Monthly Archives: May 2010

Oh What To Do About School

This is my ongoing debate, what to do about school.  Currently Jack goes to our church for pre-school.  It is a great pre-school, well-respected in the community and actually pretty large.  Our experience with the teachers in his 2-year-old class was a little iffy, but his 3-year-old class this year has been great.  His teachers are EXCELLENT and the kids in his class all seem to get along well.  He has made great friends and likes to go to school.  Next year we are planning to send Jack Monday through Friday mornings and Garrett Monday, Wednesday & Friday mornings.  I think the scheduling should be good and I’m excited for Garrett to get to start making his own friends too.

Ah, but the state of education beyond our pre-school scares me.  I’m not thrilled about public schools for several reasons.  The classes are pretty large.  The ratings in our current elementary school have dropped quite a bit since we moved into our house.  We’ve heard several parents say they are happy with the school but then when they start explaining things to me, some of the things they like are exactly what scares me about it.  The biggest issue I have with public schools is that it seems everyone is just forced to teach to a standardized test.  I feel like a teacher has lost their ability to teach creatively, to adjust to what a class is interested in or needs extra attention in and even just to adjust to the class itself.  And above all, the idea of putting my very active, high-spirited, extremely smart kid who has great problem solving skills in a stuffy classroom to learn a standardized test scares the hell out of me.  I see it as a recipe for disaster.  Either he’ll be huge problems for the teacher or perceived as a huge problem because he challenges everything (not because he is being disobedient but because he thinks differently).  As I look ahead to G starting school, I’m concerned for him too.  He is very smart too, but he is more sneaky and quiet.  I have visions of G doing just enough to get by and sliding under the radar.  I think he’d be the kid in the corner, bored out of his mind, encouraging everyone else to get in trouble.  He is just that kid.  He already knows how to work it so his brother gets in trouble.  This is most evident when he has a babysitter!  So this is my struggle, what is the right education for my kids.  And even more importantly, how do we pay for it?!  For now, I am constantly looking at alternative education options for our kids and figure we will get the money part together later.

Last week I drug Travis to an information night at the local Waldorf School, Potomac Crescent.  I’m very interested in Waldorf Schools and their theory.  I’ve read quite a bit about it and had told Travis what appealed to me and what some of my fears about it were.  The information night was interesting.  There was only one other parent who attended.  She was not familiar with Waldorf, had recently returned to the area and was looking for a private school for her 5-year-old daughter.  Unfortunately, I feel like the meeting was not that helpful.  The woman from the school was the teacher for the toddler parent/child class where the parent actually stays the entire class with the child.  She had a great perspective because her three grown children had attended Waldorf Schools in the area (Maryland) through 8th grade and high school.  Since she had been on both sides of the Waldorf relationship, I think she had a good idea of where it could take you.  However, she could not really answer the questions that we had.  Waldorf is very utopian sounding to me.  It is very nature based, focuses on creativity & using your imagination, and incorporates a lot of artistic expression into all facets of education.  I love the idea of my kids being able to be outside all year around, their creativity being encouraged and so much focus put on artistic expression.  The classrooms are painted neutral colors and contain amazing wooden toys and huge building blocks that are more like tree stumps than square blocks.  There are all kinds of natural materials for art projects and tons of play silks and capes for pretending.  The rooms are just filled with amazingly simple things that you know will provide hours of creativity and play.  I do have reservations about Waldorf though.  Is the school in Arlington a bit Waldorf light?  Will there be too much free expression and not enough structure?  Will Jack be bored if he already knows how to read and they work on letters and other building blocks to reading?  (Reading is taught much differently in Waldorf education.  I’m okay with that but not sure how it would work for my kiddo who is teaching himself to read now.)  These were some of the questions we asked at the information night but didn’t get a lot of answers on.  The woman didn’t really know the structure of the day for Kindergarten, 1st grade etc.  She was very happy to give us a large overview on her interpretation of Waldorf theory but not so great at giving us ideas of how they incorporate it into the day.  Frankly, she made it sound like the teachers just stood around watching the kids play all day and were there to answer a question when asked.  I know that is not how it is, but she didn’t explain it all too well.  The one thing that was very appealing about the school is that the largest class they have is Kindergarten and it is only 16 students with two instructors.  By the early primary grades, their classes drop to about eight students.  Can you imagine how great it would be to be one of eight kids in a class with two teachers?  Pretty amazing!  I think this alone could be enough to make Travis seriously consider something like this for our kids!  I’m hoping to go to an observation day and see a class in action.  I’m also interested in observing at a larger Waldorf School in Bethesda, MD, Washington Waldorf School.  It is much more established and goes clear through high school.  I think it would be interesting to see the differences between the two schools.

