Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Oak Park Preschools

Nutmeg, Fil and I visited three preschools in OP today. We planned to visit four but we could barely get to the three. I was able to eliminate all three from the running, so if we don't like the fourth one tomorrow, we'll have to send her to the expensive one. None of them were terrible, but they didn't make the cut, either.

It was a gorgeous morning when we arrivedin Oak Park, and the first school, the Language and Music School, was right downtown across froma beautiful park. It made me feel excited about our upcoming summer in OP.

We started out with a Spanish music and movement sample class, for which we paid $15. Nutmeg enjoyed it. I wouldn't mind enrolling for the class. I was put off by the fact that if we enroll, I will have to pay for Fil too because they charge for babies over 3 months. Seems a bit young to me. But Fil actually seemed to love the class, and one of the other moms commented on how she was grinning and even trying to move to the music.

After the class I found out that most of the other students -- 3 or 4 out of 5 or 6 -- are actually students at the preschool whose parents pay extra for them to leave the preschool for the music and movement class. I found this odd. Why not incorporate this material into the class they are already paying for? The teacher, who is also the director, said she would bring the kids back to the preschool and then come back and answer my questions. I asked if we could follow along and get a peek at the preschool, but she said we coudln't.

Turns out they do not allow parents to come in the classroom -- ever. She actually took Nutmeg down to the class for about 5 minutes without me, and Nut had a good time. I could make an appointment to watch the class through a one-way window, and I could tour the classroom area when there were no kids in it.

So that was a deal-breaker for me. Parents should be allowed to dropinto a preschool at any time. If you have to make an appointment to get in there, who knows what's going on at that preschool? Anyway, I did read about the curriculum in their literature and wasn't thrilled with it -- I felt it was too focused on teaching the language instead of the regular preschool stuff.

Next was the Y. By the time we got there it was getting toward the end of the class and the kids were outside playing, so I didn't get to observe all that much. But looking around the room and talking to the teacher revealed one thing I really liked and a couple of things I didn't. I liked it that the 3-year-olds and the jr. kindergarten are in the same room, and Nutmeg would be able to switch to the older group if she wanted to when the younger kids were doing things she already knew, like learning "letter recognition." I didn't like that all the art on display was basically coloring -- preprinted pictures that the kids colored in.

But this was the deal-breaker: When the kids were dismissed, the teacher reminded them to bring vegetables the next day. So when I got to talk to the teacher I asked what the vegetables were for, hoping the kids would be doing something sensory like making soup. She explained that each week they had a theme based on a letter of the alphabet, and this week was V. So they were bringing in canned vegetables to donate to a food pantry (fine) and they watched the cartoon Veggie Tales.

Not only do I not want my kid watching cartoons in preschool, but Veggie Tales? That's a Christian cartoon. I guess the Y is Christian, come to the think of it. It's not like there were crosses all over the place like there were in the Catholic school I visited, but still, my kid is not watching Veggie Tales in preschool.

Then we had lunch in a cruddy Chinese restaurant, where an 80-year-old woman dining alone, with her bicycle helmet on, advised me that two children were enough, and when hearing that we were moving from Chicago to Oak Park, wanted to know if my husband or I were doctors. Maybe once OP was more expensive than the city? Not now. I tried to tell this to my new octogenarian friend, but I could tell she was dubious.

Then we hit the afternoon class of Mi Escuela, the OP Parks Spanish immersion preschool. This was actually the preK class for 4 and 5-year-olds, it turned out, so it wasn't exactly what Nutmeg would be doing. The kids were sitting around a table learning Spanish words that started with U-- uno, unicorn (unicornio?), grapes. While I didn't like seeing them sitting still at the table, I liked that the teacher had tactile things to pass around -- a textured big No. 1, a puzzle piece shaped like grapes, a lacing card of the letter U. Later the teacher told me that the younger kids have more free play and don't sit at the table all together like that.

I thought this was a nice Spanish class, but again, it seemed lacking compared to full-fledged preschool programs. And in fact, the teacher told me she encourages parents to enroll their kids in a regular preschool on the days the kids are not there. This program is just 2 hours a day, 2 days a week.

Since none of the preschool programs I'm still interested in at this point are three mornings a week, that kind of rules out Mi Escuela for now. I'd consider it as a supplement to preschool or kindergarten in the future, though.

There is one more parks system preschool class I was interested in -- the one that would be very close to our new home. But of course with all this we did not have time to get there to observe. After a long play session in the playground outside Mi Escuela, we drove to the Parks system office where I signed Nutmeg up for summer swimming lessons (without me!) and found out that the last remaining spot in the preschool program near our new house had been taken. I signed up for the waiting list, and I'm going to observe it tomorrow.

By this time Nutmeg was obviously seriously tired and bored, and I promised to buy a shake on the way home to bribe her into waiting patiently while we did the sign up paperwork. It was, by this time, nearly 3 in the afternoon and seriously hot out.

And I did buy a shake on the way home, but by the time I did, Nutmeg was sound asleep in her car seat. Somehow, I managed to save about a third of it for her, which she was happy to drink when we got home.

Anyway, it's now down to the Montessori school or the one parks system class I haven't seen. The cost difference is huge, so hey, here's hoping I like the parks class.

1 comment:

jail diet said...

Best of luck with the parks program. You are seriously an amazing mother. I love hearing about how meticulous you are about the programs you review.

Why is it that all public systems run on the same Dick & Jane system? They seriously need to update and re-evaluate their programs, it seems.

It's very hard to compare a private Montessori school with public programs, but you never know.

Best of luck on your transition and move to OP!