Saturday, June 21, 2014

School Search for My 5-Year Old (Part 1)

(Warning: This is  a long and detailed post about our school visits.)

My eldest son and I visited two schools within our village last Tuesday. I’ve been considering putting him in a brick-and-mortar school more seriously since I started having a difficult pregnancy with my third child. I was in bed most of the time in the past two months or so (hence my silence/absence here in the blog) that I felt I could not continue homeschooling him.

I barely had energy in the past months to do even the littlest of things. I was throwing up a number of times in a day (from morning until evening). I felt drained.

Thus, it was only around last week when I had the energy to check out schools near our area through the internet. After reading LOTS of posts in the internet about searching for schools for young children in our area, I’ve decided to check out those that are nearest our place of residence.

Location is a big factor for me. I’m not willing to delegate to strangers the responsibility of keeping my son safe while he travels to school. At five years old, I still think and feel that it should either be me or my husband who should bring him to school and fetch him from there. I don’t want to hire a school service or entrust him to a maid. School buses do not have car seats installed for young children. Most do not even have lap or seat belts. Also, it’s so HARD to find reliable/trustworthy maids these days. But even if I find a really good maid one day, I still want to be the one to bring my young children to school (if they will go to a brick-and-mortar school). I want that to be part of their childhood memory.

And so after calling one of the schools within our village, Yanthy and I visited it the following day. I asked him first if he wants to check out the school nearby. He said yes. So, the following day, we headed to the school to observe their first day of class and to check out the environment and facilities.

I read two positive feedbacks about the first school we visited from other parents through the internet. The school claims to be a progressive preschool. The directress/owner said during our phone conversation that they employ a combination of traditional and progressive approach in teaching their students. She said they are still traditional because they use worksheets in their programs and they give homework to students twice a week. They are progressive she said because they try to follow the kids’ interests in discussing topics which are part of their program. They also do not give tests and they only have a maximum of 10 students per class. The length of the class is only three (3) hours for both Kinder and Prep. I also asked for the tuition fee. She said that it’s P55,000 per year including books and other materials. I also asked if they had previous experience in teaching or handling kids with special needs. She said yes but admitted that there were only a few. She was honest to say that she and her teachers do not have training on SPED and that what they know was simply based on their limited experience with a few students in the past. I asked this because my son is a potentially gifted child and has traits and behaviors which are not typical of other kids his age.

Anyway, since the school sounds promising and the tuition is within an acceptable range for me, I still decided to push through with our school visit the following day. And I’m so glad I did and that I brought my child with me for him to participate in some activities.

Here are the things that I’ve observed while in the school:

1.    There’s a waiting area outside the school’s main building where fetchers like parents or nannies can wait. 

2.    The interiors of the school looked appealing to kids. There are nice murals and the rooms are brightly painted. There is a spacious and padded indoor play area for kids. There are plenty of toys to play with and they are plenty enough to share with other kids. There’s also a bookshelf with a number of books to choose from at the play area. Aside from the indoor play area, there is an outside play area as well. There are separate rooms for each level (nursery, junior kinder, senior kinder and prep) and each room including the indoor play area is air conditioned. 

3.    Aside from main teachers, there were also teacher aids present. 

4.    Each class size is small enough to encourage and facilitate involvement of the students.

5.    I noticed that there were at least two washrooms in the school for the kids to use.

1.    The main gate of the school was left open and I did not see a guard at the gate. 

2.    When we arrived, I noticed a small boy who kept on walking around the school premises while crying. He was moving from one room to another and around the play area. He kept on crying for at least 30 minutes and my heart really went out to the little boy. I was disappointed by the lack of attention given by both teachers and teacher aids. They just let the kid cry out while attending to the other kids in their class. This went on until one of the main teachers called all the kids to join the big circle time to officially start their first day in school this school year. The poor boy just kept crying until a number of songs were sang during the circle time and the students went to their respective classrooms. I believe that if the main teachers cannot attend to the little boy, one of them should have instructed a teacher aid to take care of him to comfort him, ask him what he wants and to bring him to another room or outside so as not to distract the other students. I did not see that happen though. The main teacher who took charge of the big circle time eventually carried the poor boy with her as she instructed the Senior Kinder and Prep students to go up their classroom but it really took a while before she and her teacher aid paid attention to the boy. I noticed also that there was no compassion in her tone of voice as she asked the little boy what he wanted and why he kept on crying.