When we went to Tauxemont’s country fair recently, we were able to check out their school.  It is a Pre-school and Kindergarten.  The school is very cool and actually quite similar to the atmosphere of a Waldorf School.  They have a great outdoor space with all wooden play equipment and lots of space to build and play.  They have animals like chickens and rabbits that the kids care for.  It is clear that they use a lot of natural materials for art and that creative thinking is encouraged.  We haven’t actually taken a tour of the school yet, but it is definitely on our short list for Kindergarten.  The big downside for Tauxemont is that it is a co-op.  This means that in addition to paying for school, and the tuition is reasonable, we’d have to make a committment of time.  Every family has a specific job and in addition must help in the classroom a certain number of hours.  I like being the class and helping out, but the idea of committing to a specific job for the year is hard.  They aren’t cake jobs, they are time intensive and rather large jobs.  Your time and energy really are part of the reasonably priced tuition.  Next year Jack’s friend Ian will be going there for Pre-school, so I feel like we will get a good introduction to the school and see what we think.

Recently I’ve been looking at homeschooling websites and even thinking about attending a Mom’s group for homeschoolers.  I don’t think I want to home school.  I don’t know if I could handle teaching my kids all the time.  Isn’t part of the up side to your kids starting school is that they aren’t with you all the time?  As Moms, don’t we all dream about the extra time we will have when our kids are in school?!  However, I realize that I am constantly teaching my boys now.  We play word and number games all the time.  I speak to them like they are adults, so I’m constantly explaining things to them.  They ask a lot of questions and I give them the answers.  Sometimes I tell them things they should not really get, just to see if they remember it or bring it out later in funny situations.   The fact is, they get a lot more than one might imagine and they always want to know more.  I recently realized that our days go much better when I plan ahead a little and know that we will have teaching moments throughout the day.  More than just reading books, but really learning something.  They love to learn about animals.  They love numbers.  They love to learn and they are creative.  It occurred to me that in a way I’m already doing what a lot of homeschoolers do with their kids.  So I’ve been exploring home school curriculums and thinking about what I can do now to encourage them.  There are tons of free curriculums out there and great home school boards online.  I like the idea of teaching my kids around what works well for them and being intimately involved in what and how they learn.  I also realize that so much of a school day is fluff and filler that you can get rid of in a home school setting.  And since we live in a metropolitan area, there are plenty of opportunities for social interaction.  Your homeschooled kid here doesn’t have to be without normal social skills.  The big questions–how do you structure your day so that your kids get enough school and the right school for them?  How do you not kill them when you are ALWAYS with them?  How do you balance school for different aged kids, especially if you have babies at home?  Is it really best to keep your kids home, even if you can get them appropriate social interaction?  How do you not push them too hard or too little?  Isn’t it good for your kids to learn how to take direction from other adults?  The questions go on and on. 

I don’t know what we are going to do about schools.  I’m thinking ahead a little because Jack has one more year of Pre-school before we have to have an answer.  I hate the idea of paying for private school.  I hate the idea of public school.  I’m scared to home school.  Maybe I can just find a friend to home school my kids along with their own.  Jessica?  Maggie?  Any takers?  Yeah, didn’t think so.  Well, if I go that route then maybe you girls will keep me on track!

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Spring Adventures

We’ve had a busy Spring this year.  So busy, that I’ve neglected to post about some of our fun activities.  The weather has been pretty beautiful for the most part.  The kind of Spring that doesn’t always come to the DC area.  You know, the ones where you can wear shorts or at least short sleeves comfortably without weeks of rain or 90 degree weather and ridiculous humidity.  The only bummer is the dread you feel knowing that a Spring this nice will surely bring misery when the summer heat does arrive.

We have a core group of friends that got together regularly when our oldest kids were little.  Once our kids started pre-school, it got harder to get together.  Then we started having our second kids (and some of us have 3 kids now or on the way) and it got more and more difficult to get together.  We still make a point of seeing each other often, but not usually as one big group.  Honestly, we have so many kids between us that it is hard to organize us all together and find a place that we can all fit comfortably.  We have managed some fun playdates with our group though.  We have also attempted to expand our horizons and have some playdates with friends from school.  Jack has a great class and really gets along well with kids in his class.  We have gotten together with a couple boys in his class and it has been great!

