The struggle in choosing the "right" elementary school

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I have preschoolers and even I feel pressure to push them at this young age. On top of that, teachers have so much pressure to document and justify what they do and why they do it, the relaxed playful environment is compromised. We continue to do the best we can for the kid’s sake, while trying to fit into the ever-growing restraints we must work within. 1

That’s a quote from a pre-school teacher with more than 40 years of experience. And her words describe what I am feeling right now.

My 4 1/2 year old son is currently enrolled at a modified Montessori pre-school. He’s a troublemaker — in a good way.

He loves to explore and question everything.

He imagines all kind of scenarios when playing. He enjoys technology as much as the outdoors.

He’s always building & taking apart anything that he can get his hands on.

Robot made by our sonRobot made by our son without any help or suggestions from us

So he’s a troublemaker not because he likes to do bad things. But because he likes to get to the bottom of everything; even if that means breaking it (or pushing you to the limits of your patience).

He began attending pre-school when he was 2 1/2 years old. I can happily say it was one of the best decisions we ever made for him. He’s learned through games, works (the school’s term for projects), puzzles and playtime with his friends.

Prior to pre-school, he was surrounded by adults. If he wasn’t with us, he was with his grandparents. There weren’t any kids his age in our circle of family & friends.

And he wasn’t developing the greatest of social skills. For example, he was getting very used to getting everything his way. His aunts, older cousins and especially grandparents wouldn’t say NO to him.

However, once he started pre-school, the other kids didn’t bend to his will so easily. They didn’t just hand over the toy he wanted. Initially, he’d scratch or bite because he was so frustrated.

But it didn’t take him too long to learn that wasn’t acceptable behavior. If he’d ask for the toy, most kids would share once they were done.

In retrospect, the decision to enroll him in a pre-school was a breeze compared with choosing an elementary school. There are so many options: Public, Public Gifted, Public STEM/STEAM, Charter, Religious, Montessori, etc.

As I stated, he loves building things. One Saturday, after we’d bought him a new Lego set. He played almost 6hrs straight. And he may have kept going but we had to leave for a dinner invitation.

However, when it comes to sitting still to practice basic reading & math, which are suggested abilities before starting kindergarten2. He will get easily bored and frustrated.

I believe that kindergarten should be more hands-on, involve make believe and include outdoor playtime instead of sit still and repeat with me.

It’s hard to describe what I feel. I want the best for him, there’s no doubt about that. But I also want him to be the best in what he loves, and not in what the others expect from him.

matching game created and designed by our sonMatching card game created by our son.

It’ll make me very sad if he ever lost his love for exploring and building “awesome” things just because he needs to fit into the system.

If children were given ample opportunities to play outdoors every day with peers, there would be no need for specialized exercises or meditation techniques for the youngest of our society. They would simply develop these skills through play.1

Unfortunately, with each passing day this is harder to accomplish. Schools won’t risk a lawsuit or poor ratings as a result of an accident. There are also overprotective parents who won’t let their kids get dirty. Super busy parents who don't have time to explore the world with their kids and so on.

We had him tested for gifted with a psychologist. We didn't coach or prepare him for the test. We didn’t even tell him that he was going to be evaluated since we didn't want him to be anxious.

At first he didn't want to go with the psychologist (he’s shy around new people). That is until she told him that there were blocks and puzzles. He passed the exam with exceptional abilities in reasoning, building and language skills. Yes! I'm bragging. I’m so proud of him.

After the test, the psychologist gave us her ranking of elementary school options:

1) Public Gifted Program
2) Private school
3) Charter school
4) Public STEM / STEAM
5) Public school

Though the private school route can be very expensive.

That helped us with our decision. He will be attending a gifted program next year. The school we chose has a discovery lab that will hopefully give him space to do what he loves most: explore & create.

We’ll see how it goes. I will post an update on his experience.

In the meantime post your comments and share with me:
- What are or were your fears?
- How do you feel about your decision concerning this topic?