Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Why I Pulled my Son out of Montessori

Going back to work after mat leave can be hard. One of the major challenges with going back to work is finding childcare for your baby. Because we live in Toronto, I knew that I needed to get onto a waitlist as early as possible for daycares. Lists in our city are years long. When I was about 7 months pregnant (even that felt like it was too late), I started calling daycares around the city and putting Seb's name on lists. It felt so uncomfortable. Cold calling all of these daycares just to have his name added to the bottom of a long, long list.

Then, when Seb was about 8 months old, we got a flyer in the mail for a new Montessori school opening up right around the corner from our house. If I walked 10 feet east of my driveway, I could see it on the next corner. Jackpot! Montessori? Bonus! The school was just opening up the next month, so Rob and I phone-stalked the principal until she met us for a tour and added our name to her (much shorter) list. When we visited the school, it was clean and bright. The toys were very organized. It was even cheaper than a number of other daycares we'd looked into. And best of all, she had a spot for us. I ran over there with my deposit cheque as fast as possible.

First day of Montessori daycare
The first few weeks of daycare were pretty standard. He cried when we dropped him off, but when we picked him up at the end of the day, they assured us he calmed down and had an okay day.  Then, just over a month after he had been going there, they started telling us he was quite aggressive with the other children, biting being their main example. Rob and I had been seeing that at home and were working on it. But it's hard to negotiate biting with an 18-month old. We promised, again, that we'd continue to work on this.

Less than a month later we were called in for Meeting #1. Rob and I were lead to believe this meeting was about S' aggressive behaviour. Instead we were bulldozed with a description of a child we didn't even recognize. They told us S was "completely unaware of the world around him", that he "looked though people and not at them", that he didn't know any of the Montessori routines, that he didn't participate in any activities, that he wouldn't play with any of the toys, that he wouldn't feed himself, that he didn't want to do the crafts unless they made him, and that his language was significantly delayed. Umm....holy shit?! I asked the principal if I should see our family doctor and she replied, "No. They won't be able to help you until he's 6 or 7 years old." Then she said to me, "You look very upset." To which I replied, "I don't know what to do first, throw up or cry." And Rob and I went home.

I was in no mood to sit around and wait if we were dealing with any developmental delays. I wanted to know for sure if something was going on. I immediately made an appointment with S' doctor who said, so far, S is fine and hasn't missed any benchmarks. We'll continue to keep an eye on things. But that didn't keep me from googling the symptoms of autism at 4am one night.

What was so frustrating from Meeting #1 is that I could see their expectations were just beyond him. He was expected, at 18-months, to go pick a puzzle or toy from a shelf, take the puzzle to a table to play with, put the puzzle back when finished, pick a new toy, and repeat. We didn't do that at home. We played with all of our toys for awhile, and then we cleaned them all up when we were done. I know he can do this. At lunch he was expected to feed himself, scrape any food left into the organic bin, carry his plate and spoon to the dirty dishes bin, and then take his sippy cup to a different bin. I'm sorry, but I know a number of adults who can't do all of that.

What also alarmed me from Meeting #1 is that the principal assured us there was "absolutely no way" S would be ready for their Casa (preschool) program. She said, "There is no play in that program. They do math, and French, and writing." Excuse me, but at the age of 2 and a half, if play is not 95% of what he's doing in his day, we have a problem.

It just so happens that, before she retired, my mom's job was to pre-assess at-risk preschoolers in daycares. She doesn't live in the city, so she only sees Seb every few months. She came down the following week and spent a morning at the daycare watching him. She observed that Seb wasn't making a single peep at daycare, and that did make him stand out. She also added that the expectations of the Montessori school were extremely high from her experience with daycares. (I should add that while S wasn't reciting poetry or anything, he did have a bit of a vocabulary and was happy to babble at home). I also contacted a children's speech-pathologist and described our situation to her. When I described some of the things Seb could say at home (letter recognition, etc), she was actually impressed. She told us, "I don't know you at all, but I have to be honest, it sounds like something is wrong with your daycare."

Not surprisingly, the Montessori was rather dismissive of my mom's observations and thoughts during Meeting #2. The principal, Rob, and I all agreed to meet again a month later to see how things were going. Less than 2 weeks later, we received an email saying it was time for Meeting #3. Umm...ok. Rob and I already knew that we'd be looking for a new daycare at the end of the school year.  We didn't really want to take him out mid-year because we didn't have another place for him to go, and we'd have to forfeit about 2 month's tuition to the Montessori. We went to the meeting kind of hoping they'd kick him out.

Anyways, at Meeting #3 they presented a picture of a 21-month old aggressive child who showed no remorse. (Can someone please tell me what remorse for a one-year-old looks like?!) He was 1 of only 2 children not being potty-trained in his class, and obviously was not welcome back in the fall. We weren't getting a re-enrollment package. Fine by us. But what made me sick inside, is when we asked what our options were, and they replied, "We'll keep him until June. We'll just try to keep the other kids safe."  No! You are supposed to be keeping my child safe. I cannot send him to a place that sees that kind of thing when they look at him.

We began in earnest looking for a new daycare. We needed one for the fall, and I knew time and waiting lists were against us. On one daycare visit, we described a bit about the problems we (and Seb) were having at his current school. The supervisor at this daycare asked us why we didn't move sooner if we were so unhappy. I looked at her and asked her if she had a spot. By the grace of God, she had a toddler that needed to move to the preschool room. Seb came for a visit and then started the next day.

I cannot describe the relief we feel at his new daycare. The place is full of life, and play, and just the right amount of chaos. Seb has been at his new daycare for just over 3 months, which is about the same amount of time that he spent at the Montessori school. He runs in the door when we get there and gives his teachers a big hug each morning. He has his favourite toys and his favourite books there. His teachers tell us he's happy, and excited, and even chatty!  Lately, they tell us he's been leading the other toddlers on a hunt for a cat that they can sometimes see from their classroom window.

Recent daily report from new daycare
It hasn't been perfect. Starting a new daycare meant a ton of crying at drop-off again for a little while. He's had a few hitting incidents (but even with these, his teachers assured us it was completely normal behaviour). And we weren't exactly excited to forfeit 2 months tuition to the Montessori school. I'll never be able to say 100% sure that his change was because of a new environment. I've heard lots of people tell me that boys make a big leap just before or around their second birthday. Or maybe other Montessori schools would have been better, and this one was just a bad apple? But I do know, we feel so much happier with him at this daycare. Montessori did not work for our son. A play-based centre did. All is well in the end. And when he's older, I can tell him about the time he pretty much got kicked out of school at the age of 21-months ;)


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