Monday, September 14, 2015

Parenthood: Week 118 – The First Day Of School

One year ago, Ollie started daycare, and just this past week, Ollie went to his first day of toddler school.

We didn’t have a horrible experience at daycare, but we wanted something more for our son.  At daycare, Ollie had some good caretakers and made some good friends but it was clear that their priority was keeping him alive with a secondary goal of teaching him something in the process.

Last spring we researched schools and decided on a Montessori school for Ollie. Montessori schools have a constructivist teaching philosophy that approaches play as a child’s work, where teachers carefully structure environments to facilitate kid’s growth and success. I went to Montessori school for preschool and kindergarten and I credit a lot of my adult success to my early childhood experiences with the Montessori approach to education.

The school had a structured “phase in” week to help the kids and parents kids get acclimated. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Ollie was at the school for an hour and half. On Thursday Ollie was there until noon and on Friday he was there the entire day. The first two days the kids are accompanied by their parent. On Thursday the parents are “on-call” and on Friday the kids are on their own.

Diana and I really liked this developmentally approach to the beginning of the school year; the only problem with this is that we were both working. We asked my mom for help and she graciously came into town to help us for the week.

Here was our plan: I would go with my mom on Tuesday, Diana would go with my mom on Wednesday and my mom would handle Thursday and Friday by herself.

Tuesday morning was tough. Ollie was being picky about what he wanted to eat for breakfast and he didn’t seem very interested in getting moving. When we finally got to school, he wanted to walk down the sidewalk and cross the street holding my mom’s hand, which was promising. Once we got into school grounds he wanted to be held.

The teachers had told us that it was important to have Ollie try to walk in the doors himself. He agreed to try to do this if we held his hand and bravely he walked right in and then asked to be held again. I picked him up and walked down the stairs to his classroom. My mom helped him change his shoes as I hung up his stuff in his cubby.

My mom entered the classroom and with a smile, she turned around and reached out to Ollie. He walked up to the doorway, and paused. He looked up to my mom’s smile, found resolves in her presence and walked right into the classroom.

I followed Ollie in and watched as he walked right into the center of the room. Ollie picked it up an activity off a shelf, put it on a table and immediately went to work.

That was when it hit me.

Watching him go to work with such confidence made me so proud of him.  In that moment I realized that my little boy really wasn’t a baby anymore, he was a little man. I felt tears of pride and joy well-up as he switched to another activity, not feeling any need to check-in with me, doing the work and participating in the learning that we brought him there to do.

Wednesday went well with Diana and my mom. Thursday, he had a melt-down and one of the teachers called my mom to help but by the time she came back, Ollie was doing fine engaged with a snack. On Friday, Ollie’s first full day, he took a good nap and every time my mom checked-in on him throughout the day, he was doing great.

I know that things are going to go in waves. Sometimes he will love going to school and sometimes he will appear to hate school. I know that we have meltdowns in the future and there will be tears for  Diana or me when drop him off. But I know that he is going to a good place and I know that Ollie has it in him to enjoy his time at school.

My little guy is growing up and it's difficult and wonderful all at the same time.  But it's happening and you don't have a choice.  So you hang onto memories without dwelling on them and you plan for challenges in the future without driving past the little moments of joy that make kids worth parenting.

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