Thursday, January 22, 2009

Preschool predicament

Crazy as it is, preschool registration is going on right now. Last year we went to the preschool fair to get an idea of what schools were out there and what they offered. At the time I had no idea what kind of school Logan would do best in. It was an overwhelming experience, but I'm glad we went when we didn't have to make a decision.

Over the last year many of our friends have enrolled their kids in preschool. In our Club, there seems to be an even split between two schools, one is a co-op the other is not. Both are run by churches and are Christan based curriculum. This was a problem for me, so I continued my search for a non-faith based school that was affordable. Because, let's face it. It's preschool, not college. It soon became apparent that "non-faith based" and "affordable" were not an option. The schools that I liked that I thought Logan would do well in were EXPENSIVE. Anywhere from $400-$600 a month and some were more. The university has an amazing early childhood development program, but it's $40 a day, $28 for half day. Yeah, that's not in our budget. None of the schools that I liked fit into our budget. This really rubbed me the wrong way.

I'm a believer that religion and school shouldn't mix. If a family practices a certain faith, wonderful. Keep the teachings at home or at church as it is the responsibility of the parents and the family to develop those values and practices. It has no place in school, even private school. Preschool is a place to learn the foundation of education - reading, science, math - not a place to learn about how Jesus loves them or that they are a child of God. That is what church is for. At this age they have no idea what religion really is, they are just accepting what they are being taught. In my eyes, teaching children religious practices without them truly understanding isn't right. If they still believe in Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and monsters under the bed, they are unable to discern them from deity.

Never in a million years did I think I would begin having discussions about religion with my three year old. It's my philosophy that religious beliefs are such a personal choice, nobody should try to influence or convert anyone one way or another. This includes me teaching my kids about different religions. Just as I have issues with others indoctrinating my children, I can't in good conscious tell them that any religion is wrong. Even with my experiences with the LDS church and organized religion. Spirituality is a journey they must go on on their own to discover for themselves. It's my job to help them with that discovery by letting them experience everything possible so they can make the best choice for themselves.

So, even though Logan only knows Jesus from when I stub my toe, find that he's thrown cat food all over the playroom or I'm about to staple his pants to his butt ("Jesus Christ! Put your pants on NOW!"), I talked to all of my friends in great detail about their experiences at one of the two schools. Everyone raved about the non co-op school, about the education, the teachers and the experience. I asked about how much Christianity was taught, and was assured that it wasn't much. There was a Christmas pageant and they learned about how Christmas was Jesus' birthday (ehhh, hmmm, ok) and that they said a simple blessing before snack time. Whoa. Blessings before snack? Not for us! When that was mentioned, I stopped considering the school and even began to think that if we couldn't afford a non-faith based school, then maybe we wouldn't send Logan to preschool at all.

Over the course of a few weeks, most everyone in our playgroup had chosen this school to go to. I was still stuck in my decision. I started to feel anxious about it all, not knowing what we were going to do. I continued to talk to everyone about their choice and what influenced them. At the 3 Boys Turning 3 birthday party, one of my Jewish friends told me that she switched her daughter to this school. I talked to her about the religious differences and she said that this school was actually pretty relaxed compared to other preschools that she had toured. I really appreciated her opinion and decided to go ahead and tour the preschool myself.

When I called yesterday morning to schedule a time for the tour, I briefly talked to one of the teachers about my agnosticism and Logan's current lack of religious teachings. She told me that there were students of varying faiths - Jewish, Atheist and Hindu to name a few - and that while the teachers may be Christian's themselves, they all attend different churches. I felt a lot better after speaking with her. It seemed that they had a well-rounded environment where the kids were taught about all different faiths rather than being force-fed The One And Only.

This morning we all went to check it out. We got there just in time. They were just getting ready for snack time. All of the kids were lined up to go wash their hands and one of the three teachers invited Logan to join the class so he could have snacks with them. He readily ran off, fitting right in. While the kids were preparing for snacks, Bill and I spoke with one of the teachers about the class activities they had done that morning and I noticed that they were eating glazed donuts for snack today (because it was someones birthday) and talked to them at length about food allergies. When the kids came back, they all sat at their tables (Logan ate crackers and milk) and Bill, sleeping Carter and I stood back and observed. They said a quick blessing, which was very informal and pretty innocent.

