Wednesday, November 17, 2010

THE PRESCHOOL CHRONICLES


Lesson (Re-)Learned: Outward Appearances Can Be Deceiving
Plus, Reputation Does Not a Love Match Make


There's a nearby preschool that I had already scratched off the "possible" list because it's unfortunately situated on a treeless, sun-bleached boulevard near our house. The actual school building is reminds me of a trailer (like those "portable classrooms" we suffered through in middle school) and the schoolyard sits behind an ugly chain-link fence set too close to the too-narrow sidewalk. Just yech.

Just the same, my adorably blissfully-unaware husband pointed it out and said, "I assume that's one of those fancy preschools that's impossible to get into?" I scoffed, but took the note and signed up for a tour.

Lo and behold, during this week of preschool tours, I think this outwardly ugly school is one of my favorites so far. Inside, it's pristine and cozy, with lots of creative projects on display from the children, nooks they can settle into, a garden they grew pumpkins in and just an overall energy of being a happy safe space for kids whose families share the same general values as us.

The preschool director was a mensch (is there a female version of the word?), and I immediately felt comfortable with her as a fellow young working mom. (Of course, she has more kids of her own than she can count on one hand, and I have one, but still.) Her kids go to the school, she's obviously offering all of the kids (not just her own) a nurturing, healthy, values-instilling place to spend the day--she talked about how they work to "slow the kids down" which the more I think about the more I like--and it just seemed like a smart, sweet place to send a bunch of babies for their first "educational experience." It rocketed up my list of candidates, and hey, best of all, it's right around the corner in the middle of our non-gentrified neighborhood.

I'm not saying it would be heaven for everyone, but I felt great about it as a future option for our little kiddo.  Even though this little school run, by a modest, non-self-aggrandizing woman, is only three years old now and has therefore barely made a mark on the local education scene, I suspect that given time, this school will grown in reputation and stature, simply by dint of the quality of education offered.

Conversely, today I toured the fanciest, most exclusive preschool in our immediate area (OK, so there's one other one that might even be fancier, but it's so expensive it's not genuinely in the consideration set), and after hearing everyone rave it about it from top to bottom, I was surprised to find that I was less overjoyed with it than I had imagined I would be.

The school was unequivocally lovely, and the children all appeared happy and content, but the director seemed a tad doctrinaire for my taste, and the entire operation was so outrageously pretty and precious that it verged on twee. Especially after hearing the director's statement of principles, my overall impression on the walkthrough, upon observing all of the adult-oriented labeling and the artistic tableaux arranged hither and thither, was that this school was almost a child-development museum more than it was a place for real live children.

That said, the real live children who go there obviously lacked for nothing; it's no doubt a delightful place to spend the preschool years; and I admire the basic principles and philosophy behind it, but I also don't want life to be all downhill from preschool for my future publicly-educated child. That might be a terrible impulse for a mother to have--to expose her child to the honest ugliness of things--but somehow it feels more true to me than the impossibly stylized fairyland of this school.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure we'd be thrilled to get in there, and in the unlikely event we got in we'd probably run off to register so fast we'd leave a dust cloud behind us, but at the moment, I've actually set my reach-school sights on another little school in the area. That school is less storied, although it still has a sterling reputation, it has much the same beauty and substance, but my impression of that school and its director was that it really was about our real live children and not just a dialectic showplace for a director fascinated with her own clarity of purpose.

Friday, November 12, 2010

More Advice for New Moms: Supplies to Lay In for the Newborn Period (aka the Fourth Trimester, Months One through Three)

Boss' boss at work just adopted a little girl; this is the advice I scribbled out for her in the dead of night. 
  • Get a swing and an "activity gym" (playmat) when you think of it. Both will give you a break and if you're lucky she'll fall asleep in the swing. The playmats are great for both tummy time and for looking at something more fun than the ceiling. If I had to do it all over again, I would buy the entire Fisher-Price Rainforest suite of gadgets, because my kid positively loves them—the Rainforest monkey teether/rattle is pretty much his go-to toy right now. We loved the playmat and we just got the jumperoo off Craigslist; we missed out on the bouncy chair window, and we had the Little Lamb swing instead. Note: You can remove the toys from the activity gym once they outgrow it and just use them as rattles instead.
  • When she's ready to sit up in a few months, get the Prince Lionheart chair instead of the Bumbo. It's a million times better.
  • L'Occitane's baby soap is wonderful, California Baby soap smells a little more citrusy but is good too.
  • Get Gerber's deluxe cloth diapers, just to use as spit cloths and to keep under her on the changing table for when she pees/poos while you're changing her. And get the thickest baby washcloths you can find—and yes you do need baby washcloths, as ridiculous as it sounds. Regular washcloths are too big and too rough for the little ones. And get one of those pour-buckets in the baby bath aisle at Babies ‘R' Us if you don't have one already—helps tremendously when you're rising them off in the tub.
  • Get a bottle of Resolve Spray ‘n' Wash or a Tide Stain Stick and keep it next to her laundry basket for when you don't have time to wash out stains right away.
  • SLEEP WHEN SHE SLEEPS. If you're not just sleeping next to her crib on the floor (ha!), consider getting a Moses basket, bassinet or cosleeper that you can drag around the house and keep next to your bed so you can leap up at night as needed. James McKenna's Sleeping With Your Baby is a great read about cosleeping too, not that you have time to read!
  • If you don't have a rocking chair/glider, consider getting one—they seem like a luxury, but man, they feel like a necessity when you're heading into hour two of trying to rock the kid to sleep. :)
  • When you have time, consider taking some of the “hot topic” classes at the Pump Station. They're seriously awesome and you'll learn more faster what's relevant if you hear it from a human person than from a book or the internet. (Plus, you won't have time to read once the baby comes.) If nothing else, Cynthia Epps' first foods seminar is invaluable, I hear great things about Sleepy Planet, and I know you'll love Preschool Panic.
  • The Halo SleepSacks (blanket + swaddle = baby sleeping bag) are AWESOME for newborns.
RELATED POST: Unsolicited Advice for New Moms

    Thursday, November 04, 2010

    My Review of 10 Piece Puzzle Mat Shapes


    What a great purchase!

    By Los Angeles Mom from California on 11/4/2010

     

    5out of 5

    Pros: Entertaining, Grows With Baby, Easy to Assemble, Visually Stimulating, Easy to Clean, Promotes Sensory Development, Holds Baby's Attention

    Best Uses: Playtime, Crawlers, Tummy Time

    Describe Yourself: First Time Parent

    I'm feeling pretty smug right now about finding these mats. They are fantastic, and I had to go off the beaten path to find them. I get most baby stuff at that one big online store that has everything, but I was frustrated with the mat options there and after some searching around, I stumbled across onestepahead's fantastic product. What's great about these mats? So much! For one thing, I love that they have shapes, instead of just letters and numbers, and I love that there are three pullout shapes of different colors on every panel. The mats aren't just plain either--each color has a different texture. The shapes included are: star, diamond, circle, starburst, heart, triangle, square, pentagon, hexagon, octogon, and I can't wait to star teaching my son colors and shapes with this mat! I combined it with the 10-piece solid colors and the 5 piece by 4 piece mat fits perfectly in our living room and looks great. We'll definitely get the letters, numbers and music mats when my son is a little older.

    (legalese)