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Our Preschool Journey, Part 4.

Our Preschool Journey

An honest account from a clueless parent’s point of view

PART FOUR: (to read part 1, click here , part 2 click here and part 3 click here)

Everything about this school exuded “THIS IS THE ONE FOR US.” While I could talk for days about their philosophy, values, director, teachers and 70-year history that attracted us, at the end of the day, the place just felt right. Match made in heaven right. Giant excel spreadsheet out the window.

For us this was the only place that – without hesitation – we felt like we could drop off our daughter THE NEXT DAY, walk away, and she would be ok…and eventually thrive under their care and guidance.

It felt so right that we passed on other opportunities before admissions decisions were sent on this one.

Five years later and after both of my daughters attended the school (each for two years and one in the tot program), here’s what I have to say about preschool in Chicago:

First, there is a school for everyone. I should never have let those women at the gym stress me out. There are plenty of options and perhaps it just comes down to fit and maybe a little patience. (In the end, our daughter got into every school we applied to – even the lottery schools, even the “impossible” schools, even the most sought-after CPS programs. Sure, we found out about a couple after the school year started, but spots ultimately did open up. And while our daughter is a star to us, there is nothing more special about her than any other child in Chicago applying to preschool.)

Second, the process really is a journey. While much of it was daunting, and some of it was annoying, it was also kind of fun to explore the possibilities. More importantly, it was eye opening to explore our own ideas about education and figure out what was important to us.

Third, for us it took going on the journey to figure out where to land. I’m glad we applied to a wider range of schools to be able to explore different kinds of options. I’m glad we kept an open mind about all of them. I’m SO glad we didn’t blow off that final presentation. We figured out our priorities as we went, and for us it came down to a feeling, not a spreadsheet of pros and cons.

In the end, we were so lucky to find a place that values the same things we do about early education. That gets to know each individual child and inspires that child to learn and grow and be his or her best self. That understands that first (and second…and third) time parents are also learning about life with school-going children. That serves as an incredible resource and source of support to those parents. That is filled with like-minded people who become a wonderful community and often friends for life. That helped shape two children into happy, confident little ones ready for life outside of home. How lucky were we that we attended that final parent meeting so we could feel what was right for us and didn’t just make the most logical choice or easiest choice.

[caption id="attachment_587" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Road to Preschool Part 2 The Road to Preschool[/caption]

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About the Author:  Anny Gary is a happily married proud mama to two girls – ages 8 and 5 – who keep her running all over town to school, dance, gymnastics, theater, swimming, art classes and social activities. She serves on a variety of boards with several leadership positions. In her spare time, she works as an independent consultant with an emphasis on marketing and management. Oh, and she loves to write.

Our Preschool Journey, Part 3

Our Preschool Journey

An honest account from a clueless parent’s point of view

PART THREE: (to read part one, click here or part two click here)

So here we were, in the thick of it. Searching for a preschool had turned into a part-time job.

Being the super-anal, comprehensive preschool investigator that I was, we had applied to a wide variety of schools. We had flexibility on number of days and hours we needed our daughter in school, so we applied to all types of programs – everything from pure half-day preschools to public schools to full-day-five-day-a-week all the way through high school schools. I could still hear that woman from the gym say that her friend’s son didn’t get into any schools on their “wish list” and I didn’t want to take any chances.

We went to school fairs, filled out all kinds of applications, took tours, attended coffees, sat through presentations and participated in interviews. We took our two year old to “play parties” and left her alone in a room with strangers to play (for us, a first!). We answered questions like: Please share your child’s academic strengths and weaknesses (hmmmmm…she’s two). What are the three most compelling characteristics of your child (compelling?)? List any activities, hobbies and interests of your child (excuse me, did you just say hobbies?). How does your child handle frustration (how do most two year olds handle frustration?)? What method of discipline is your child accustomed to (can this ever sound good – parent or child?)?

Well, we did our best.

The good news is we discovered there are a lot of solid preschool options in Chicago. Still…well into our process, we had found a lot of good possibilities but we still hadn’t found our “dream” place. And truthfully, we were still unclear about what the “right” fit would be. All the schools seemed so different – and yet they all sounded the same too.

