Many thanks to all of you for your comments and emails on the posts about Z's preschool. Writing about this has helped tremendously as we try to settle into the school year. Through reading your comments, I realized that I never fully went through my preferred process when choosing her preschool: my gut. When choosing my college, I had pro and con checklists for each college I got into and then when I stepped onto the campus that would become MY campus, I threw them all away. It just felt right.
I didn't get to have my usual over-researched-and-then-gut-reaction decision making process when looking for Z's preschool. We had to choose it from afar or not send her at all and the thought of being home alone with two kids in a town I knew no one was terrifying to me. So we chose her preschool based on proximity to our house and the teaching method. We had come to love her old school in CA where they use a lot of Montess0ri ideas and equipment. Her teacher there suggested Montess0ri would be a good fit for her. CG visited her new preschool a few times when he came to VA for work and was pleased with what he saw. That was the best we could do.
If I had to do it all over again? I would have worked harder to find moms who could fill me in on the local preschool information. We would maybe have waited until we could tour a bunch of them together, even at the risk of not finding any preschool for her till the spring. We could have hired a nanny to help me with my Keep My Sanity project for the fall and winter rather than send her to a preschool.
But we're here now.
We finally had a meeting last week with Z's teacher and the head of the school. Sitting at the teeny toddler table for a half an hour before school started one day, they both took our concerns seriously and responded with clear ideas for what might make us all feel better. They fully supported us observing the classroom and have been emailing with us since the meeting.
These are all good things.
They both also said they have found Montess0ri to be incompatible with some students' temperaments but they had no concerns about Z. She apparently is chatty and involved and (mostly) following directions. They noticed she seems most interested in working with older children (which reaffirms our feeling that the multi-age classroom would be a good fit for Z as she is fascinated by older children). We also talked a bit about aspects of Montess0ri philosophy that had been concerning to us, such as whether the precision with which she is expected to complete each work might be causing built up frustration. At the end of the meeting, Z and the other children who are in "before care" came in and we got to see what the beginning of the school day looks like, which for some reason was the most helpful of all. (Black hole, NO MORE.)
One of the suggestions they thought of to help with pick up was to switch car seats so that Z wouldn't have to squeeze past E's seat to get to her own when I come to pick them up. It seems small and unimportant but maybe it was just enough to send an overtired, low blood sugar-ed, three year old with a newish baby sister in a new home/town/state around the bend?
When we said goodbye after our meeting, Z dissolved into tears and the teacher quickly came over and encouraged her to pull out a work to show a new, younger girl how to do it. I thought for sure this suggestion would be refused but Z's tears disappeared and she excitedly pulled out a work and started chatting up the new girl about how she used to not know how to do it but now she does. It was comforting to see her respond so confidently and move on so quickly.
We aren't totally convinced that this is the absolute best preschool for her but for now our feelings have stabilized; we're staying put. Just in the last week, we seem to have turned a corner; Z seems to be more and more settled there and less and less of a mess upon pick up.
Perhaps she's in a good place after all. Great? We're still not sure. But it's good enough for now.