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How do you choose a kindergarten?

What should one look for in a school, particularly kindergarten? We live in an area where there are many confusing options, and my head hurts trying to sort it all out. 

One of the things I'm stuck on is that I'd like my kids to have the opportunity to be bilingual. There is only one school in our district that offers language (in this case, Spanish) immersion learning, and so I've been fixated on that particular school. But when I take a step back, there are many other things to think about. This particular school is not conveniently located, it has average ratings, and there are other schools that offer some cool things that this one does not.

I then discovered that the school in our neighborhood has a language requirement starting in Kindergarten, meaning that they will learn a language though will not be immersed in it (ie: they won't learn math in Spanish, but they will learn Spanish in a language class). So I started to wonder if that's enough - to expose them to the language but not immerse them in it, and then they can choose if they want to pursue it enough to become truly bilingual.

However, if you don't start in the immersion school in Kindergarten, you can never get in because of how the curriculum is designed. Therefore, is it better to start there and leave if it's not a good fit, rather than realize too late that we should have started there?

I'm worried that I'm so fixated on language learning that I'm overlooking other more important things. 

So questions:

  • Anybody have experience with language immersion? What are your thoughts? Is it so awesome that it's worth making a primary focus of our decision?
  • If you have experience with language learning other than immersion, what do you think? If we want to give our kids the opportunity to learn a second language, is a language requirement starting in Kindergarten a good way to kickstart that?
  • And in general, what are the important things to look for when choosing a school? 

Because of the chaos of our lives, we have to think about things like transportation and before/after school care. There are some great schools in districts surrounding us that we could try to get into, but we don't have the luxury of being able to drive our kids to and from school at 9am and 3pm (or whatever). So those are major considerations from a logistics stand point.

But what else do you recommend we think about? I need help!


Drum - 17 months

On April Fool's Day, Drum turned 17 months old. He has made some impressive leaps in his communication since I wrote his 16 month update. At that time we had just done the assessment where they thought he might benefit from some minor intervention (a monthly home visit to give us the tools to help him along). We haven't even had the first home visit yet, but I've seen some improvements that have helped calm the overall atmosphere of our house and family.

First of all, he started signing again. He only uses signs for milk, more, and occasionally all done. Then he started using some actual words! With meaning! During his initial assessment he had zero words. Well one - he had started saying mama just a few days earlier. Now he can say mama, no (or the more emphatic NO NO accompanied by hand gestures), baby, da (for yes), and Mo. He can also repeat several words, though he doesn't use them independently yet: dada, ya (when we ask him to repeat yes), hi, doggie, and meow. He'll also imitate the "ooh ooh ah ah" sound of a monkey.

Bro eating

So basically I think he's starting to figure out how to produce specific sounds, he's learning to connect some of those sounds to meaning, and he's realizing that signing really does work. None of this means he can tell us exactly what he wants all the time - there is still much screaming - but he's making progress and it has shifted the energy for all of us.

I think the other big difference is that I've intentionally changed my approach. I'm working hard at controlling my own frustration. I try to remember that he is frustrated because he doesn't understand the world and the rules, he can't do many things for himself, and he can't tell us what he wants or needs. So when he screams and flails, I try my hardest to stay calm, to stay with him, and to help him tell me what he needs. It's challenging me in ways I was never challenged with Mo at this age, but it seems to be making a difference.

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Not only is he communicating more and screaming (a little) less, but our relationship has change a bit too. We've always been tight and I've always been his favorite person and his safe space, but lately we've really bonded. My heart has softened to him even more than before, and I think he knows I'm there for him even when he's screaming in my face.

Anyway! Enough about that, he's so much more than his tantrums and his talking. Drum is really fun. He loves to play with his sister (who doesn't always love it as much as him), he loves to hang out with us even if we're just chillin', and he loves to check out anything that's going on. He's curious about whatever project Mo has going on (usually art-related), he likes to help with chores like the dishwasher, sweeping, and vaccuming, and he loves to go wherever we're going. If I say "Bro, want to go upstairs?" he'll hustle off to the stairs without question. 

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He's gained a couple more teeth recently, he's really good at blowing his nose, he likes his stacking game, the wooden blocks, and the jumbo legos, he likes to play dressup with Mo, and he loves to dance. To him, dancing is usually turning in circles, but he really jams. He can point to a few body parts - hair, nose, belly, hands, feet. And he just keeps growing! I recently pulled out the 24 month and 2T clothes. Some are still too big (and some 18 month stuff still fits), but I feel like I just put all that stuff away from Mo! She wore some 2T stuff until after she turned 3, which was only a year ago!

