Thursday, June 22, 2006

Schools out! And I'm pretty bummed.

Peanut’s last day of preschool was Tuesday. Today is the first day she should have gone, but didn’t and I already miss those six blessed hours a week when I was responsible for the well being of only one child. I get so much done when Peanut is at school, primarily because I’ve had the amazing good fortune of Loaf napping during nearly those exact same hours. So really, for nearly six hours a week, I’m not responsible for the well being of anyone but myself, and that’s pretty damn good.

I usually use those six hours to work since I must log a few hours from home each day. If there’s no work to do, I get a helluva lot done around here. I clean or garden. Or sometimes I surf the web. Or paint my toenails. Or do yoga. Or chat on the phone with a friend. It’s a good part of my week and now it’s gone for the whole summer.

Making the loss even more bitter, Peanut’s school is closing for good with the owner/head teacher moving to Tennessee. Next year, Peanut will attend a different school and while I researched and visited all the preschools in this town (there are three remaining) and feel I have made a really good choice, her existing situation is a very special slice of preschool heaven.

As a Waldorf-inspired school, it emphasizes learning through creative and imaginative play. Natural materials (such as wooden toys and beeswax crayons) and a connection to the outdoors are also stressed. Her typical school day begins with lunch (we pack it), then moves on to free play, story and song circle, a craft (watercolors or modeling with beeswax are common), a snack (I’ll get to that in a minute), a short rest and then outdoor play in all but the most foul of weather. At Waldorf schools, teachers adhere to the philosophy that childhood is a magical time and that learning through imitation is most effective. This all melds so seamlessly with our parenting values, it’s as if we dreamed it up ourselves.

For example, the snack: Each week, the children at her current school pitch in and (with help) bake a few loaves of organic, whole wheat bread. This bread is then eaten, with honey and an organic apple, for a snack each day. It is wholesome. It is healthy. And because the kids play a role in baking the bread, they love it. And they learn. They learn about teamwork and roles. They learn about good food. They learn about the reward of doing something yourself. And they learn to pitch in and clean up after a task.

Next year, snacks are provided on a rotating basis by the parents in her class. And I’ve already heard that it not uncommon for parents to bring such utter, nutritionless, unhealthy crap as donut holes. And chips. And fruit punch (not even juice. Fruit. Friggen. Punch.) We don’t do donuts here. As a rule, we don’t eat chips. And I really am less than thrilled to have her snack – three afternoons a week – at the mercy of a bunch of parents who have no problem loading their kids up with junk food on a regular basis. So? Yuck. I’m less than thrilled about that and the year is still weeks away from starting.

Another detail: Peanut’s current school bans all displays of TV and movie “characters” on clothing, lunch bags, shoes, etc. This may seem like a minor detail, and in the grand scheme of the world’s issues I concede that it is, but I like the idea that she attends school free from the influence of the media. Peanut’s current teacher stresses TV-free homes (a formidable goal that is certainly not realistic for most parents). The thinking goes that being free of media influences helps a child to grow in other creative ways and allows them to find wonderment all around them and not simply on the lighted box in the corner blasting Nickelodeon.

I know, I know. I sound naïve and idealistic. But what is wrong with wanting your child to be artistic and creative? To stretch her thinking? She has her whole life to fall under the influence of ads and media and trends. Does it really need to start before she’s even three? No, it does not.

So when I picked her up Tuesday, I felt profoundly sad. I carefully photographed her first classroom with the giant vacant hornet’s nest hanging near the story circle, and the funky, colorful sheer cloths draped in the corners, and the nature table, and that amazing, life-sized wooden dollhouse. Because someday she will ask me about her first school, and this is the one I want to highlight.

I know she will do fine at her school next year – she’ll make new friends, be well taken care of and learn all kinds of remarkable new things. She’ll adapt to the new routines and policies very quickly. By the time the leaves fall from the trees, her current school will be a distant memory to her. Me on the other hand? I might have a little more trouble adjusting. Because I’ve seen the perfect preschool. And I won’t forget the lessons learned.

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