Saturday, June 8, 2013

Bright Beginnings Preschool

James and Julia attended preschool for the first time at the beginning of September. Unfortunately it was at Bright Beginnings. But I’ll get to the why of that last sentence later.

About to leave for Julia and James's first day of preschool at Bright Beginnings

Back in January I had taken the kids to one session of the free preschool offered by the county. (It became why it was free when we discovered that the shape sorter had no pieces inside that actually fit!) James was noticeably anxious - especially the first thirty minutes - but then settled in and played. However, he still he refused to take off his bulky jacket, perhaps in case he needed to make a hasty exit. This visit turned out much better than my initial try a few months before with my mom where James refused to enter the classroom at all.

James sits next to Julia at the free preschool and eats a snack in his winter coat.

As a result, leading up to school starting I read the twins several books about preschool and kept talking it up to them. My methods may have actually gone TOO far, because both kids were super excited the first day. Before we left James eagerly asked Mark, “Daddy can you say `school’?” And holding their hands going into the classroom James started running and said, “My shoes are going very fast.” As Julia arrived she asked, “Can I play school now?”

James and Julia insist on holding each other's hands while I hold their hands while walking to preschool.

With its largely unshaded concrete play area and uninspired selection of toys that looked like they’d seen better days, Bright Beginnings wasn’t exactly my first choice. I loved Mountain View Parent Observation Preschool which started in mid-September but it only met once a week. I really wanted James and Julia to attend school twice a week, but I also didn’t think they were ready for drop-off. Bright Beginnings was the only parent participation program that also only met once a week so it could then bring their days per week at school to two. The other plus was that I could stay with my kids instead of being assigned each day to, say, the sand box or the art table where I wouldn’t necessarily be interacting with my own kids. 

It's bright in The Yard, where the toddler prisoners play. Note the lack of shade and concrete as far as the eye can see.

The twins are in the ony 9 square feet of shade outside. I think that's the station wagon I grew up with. Probably runs about as well now.

The class make-up was about 75% Indian, 20% East Asian, and 5% Caucasian (only one other kid besides my two). Socializing with other moms was hard. Everyone was nice but almost all had only come to this country very recently, so there was a language barrier. On the first day the teacher said, "There's a Jack and a James. I’m going to be mixing those up all year." And I thought, "Yeah, that's the tricky thing about names in this class. You have noticed there's a Shivanjali and a Keerthana here, right?"

Every day began with an hour of free play during which the twins often participated in an art project. Julia usually then camped out at the puzzle table, where she’d work on puzzles made of 5 or fewer pieces. Granted, my kids were the oldest in the class, but she was working on the exact same puzzles I’d gotten rid of at home because they were too easy.

Next was circle time, and the bane of my existence called “Marching with Flags.” Every day. Marching with flags. If you had to hear the John Denver-like chipper voice singing Teaching Peace while marching with flags you’d go nuts too. There are plenty of good kid songs. This is not one of them.

Circle time

Snack time followed and James and Julia got to drink from new-to-them lidless cups. The first time James took his cup and threw water over his shoulder, while Julia poured water on her shirt like she was at a preschool wet t-shirt contest. (“Julia, did you mean to do that?” “Yes.” “Do you like being wet?” “No.”)

Eating a snack the first day. Julia no doubt is getting ready to do something she shouldn’t with that cup of water.

Half the moms would then go to the mommy meeting for 20 minutes, and then come back while the other half left. I went to the meeting at the second class and was really happy that the twins’ first experience with separation with non-family members went so well. (Incidentally, the mommy meeting was like “Parenting for Dummies,” and it felt like I was attending a remedial parenting class with topics like “Playing is good for kids.” This was in contrast to Mtn View Parent Observation’s mom meetings that were informative and a fun gab session.)

Julia likes school so much the first few weeks she wants to know how to spell the names of her teacher and aide.