Logan LOVED being in school. He had a few friends in the class already, but that didn't even matter. He knew exactly what to do, what was expected of him and he was SO FREAKIN' CUTE! After snacks, the kids sat down to read books for a little bit, with Logan wiggling his way to the front and quietly sitting on the floor. Then they all lined up to go into the next room for circle time with Logan at the front of the line. I was impressed to see how his preschool prep classes had truly prepared him for this experience. I am so glad we did those for him. It was amazing to see how comfortable he was in the environment and he seemed not only to fit right in, but ahead of the game in some aspects.

While the kids went with one teacher for circle time, Bill and I stayed back and spoke with the other two teachers for a while. We talked about the curriculum and discipline and then I talked to them some more about the religious aspects. It turns out that some of the teachers had been either atheist or agnostic at some point in their lives and knew how I felt about it all. All of my concerns were easily put to rest as I felt comfortable with him learning about these practices in class since it was so relaxed and not a central focus of their school day. It was very well-rounded and as long as he had the opportunity to learn about ALL different faiths, I was fine with it.

Bill filled out the application and wrote the check for tuition. It was a done deal. We found the preschool for Logan and lucky for him (not that it really matters), he will have at least five friends from playgroup and The Club, if not more, in the same class with him. We gathered our things and were getting ready to leave just as the class was about to start a craft project. Logan was very upset that we were leaving. "I DON'T WANT TO LEAVE SCHOOL!" he protested. I had to bribe him with chocolate milk at home to get him to leave without a massive melt down. Really, this is a good sign.


Eriness said...

I send Sophia to a Lutheran pre-school and we are Catholic. While that probably sounds like almost the same thing to most, I was concerned that she would get more of Lutheran teachings than our Catholic teachings. But I find that it is pretty general and very innocent. Praying before eating just teaches that we should be thankful for what we are given and that food is a blessing. It kind of goes right over their head at this age. I am different than you in my views of religion and schools. I think that a parish Catholic school is a choice we get to make and that if we chose to send our kids to a school that is teaching our faith in it and reinforces what they are learning at home, then it is our choice. We are lucky to have that choice, faith based teaching or not. Believe it or not, at my Catholic high school, we were educated on all religions of the world the second two years of high school and it was highly informative. Be happy that we live here where you get to chose about schools because in Ireland, Catholic school is mandatory, that is regular public school. In the middle east, they are all taught a Muslim education. I enjoy the strict education and culture that Catholicism brings but it is not for everyone. A ton of my friends at school were not Catholic. But there are plenty of private schools out there that offer a good education, public too, but those private schools are really expensive because they do not get the subsidation from the associated churches. I hope that this school is ok for Logan and that you are going to keep on being comfortable with it. Best of luck with it!

Alicia Seevers said...

Our daughter goes to Catholic school. Now let me preface this with the fact that I was raised Catholic and attended all Catholic school and then a Disciples of Christ college. I do not attend church, I don't feel I need to in order to be Catholic, some people get something from church I do not. I was married outside because my husband needed an anullment to get married in the Catholic church which I found to be obscene.

Anyhow, we chose the catholic elementary and pre-K for Kendall because the public school in our attendance area is not great. She attends the same school I did as a child and I am glad she is there for the academics as well as the fact that I want her to be raised in a setting that places importance on being a "christian individual." She is free to practice whatever religion she wants to and at some point she can make that choice.

I do not think you needed to feel uncomfortable with a christian preschool. I think they title themselves that because they want you to know that they will teach your child to be a "christian" individual and whether that is how you refer to appropriate behavior or not, that is what most people use to identify a well-behaved, respectful, and loving child.

Additionally, you celebrate Christmas, yet have concerns about a Christmas program. I find that to be a double standard. Whether you want to agree with it or not, Christmas is a religious holiday and a Christmas program is surely not going to mold Logan's beliefs as a result.

You may not want to think you or anyone else should be influencing Logan's choice as far as religion is concerned, but I guarantee he is already being influenced by your belief or lack of belief. Just wait until the day he asks you why you don't believe in God. It will happen and it will surprise you. Little people are observant and all we can do is try to raise them the best way we know how and often times that means exposing them to things that scare us but allow them to grow and make choices when the time comes.

I am in no way trying to say your religious choice is wrong, anyone can tell you that I am respectful of everyone's opinion, I just thought I would share my thoughts with you.