Today I wrote a check to GUG, Elanor’s pre-k school for a spot in the 2012 Nursery 2 class. She will attend school five days a week for 3 1/2 hours each day (2-5:30pm, which in our household is far more realistic than 9-12:30). She will wear a uniform (a shirt with the school’s name emblazoned on it). Unlike this year, where I often try to convince myself that N1 is practice school, next year I will not be able to deny that my daughter is a real pre-schooler. I’ve come a long way from insisting that I would just home-school her, which is where I was a year ago.
About a month ago, her teacher asked if Ellie would be staying in school past this fall, when she could theoretically start attending pre-k at an international school. They seemed surprised that I had no real interest in moving her. But, having found a school that fits my educational philosophy, where Ellie is happy, and that costs 1/3-1/4th the price of those international schools…I have no motivating factor to change our situation.
I like the emphasis on phonics and phonemic awareness. Ellie knew the 26 letters from watching far too much Sesame Street, but since she started GUG she has learned the most common phoneme (sound that the letter makes) and has started trying to read. Every time we encounter a lot of letters, she will start reading them “s-m-s-a-c-a-b-7-1-2-2-2” she reads from the sticker in the taxi. “C-o-l-d-s-t-o-r-a-g-e” she says at the grocery store. Sometimes she’ll ask me what they say, and sometimes she’ll tell me what they say (hint, not what it actually says) but she’s obviously so excited by this new ability. According to the curriculum guides, by this time next year, she’ll be on target to be sounding out c-v-c words on her own (consonant vowel consonant words like c-a-t and p-o-t). In her case, I think it may happen sooner because she’s SO eager to read…she has memorized large chunks of several favorite books (Green Eggs and Ham is a current fave) and will try to “read” the book back to us at night…and does fairly well with reciting the memorized text. I certainly would like to think that Ravi’s and my enthusiasm for reading and books has contributed to this, but I also credit GUG with giving her the tools to move her skills forward.
I like the pre-writing she does. They’re working on tracing horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines…which next year will eventually turn into tracing letters.
I like the math emphasis. Each week has a number emphasis as well as a letter that is emphasized. In N1, the focus is on 1-10, but in N2, they’ll learn up to 20 (and we’re working on that sort of thing at home as well…she fairly consistently knows up to 12 and then has issues between 12 and 20 but tries).
I like the musical component of school. I like that Ellie is super happy whenever I pick her up from school. I like that her teachers are genuinely affectionate and caring with her–they’re always happy to see her and she’s always happy to see them. I like that she’s making friends. I can see her staying with this school through the end of Kindergarten2 (and then I have no concrete plan, but that seems a long way in the future…and who knows where our family will be at that point?).
It has not escaped me that what I love about the school would be impossible to find at her age in the US. Pre-school usually doesn’t start until 3 1/2 or 4 (depending on your district) and when it is available to younger children, it is not academically focused. In the US, I might be referred to as a “tiger mom” (with my desire to get her started on academics so early), but here I’m normal (or the relaxed one in some circles–after all, E isn’t getting private tutoring in Mandarin).
It is ironic that in a country where I feel out of place in so many ways, I fit in in one of the ways I feel most out of place in my home country. In the US it is most common to say that a child needs to be 5 on the first day of Kindergarten. K starts in early September in our part of the country. Ravi and I were both 4 year olds who turned 5 in Kindergarten. The idea that our November 3rd baby would have to “wait” an additional year because of her birth date has been a subject of contention for us since we learned my due date with her (yes, in utero). In part this is because not only did we both start school early, but we were both given the chance to skip a grade as well. This is a HUGE difference in educational philosophy from many Americans who believe in what is termed “red shirting”–a practice where, if your child has a birthday in July/August and will be the youngest kid in the class, you hold them back an extra year so that they’ll be among the oldest and theoretically do better. I have had endless arguments about this (as an educator, I will absolutely agree that there ARE kids who benefit from this practice, but their number is far lower than the number of kids whose parents choose to do so, and generally see it as unnecessary and pointless–after all, SOMEONE has to be the youngest, and as someone who WAS the youngest, it wasn’t that big a deal).
This doesn’t mean that we will send Elanor’s younger sister (no we don’t have a name yet) to GUG. Where I am not so much a tiger mom is that I am hyper-aware and try to be respectful of my children’s learning abilities as individuals. I don’t assume that what worked for E will work for her sister (although you can bet a million dollars I will certainly try to get her onto the established family schedule–no early birds allowed, and that we have high hopes regarding turning her into as seasoned and relaxed a traveler as Elanor is). Nor do I think GUG has cracked the pre-k code and that everyone should send their kids there–I think that it’s a good fit for ELANOR, and that’s what matters to us at the moment.
But first I need to get used to the idea that my daughter is actually going to be a full time nursery 2 student in January.