3.    The next thing I noticed that I didn’t like was the way the teacher who took charge of the big circle time talked to the students. Young children’s attention naturally wanders and so there are times when some kids look elsewhere instead of looking in front at the teacher. Some kids would sometimes face other kids sitting next to them either beside them or behind them. I think that it’s alright for the teacher to call their attention and to gently remind them of what they should be doing. But I did not hear gentleness in the teacher’s voice when she did this a number of times and she didn’t even use kind words. She simply called out each student by name in a tone that is beyond being firm and almost angry. She didn’t say “please” as she tells the kids to sit properly and to face front. She sounded like someone commanding soldiers who are lined up in front of her. I have observed and overheard my son’s occupational therapists give firm commands or instructions to my son during his occupational therapy sessions in the past years but they didn’t sound anything like her, considering that my son is strong-willed and would not easily obey without much reasoning and persuasion.  

The most disappointing action that I noticed from this teacher was when she was already in the classroom with the Senior Kinder and the Prep students. While she’s writing some sentences on the white board, a child who seems to be a special child was playing around their classroom. Suddenly, the child reached out to the teacher’s bag wanting to touch it. The teacher saw it and readily reacted. Her reaction truly surprised me! She pointed a finger angrily to the special child as she said, “Don’t touch my bag!” She didn’t have to point a finger on the child’s face. She didn’t have to use that angry tone of voice especially that she’s dealing with a special child. She could have said “Please, do not touch teacher’s bag, (and then state the name of the child).”  

Before they went to the classroom, she even reminded the kids to use kind and gentle words to each other, to say “please” and “thank you”, and to use loving hands when interacting with each other. She did not set a good example for the kids to follow. It was a good thing that I asked permission from the directress to observe her class so I would know if my son is participating. I was looking through a glass window on the upper portion of the door to their classroom when I saw this happen. 


4.  I was surprised when I witnessed one of the teachers command her students who were lined up to put their hands together behind them. Then, they were asked to march to their classroom. I didn’t understand why she had to ask them to walk that way -- like criminals with their hands on a handcuff on their backs. Why not ask them to walk with their arms swinging freely on their sides (which is the natural way to walk) or why not ask the kids to clap while singing a happy song and marching to their classroom? Isn’t that more fun to do for the small kids? I think it was the nursery class that walked to their classroom that way. I thought as I saw that happen before me, “I don’t want my kids to behave or to be treated like prisoners.”

5. My son didn’t want to participate during the big circle time as the teacher led the kids in singing nursery songs and doing some actions. He was simply looking around. He knew the songs, understood the instructions, and can definitely follow the actions but he chose not to. The directress noticed it too. This made her comment if it’s possible that my son feels that singing these songs were too basic for him. I said that’s possible because he has mastered most nursery songs while he was only two years old. He could even guess the song by simply listening to the first few notes in the intro. 
When the teacher in charge of the Senior Kinder and the Prep students announced that it’s time for snack and that they should go to the washroom to wash their hands first, I took that as a cue for me to leave with my son. I thanked the directress for her time and patience answering my questions and bid her goodbye. 

My son and I went to a nearby convenience store to have our afternoon snack. Over snack, I asked him what he liked in the school and why he didn’t participate during the big circle time. He said that he liked the school because there’s a play area and he liked the toys there. He actually wanted to go back to play some more. I tried to probe some more if there was anything else he liked aside from what he mentioned but he kept raving about the toys and the play area. Then, I asked him why he didn’t sing with the teacher and the other kids or imitate the actions. His reply helped me understand my son better. He said, “I don’t know her name.” He was referring to the teacher. I realized that relationship is important to my son and that even if he knows the answer or the actions, he will not answer, talk or move if he doesn’t know the person asking him. I was reminded of the times when some people whom he doesn’t see often or whom he has seen only once or twice asked him some questions and he just stared and kept quiet. 

