Conference with Brooks’ Teachers and Mia’s Nursery Pre-Start

Big week for little Miss Priss!

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Mia had “pre-starts” for Nursery school this week! Tuesday I went with her and we both stayed for an hour. Wednesday and Thursday she stayed by herself from 9-11 and Friday she stayed by herself from 10-2. This was DRASTICALLY different from starting day care in the US where you drop them the first day and then off you go! Based on my previous experience with day cares I initially found this to be a bit silly; however, now on the back side of the pre-start week, I think that it was really beneficial and allowed Mia to ease into her new schedule instead of a jarring change.

At past day cares that Brooks and Mia attended, when I walked in – morning or evening – the care takers were typically changing a diaper. I think the student teacher ratio for Mia’s age group was somewhere around 10:1. Don’t quote me on that. It could have been higher or lower. For the past week and when I completed my tour of the nursery, the ratio has been more like 2-3:1. I see the teachers sitting around the room engaging in conversation with the kids about what they’re doing and extending their vocabulary about what is going on. With all these adults in the room, the kids are constantly engaged with whatever they’re doing.

Mia has a “key teacher” in all of this that will be responsible for giving us weekly and monthly observations. I asked her what they based their benchmarks on – like whose philosophy they followed. Any time I ask things like that here I’m met with such a look of confusion. She said they were just notes about what Mia was doing, what she seemed to be interested in and how she progressed with that, how she “got on” with the others and with the lessons in class. What they described in my initial tour seemed close to the Reggio Emila approach. When I asked about the similarities between the two I was met with a pause and a comment about how things were probably much different than the states. I didn’t go into how it was a philosophy of early childhood education that came from the Reggio Emila area of Italy. The teacher in me had A LOT more questions but the parent in me decided to hold back and watch how things played out.

In the physical environment I’ve seen an area for instruments, babies – with high chairs and beds, a soft play/climbing area, puzzles, blocks, a play kitchen, dress up, indoor slide, water table, sand table, clay with tools for rolling and cutting, etc. The list really does go on. They are also striving for a healthy mix between natural objects and plastic – feeling that both are essential and better together than alone. When I dropped Mia off on Wednesday, a table of kids were measuring, pouring and stirring ingredients to make cookies. Of course Mia was the only one of the kids that kept trying to eat the batter. She got to take home one of the cookies she made at the end of the day. Although she wanted nothing to do with it at that point.

Everything that belongs to a specific child isn’t only labeled with their name but also a symbol to help promote independence. Mia already knew where her peg and drawer of things were by the end of the week! I think that she’s really been craving a set schedule which she really hasn’t been getting with me minus nap time. Instead of fighting her to go into nursery, I think I’m going to have to fight her to get in the car on the days we drop Brooks off and she doesn’t go!

I certainly feel the care and thought put in for the health/education of the whole child here versus the US. It’s actually helped me understand the International Baccalaureate programme in different ways – more clearly perhaps. Right now it is predominately a feeling I have but I’m hoping that writing my thoughts will help me put it into words.

When I picked Mia up after her long day on Friday one of her teachers pulled out an information sheet that detailed exactly what she’d eaten during the day and how much. What followed was a conversation about whether or not that was typical of her and how she did with eating on her own. In the states I would have gotten a sheet detailing information about food and diaper changes but there wouldn’t have been a conversation about it – just the info passed to me as I was exiting. They were busy changing diapers after all.

In a meeting with Brooks’ teachers, one of our major talking points was how Brooks ate when he got home and how he was sleeping at night. They were concerned that he ate the same amount at home as he did at school – which isn’t much. They could also name the things he did eat and which he liked best. I assured them that he’s a bottomless, yet picky pit, when he is at home. We then got on the topic of sleep and they learned that Brooks has only had his regular bed and been surrounded by his usual toys and furniture for about a fortnight (see what I did there?).

When details like these were shared, all three people at the table (both teachers – one who doubles as the Deputy of the Lower School, and the reading specialist) quickly scribbled in their notebooks. Not computers. Notebooks. The fact that I could see what they were writing – it wasn’t behind a computer screen – added or showed that they wanted to be in a partnership with me about Brooks’ education. Having been on the other side of the table many times, I was surprised by the effect it had on me as a parent. For whatever reason, the practice of writing it down made it feel like we shared the information rather than the person with the computer holding the information. Perhaps that just how I felt that day…

Additionally, they started the meeting with the requisite “good thing” about your child. But these weren’t your typical good things. The things they shared communicated that they had in depth knowledge about the little person he was on the inside and wanted to honor the good that little person brought to the classroom. They shared several accommodations they’ve given Brooks over the month but one of them was a new chair. They noted that he likes to stand to do his work and therefore got him a different chair that is easier for him to get out of and makes less noise as to not disturb others.

In other news, they find that Brooks is WAY behind on phonics for his grade level. They didn’t quite know what to say when I described the Words Their Way system that he’d been a part of in the past. Their approach to phonics is probably more closely aligned with Montessori in that they don’t learn the letter names first, they learn the sound so Words Their Way was a bit of a surprise. I’m considering sending Brooks to school with one of my WTW books just so I can see their eyes bug out. Ha! (Disclaimer: I find nothing wrong with either approach. It’s just a difference in school/education culture.)

Speaking of that difference, I’m DYING to know more about the education system here and how teachers are trained. I’d love to go back to college but the programs here are sooooooo long and there’s no promise that Texas will recognize the course work when we return. Damn Texas. I can’t even take an online Principal certification course here because they mandate that the practicum be done in a Texas school. Texas never makes anything easy!