When we chose to put Avery in a home daycare, it was because she was 12 months old (6 months when we chose where to send her), and I desperately wanted a mother-figure in a cozy home environment who would give her snuggles and treat her with patience and kindness while we were apart. I assumed that a daycare centre would be too school-like for my tiny baby, and that a home daycare was the only way to go. Although our daycare provider was great for Avery for her first two years independent from me, our provider’s untimely notice that she was closing her doors turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Last night we completed a whirlwind tour of 5 daycares in the area – 4 were home daycares all very similar to the place we were leaving, and the last was a Waldorf daycare centre. The centre blew us away. I had been familiar with the Montessori style of learning – we even interviewed a Montessori preschool in the Spring when we were concerned that Avery’s academic intelligence wasn’t being stimulated enough at the home daycare. But Waldorf was new to me… For those who don’t know, it essentially treats childhood learning as holistic, combining learning through the body, the mind, and the spirit (as our new centre puts it), or integrating intellectual, artistic, and practical learning (as wikipedia puts it). The children learn by moving through their environment, problem solving and exploring as they go.
The centre is bright and airy with very little decoration, but a lot of natural textures. There are silk scarves fashioned into forts that the children built using wooden frames that they can manipulate (apparently named a Waldorf play frame). There are baskets upon baskets of wooden toys that are designed to inspire imaginative play, rather than prescribing how to play, and there are comfy child-sized couches and pillows and shelves full of books. There is a play kitchen, and while we were there the 3 year olds were having a tea party with little metal tea pots and real glass cups. There is an art room with different coloured crayons all wrapped in the same brown paper, and a bathroom where everything is within a child’s reach to foster complete independence. Naps and quiet time take place on organic material cots lined with natural sheepskins. The outdoor play space, where the children spend up to 3 hours a day, was filled with sand, rocks, grass, trees, and gardens that the children cultivated and harvested from at will. The vegetarian, organic meals and snacks are prepared on site by a cook and the health ministry does frequent checks. The caregivers are quiet, calm, sweet, and loving, and the director is a grandmother who absolutely fits the stereotype.
The price reflects this. It’s $25 MORE PER DAY than what we were paying at the home daycare. But my wife and I talked about it all evening and decided that it’s absolutely worth pinching our pennies for the next 11 months to give this experience to our daughter. Then, she’ll be starting kindergarten in a public school with the traditional Western institutionalized learning style, and she’ll never again have the opportunity to learn in such a holistic way, or to have such plentiful free-play and imaginative time in a day.
Despite how idyllic this setting felt, I still had some concerns. I asked more questions than I had at any other daycare, and I pushed and pushed until I got a satisfying answer. One concern came up when I asked if they had any books that featured families structures besides a mom and a dad. The director of the centre responded by saying that they encourage the children to see the world as a good place, and that children don’t see the differences in each other anyway. Unsatisfied, I argued that Avery has already been asked many times by fellow children if she has a dad, and our last provided ungracefully stumbled through such a question asked by her own child. It’s bullshit to say children don’t notice differences in others, and I believe we need to positively model how children react to seeing differences between themselves and others. The director then responded that they keep the books about experiences the children are likely to have, maybe thinking I was suggesting they have a propaganda book called “My Moms are Here, They’re Queer, Get Used To It.” I finally convinced her by saying that a book with a mom and a dad isn’t an experience Avery can relate to, and it doesn’t cause any harm to have a sweet story book that happens to feature two moms. I could tell it finally clicked for her because she recalled that her niece is a single mom and it would be nice to see that family structure represented in books for her niece’s daughter, too. She also mentioned that another child at this centre had two moms. She said she’d look into their book selection. Success.
Another concern came when she told us about the Waldorf philosophy of no formal learning through books or otherwise. Avery LOVES practicing writing right now. She can write her own first and last name as well as a couple of other words, and the other day in the bathtub she used her bathtub crayons to sound out and write the word “baby,” all by herself. She often asks me how to spell a word that she’s trying to write. She also does addition for fun by either counting her fingers or just reciting “2 and 2 is 4,” or “2 and 3 is 5.” When she gets stuck and wants to be taught the next steps, we teach. I was worried that the Waldorf philosophy would prohibit this kind of formal learning among 3 year olds, but eventually I got a satisfying enough response that the caregivers observe the children carefully to know what their individual learning needs are, and will meet the children where they’re at. Avery will get plenty of writing practice, math games, puzzles, and reading at home.
Currently we’re working on filling out the 12 page application, which includes odd and offensive questions like whether the child’s birth was “natural” or C-section, whether the baby was fed by bottle or breast, and how much screen time the child gets and whether or not we’re willing to limit that. Despite feeling like these questions are pretentious and exclusionary, we seem to be giving the answers that I think the Waldorf centre is looking for, so I guess we’re the right kind of family for this bourgeois-hippy institution.
As long as we get paperwork and deposits and everything straightened out without issue, Avery’s first day will be Sept 23. I may have my own personal nervousness and uncertainty about the transition, but I’m pretty sure Avery will make the move seamlessly and confidently. During the hour we were there for our tour, she was fully engaged in the toys and the outdoor space and with the other children. She barely noticed we were there. She’s definitely ready for this, and she deserves this kind of top notch environment.