But then The Incident happened. Separation had been going well for a month, and then one day Julia had a moment during class where she couldn’t see me behind a partition and she got really upset. I calmed her but I could tell she was clingier than usual just before I left for the mommy meeting. Still, I knew that the aide would get me if she was really unhappy, so I went ahead and left.

Julia and James make tissue paper and glitter pumpkins at Bright Beginnings Preschool just before The Incident.

Twenty minutes passed, the meeting ended, and I thought everything must have been fine, and I walked back to the classroom.

Inside Julia was crying. One of the moms was holding her, and she told me that she and some of the other moms had been comforting her the last twenty minutes. TWENTY minutes. They are supposed to get you if your child is crying for FIVE.

After school I spoke to the teacher and aide. The teacher had been at the meeting with me, but the aide stayed behind with the kids. The aide told me she had no idea that my daughter was crying. Both seemed skeptical that about her crying since it had gone unnoticed by the aide, and they raised questions about how long or hard she’d been crying. (I would have preferred more of a sincere apology and empathy.)

I believe the aide and of course don’t think she was doing anything malicious. However, I think things could definitely have been handled differently. The moms told me that several kids that day were crying in the outside yard (where they can see the moms leave), per usual. (At Bright Beginnings they started separation the second day of class. Compare that to the Mountain View Preschool where they waited at least a month and still gauged whether the kids were ready, there was maybe one crier each week tops.)  I think that once the aide calmed down the criers, she thought her work was done. I suspect she went inside once and didn’t notice anything amiss with my daughter because she’s a sobber, not a screamer, and with the moms holding her, the aide didn’t see her. But clearly she should have ASKED if everyone was okay.

After this incident, I had a totally different child. At parks, at playdates, and even at home with their beloved grandparents visiting, my previously independent daughter didn’t like leaving my side for a second. At their other preschool I couldn’t go the mommy meeting for *months*, and she was glued to my side the ENTIRE class. I couldn’t get her to play; she just wanted to stand next to me, and cried if I even started to walk somewhere else. It might not sound like much, but this was a very VERY difficult time for her and me. (There is actually a gap in my picture taking then because I literally could not stand away from her in public for a moment just to snap a picture of her.)

Bright Beginnings Preschool Halloween line-up. Julia wouldn't let me get away so I hoped the parents could crop me out.

I ended up attending a few more times before pulling my kids out of the school. Julia, who previously loved going to school, would say “I don’t like this school” and was on the verge of tears every school morning. School had become traumatic. And I felt like I couldn’t trust the staff even if I returned to the mommy meetings. 

My two little pumpkins listening to a story from Teacher Janet during their Pumpkins in the Park field trip.

And then suddenly Julia notices that I’ve moved away for a few seconds to take a picture.

I felt bad for James though because he really liked Teacher Janet and missed going to Bright Beginnings, especially since he hadn’t really warmed up to the teacher or the noisy vacuum at the other preschool.
James is spellbound by Teacher Janet’s story.

Also, after I left someone who stayed on in the class reported to me that her daughter broke her arm there. It happened while the mom was away at the meeting, and her daughter was crying when she came back AND when she got home AND when she took her nap. The mom assumed she was tired. It wasn’t until after naptime that she discovered her daughter’s arm was broken. Now kids are going to get injured playing, but a little head’s up next time someone breaks their arm under your supervision, school? In addition, after I left a kid escaped the fenced outside play area and was only discovered when they ventured all the way to the parent meeting room.

My not-so-flattering Yelp review of Bright Beginnings is here.

And some more pictures from their time at Bright Beginnings (scroll through to the tune of Through the Years).

James cores an apple and holds the peel on Apple Day.

Julia, our Chinese Crested. For a week she actually insisted on pigtails every day.


At Pumpkins in the Park

With my puppy dogs on Halloween

R.I.P. Bright Beginnings. Sept. 4, 2012 - Oct. 31, 2012

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