This is one of those posts that is more for me to sort out my thinking than anything else. I fully expect it will bore the crap out of everyone else.
First, some readers asked me long ago to take a picture of the kids' room after the whole drawn-out year-long project that drove me nuts happened. After all my whining about it, you probably will be like, is THAT all? Technically, it still isn't done. I still want to put some stuff on the walls, do a growth chart, possibly replace Aaron's broken lamp, put one of those art clotheslines up, and maybe a wall mirror. And better 'art' than the old bulletin board stuff that is gummied up there now. Things like that. Anyway, I finally took pictures of it today because I cleaned it and it is rarely clean.
Naim's side. The ball is Naim's Anger Ball that he hits instead of, well, us. The table and the desk raise to normal height. Those desks cost me about $12 each. Naim's cabinet has games and pattern blocks and stuff like that in it now.
Aaron's side. The red square is a magnetic bulletin board. Kind of dumb on my part, they started putting the magnets in their mouths so I took them away. They can use it when they are older. Currently, the cabinet has a CD player in it and their CDs and their old laptop and stuff like that.
My dad built this closet for me. See? He's not an ass all the time. This was originally supposed to be a media room with a wet bar where the closet is. The room is huge, 13X16. Good for twins to share. This is where all of their clothes are and stuff like art supplies, play-doh, and montessori manipulatives.
The shelves I drooled over in the educational supply auction. They are sturdy as all get out, they are mobile with casters, and they have magnetic whiteboards on the back. We just flip 'em around and draw on the back with markers. The mat is actually two three-squared mats. They can make tents and stuff with them, or line them up length-wise in the hall and do somersaults and stuff down them. 99% of the time, more toys are on the floor than are in the shelves.
One of my IRL friends was asking me why I did so much "organized stuff" and why not be all unschool-y. Part of it is probably because I'm a teacher and still have to beat that out of myself. But I think the other part is because a) it isn't as easy for us to just jump in the car and head out all over town and do stuff. I need to bring stuff in the house to make our home time more stimulating. b) I need assistance to do some of the things other parents can just do on their own. For example, there was no way I could have taken two babies swimming by myself, but was able to with a class where the instructor helped. Due to vision/hearing stuff, the class structure gives me some backup and information that would be harder for me to do on my own. c) I have no time to think up stuff for the kids to do on my own, or hell, I'm just not very creative. d) with the kids largely dependent on me for stimulation/information at this age, I can't just find things on the fly like sighted/hearing people can. I have to plan ahead. Curriculum gives me those ideas and learning opportunities ready made in fairly easily accessible chunks. I think that we will move to a more un-schooly approach as the kids get older and more able to be independent learners. When they can read, for instance, the sky is the limit on what they can learn about, they will not have to wait for me to find things in a format that I can read to them.
I don't think I could go the total unschooling route where the kid just gets up in the morning and does whatever the hell he wants. I think some kids/parents do fine with that. But I think I would have to have some structure to it. But I am all on board with kid driven structure. For example, I say that they need to take one physical education class, one art class, and one music class a year and they decide which one. Or letting them pick themes to work around, etc. I know we will do a math curriculum because my math skills are too poor to teach it on the fly, but I can see us getting by with a more organic method for reading. Of course, this is what I need. If one kid takes off doing algebra on his own at age 8 and the other kid needs a really step-by-step phonics program for reading, then that's what we'll do.
At this age, though, everything is new and fun and exciting. As long as I pay attention to their cues about when they've had enough or want to move on or want more, it seems that almost anything we do is a winner. But we are transitioning from toddlerhood to preschool age, and there are a lot more opportunities out there now, and there is a greater need to find them stimulating places to go and things to learn. So, I'm trying to transition in my own head for this. See what we have the time and energy and interest for, what is most cost effective, what gives them the most opportunity to bring out their best skills. As they say in teaching, education is not filling up a kid with information, it is drawing out the potential that is already there.
Anyway, the formal stuff is what I'm worrying about here, but please don't get the idea that every little thing we do is structured and "curriculized." We take walks, cook together several times a week, read lots and lots of books just whenever, play games that we just think up, pretend, pretend, pretend, talk, sing spontaneous songs in our heads, play on the computer, go to our usual community stomping grounds, etc.
