Monday, June 19, 2006

Learning through play

Yesterday, for Father’s Day, we went to the Please Touch Museum. I had read that they had a farm exhibit specifically for children under three. They also have a storytime in the afternoons once a week, so I was considering getting a membership and going often if Sam enjoyed our trip. The Please Touch Museum is fairly small, very seventies in style. I think this is because they have plans to open at a new location in 2008, so there is very little going on there as far as renovating or making any major improvements. Everything is just a little old and a little grey and a little smelly. Sam was fascinated.

This place is so very well designed. I would have loved it as a kid and I could see that the kids around me loved it too. They have a water table exhibit where the kids put on smocks and play with boats and water machines. They have a house where the kids use “tools” to hammer boards onto the walls, a Sendak “Where the Wild Things Are” exhibit where a kid can pick up a Max costume at the beginning, and an Alice In Wonderland exhibit complete with the Mad Hatter’s tea party as well as the flamingo croquet. Strange gadgets, toys, and puzzles are everywhere. There are little doll houses the kids can play inside with vacuums and a construction center with bricks, construction plans and wheel barrows. And the Farm exhibit for very young kids was adorable. Sam had a blast placing all of the play radishes and corn into the wheel barrow and then emptying it, riding the tractor, and staring at the strange rubber pig. He also enjoyed the puzzle table in the storytime room, which made me realize that was an entire genre of toys that we have completely missed – he now has 4 puzzles. He crawled through the whole museum at a feverish pace, checking out everything, waving to everybody, and finding anything with wheels, stealing said wheeled object from whatever child had it, and proceeding to push it through the museum just like at home. He loved it. I got us the membership. Easily a place to spend an afternoon to get the kid all tuckered out.

As I sat there watching Sam play with his big knobby circle puzzle and watching kids working so hard at their tasks, I commented to Hubby that the whole thing had a very Montessori type of feel. We’ve been considering a Montessori school for Sam when he is ready for it, but I figure we have a lot of time to consider what we want. 3 years old, right? So during his nap I decided to look into schools here in Philly just to start to see what was available…and then I freaked out. Most Montessori schools begin their toddler programs at 18 months old and take in applications one year before the kid would be starting school. That means that if Sam was going to be 18 months old by September (which he will not be) I would have had to apply to schools for him last September when he was SIX MONTHS OLD. Have I missed something here? Was I supposed to be thinking about schools already? How can I possibly make a decision about what type of education would be good for my child when he is 6 months old? All of a sudden I feel like I am behind on this only because Hubby and I don’t know what we want for him yet. So it is horrifying to find out that should we decide on one thing or another, it may turn out we made that decision too late.

To make matters worse, I looked at an application for one of these schools and it totally left me with a rancid taste in my mouth. Among the typical “why do you think your child would excel here” types, they ask when he started talking. Why does that matter? Are you telling me you are going to consider this when looking at his application for admission? Is he in a race? It also mentions that the child will be brought in for an evaluation in which he is observed in the classroom to see if he is able to do tasks “appropriate for his age.” So essentially, Sam would be tested, his skills evaluated, his behavior scrutinized and compared in order to determine if he should be accepted. We are talking about a child under the age of two here, and I feel like I did when applying to college.

Let me say that I think this problem has nothing to do with these schools being Montessori, but being private schools, schools that require applications because they are so sought after. Problem is, if Philadelphia is anything like Chicago (is this just an urban problem or is this the case in other areas as well?), there will be an application process for nearly all decent schools, public or private. Aye, there’s the rub. We are having to put our little guys (and our parenting) in competition to ensure that our children can go to a school where they can learn. Parents are afraid that if their child can’t recite the latin names of his favorite bugs then he won’t be accepted into a good PRE-SCHOOL and his life will be ruined. No wonder acceleration is the trend.

I just want Sam to be able to be a child. I’m not into this whole sign him up for classes that will enhance his motor skills via a rigid program/drill him with flash cards/turn play into work movement. I’m just not. He’s a baby. He will learn to do these things by living (that’s why I was considering Montessori). But now it seems that by choosing this path for us I am putting him behind what the rest are doing, and that may hinder him, not because it’s right, but because there’s competition among toddlers and parents are afraid for their children's education. I'm not sure what the answer is. At the school where I used to work in Chicago they did their admissions based on a lottery system. I don't think I understood why or appreciated that until now. This babbling has at least taught me something about what I will be looking for in a school when that time comes (whenever that is – I’m totally confused now).

I trust that Sam will figure things out his own way; I don’t need to drill him, force him, or accelerate him. A few weeks ago we were playing with this toy that I made for him. It’s an oatmeal canister with a slit cut in the top just big enough for a poker chip. This is one of the only times I have actually tried to “work” with him on a task. I would hand him the chips and show him how to place them in the slot so they would fall in. I always tried to make him interested in getting the chips through the slot while he was always much more interested playing with the lid and trying to figure out how to get it on and off. On this particular day he was having trouble getting the chips at the right angle to go in the hole, or he wouldn’t let go at the right time. I kept trying to show him and he was getting frustrated. Finally he pulled the lid off of the can, threw in the chip, and slammed the lid back on top. He’ll work it out. And I was so much more proud of that decision than I was a few days later when he actually started putting the chips in the “right” way.