Towards the tail end of our application process – a bit exhausted from the whole thing – we were on our way to our final parent night. On the way there, I remember complaining to my husband, “Should we even go to this? I’m sooo tired of this process. If we get into that school that goes all the way through high school – we’re done. Right? I can’t imagine going through all of this again.”

And then we parked and found ourselves in front of a charming greystone row house on Pine Grove Street. We rang the doorbell, were greeted with a gigantic warm smile, stepped inside, and fell in love.

– to be continued –
[caption id="attachment_587" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Road to Preschool Part 2 The Road to Preschool[/caption]

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About the Author:  Anny Gary is a happily married proud mama to two girls – ages 8 and 5 – who keep her running all over town to school, dance, gymnastics, theater, swimming, art classes and social activities. She serves on a variety of boards with several leadership positions. In her spare time, she works as an independent consultant with an emphasis on marketing and management. Oh, and she loves to write.

Our Preschool Journey, Part Two

Our Preschool Journey

An honest account from a clueless parent’s point of view

PART TWO: (to read part one, click here)

All at the same time a moment I both dreaded and eagerly anticipated (yes, you can feel both of those feelings at once) arrived. It was time to get serious about preschool.

Talk about overwhelming! I was floored that there was no one, comprehensive source in Chicago that listed all the potential options. After doing a lot of digging, I did what any self-respecting, super-anal, pro/con-lister would do – I created my own massive excel spreadsheet to capture all the findings from my investigation. There were play-based, academic-based, Montessori-based, art-based, language-based, creativity-based… There were half-day, full-day, and one-two-three-four or five-day per week options. There were independent (aka, private), and public (but not all public elementary schools had a preschool), religious and non-religious, and something called “cooperative” preschools. There was a range of tuitions (and no free options that I could find). There were schools that started at birth and schools that went all the way through high school. Every application process was different with its own steps, requirements and deadlines.

As we started to speak “preschool,” we also started to contemplate what our values were as it related to our child’s education. What’s important to us? What’s important now…at this age and developmental stage…and what will be important longer-term?

We also felt our fair share of worry, contemplating school still with only a two-year old at home: a wonderful little girl who – in a group setting – took life in as an observer first. I had heard other moms describe their child as “the mayor” or “fearless.” There were the kids that bustled their way to the front of the slide line at the park. Or took a dive into the piñata candy explosion. That was not our child.

We wondered: Will our daughter feel ok being away from us? Will she be scared? Will she talk to anyone? Will the teachers be kind to her? Will they pay attention to her, really? Will she make friends? Will her friends be nice to her? Will she always get bustled to the end of the line? Will she start to figure out who she is and what she really loves to do? Will someone help her go potty? Will she engage in what the class is doing or will she keep a safe distance? Will she decide she likes going to school? Will she still need a nap in a year? Will she learn she can overcome things that might feel scary at first? Will she be excited to learn about the world and everything in it? Will she gain confidence? Will she feel liked or even loved?

We started to realize our questions and therefore our priorities had much more to do with social and emotional growth at this stage than anything else. Of course we wanted her exposed to math and science and letters and language and small motor and gross motor activities… but not at the expense of learning how to feel confident being her wonderful self outside of home.

– to be continued –

 

[caption id="attachment_587" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Road to Preschool Part 2 The Road to Preschool[/caption]
About the Author:  Anny Gary is a happily married proud mama to two girls – ages 8 and 5 – who keep her running all over town to school, dance, gymnastics, theater, swimming, art classes and social activities. She serves on a variety of boards with several leadership positions. In her spare time, she works as an independent consultant with an emphasis on marketing and management. Oh, and she loves to write.

Our Preschool Journey, Part One

Our Preschool Journey

An honest account from a clueless parent’s point of view

PART ONE:

The first time I heard about the preschool application process was after an exercise class – one of my first since the birth of my first daughter – time to shed those pregnancy pounds! There was a group of moms there; moms I didn’t know; moms who had become a community though their toddlers; something I had not yet done.

