I spent months checking places out, researching online, creating a hyperlinked Excel spreadsheet of possible schools with comparisons of learning approaches, teacher/child ratios, distance from home, and cost per hour. It was, in a word, insane. Or two words: insanely stressful. Mainly because it felt like the choice of where she ended up would decide whether or not she loved school (as I had) or hated it from the start.
It's play-based, which didn't seem rigorous enough in comparison to places that are practically guranteeing that your toddler will be doing algebra, right after using play-doh to make 1/5 scale models of regional architectural treasures.
But I did some searches online, talked with friends who teach little kids, and they raised some good points about play-based programs. Finally, as J. pointed out, Ava really engaged on the tour there, jumping right in with her age-mates in the play area and she told us how sad she was to leave.
Ultimately, I think I liked the Montessori school we initially found more for myself. But since my stuff can't fit in a cubby anymore, we chose and were chosen by the school that worked best for Ava.
Over the past year, because of Ava's excitement about going to school, we used it as a carrot in her potty training efforts. Which is why periodically on the weekends when we used a family bathroom stall while running errands, the folks in other stalls were treated to Ava applauding me and yelling, "Yay Mommy! You did it! You're going to school!" In the end, she potty trained months ago and the school she's attending doesn't have a "must be potty trained" rule, but she has a change of clothes there just in case.
Daiso Japanese dollar store. Packing a tasty, visually appealing lunch (often with a little post-it love note/drawing) is one way of showing her that I care about her, even when I'm not there for school dropoffs and pickups. I got the bento idea and the Daiso tip from the super smart blogger/Bay Area mom behind http://www.lunchinabox.net/.
J. giving the kids a lift before we headed for the first day of school.
See Ava: that's the school where a chunk of our disposable income is going.
My mom joined us, making for a three-generation start of school shot.
Money shot: whole family in one picture finally. Usually I'm missing because I'm taking pictures.
Ava's 3rd birthday fell on the second day of school so we took balloons and mini cupcakes for her class for lunch. Thankfully, she figured out that every day wouldn't entail such hullaballoo. Like, "It's Tuesday. Where's the marching band?"
Me and my smiley boy, who hung out in my trusty, much-loved Ergo through it all and was his usual good-natured self. As long as he's in the carrier - whether front or back - he doesn't make a peep. Hopefully, in a couple years, it'll be his turn to don a new back pack and head off to playschool.
All in all, Ava loved school from the start and since J. does drop offs and pick ups, I have to be content with hearing second-hand all the scoop on her new friends when I pick her and Dylan up after work ("So-and-so put sand in my hair so he had to go to time out!").
After years of thinking we might just be the childless aunt and uncle, I'm once again pleasantly surprised at how much enjoyment I'm getting out all of this kid-related minutiae. I'm absolutely loving being a mom to these two and sharing in all the tears, tantrums, tenderness and triumphs of their young lives.