Today I went on my first field trip as a parent helper since we relocated to America. The preschool class from my 4 year old’s nursery were being taken on a guided tour of a local independent grocery store. I not only transported my own child there but was also asked to take another child in my car since I already have a bunch of child car seats. I was not 100% sure where I was going and have only been driving in the US for a few short weeks so that felt like a heap of responsibility but, of course, everything was just tickety-boo.
The store manager took the kids on a tour of the store, the shop floor and the back rooms. It was cute seeing the wonder in all of their little eyes as they learned new things. They got to see someone making sushi and were allowed to sample a California roll, they saw the machine in the store room that compacts cardboard boxes, they had a geography lesson about locations for obtaining fruit and vegetables throughout the seasons, they saw meat being shrink wrapped and they got to see a checkout in operation. My 4 year old’s favourite part was getting to stroke a lobster. All the kids lined up to pat it’s shell. So much affection before it is boiled to death.
After the tour, the kids each had a shopping list to use as a treasure hunt around the store and they were each sent back to nursery with a paper sack filled with a pretzel, carton of juice and piece of fruit.
It was fun to accompany the trip and I got to meet a few more of the parents which was nice. Best of all though was the fact that on the tour I spotted a display full of imported European cheeses. I may have found a source of decent cheese!
I finally found a preschool option that works for us logistically, is affordable (though I am still adjusting to the very concept of having to pay for preschool education) and works for the smallest Pict. We went for a tour last week and he was automatically at ease there, joining in with a Whale Watch lesson (including clambering inside a life-size blow up humpback whale!) and participating alongside all the other kids, which made me feel confident it was a good fit for him. So we signed up, filled out the forms, paid the fees and he started yesterday. He is excited to find that he has homework just like his big brothers and he has loved all of the activities there so far – though I am writing this on Day 2 so my optimism about his levels of enthusiasm could be a bit previous.
It feels like a really positive step to getting back to normality to have all of the kids in some form of education now. They thrive on structure and routine and stimulus and school and preschool automatically provide that for them. They also need socialization in an educational context, learning alongside and from their peers, bouncing ideas around. Homeschooling the 4 year old on his own was never going to fill that gap. I think he and I already appreciate having a bit of separation between us, some independent time, after spending the last few months together 24/7 without a break.
Here’s a photo of him on his second day of school (because I forgot I could use my phone to take a photo of him yesterday on his first day).
He is now napping on the sofa in the middle of the afternoon. He hasn’t napped – unless ill – since babyhood. This does not bode well for tonight. However, it does suggest he is mentally and physically drained from two days of preschool and that is a good thing.
My oldest three sons started elementary school just four days after we arrived in the US. They mumped and moaned about it a bit but actually they thrive on routine and structure and on time apart from each other and me so jumping straight into school was in their best interests socially and emotionally as well as academically. The school is fantastic and they are really enjoying it and have settled well. Unfortunately for my youngest son, we have not been able to identify an affordable preschool option at this juncture so he is stuck at home with me. We are doing the home preschooling thing, of course, but that doesn’t involve him mixing with other children. He had been in preschool five mornings a week in Scotland and loved it so it has been a difficult adjustment for him to be home with me all day. So my aim, until such time as he is enrolled in a Pre-Kindergarten programme, is to take him along to as many child-oriented events as possible. Thus, this morning we headed off to the library for a story time session.
In Scotland, my preschoolers had attended Bookbug sessions in our small, local library. They were great fun, parents and children all sitting together being led in song and rhyme and having a picture book read to us by the leader. It was subtly promoting literacy but was also about engaging parents with their children’s learning through play, about socialisation and about fun. I guess I drove off to the library expecting the storytime session to be if not a carbon copy then very similar. It turned out to be really quite different.
The immediate difference was that the session was held in a side room just off the children’s section of the library whereas in Scotland our local Bookbug sessions had taken over an area of the main library, albeit in the children’s area, so that other visitors had to just put up with our screechy, pitchy renditions of “Ally Bally” and “Pop a Little Pancake”. The next difference was that the kids were ushered to sit on the floor on a comfy rug while the adults sat on chairs that lined the walls. This both suggested and enforced the children being separated or disengaged from the adults who had accompanied them. It was all about the children and just the children. The major difference was that there were no songs or rhymes at all in the storytime session (though I guess the clue was in the title) just lots and lots of books. The man leading the session sat at the front of the library and read the stories to the children – and my youngest was rapt for the entire half hour – but also ensured that they understood concepts like cover, illustrator and half-title page, questioned them about the problems being encountered by characters and engaged them in analysis of patterns and illustrations.
I assume the library sessions in Scotland are run in the way they are because they are aimed at children below preschool age and that means under three whereas, in our current school district at least, a lack of affordable preschool provision means that sessions like this need to attract and engage children up to Kindergarten age (though the flyer said the age range was 3-6). So instead of literacy being learned through song and rhyme in addition to story, a little more academic rigour is appropriate. For me, it was strange not to be participating in the session and I felt quite redundant but my four year old was engaged throughout and that was the critical element. Comparisons are unfair anyway and actually I have no preference for the style of session but it was certainly an interesting and enjoyable first experience and one we will repeat.