What we've done so far:
Curriculum: From about 6 mo. through 2 yrs. we went through all of the Montessori Assistant to Infancy program stuff. (Six binders full of little activities.) We did it much more informally than the official Montessori way.
We have done all of the one year old and over half of the two yr. old Brighter Vision packages. This was an impulse buy that I've been too ambivalent about to cancel. The kids really like these, but they bore me to tears. I could end these and the kids probably wouldn't notice, though. For $15, you get ten packages a year. Each package includes a (very formulaic) activity/sticker book, a nice hard-cover picture book (some are great, some are so-so), a craft-type activity, stickers, a parent newsletter, and a CD with children's songs on it. They all revolve around a theme such as "dinosaurs" or "faery tales". The kids love the CDs (which grate on my nerves, I usually let them listen to them at the start of naptime.), and they love the book and the activity book. These have been good to take over to D's house for them as he doesn't have a lot of "learning" type stuff for them to do. I'm probably going to cancel this.
This really isn't 'curriculum' per se, but we have also gone through all the Baby Einstein videos and the first series of "signing time." We've also done some of the BBC's "Muzzy" Spanish program. But I get this from the library and I always forget about it, so it probably doesn't do much good. Its funny though, it is a wacky british stylized cartoon all in spanish. They sit there engrossed.
Classes: We did one session of gymboree when they were one before I decided that it was a waste of money and I hated it. They took baby swimming, and have swam with me regularly in the summer months. They did little feet fridays at the gym. And we've done drop in painting and clay class at the children's museum. They've also done 3 yrs. of Healthy Start. Healthy Start now goes from 0-3, but I got grandfathered in from the 0-5 program. So I need to decide whether to continue. There is no downside to continuing except that it is hard to schedule around. We started at 3 days a week when they were infants, then once a week, and now we are at twice a month. I think I'm going to ask if I can go to once a month.
What we are currently doing...quickly:
- Funshine Express activities 3-5 days a week.
- Brighter Visions, whenever. 2-3 days a week.
- Sporties class, 1 day a week
- Tumbling 1 day a week
- Painting and or clay class, once or twice a month.
- "socialization" activities, child care and church nursery, 2-3 days a week.
What are the options for next year?:
The preschool question:
I don't really think preschool (in and of itself) is necessary, although there are a lot of good reasons to go. In my case, I mainly want my kids to have somewhere to GO during the long rainy, cold winter months. I wrack my brain trying to think of indoor ways for them to release some energy. Another good thing about preschool is that they can make messes somewhere else besides my house. Aaron loves the water/sand table type of stuff. I'm fine with that in the summer when I can send him outside with it, but I hate doing that stuff in the winter in the house, yuck.
In my case, I will not get the total benefits for 'mom time' from preschool. By the time I take my kids there, there would be no time to bus it back and turn around and go again. So, I'm not only looking for a comfortable environment for them, I'm looking for an environment for me where I could have some quiet space to do some computer work or read or perhaps run errands nearby. Also, I have pretty much ruled out anything but coops due to price. So, I will have to volunteer there as well, which also cuts into the me time. But I would get some.
Here is where I will interject my ongoing peeve about the Goddard School. I only pick on this school in particular because it is literally FEET from my house, but I'm sure there are many other places like it. We walk by it nearly daily and see the kids playing outside. I tell my kids that they can't play on the (fenced in) play equipment because it is only for the school children there. It would be so nice to walk the kids over there a couple of days a week and walk back to my house for some coveted me in the house time. But $335 per child for a 3 hour day, 2 days a week. $445 for a full day, two days a week. So for me, that would be $670 per month for 6 hours a week of child-free time. Is it me or is this outrageous? The other thing is that I've visited the place now three different times. It is okay, but there is NOTHING special that I can see about this place. Nothing. It is regular standard old stuff. Age grouped kids in small rooms all day doing the usual stuff with high turnover staff and a little bit of daily outdoor time. When my kids were born, I went to their infant room which was smaller than my kids bedroom and saw the eight little cribs lined up on one side and the little play area on the other and it depressed me. So, anyway, I hate that school with a filthy vengeance. Entirely because it taunts me with its convenience, teases my kids with its exclusive play equipment, and robs everyone who goes there.