I also remember some of the articles I read about some gifted kids who feel overwhelmed when placed in a big group of people. This could be because of their hypersensitivity to the things around them. Some gifted kids withdraw because they have too much to process. I noticed this in some children’s parties that we attended where my son refused to participate in some of the games. However, when he becomes accustomed to the place and become familiar with the people there, he eventually learns to become comfortable. He also gets easily distracted when there are too many kids in the group like when he joined a soccer class one summer. Incidentally, there were at least 20 kids in the room during the big circle time because all the kids from the different levels were asked to join. 

Another thing that I found out from the directress when we visited the school was that they were non-sectarian. I was hoping that they were at least Christian and that they taught basic Christian teachings. Sadly, they are not.  

After our snack, we walked to the next school. I was not able to call this school ahead of our visit but the owner was gracious enough to accommodate us and answer my questions. She even asked a teacher aid to watch over my boy who wanted to play in their swing while I talked to her. She said that they also use both the traditional and progressive approach in teaching their students but upon further probing, I found out that they were really more traditional. They give plenty of worksheets and use books that look like workbooks. They give homework every day. They also give quarterly exams. When I asked her to describe the schedule and activities of those in Prep (my son is considered Prep because of his age for this school and the first school we visited), she said that there’s only 10 minute circle time and then there’s seatwork and board work until snack time. Then, seatwork and board work will continue until dismissal. She said that they need to stretch the attention span of the prep students to prepare them for big school where the schedule is usually 7 AM to 2 PM for Grade 1. I asked if they try to insert art or music activities in between and she said every now and then. But I doubt how often these are since her reply of seatwork and board work was more automatic. I think the main reason she claimed they are a progressive school is because they only accept a maximum of 18 students per class. She also mentioned that when they notice that there are kids who are advanced or kids who lag behind, they try to give extra attention to these kids by giving an extra book to read or study  or by giving free tutorial once a month. I asked her to describe or walk me through the topics or areas covered in the different levels to give me an idea of what they cover in the school year. I noticed that they were demanding even at the lower levels of what children should already know than the first school we visited. They also expect the kids to answer a lot of material in writing. But just like the first school, they base the level of the kid on his biological age, although she said that they also assess the kids through a test. The tuition fee in this school is much lower, only P28,000 excluding books, uniform and supplies. 

Let me share some of my observations while my son and I were in this second school:

1.    The gate was closed when we arrived so we had to use the doorbell. It was closed right away by one of the school’s staff as soon as we entered.  

2.    The classrooms were also painted bright colors and air conditioned. But it seemed to me that the air conditioning is not enough for the size of the classrooms. 

3.    The teacher that I observed was amiable. She used a friendly voice and whenever she had to call the attention of any of her students, she did it in a respectful, gentle and loving manner. The kids would not feel embarrassed by her choice of words or her tone of voice. Very different from the teacher that I observed in the first school. No wonder, the owner was proud to share with me that their all their teachers have worked with them for at least 20 years. 

1.    The school didn’t have an indoor play area. The owner also said that they don’t have toys anymore in the school premises. They only have two swings in their small front yard. 

2.    There were only two classrooms and to go the second classroom, you need to pass by the first classroom. The rooms are only separated by a wooden door. 

3.    I noticed photos of children in Halloween costumes on their bulletin board. I saw this while the owner was showing me the activities that they have year-round. I asked if they have field trips and she said that they don’t have any. Just small and simple events. She said that field trips can be too tiring for small kids. My family and I celebrate All Saints’ Day differently and we like to teach our kids the real reason for this celebration. We don’t like the commercialized or unchristian ways of celebrating it. We want to bring back the focus to the holy ones or the saints. 

Just like the first school, they are also non-sectarian. The owner said that they don’t do the sign of the cross when leading the kids into prayer before meals. I asked if Catholic kids are prohibited from doing the sign of the cross when they pray and she said that they are not prohibited but not encouraged. She said that they didn’t want to offend other students from other denominations.  

What’s my verdict?

First, these two schools do not fit my criteria for the school where I want my young children to get their early education. Second, homeschooling my kids at this age and stage of their lives is still our best option. Third, I realized (thank God for the insight!) that I am still the best teacher for my son at this stage of his life.  