For context, let me just say I was clueless on the whole parenting thing. I mean, we all are, right? But this was clue-less, clueless. I hadn’t given much thought to parenthood other than being thrilled to be having a baby. Weeks earlier I had been insanely tying up loose ends in preparation for an extended maternity leave. For me, parenthood came a bit later, after a lot of focus on a heavy corporate career. All my close friends had gone down the baby road much earlier and had long ago high-tailed it to the burbs. So, I was clueless and without much of a parent-to-parent support system in the city. Anyway…

It was summer and those moms at the gym were talking about starting the preschool application process that fall. I remember them naming this school and that school – all places I had never heard of. One had friends who had “been through it” and seemed to know which schools were “impossible” to get into versus which were total luck with a lottery selection process. Another used the word pedagogical (pedagogical! in a casual conversation!) describing some method of teaching. They talked about school fairs and application deadlines. One said she had started contacting schools for information when her child was still in the womb…because she had a friend whose son didn’t get into any of the schools on their wish list. As I gathered my things and finished up my eavesdropping, I whispered to myself in my head “…are they SERIOUS?” But secretly I also felt a pang of panic. I was relieved that those days were still in the distant future for me.

Fast-forward two (of the fastest) years of life later, our family embarked on our own road to preschool.

– to be continued –

Road to Preschool
The Road to Preschool

About the Author:  Anny Gary is a happily married proud mama to two girls – ages 8 and 5 – who keep her running all over town to school, dance, gymnastics, theater, swimming, art classes and social activities. She serves on a variety of boards with several leadership positions. In her spare time, she works as an independent consultant with an emphasis on marketing and management. Oh, and she loves to write.

Top 10 Tips for Parents of New Students

Beginning school can be challenging for both parents and their children. It is often the first time a child will make friends with someone who is not a sibling, cousin or a neighbor. The friendships formed in pre-school can last a lifetime for both children and their parents. What a wonderful time it can be! The following tips will help ease all of you into your child’s new life as a student.

  1. Talk about school. Share that there will be children to play with and some art and singing but keep it simple, school is a very new concept for them.
  2. Trust your teachers. You chose your school for a reason. Your teachers know a lot about this age and about early childhood development. They will help your child and you through this new school experience.
  3. Let teachers know about changes at home. If a parent goes on a business trip or there is a new baby brother or sister, tell your teacher. Changes at home could impact the way your child responds during their school day. The more information your teachers have, the better equipped they will be to address your child’s needs.
  4. Dress for mess. At my school, kids get messy. We encourage parents to dress their children in familiar and comfortable clothes.  This is all part of the transition in bringing the familiar from home to their new school setting.

    [caption id="attachment_519" align="alignright" width="285"]First Day at Mary Meyer School (Sept '04) My Son’s First Day of Class at Mary Meyer.[/caption]

  5. Who IS this kid?! After starting school, your child might act differently. He/she might have a potty training setback or they may not want to go to school. Don’t worry — this is very common and will settle as your child adjusts to their new routine. Call the school’s director; they are a knowledgeable (and calming) resource!
  6. Believe half of what your child tells you about their day — if they tell you anything at all.  Parents want to be a fly on the wall and children are imaginative little beings. They will sometimes concoct elaborate stories about their day to grab your attention. Ask them open-ended questions to facilitate discussion.
  7. Don’t over schedule  Making new friends and experiences is exhausting work for young children. Scheduling playdates or soccer or dance classes might be too much at the beginning of the school year. Schedule extra snuggles at bedtime, but not much else.
  8. Let your child set the pace. Parents…you have long legs! Hold your child’s hand while walking, but let them set the pace. This will slow you down and help to calm you both as you enter this happy new stage in your lives.
  9. Always say goodbye and once you’ve said goodbye…leave. When saying goodbye, some children will cry or hang onto a parent. Ask a teacher to help with this transition. Warning: they may have to peel your child off of you. However, after that final goodbye kiss and often before you’ve even turned the corner, your child will likely be happily laughing and playing with a friend.  Most schools will call to let you know that everything is fine. If not, it’s okay to call and check in.
  10. Relax and Enjoy the Ride.  Every child is different. Some children will dash right into school and easily adjust, while others will be more cautious. When my son began preschool I was positive that he would be fine. However, I sat on the school stairs for two weeks as he adjusted to his new environment. My daughter, who has always been cautious, was ready for me to leave on her first day. You never know how your child might respond. Sit back. Relax and enjoy this special time. As the transitions have settled into a routine, you will be overjoyed when your child and a fellow student call to each other from across the street and exclaim, “Look! There’s my friend!”

Kevin O’Brien

Director, Mary Meyer School

Summertime at the Schoolhouse

Our second session of camp wrapped up a few weeks ago. The schoolhouse has been quiet…I should say, without the sounds of children.