At his recent doctor appointment, he was 33.5 inches tall (94th percentile) and 24 lbs 13 oz (68th percentile). He fell asleep on the way to that appointment, which he rarely does, and even though he normally wakes up as soon as the car stops, he didn't this time. I thought he would be a super grump the whole time, but he did pretty well. However, he was sooooo clingy to me! When I tried to lay him on the baby scale, he desperately held onto me, climbing my torso like a tree. Then he frantically tried to eject himself from the scale. He wouldn't even stand on the upright scale, so I ended up weighing myself on that with and without him to get his weight.

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I knew there was no way he'd lay on the table for his shots, so I sat on the table and held him in my lap while he at a snack. The nurse gave him two pokes and he didn't make a peep. He kind of looked at his leg in boredom and shoved some more cheerios in his mouth. I was amazed.

A couple nights ago, he stayed up past his bed time and when I carried him up, I cradled him in my arms. I stood in his room, holding him, and we just looked at each other while I whispered how much I love him. He played with his hair and sucked his bottom lip, listening to me. Then I said, "Are you ready for nigh-night?" and he subtly nodded his head. I know someday he'll be too big to hold like that, so I locked that moment into my memory to keep forever.

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Drum - 16 months

Today Drum is 16 months old. As I was reading Mo's 16 month post I realized he was probably supposed to have a 15 month appointment, which he never did. Is it my responsiblity to remember that shit or should the doctor's office have reminded me to set one up? Anyway, the appointment is now scheduled...for when he's nearly 17 months.

I'm frustrated to report that at 16 months Drum is still as screamy and screechy as ever. I keep thinking it has to be just a phase, but how long is a phase? When is it just who they are? I love him so much, he's my boo bear, but he is challenging me greatly. This morning, for instance, the simple act of changing his diaper and getting him into clothes gave me so much anxiety (the screaming and writhing!) that I was frazzled all morning. When he's sweet, he's so sweet. When he's pissed, he's SO pissed.

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I think I mentioned last month that I wondered if part of his frustration was because of his lack of ability to communicate his needs. So I arranged through a local organization to have a free in-home assessment. They came last week and spent a couple hours with me and Bro. About an hour into their visit, one of them said, "OK so he's... 25 months right?"

Um no. He's 15 months. Whomever prepared their paperwork wrote 1/1/15 instead of 11/1/15. They were flabbergasted when I corrected them, but also relieved. He's very close to on track for a 15 month old; not so much for a 25 month old. However, they still noted a lack of vocabulary, a lack of interest in nursery games (patty cake, etc.), and a slight delay in verbalization for his age. We'll receive free services that include a monthly in-home visit to observe and work with him, and to primarily give us tools to help him along.

To be honest, I'm not worried at this point. He understands language incredibly well and always seems to know what we're saying or asking him. He knows how to indicate some of his basic needs (point to the pantry for a snack, push my hands toward my chest to pull down my shirt so he can nurse, bring us shoes to put on this feet). He did start saying mama in the last couple weeks, so he does have one word, and I know he'll talk eventually, probably even soon. But like I told the assessment professionals: if I can help him express himself in a way other than screaming and screeching, I really want to do that.

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At 16 months I wrote about Mo that she was easy-going and adaptable, and when I read that just now, I laughed out loud. She was and continues to be just that, but Drum is decidedly not. A couple weeks ago when spring visited in mid-February, I took the kids to the park. Every time I tried to redirect Drum away from something or help him safely up the steps or down a slide, he freaked out. When it was time to leave, I carried him out of there wailing and writhing in my arms. It's exhausting and makes me want to never leave the house with him.

On a lighter note, Drum is a great helper. He loves to help us fold laundry, empty and load the dishwasher (his favorite part is closing the dishwasher when we're done), throw things in the trash, put away groceries, sweep and vacuum. I like to call him Danny Tanner because he's very tidy - his favorite toys are his toy broom and our dust buster, and he's a stickler for putting things in their proper. Part of his assessment included a play cup and spoon, and the only thing he wanted to do with them was put put them in the sink where dishes belong.

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He also still enjoys dragging around large objects and now he's into dress up. Awihle ago, Mo got a box full of dress up clothes from her cousin and she and Bro like to dig through it together. Mo kind of wishes there were more ninja costumes, but Drum really loves the frilly stuff. He's also started to show a small interest in books, which is a nice change. He'll actually grab a book and bring it to us occasionally, and then sit through a page or two before pushing it away. That's a huge improvement.

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He's still a good sleeper. He fights the getting-ready-for-bed part - the diaper changes, the changing into pajamas - but once he's in his crib, he puts himself to sleep and sleeps all night. He also naps pretty well. By this age, Mo was down to one nap in the afternoon, but Bro still requires two. Ideally, like on the weekends when he's home, his schedule goes like this: 7:00-7:30 wake up, breakfast, hang out, 10:00 nap for about 1.5-2 hours, lunch, hang out, snacks, 2:30 nap for 1.5-2 hours, more hanging out, dinner, play, 7:00 bedtime. During the week though, when he's at daycare, it gets a little screwy. Their nap schedule isn't in synch with his circadian rhythms. We start his day at 6:30, and so he's ready for a nap at 9:00, which is fine. But then they want him to nap with the big kids at 1:00 and he's not ready then, so he doesn't often sleep much or well, and then he's SUPER FUSSY when we pick him up and for the rest of the night. 

