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The struggle in choosing the "right" elementary school

The struggle in choosing the "right" elementary school

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 12 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 12 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 kinder­garten1. 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 STEMSTEAM
  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?

Ref­er­ences

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Claudia Aguilar

Family time lover! Wife. Mom. Software Engineer. Cat Fanatic.