Workers have been here painting and doing the things that workers do to help keep our 70+ year old little school in tip-top condition. So, even though we haven’t been busy with the business of children we’ve been busy in other ways. This September begins our 72nd year of “educating children through purposeful play”.

In the meantime enjoy this quiet photo and imagine it filled with children, laughing and jumping and listening and learning. The children will be here soon enough and we cannot wait…

—Kevin

A Quiet Schoolhouse

 

 

 

Welcome to our New Website!

Welcome to our updated Mary Meyer School website and our new blog! Our blog is a destination and resource for parents anywhere to learn about preschool age children and older.

What is shared here will educational; it will be fun—and filled with photos! We will share what our schoolhouse looks like and share what happens inside.

Our mission at Mary Meyer School is to educate children through purposeful play. It has always been our belief that this is how children learn best. Our school supports a creative environment that encourages children to take risks and to explore the world around them. This has been our goal for more than 70 years!

Last week, the close of our 71st year, was our final week of the 2014-2015 school year. Our theme for the past year was intention and purpose. I sat down with our staff at the end of our busy week to talk about this. We revisited how our curriculum and plans fit into how we met the needs of our students and parents. We reviewed — a very positive — end of year survey and talked about the intentionality of our year. It was one to be proud of!  In November, I attended the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Conference in Dallas and brought back so much to share with the staff. This helped to inform our school year. We also talked about how we instilled kindness and being loving into the thoughts of our students. This past January, our school hosted an incredibly successful and well-received day of professional development for like-minded preschools. My staff and I discussed the success of our year and how we made sure to connect the work that we did thoughtfully and directly to our curriculum.

For example, this year in our Afternoon Class we introduced “Create and Tell” an in-class Show and Tell experience for our students. Our Afternoon Class students had the opportunity to each plan, create and express themselves through construction, storytelling, writing, music, art or other means. This specifically addressed the more complex developmental needs of the students in our Afternoon Class. The Create and Tell sharing was as varied as complex block constructions to composing and playing their own music on a xylophone.

Create and Tell

Our school year was a wonderful year filled with purpose and exploration and learning and friendship. Even though many of our students are attending Mary Meyer Summer Camp, we are already laying the foundation and planning our curriculum for our next year of learning and growth. I’m excited for what the future holds for our next school year.

Come back and visit our blog to see what’s next!

Warmly
Kevin O’Brien
Director
Mary Meyer School

Play-Based Preschool: Do Kids Just Play All Day?

When the grass is green and flowers are blooming in the spring at Mary Meyer School, we celebrate by hosting a farmer’s market.  Our purposeful play curriculum has led us to this special day. In early spring and before the trees are budding, our Farmer-in-Residence works with our students to discuss worms and seeds and soil and planting.

How does play fit into farming and how did we learn?

  • We read books about farming, worms, fruits and vegetables.
  • We added soil to our sensory table and planted grass which we “mowed” using classroom scissors.
  • We tilled the soil in our garden with shovels and hoes and planted seeds.
  • We watered and watched our crops grow.
  • We practiced buying and selling using real money.
  • We hosted parents and sold goods at our Farmer’s Market.
  • We donated the money we raised to a local food pantry.

Embedded in these play activities is learning. Playing in this context is science, math, literature, small and large motor work, social and ecological responsibility and presentation and public speaking skills. When children play, they are experimenting. Play is about self-discovery, self-analysis and self-awareness.  Children are learning about themselves and they are learning about their friends while teachers observe, ask questions and offer support and guidance.

Susan Neuman writes in Content-Rich Instruction in Preschool (2014) “In play, children express and represent their ideas, learn to interact with others, and practice newly acquired abilities and knowledge.” Play is what children love to do…this makes it a natural point of engagement for 3 and 4 year olds.

On the day of the farmer’s market, students drank lavender lemonade, and ate pickles and blueberry crumble. However, they are the ones who squeezed the lemons, cut the cucumbers and baked the crumble. Their hands got dirty digging and planting. Their anticipation was whetted when the tiny plants began to reach toward the sun. Smiles grew wide as young farmers welcomed their parents and sold their farmed goods. This farmer’s market may have been just one day, but the path that led to the market was varied and filled with excitement and learning and purposeful play.