We’ve had a few playdates at River Farm.  This is always one of our favorite places to go.  At the beginning of Spring we met Jack’s friend JP, from school, there with his Mom.  We packed a picnic lunch and played and snacked all morning long.  The great thing about River Farm is that there is a children’s garden where the kids can run, play, climb and dig in the dirt.  As a parent it is great because you can keep an eye on the kids without having to follow them around or be concerned about what they are doing.  A bonus is that G can play with the big boys or on his own, so it is totally age appropriate for both kids.  G loves to be with the big boys but he also marches to the beat of his own drum, so he happily plays there whether the big kids include him or not.  It was so nice for me to have time to get to know JP’s Mom better too.  We had a great visit and I’m so excited to get to know her better.  JP has an older brother, so it always nice to get the perspective and advice of someone who is going through the toddler years for the second time!  We had another playdate at River Farm last week with our usual Mommy group.  As always the kids had fun and us Mama’s got to catch up and pick each other’s brains on whatever toddler problem we are currently working through.  It was great to see everyone, but especially my friend Maggie who I haven’t actually seen in months.  She hs been busy with the addition of kiddo #4 (she has an elementary aged stepson and 3 little ones age 4 and under…that is one busy Mama!).   The kids were super cute playing together.

Last week we met Jack’s friend Hayes, his Mom & his new baby brother and sister at Grist Mill Park to play and have a picnic lunch.  Grist Mill Park is a favorite of ours too.  There is a good-sized playground with two different play structures.  We go there often, so the kids are comfortable on the play equipment and tend to stay on the playground.  Hayes and Jack had a great time.  They are good friends at school and play well together.  They are both all boy!  We met at 10:30am and I figured we’d probably be there until around Noon.  We had so much fun it was after 1:30pm before we left!   Hayes’ Mom and I had a great visit.  She is busy with 3 month old twins.  I was able to get a little fix on my baby fever by holding each of the twins and Anna and I had a great visit.  I’ve known Anna through church for a while, but this was the first time we’ve been able to just sit down and visit for several hours.  It was great!  We can’t wait to get together again…in fact, we are trying to get Hayes & JP together this week for a playdate.  Now that should be fun!!

We also made a trip to the zoo a few weeks ago with Elizabeth, Charlotte & AJ.  We had a great time…once we finally got there!  UGH!  It was the worst drive to the zoo I’ve ever had.  Traffic was horrible for after 9:30am.  We had traffic the whole way.  Elizabeth had called while we were in route to say that things were backed up and to go a different way that we normally would.  I took her advice and actually got through DC pretty quickly once I was out of Virginia construction.  Our good fortune with E’s advice all went South once we actually got near the zoo.  There was construction in front of the zoo entrance that slowed us down by a good 15 minutes.  We were literally a block a way and couldn’t get there.  Then there was a 2 hour street parking spot right in front of the entrance, but I decided to pass because A)it was going to be a pain to park since traffic was bumper to bumper B)I didn’t know if we would want to be longer than 2 hours and I really didn’t think I need another DC parking ticket and C)We were likely meeting Elizabeth at the other side of the zoo and I figured it would just be more convenient to park in the lots near where we would meet.  I WAS WRONG!  The construction filled, long drive was nothing compared to the disaster of entering zoo parking.  It took me nearly 40 minutes to get to an open parking lot and get parked.  It was disastrous.  There was no one patrolling the lots, so people were getting pushed into full lots.  I got in a huge backup and then to avoid what looked like a bad lot, I kept going down to the lower lot.  Of course once  got down there I realized that it was either full or they couldn’t get people parked quickly because of construction on the road.  I ended up turning around to go back to the lot I had just passed.  I waited forever to actually get in and parked, only to figure out that we were in the only lot at the zoo without handicap access.  This is only a problem if you are either handicapped or a Mom with a stroller.  I had to walk all the way to the next lot to enter the zoo, only to walk all the way back and meet our friends *right* next to the entrance we could have used if we didn’t have a stroller.  All in all, it took us over 2 hours to get to the zoo which in the worst traffic would never take more than 45 minutes.  Ridiculous!  Once we got there we had a great time with our friends.  We did have to navigate a very busy zoo filled with tourists, but we had fun. 

