Thursday, August 27, 2009


Katie starts school in less than two weeks.

Two weeks from now she'll be nearly a pro at drop-off and pick-up and will have logged hours and hours of time doing her own thing with kids I don't know, greeting her teachers, speaking French, tending the class garden and aquarium, and generally being a school kid.

I'm not the only one nervous about it.

For weeks we've been battling a "yucky tummy" that consistently turns out to be a question about school. Where will the bathroom be? What are my teachers' names? How many other kids will there be? How many more days?

Her school does a great phase-in program which, when she asked for a timeline, we have mapped out on a calendar in her room. Last weekend was the very first step: a bring-your-own-picnic at a local park playground with both teachers and many class families. Katie got to see her teachers from a distance, eye them nervously from the top of a slide or over the top of a climbing bar, and then go back to playing with some new friends. Rob and I got to meet and talk with some other parents and Jorge just climbed.

This week was the home visit. Her teachers visit each child's home to drop off a welcome folder and cubby-box and meet the child on their own turf. We were scheduled for 12:30 so I came home at noon and found Katie sitting wild-haired and wild-eyed at the kitchen table. She was picking at her PB&J and pushing raisins around on her plate. My normally pristine eater who fusses if there's a grain of salt on her fingers had jelly on her cheeks and chin. The smile was weak and wobbly. When I asked if she needed more water she swallowed tears and did her brave-girl pep-talk.

"OK. Ok. Ok" lots of rapid nodding and weak smiles. "It's ok. Ok."

She pushed the plate away and said she wasn't hungry. Any effort to talk to her set off more efforts to not cry and she was a deer in the headlights afraid to move. For the first time in years I carried her over to the sink to wipe off her face. Just then the teachers pulled into the driveway and I scooped her off of the counter to answer the front door. She clung to me like a wet cat until I got near the door when she began a quiet panicked "no no no no no" murmur. I told her she didn't have to meet them; that if she wanted she could go in the kitchen and just listen and she scurried off of me and ran--ran--into the kitchen crying "no no no no no no no" in terror.

My girl.

The teachers--both lovely and kind, of course--came in and sat in the living room with me while Rob simultaneously super-dad-ed the Katie situation, the dog, and retrieved the freshly awoken Jorge from upstairs. After a few minutes Katie darted into the room and sat in my lap, willing herself to be invisible and palm sized.

The teachers smiled but kept talking with me until Katie chimed in of her own accord. Ice broken, they chatted with her a moment and Miss M asked if Katie would be willing to show her some of her favorite books or toys while Miss A and I chatted more. As they climbed upstairs to Katie's bedroom Katie's constant stream of chatter was only interrupted by her own exclamations and laughter.

My girl.

The visit was brief but effective. As they left I asked Katie what she thought. She beamed her first real smile in a week and set her chatter-level to stun to fill us in on the details.

And, yes, it's preschool but, yes, it's also school. She's going to a Montessori school and if this year goes well we plan to keep her in this same school for awhile. Her classroom has 3,4,5,and 6 year olds in it. Kids are not assigned to a grade but basically work at their level and as they accomplish certain skills they learn the next skills. If a child is strong in a subject they can be doing Kindergarten or first grade work at age 3 or 4 and if they struggle, they can spend more time mastering a concept rather than having to move on because the rest of the class is starting the next chapter. The teachers don't stand up and teach the whole class but instead have basically a journal of what each child is currently working on and what will be next and for the 3-4 kids that need a particular lesson they pull them aside and give it--even if that's a 6 year old, a 5 year old and two four year olds--and then the kids go about learning those things by playing games and using the classroom materials like letter boards, paints, blocks, puzzles, books, etc. She'll be in the same room with the same teachers for at least 2 years, maybe 3. So while it's not quite Kindergarten, it's also no different than next year's "kindergarten" will be (except we're only doing 1/2 days and the 5's program is full-day so there's that).


  1. I hope RJ's transition, whenever that time comes, will be as good as this. What a great phase-in.

    Good luck, Katie!

  2. oh I hope she LOVES montessori! Wilkes is in one now - 3 full days a week. it has been such a wonderful fit for him!! he spent the first few months last year doing all the 'practical life' lessons. i knew he was settled when he moved past bread cutting and shoe polishing! when he is unsure of something new he returns to the safe window washing! Cant wait to hear the updates!