Autumn Nature Table or, "Maggie's Chestnut Hoard"

Chris Rock calls his GED the “Good Enough Diploma.” I like that. It sort of sums up what we’re doing with Maggie’s “homeschooling” these days. I call it “Good Enough Preschooling.”

The problem with moving to an entirely new country at the beginning of a pregnancy is that you don’t have much time to build a network. Sure, you’ll make friends you’ll have over for dinner or movie nights, but building the sort of relationship where you can ask “Hey, can I dump my toddler on you for an indeterminate period of time so I can have a baby and then do it a few more times in the following weeks so I can recover a little?” takes more time than I feel I have. While I don’t doubt the friends that we have made would probably do that for us and may yet offer, I don’t feel comfortable asking.

In order to make sure Maggie stays happy, engaged, and occupied I have, like a Dell customer service center, outsourced.

First up: preschool. We found a lovely center about fifteen minutes away. Now, in Northern England any time you drive fifteen minutes away from a town center you’re going to find yourself knee-deep in farm animals. This school is no exception. It’s a Montessori school with heavy Reggio Emilia influence (their new atelier is lovely) and maintains several animals for the children to help with: pigs, goats, and chickens.

My little introvert attends twice a week and will up to three times a week next school year or as space allows, and I’m thrilled to report that after a few days of releasing siren-like wails before I even turned the car engine off she’s started walking in without so much as a backward glance to say goodbye. This completely cracks me up, though: she has a small knitted blanket that’s 1/3 the size of her beloved Blankie that she takes with her into the classroom. She retires directly to the reading corner and listens to the teachers telling stories…with the blanket over her head. When she feels comfortable (after 5-10 minutes) she is willing to remove the blanket and join in. I’m told a little boy named Felix would desperately love to be Maggie’s friend, but thus far she has only opened up to the teachers. Maybe he’ll have better luck in a few weeks. Keep at it, little Felix.

The only issue so far is that the parent car pool consists of BMWs (sedans and SUVs), Audis, Range Rovers, and Volvo SUVs and I feel a little self-conscious driving my wee orange Honda Fit. We ballin’.

So…that still leaves three days a week. Drat. On to the next phase of my plan: childcare guides from Little Acorn Learning. Now, with so many free idea resources on the internet, why pay for a pre-planned curriculum? Because you’re about six weeks away from delivering your second blessed bundle of screams and sometimes you need to go on autopilot, that’s why. I find the key here is don’t do everything. Seriously. Get the three-day guide, commit to doing two days’ worth of activities, and forgive yourself if you only manage one. These are ideas that someone else laid out for me so on days when my brain isn’t functioning I can open my guide and carry on until all the synapses are firing. The colors and activities of the day are really helpful (particularly when I sit down on Sunday to write out my weekly plan, which is absolutely as far in advance as I ever plan anything) in this regard. Tom jumps in as often as he’s able.

Tom: "I never get to paint! We're going to paint! Leaf printing time!"

We round out the week with a Spanish playgroup class and library time afterward (let’s read someone ELSE’S books! I fell asleep there today. The chairs are really comfy) and a field trip day. Our field trips are almost always to Brimham Rocks, because it takes 45 minutes of meandering to get to the lunch kiosk, half an hour to eat lunch, and 45 minutes of meandering back and that, if you’re curious, is the perfect amount of time to totally wear a toddler out on Nature’s Playground. Tom has his time with Maggie in the late afternoons–usually nature walks where they collect things they find (blackberries until not too long ago and now chestnuts–and enlists her help with dinner prep. Probably one of the highlights of Maggie’s day is pushing the buttons on our front-loading washing machine and explaining to Blankie that the clothes are getting a bath.

So that’s five days down where you know your kid will be doing something mentally enriching and/or fun. The end goal of the Good Enough Preschool program is fun and limited organized activity. Though it sounds like there’s a lot of scheduling going on here, we do organized and thematic activities for maybe an hour a day. The rest is all free for Maggie’s open-ended free play time (with or without me), walks to the playground up the street, and our personal favorite: reading books under a fleece blanket. You can invoke John Holt, father of unschooling, or all those “experts” who agree that open free play is the best for preschoolers if you want to justify doing “nothing” but I just think it’s awesome to see what Maggie comes up with on her own. Doing “nothing” for a significant portion of the day is good for Maggie’s little brain and good for her hormonal mess of a mother, too. And the times that we’re doing “something” are not so stressful–I HOPE–that we won’t be able to continue after the baby comes (PLEASE LET THIS CHILD NOT BLOW UP OUR LIVES TOO DRASTICALLY OR FOR TOO LONG) because it’s fairly routine and autopilot.

So…that’s how we do it, Good Enough Preschool style. The most important thing is that we’re all enjoying ourselves as a family, it’s low-stress, we’re making memories, blah blah blah and Maggie might even be learning things, which is a cool benefit. But fun. We have fun. That’s all that matters.


3 thoughts on “The GEP

  1. Don’t beat yourself up (if you are, that is). It’s more like the JR preschool-style … Just Right. It’s just right for you and it’s just right for Maggie at this time in your lives. It sounds quite fun and educational to me!

    … isn’t Reggio Emilia an Italian cheese? Or am I just hungry …

    • Oh, I’m not beating myself up at all! 😀 I think I’m putting forth about as much effort as I can, which is about the same amount of effort that Maggie seems to need. Everything’s coming up Milhouse! 😉

      It very well could be. We should go to Italy and eat and find out.

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