The rest of our Spring has been filled with as much time as possible spent outside.  We’ve spent lots of time playing in our driveway riding bikes, playing with bubbles, sidewalk chalk and enjoying our yard.  We hang out with the neighbor kids as much as we can.  We hit our favorite parks as often as possible.  Spring has been great and I know I don’t want to see it go.  Soon it will be Summer and we will be sweltering.  Until then, you can find us playing outside!

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Tauxemont Country Fair

Last weekend we went to the Tauxemont Country Fair.  Susannah has mentioned that she was taking Ian & Isla to it and invited us to meet them there.  Travis ended up finishing up work at a decent time (or at least taking a break!) and was able to go with us.  We had a blast!

Tauxemont is a local co-op pre-school.  I’ve always heard positive things about it, but have never even considered it as an option for our family.  Frankly, the thought of participating in a co-op really just made me feel like I’d get the privelege of paying to send my kid to school and still working for him to go to school too.  It always seemed like more of a committment than I really wanted to make for pre-school.  Susannah had toured Tauxemont over the Winter and decided to put Ian there for next Fall and potentially beyond.  Going to the fair there was a perfect opportunity for us to see the school and get an idea of what it really is…pretty blissful!

The fair was free and you could bring a potluck item to share if you wanted to eat there too.  I wasn’t really prepared with a dish, so I just grabbed some store-bought hummus and veggies.  Wow, other people brought great food.  I have to say it was probably the best potluck I’ve been to in years.  Anyway, the whole evening was a fair set up on the grounds of the school.  They had pony rides when you first entered, tons of cool play structures that are part of the playground, very creative games set up all around the grounds, a petting zoo area with baby bunnies, chicks & goats and our favorite kids performer Mr. Skip played.  At Travis and I sort of split up because we had bought some raffle tickets at the entrance and I had to fill out our contact information.  When I started to walk in, Travis and Jack were walking out to ride the pony.  Trav pointed out G who was playing with Isla on a huge play structure.  Susannah and I immediately commented on how our two super tiny kiddos, by far the smallest playing in that area, were climbing everywhere fearlessly.  Those two continue to amaze us with their ability to judge their limitations and push themselves to the very edge.  They are very cute!  Next we moved down to the small petting zoo area.  Jack and Trav had come back but were so sort of wandering some of the games.  I think Susannah had to help Ian with something and in the chaos of wrangling our kids, Isla ran into the petting zoo with G following quickly behind.  I ran in after them, completely unsure what to expect.  It was adorable!!!  They LOVED playing with the animals.  It was hard to keep tabs on two handsy toddlers, but I did manage to keep them from unintentionally hurting any animals, all the while snapping photos and video.  I’ll post some cute videos in separate posts and you’ll understand exactly what I mean!

At some point we huddled all the kids together for a quick bite to eat.  There were plenty of options for Jack, but really the kids were so excited that it was hard to get too much food into them.  G and Isla are pretty good eaters, so they picked off of our plates and got a good dinner.  The food was excellent.  By this time we had all sort of given up being right on top of the older boys.  We were trying to keep them in our sights but they were just running from game to game.  It was a group effort filled with lots of “I see Ian, do you have Jack?”  or “Jack is over there, Travis grab Ian”.  Nothing like a little community parenting! 

About the time the chasing was getting irritating, Mr. Skip started playing.  That made things much easier.  G is a HUGE fan and as soon as he saw Mr. Skip setting up, he was front and center.  Travis hadn’t ever taken the kids to an actual Mr. Skip show before, so he let G sit down and then he kind of hung back to observe.  He wanted G to be able to see him but didn’t want to keep him from participating.  I think Travis was very pleased to watch G, how he interacted and danced and sung the evening away.  G was so adorable that people started watching him and some were even taking pictures of him dancing.  Jack and I wandered around more and played games.  Eventually he wandered over to be with Garrett and watch Mr. Skip.  It was a great way to settle the kids down after an evening of running and playing.

Our introduction to Tauxemont was great.  I think Travis and I were both really impressed with the school.  The playground was amazing, all wooden play structures and very creatively done.  The classrooms are filled with neat wooden toys and clearly promote the ideals and values that we hope to encourage in our kids.  The people we met were all very nice.  By the time we left, Travis and I were questioning if it was a place we wanted Jack to go next year.  After researching their classes a little more, the pre-school class for 4 year olds is in the afternoon.  That just doesn’t work for our schedule.  It would mean that our boys would be in school at opposite times.  That just isn’t an option for us.  However, we are very excited to consider Tauxemont for Kindergarten.  It seems like it might be a good option for the boys!

