He was booked in to do a few mornings a week, at a fairly small preschool at a church hall near by. As you all must know by now Theo isn't the gentlest of children and tends to get over whelmed by new places, lots of children and toys. But we went anyway as I thought it was time to try and get him to experience being around other children, and learn how to behave especially when I wasn't there. We turned up, to the large open room which has different activity stations set up around the room, and a mat with lots of toys in the middle. I think he was fairly excited to be a in a new place, but I was obviously quite anxious and wasn't really made to feel at ease by the staff. It was all a bit hectic and unorganised, with no clear system for new parents and children and it sort of felt like a free for all. I was told I could do what I liked really, stay with him, go in another room, leave him altogether, stay for an hour or stay the whole session. What I need when I'm feeling anxious is for someone else to be in control really, to say this is how we do it, you stay for an hour, then next session you leave him etc.. Within half an hour of being there he'd had a few scuffles with children, and I tried to watch what the staff did in that situation but didn't get the feeling that they were in control very much. Maybe because it was one of the first days of the new term but they seemed to be all over the place. But surely they should have a system for new children and parents. No one introduced themselves, and Theo wasn't assigned a key person. I just didn't feel like I would be comfortable leaving him in a situation like that knowing that he might not be looked after to the full extent. He ended up saying after about an hour of being there (which was just free play) that he wanted to go home. None of the staff were particularly helpful in engaging with him and in the end I thought it was best to just leave and try again another day.
Over the weekend that followed the more I thought about the place the more unsure I was, and at the end of the day when your child is starting preschool for the first time you need to feel 100% sure that it is the right place for you and them. There is nothing wrong really with the preschool itself, but it just wasn't for us. I felt like Theo needed something extra, more guidance.
So after having a think and a research into other preschools nearby, and chatting to a few other mums I thought I would have a look into Montessori preschools. There are a few I went to visit them to see what they were like. As soon as I stepped into the places I felt an instant calm being there, and Theo was clearly affected by the environment too as he was much calmer.
I didn't know too much about the Montessori approach before I read up on it and witnessed it, just that they have a slightly different outlook to traditional preschools. At Montessori the focus is on child led play, meaning that a child is free to chose and play with whatever activity they want, and for how ever long they want. Each child has to first choose a mat for the floor then select his work tray or activity and use it on their own mat, and when they have finished then they must put it back where they found it. Children can work alone or with other children, but you must ask if you wish to join another child, who then in turn has the right to say that they want to work alone. For me I feel this is a great approach for Theo as he often gets frustrated that if he finishes playing with a toy and puts it down, he then doesn't understand that he can't just go back ten minutes later and start playing with it again if someone else is currently doing so. I like that it teaches independence and respect for peoples space and work, and it encourage politeness and understanding.
Children at Montessori are encouraged to be as independent as possible, as soon as they step through the door they are expected to take off their shoes and store them, put on their indoor shoes and then find an activity to do. Learning through play is really encouraged so activities are focussed around everyday skills and learning how to do things independently. For example there is a snack and drinks station where the children can help themselves when they need to, and then when finished they wash up their plates and cup themselves. For Theo this sense of responsibility and independence is perfect for him. He loves to be given tasks and always wants to do as much himself as possible and I just feel this way of learning is perfect for him. He also loves role playing so being able to act out jobs and roles is a great was for him to play with other children. There are different rooms in the Montessori preschool (meaning each room isn't overwhelming) for a range of activities, an art and creative room, a learning room and practical skills room. There's puzzles, various logic games as well as other toys like a train sets, dolls and so much more!
I feel like I'm gushing over it, but I really do think it's great. So far we've done two settling in sessions (where there is a specific plan set out for all new children!) and they've gone so well. I left him today for an hour and he was fine (and didn't want to go home!) the staff are all so engaging and I feel so proud watching him take his little tray, play with the activity and then put it back again all on his own. He's much calmer and is so interested in all of the activities and so far there hasn't been any outbursts with other children. It makes me feel so happy to have found a place where I am really going to see him flourish and be supported in the right environment.
Maybe waiting a few months has also helped but I just feel that this is the right place and environment for him and the best start for him before school. Phew!