Okay, so here are my options thus far:
Option A: "CCC" Coop recommended to me by several people who rave about it. I would know some of the families there. It would take a short train ride and a bus ride to get there. Once I got there, there is nothing for me to do but hide in the lobby area waiting room. It is on a very busy street. There are many classes to choose from. i.e. Morning/afternoon. Cost: 2 mornings a week @ 3hrs. $294 (both kids) while volunteering 4 times a month.
Option B: "HPP" Small Coop located in church (not affiliated.) Don't know much about it (visiting Feb. 20). Seems to value community building. Child centered. One relatively short train ride + two block walk, quiet neighborhood. Can work in empty classroom. Some shops and stuff nearby for errand running. Cost: 2 mornings a week, 2 1/2 hrs. $180/mo. for both. Lots of volunteer work. 4 days a month in classroom + three trainings a year+ four 'workdays' and four 'cleaning days' a year + required to volunteer at auction + required to have two "jobs" (taking care of classroom pet, taking book orders, etc.).
Option C: "HPR" This is a park and rec program. So it is a bit fragmented and lots of turnover with kids and staff. Train plus bus ride. Nothing close by, may sit in lobby or empty classroom if available. Nice park next door. Hard to get into. Cost: 3 hrs. two days a week. $180. NO volunteer work!
Option D: "VH" This is a homeschool coop. So there are classes there for kids of all ages. Also homeschool community activities, field trips, etc. Furthest away. A 20 min. train ride and a 1/2 mile walk or bus. Surrounded by library, park some stores and businesses. Could work in empty classroom if available or library. Preschool program is only 1 day a week for 2:45, but they do have other (free) activities for little kids on other days. Membership is $225. Volunteer rate is $180 per term (3 terms) with 10 hrs. of volunteer work per term. (I like that there is a time limit!) That's $85 per month.
I'm leaning toward Option D, the homeschool coop. But I need to see how bad the transportation is going to be. Also, I'm a little irritated that they haven't answered my emails. Do they seriously expect me to (gasp!) call them in this day and age? But it is the cheapest, has the most for me to do while they are there. The volunteering is reasonable, and they (and I) might build friendships with homeschoolers that last years. But I'm going to wait till I've seen all of the programs before I make my final decision..
I'm trying to decide whether to fork out the $360 (for the year) to do funshine express next year. The kids like it, it is easy for me to always have something available for them to do, they will probably get even more out of it next year than this year because their skills have improved so much. It is basically preschool style unit studies, which I like, but these unit studies are selected by them and not by us. Right now that is ok, because they are interested in everything. But I do notice how much more WoWed! they are when a unit happens to be something of special interest to them. Like we just did trains in Dec. and did fire safety in Oct. and they LOVED that. We just finished penguins, and they were interested but not nuts about it. If I could whip up a unit study based on their interests (like space shuttles and all things space, right now) that would be ideal. But I'm not sure I have time to pull that off. I admit it, I like being spoon fed for the time being. I love being able to hand off a booklist to a librarian and instantly she gives me the appropriate books. I don't think it is bad to introduce unit studies that the kids might not be all about at any given time, how else would they ever know if they would be interested? But FE goes overboard with the Holidays and holiday themes bore me. They change themes every year, so I might wait and look at what next year's themes are before I decide. For what you get, it is not a bad price (It is so chock-full of stuff you never will run out of things to do. You get most all of the supplies for arts and crafts, which I like. I hate having to hunt down spools or pipe cleaners. I would never do any of these crafts if the supplies weren't readily available to me.) And it is really a cafeteria style thing. You can pick and choose what you want. But we don't NEEEEEED it, we could live without it. But I'm afraid I would waste days of taking so much time to decide what to do (especially bad weather indoor days) that we would not do much of anything.