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Playseum

A friend recently told me about a cool kids place in Bethesda, MD that she thought would be right up our alley.  On Thursday I organized a playdate with a couple of other Mama friends and we made the trek from NoVa to Maryland to check out the Playseum.

On Thursday morning my friend Marcy, who was also going on the playdate, texted to see if we wanted to ride with her since our destination was a bit far.  Marcy recently got a mini-van, so she had the room to take us too.  A side note, Marcy DID NOT want a mini-van.  I’m pretty sure her husband laid down the law and said if they were getting a new car, which they needed, then the only practical thing to get was a mini-van.  Although Marcy was not all that thrilled, she got a mini-van and I am happy to report that she is truly enjoying it.  And I was very excited to get to hang out with my friend for uninterrupted drive time.  It was great!  The kids were good in the car and mentioned once again that they can’t wait for us to get a mini-van.  Me neither boys, me neither!

The Playseum was pretty cool.  It is in downtown Bethesda and although a bit of a drive, easy to get to.  You might not realize it was there if you weren’t looking for it.  It is just a door off the main entrance with a stairwell that leads to a little ticket window.  It is $5 per person, no matter your age, to enter.  However, they are always looking for donations including books.  The website says if you bring 25 books to donate then you will get 1 admission for free.  Both of my friends brought books to donate.  Elizabeth couldn’t fit her 25 books in one bag, so she had them in two slightly smaller handle bags.  Lo and behold, she got 2 admissions free.  Note to self (and the greater group) if you have books to donate, put them in multiple bags and you will probably get multiple admissions for free!   Next to the ticket booth there is a door that takes you into the actual Playseum.

Basically this is a basement space that has been split into tons of fairly small rooms.  Each room opens to a hallway and many of the rooms connect to each other either with doorways or small tunnel openings for the kids.  The rooms had varying themes.  There was a firehouse with a few play firetrucks and dress up clothes, a building room with a blocks, pulley system to hoist the blocks, tools & sand table, a play kitchen with real food that had been schalacked(?) to preserve it, an entire craft/painting room, a room with live animals including bunnies, birds, fish & lizards, a big open area with a stage with musical instruments, games of all sorts including foosball and several other rooms I just can’t remember.  It was a very cool concept.  The kids were able to wander a fair amount and although you may lose sight of them, it was completely enclosed.  Another neat thing about it was that all of our kids were able to interact and enjoy the environment.  The barely 1 year olds had as much fun exploring and playing as the nearly 4 year olds did.  It really appealed to everyone.  The one drawback is that if it were a very busy day, it would be crazy chaotic.  Since the rooms are all pretty small, with too many people I could see my kids getting overwhelmed or upset at not having space or ability to really play.  And even if the kids were okay, I think I could get a little claustrophobic with too many kids & parents.  Overall, it was a great place and one that we will visit again.  Jack has asked several times if we could go back and take Daddy along, so I know they loved it!

After the Playseum we walked to pick up a few food items at a deli to supplement our picnic lunch, then walked to a park to eat and play.  By this time everyone was pretty tired.  We mainly just ate our lunches and played for a few minutes on the playground.  Then we hoofed it back to our cars for the ride home.  My kids ALWAYS fall asleep in the car, but because they were so excited to be with Jacob & Ellie they didn’t this time.  In fact, I was able to keep them awake all the way home from Marcy’s house.  It was a no nap day for both boys and they kept it together really well.  Jack fell apart a bit at bedtime, but for a very active day with no naps, they did well.  Overall, the Playseum day was a hit!

On a side note, we are having multiple days a week where both boys have no nap or only sleep for 10 minutes on a car ride.  I have a feeling that by mid summer I may have two boys who don’t nap regularly.  I’m not sure how I feel about this.  If they keep it together and are in good spirits, then I don’t mind the no nap.  BUT, if they are crabby but refusing to give up, then we are going to have big problems.  As every Mama knows, nap time is the one bit of silence in your day.  I often wait to eat my lunch when both kids are sleeping and relish in the quiet time to use the computer or *gasp* read something!  Plus, nap time is the best time to quickly power through picking up the house or making phone calls without screaming in the background.  I’m sure people like the plumber and credit card companies appreciate actually hearing me on the phone and not my crazy kiddos!  Alas, I feel the nap is nearing an end at our house.  I will mourn my alone time but I’m pretty sure it will bring early bedtime for all!!

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