa's opinion, and let's face it, she spends just as much time with my kids and has been in the game long enough to know what's good and what's not, I went to check it out. One of the many benefits of an in home provider- they love your kids and have their best interest at heart. Plus, it's really helpful to have a mentor to help this young mom out.
So I called up NPS and scheduled a visit. Keep in mind I arrived on high alert, with my critical eyes ready to go. Upon entering the building, a musty smell assaulted my nose. The place was older, well loved some might say. The rooms were smaller than most centers, the desks, chairs, cots and toys had all seen better days. The community rug, while very clean, was so old it made me want to go right out to the nearest store and buy these kids a new one. The playground probably hadn't had an upgrade in 20 years. The bathrooms had fixtures that I am sure are originals. The teachers were plainly dressed in jean shorts, tshirts, and tennis shoes.
I continued to take in the environment as the director shared with me all the pertinent center info and I asked my list of questions. As soon as we walked in the 3yr old room, I could tell Noelle was very comfortable there. The director said we could stay as long as we'd like and left us in the room. Right away the teachers made her feel very welcome and she got to sit on the community rug and participate in the group activity. She got in line with the class as they went out for playtime; came in and had snack with everyone a while later. At one point she looked at me and said, "Go." I said, "Do you want to go home?" She said, "No, I want you to leave." I took that as a sign that things were going well.
Two hours passed by and I started to realize that this was the place for Noelle to grow, learn, and excel the next two years until kindergarten. I started looking through the lens of a Noelle and not the snobby brat who walked in the door two hours ago. Once I put those glasses on, I saw a whole new center.
I saw teachers that truly cared about their kids, who had 4 year degrees and had taught there for 16 years. Teachers who cared enough to ask me and Noelle what she likes and how they could help her be successful there. Teachers who talked comfortably throughout the two hours with me about some really cool professional development opportunities they took advantage of a few weeks ago. To most, that might not be a big deal, but as a teacher I know that if you aren't getting better as an educator, you're getting worse. Hearing how, even after 16 years, they continually seek out these opportunities was music to my ears.
Instead of an outdated playground, I saw a shaded backyard with a built-in tree house, lots of fun equipment, while not brand new, served it's purpose just fine. I saw the butterfly garden the 4-5 yrs olds made and the vegetable garden created and tended to by the 3-5yr olds. I saw how teachers diffused situations amongst the children and how Noelle fit right into the mix of it all.
When we came back in, I no longer saw run down classroom supplies and materials. I saw materials that were used often by the children who were comfortable enough to go pull out a basket of crayons or paint and do their own independent activity. Of course the materials looked used- they were!! I wonder how the kids at the other centers got the beautifully labeled baskets of crayons and paints off the top shelf?
It was a sobering experience to say the least. I learned a lot about myself and my preconceived notions that day. I now know why I never felt 100% comfortable at all the centers I'd visited before. On some level, something bothered me. Sure, the pottery barn decorations and wonderfully decorated rooms were great, but why didn't I feel comfortable having Noelle attend there? I needed to look past the materialistic things and find a program of sustenance. Noelle doesn't care if the furniture was bought at pottery barn for kids or from target 10 years ago. Noelle cares about feeling welcomed, loved, safe, and secure.
As I left, I stopped by the director's office to say thank you, but she had left to go buy sweet corn at the farmer's market for tomorrow's lunch. I smiled and couldn't help but wonder if the kids down the road were eating as healthy with their catered-in lunch.
Jeremy wrote me a letter the other night that brought tears to my eyes. Just about our love and our life in general. I love how you found a great place for Noelle to go to school and I love how you let your heart help you come to that decision.
Many times I judge things by what I see, when really, I need to do a better job of judging things by what I feel. I think if I do that, I'll walk away a winner every time.