Oak Meadow has a preschool program that is much less structured and only costs $100. (minus art supplies and stuff.) I like it because it is very nature based and Waldorf-y. But it is something that requires more planning to get stuff together. And in a way, I don't think there is enough stuff to do. At least for us. It will say, "Go on a nature hike and pick up 30 different kinds of leaves." I'm limited with this type of thing. I like the thought of it, but I don't know how well I would execute it. I also worry that it is a little simplistic for my kids. I think academically they might not be challenged.
Calvert has a boxed school preschool set for about the same price as FE. When I was a homeschooling newbie, I got all excited about Calvert. But now I have decided that I hate, hate, hate their history/social studies program. Very eurocentric/red, white and blue. Also their reading program is probably ok, but I would want more flexibility. I have heard good things about their math program. For preschool, it looks just...boring, to me. It looks like a lot of worksheets.
Montessori. I could get free Montessori lesson plans online. But the program is very manipulatives based and those things are expensive! I actually have some of them, or knock offs of some of them. For example, I have a miniature pink tower and knobbed cylinders. Some people go here and get paper versions of the manipulatives. And that is probably ok, but stacking pink tower cards just doesn't cut it for me. Some things just need to be in 3D. (Especially for me, I'm a big touchy, feely 3D fan.) So, I think I could incorporate Montessori into what we do like I have been. Just really informally when I think of it or happen to look something up.
No curriculum/make it up as we go. I'm actually going to try this over the summer and see how it works out. I don't really have anything for the summer planned. So we will see how bored we get. Of course, in summer we are outside a lot more, it is in winter that the FE has really made our days more fun. I'm sure there are other options or combinations thereof. We often just pull out the baby einstein 365 days activity book. They've really outgrown that, but Brainquest would be the same idea. Or work more on the computer. I have declared my computer off limits to the kids. But they use D's a lot and also we have a used (very slow) laptop that we let them use sometimes. There are tons of websites out there with free educational kids games. And you can always pick up Hooked on Phonics stuff or sticker/activity books at Costco.
I think about classes not only as a fun place to go but also as a support for my weak areas. Sports, Music, Art. I used to be okay at individual sports, figure skating of course, and I still can swim. But ball stuff, distance running stuff, anything involving coordination? Not my strength. Music I really like but have never had a strong background in it (although I had to learn how to read music and pluck it out on a piano in college, I still do that like a third grader.) The visual arts I've never had any appreciation or affinity for. My ideal would be to have them in one physical activity, one music, and one artsy class each year. I don't know if that means at the same time or not. Some things could arguably be combined. Like dance. That is both physical, musical, and artsy. This is largely a funding issue for me.
We really like the tumbling class, so I'd like to keep that. It is $80 per month (both kids). We could also take dance and kindermusik there. It is a really, really easy walk from my house which is always such a big selling point for me. But I know I could find cheaper. Our parks and rec has a tumbling class also, but it is crazy hard to get to. I might take them out of their sporties for shorties class after this term and put them into dance or kindermusik. I think Naim would really like dance. Aaron would probably do better in kindermusik. In my fantasies I would like them to learn an instrument. Piano would be my first choice but rather impractical. Violin is somewhat more accessible because of D's background in it. Kindermusik is supposed to be a great precursor to learning an instrument. So, that would be nice to do, but I don't know if I could have them do it AND tumbling or dance. So we might just have to take turns. Oh! and VH (homeschool coop from above) has a free sing, dance and play music class. So perhaps that would be workable instead of the more expensive Kindermusik.
At this age, art is something we can do at home, or do very cheaply at the children's museum. So I will probably put that off. I just have 0 interest in visual arts. So that path would probably have to come from my kids. I'd be satisfied to just occasionally put them in a summer art workshop for a week every year or something. But for now, I think it is something we can pass up.
So, tentatively for next year:
Curriculum: lazily leaning towards FE again, with a sprinkling of homemade Montessori. But see how no curriculum/do it yourself goes this summer. Ditch Brighter Vision.
Preschool: leaning towards VH 1 day a week w/ free music class another day a week.
Classes: Continue tumbling. Add either dance or kindermusik (or alternate per term.) Continue painting and clay classes at Children's museum. Maybe in summer they can do something more sporty at the gym.
And this is actually what I have budgeted for now...saving about $360 (minus supplies I'd get for the kids in place of) if I ditch FE.