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This post has had an obvious negative tone. There's a bit of a dark cloud over everything because we're all figuring out how to do the things we need and want to do when there is a ticking time bomb ready to scream at any moment. So let me end this with a fun story. 

A few times in the last month, Drum has asked to sit on the toilet. Sometimes when I ask him if he has peed, he'll pull at his diaper, then walk into the bathroom and point at the toilet. So I put him up there! He doesn't pee, but he thinks it's fun to sit and maybe throw some toilet paper in the bowl. No plans to potty train any time soon, but I can't handle how adorable he is up on that big seat!

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Drum - fifteen months

On February 1 Drum turned 15 months. He's a hoot right now. He's either being silly or he's grumpy as hell. His grumpiness is wearing on me, so let's discuss that and get it out of the way. Basically he hates everything most of the time. That might be overstating it, but only a little.

This is a typical scenario: He starts screeching and crying. I offer him a pacifier. He shoves it away in tears. I offer him a snack. He wails. I offer him water. He screeches and shakes his head. I walk away, he bends over and puts his head on the ground in exasperation. His face is covered in tears and snot, he's crying, he's miserable. I offer him a snack again. He wails some more, then succumbs and takes the snack. Repeat repeat repeat. 

Drum puzzle

 I've been struggling with this. Everything we do leads to him screaming. I'm sometimes anxious to approach my child to complete a simple task because I don't want to hear the wails of anguish. I hope it's a phase, maybe teething - he did just grow some molars, skipping over the several teeth that typically come first - because his persistent grumpiness is wearing on my psyche!

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I also continue to wonder if some of it is related to some frustration with not being able to communicate adequately. He doesn't talk at all and he only very recently started signing "more" again - he stopped signing awhile ago the couple other signs he had. To get what he wants he usually just makes some urgent noises while looking or pointing at the thing he wants. But I wonder if, when the thing he wants is more complicated than "that pacifier that I can't reach just there," he screams and cries in frustration.
Every couple months I complete an online assessment through a local nonprofit, and in his 14 month assessment I wrote that, though I'm not worried about his inability to speak, I do wonder if there is more I could do to help him communicate if indeed that is causing him some frustration. They are setting us up with an in-home assessment to determine if he's still on track, if there is more we can do at home for him, or if he needs some sort of intervention.
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Anyway, he's grumpy a lot, but that's not all he is. He's also so sweet and he loves to cuddle. He gives hugs and kisses (open mouth kisses!) and he likes to be held. He is very tidy. He never tires of throwing used diapers or other trash away, he likes to put things where they belong, he likes to wipe his face and hands, he likes to sweep and wipe things up. Mo is messy and I don't remember her being so tidy. Up to this point, the two of them have been much the same. A baby is a baby - yeah they were different in some ways, but it wasn't until recently that I've really started to see differences in their personality, to see who Drum really is and how that is and will be different than Mo.
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He still doesn't like books much, but he's been showing a little more interest. Hopefully someday he'll actually enjoy reading. Whenever music comes on, he starts to dance, usually twirling around and bouncing. He loves to play the drum set his grandma got him for Christmas. And he really loves shoes! He's always bringing us shoes to put on him - his, Mo's, ours - he doesn't discriminate. He is a sweet boy even if he does have trouble controling his emotions! 

I want my community back

I have been feeling isolated lately. I grew up in a big family, and as an adult, I've never been good at making friends because I've always had built-in friends. My family is my network, my support system, my friends, and my community. I have a couple really good friends and many lovely acquaintances who bring wonderful things to my life, but I never built a community out of my social networks. I know many people do - they build families out of friends, but I guess because I was lucky to have a big, close family, I didn't create a tight friend community. My best friend is someone I've known over 20 years, and I consider her part of my inner circle, but everyone else I'm close to is family.

But my family is spreading out, both figuratively and literally, and I'm feeling more and more alone. One sister lives almost a two hour drive away, one is moving an hour away, my brother and dad are each close to an hour away, and my mom is an hour and a half. I do have one sister that lives 10 minutes away, but we are both so busy that we hardly see each other. 

This is the time in life where I need people, where we need to support each other. Every day I feel overwhelmed with everything - work, kids, home, life - and I have this vision of surrounding myself with people who I can lean on and whom can lean on me. I thought those people would be my family, but somehow lately that isn't happening. We're all scattering, and we're all hunkering down into our own lives and our own problems. We're all getting by each day, relying on our own small family units instead of relying on each other.

I feel isolated despite my big family. I don't know how to re-establish my community, and I don't know how to build a brand new one. It feels unnatural for me to live like this. I want my community back.