Blogger Cmommy said...

A note from your neighbor Human Development Specialist (my job description on all forms as a SAHM!) and an Early Childhood Educator (yes, my degree, for real): Hurray for Sam and the lid!!! I LOVE when children see another side of things, not just the obvious.

You've brought up an issue that has plagued me for 13 years. Now that my youngest is 5, I can honestly say that you WILL discover which learning environment is best for EACH of your children; and it may not be the same for all, or the same for one child throughout his education. Don't be afraid to try something for awhile...if it isn't working--& the reasons could vary from staff, curriculum, the students or the commute!--then, try something different. I could ramble about this for hours!

But, I must tell you that I spent nights in worry and second-guessed myself a gazillion times. Now, I wonder if I've waited too long to start J in team sports, if LilGirl should have taken ballet last year in addition to jazz, if I should pursue the gifted testing for another, if BigBro has kissed a's always something, right? :-)C

11:13 PM  
Blogger Cmommy said...

PS: If you want a good laugh about the 'preschool dilemma', watch "Daddy Daycare" (Eddie Murphy/very funny)!

11:15 PM  
Blogger ABC Momma said...

I visited a kind-of-Montessori daycare/learning center today. It's actually the first daycare I've ever been to--my friend is a co-owner. I was really impressed by what they had to offer. I almost felt bad, like my kids were getting a raw deal being at home with me. When I saw the cost of the program, though, that feeling passed. I'll just continue taking them to the parks, teaching them how to do their jobs, letting them play with their neighbor friends, feeding them pb&j sandwiches, reading books to them, giving them my love, etc.

Let kids be kids while they can.

1:06 AM  
Anonymous jaybee4000 said...

Loved the way Sam solved the chips in the can issue. Shows much more problem solving skill than repeating what someone else did. My son is a thinker like that too. Half of 8 is 3!

9:41 AM  
Anonymous katie said...

I love kid museums, they are such awesome places to explore. I am a bit relaxed about the preschool thing, I am going to try to find a place that is a co-op so I can participate, but other than that I just want Jack to feel comforable and have a place to socialize. Sam seems to be doing awesome and it looks like you are doing all the right things (I love that canister idea!) By the way I am back to posting here and there, I can't stay away!

11:08 AM  
Blogger Nikkie said...

What a smart little guy to find an alternate route to get the chips in the can! I never really thought to start thinking of his education now though!

12:53 PM  
Blogger Rachelle said...

I so agree with this! I have learned that when I push Cam, he has a harder time doing something. But if I let him do it in his own time, he does great. He develops at his own pace and I am not going to stress about it. Let a kid be a kid and develop at their own pace. Life becomes a competition and race later one. I don't want it to be one now.

9:29 PM  
Blogger kate said...

i think it's horrible the kinds of questions that get asked on pre-school apps. and that they can make parents feel inadequate or nervous about how their child is developing.

we are thinking of putting bb in a waldorf school. hubby's half-brother and sister went and now his mom's a kindergarten teacher. it's not a given, we'll do more research into local schools, but bb and i attened a parent/toddler program at one every friday a.m. for 6 weeks and we loved it. i don't think the waldorf approach is. . . perfect for us, but i love that they really focus on the children getting to be children. nurturing the imagination and creativity is prized higher then when they begin to talk and read. play is very important. anyway, if you want to learn more as another option to explore you can go to

10:13 PM  
Blogger Mama D said...

Isn't it crazy how there is so much competition. As if it isn't bad enough having other mothers and family members asking questions about whether or not our children are crawling, standing, walking, talking etc. Now we can't get our kids into a decent school unless they happen to be 'advanced'. Frustrating.

I am lucky to be living in a small city where I don't think (maybe I should look into this?) there is so much competition.

12:12 PM  
Anonymous edj said...

There's so much guilt involved in being a mom, and this sort of thing just adds to it. The head spins. Am I giving my child the best possible alternative to education? What if I'm missing something? etc etc. AUGH!
I do my best parenting when I just relax. After all, previous generations managed to raise some pretty exceptional people (insert real-life hero here; Wonder Woman and Carol Brady DO NOT qualify) without preschool applications and flashcards. Don't stress. Play with your son, enjoy him, have fun. He'll be exceptional, don't worry.

2:02 PM  
Blogger Kelli in the Mirror said...

Oh, this is all so true! As a home daycare provider, I'm constantly battling losing kids who are barely two years old because their parents want more structure and put them in a center. I may not send home an art project every day, but they're happy, engaged, and learning through tons of play. It's hard when people don't get that it's okay for a kid to just play. I take it personally sometimes.
Sounds like you're doing an awesome job with Sam, and I want to go to that museum! So cool!

2:03 PM  

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