When my daughter turned 2, I got to dive into the dreaded, modern-day parents’ ritual of searching out the elusive, best-fit preschool.
In my mind, a good fit meant she would get to sing silly songs and make cute pictures I could display on the fridge. I wanted her classroom to be warm. I wanted teachers who would love my daughter and kids who would run around on the playground with her.
Early on, I decided I didn’t want French, Spanish or any other foreign language. I didn’t want promises to teach my child the Declaration of Independence or any talk of literacy skills. She’s only 2. I don’t want her to be part of the great education push-down that has kindergartners doing arithmetic worksheets.
She spent the past year in a sweet church-based program known as Parents Morning Out. She loved it. But I thought a larger program — a real preschool — might have more to offer her.
In researching the many schools in my area, I found another distinction to consider. Some preschools trumpet their green initiatives, such as organic food at snack time, a vegetable garden and compost bins. I liked that!
Even better, the greenest preschools tended to be closely aligned with what I was looking for educationally. Teachers in so-called progressive schools believe teaching kids to read at a young age is detrimental. They favor real-life endeavors such as cooking, cleaning, solving problems together and making the community better.
One of the progressive proponents’ manifestos is a book called, Einstein Never Used Flashcards. Popular brands include Montessori and Waldorf, but I found progressive-type philosophies in all kinds of schools, including several affordable programs.
I located the greenest of the green preschools and scheduled a tour. Man, was this school green. The lights were turned down low to keep kids from getting over-stimulated. Cleaning products were all-natural. Teachers served organic avocados as snacks. The playground had a butterfly garden and an herb garden. There wasn’t a plastic toy in sight.
Heck, the school even sold fair trade coffee.
The mother ship was calling me home. When I brought my daughter for a try-out session, she had a ball, especially when her teachers pulled her and the other kids from the classroom to the playground in a little red wagon.
The parent handbook spelled out more of the school’s green philosophy. Snacks had to be vegetarian and, preferably, organic. Kids drink water, not juice boxes. A few policies went farther than I thought was necessary, such as discouraging commercial characters on clothing and lunchboxes. No cupcakes to celebrate birthdays. Instead, the birthday child gets a song and a tea party.
After reading the six-page handbook — printed on both sides of the paper, of course — my husband thought the rules were a bit much. Still, he liked that practices we encourage at home, such as respecting nature and reducing waste, would be reinforced at school.
Unfortunately, the school that seemed a perfect fit had a disadvantage. It was eight congested miles from my house. All that driving back and forth wasn’t green at all. The more I thought about it, the greener choice would be to wait on preschool for another year and keep my child in Parents Morning Out, which is walking distance from our house.
Here’s the thing about trying to be a green mom: When green and mom are in conflict, the mom will always prevail. As much as I admired the green school, I blocked those eco-friendly practices when deciding where to enroll my daughter. I just asked myself where she would be happier. Despite the wagon ride, the butterfly garden, the vast playground and eco-friendly toys, I had to admit she would be happier staying at the Parents Morning Out program with the neighborhood kids and teachers she loves.
The program doesn’t have a garden or a compost bin. But it has something the green preschool can’t compete with: a community of people who already love my child. There is something beautifully green about that.