My most important requirement in choosing a school for early childhood education for my kids is the values that they teach and stand for. I prefer a Catholic school or at least a Christian school that teaches Christian values and teaches the kids about the Bible. I want my kids’ spirituality to be the center of their lives. I don’t want them to compartmentalize their spirituality. I want them to base their decisions on their spiritual beliefs. I want to them to get used to living a life of prayer from a young age. I want them to be aware that God is with them wherever they are and that they are encouraged to practice their Christian or Catholic faith as openly and as often as they can. Putting them in a non-sectarian school for me is like taking God out of their school life. There’s no reminder about God's presence in the schools we visited . There is no crucifix at least. If I choose to put my kids in a brick-and-mortar school eventually, I want their school environment to give them reminders that they do not stop being Christians or Catholics when they leave our house. I want their values to be grounded on the reason that they want to be holy and good just like our Heavenly Father. I want them not just to live their lives for this present life but to have an eternal perspective. I want them to be good to their playmates and classmates not only because that is expected of them by society but mainly because that is what Jesus asks us (His followers) to do. 

After listening to the two school owners discuss the coverage of their programs or curriculum, I realized that it’s still a challenge to place my son in a brick-and-mortar school whether it’s progressive or traditional… especially, if it’s traditional. My son could get bored in a number of subjects where he is quite fast for his age. He could also get stressed when he is forced to do exercises or worksheets he isn’t fond of doing. This could present not only problems to the child but also to the teacher, knowing that my son would most likely try to reason his way out of something he doesn’t want to do. Even his therapists say he has very good negotiation skills. His teacher or the adults caring for him need to be vigilant. Otherwise, my son could persuade the adult to do things his way most of the time or to simply follow his agenda. They say that gifted kids who notice that they can dominate you will not hesitate to take advantage of that. The problem there is we also need to teach them to recognize and respect authority figures and to obey when needed.  

Because I wanted to understand my son better, the moment I realized that he’s potentially-gifted, I started researching more about giftedness and read as much literature as I could about the topic. I also attended seminars. I joined a forum of parents who homeschool gifted children. I can confidently say that I know more about giftedness than the teachers in the schools we visited. Thus, I know better how to handle my son’s behaviors. Also, because I have observed his occupational therapists over the years, somehow, I have learned from them.    

What’s my son’s verdict? 

He still wants to be homeschooled. He said that he wants to learn through play still. He also said that he wants his younger brother to be his classmate instead of the other kids. Upon hearing this from my eldest son, I realized that he really enjoys learning at home. There’s isn’t much pressure. My husband and I try to give him a bit of pressure or challenge to help him discover his potential but not too much to the point that he’ll be developing negative perceptions about learning. Thank God we have instilled in our kids especially our eldest the desire to learn and to enjoy the learning process. He is a very inquisitive child and we do our best to satisfy his curiosity. I also realized that homeschooling multiple children helps promote better and stronger relationships between siblings. Since my eldest son is 3 years older than my second child, he acts as my teacher assistant to his younger brother. And he seems to enjoy it. The younger child also develops high esteem for his older brother and looks up to him, wanting to imitate him in many ways. 

I plan to inquire and visit more schools in the future. In the meantime, we will continue with our homeschool adventure.  

Are you also looking for a school for your small children? I strongly recommend that you take time to list down your questions and to make time to visit and observe. Sometimes, what seems good enough is not really good when you examine it closely. Hope this post helped you in some way.


  1. Nice tips here mommy.. I'm preparing for my 3yar old daughter for school next year. She'll be 4 by then. Reading a lot of sources and because of the K1-K12 program of DepED, As early as 3 years old a child must be in nursery and by Grade 1 she should be 6 years old. What's the difference of the Nursery, Prep and the rest of the preparatory levels before entering Grade 1? What should be the proper order? Hoping for your enlightenment here. Many Thanks Mommy..

    1. Thanks, Mommy Donna. :) In the schools I visited, they start with nursery followed by kinder (sometimes with different levels like junior kinder and senior kinder or kinder 1 and kinder 2) then prep. Coverage of topics vary from school to school so it's best to ask the school that you have shortlisted or are considering what they teach or cover per level. I will be inquiring at a few more schools in the future and would share about them as well here in the blog. One of the challenges of parents is finding a school that will have the best fit for their kid and family's needs. That's why I'm sharing about my findings and learning as I go through this stage to help other parents somehow. :)