Wow – I didn’t realize it had been a month since I had last posted. I have several posts in draft form, but none are quite ready for posting. My parents were in town for a few weeks, and I tried to stay off the computer while they were here. It can be hard to squeeze six months of family time into 2 weeks!
Isaac’s first day of Montessori was almost 2 weeks ago, fittingly on Maria Montessori’s birthday. Isaac attends a Montessori preschool in our neighborhood. It is a small school: 10 students, 2 teachers, and one room, in a home literally 2 blocks from our house. We love the fact that Isaac’s school is so close to our house. Brad or I can walk him down there every day. In fact, the way our neighborhood is laid out, it would take longer for me to load him into the car, and drive to his school, than it is to walk. Much of the curriculum is child-led, and the kids have plenty of time to explore different activities and skills. The kids in his class range from 2.5 – 4 years. It is like the preschool version of the one-room schoolhouse. His teacher, Mrs. Therese, is great. Isaac is just on the cusp of learning to read. I can see the wheels turning in his mind. She thinks this is wonderful, and already has some activities arranged just for him.
In Ireland, parents here have two main choices for preschool: home-based preschools (usually Montessori) and creche. Creche (pronouced “cresh”) is full-time daycare/preschool, and quite expensive. (As an aside, Ireland’s childcare costs are actually HIGHER than in the US. I didn’t think childcare costs could get any higher than they were in the US! ) The other option is home-based, half-day preschool. One thing that is surprising about early childhood education in Ireland is that there is no church-based childcare or preschool. In the US, church-based preschool is ubiquitous. Here, the Catholic church sponsors the majority of primary schools, so that is where their focus is. Home-based preschool is very much the norm. I think the inverse is true in the US. It actually took me longer to find a preschool than I anticipated because I was looking in all the wrong places!
Our primary purpose for enrolling Isaac was so that he would get some interaction with kids his own age. We struggled last year to find some kids that he could play with. The school has been a wonderful introduction to more Irish culture and heritage. They learn an Irish word or phrase each week. We have already met some great families in our neighborhood, as a result of being involved in Isaac’s preschool. There is a wonderful family that lives between us and the school, that have a son Isaac’s age, and a daughter Liesl’s age. Isaac’s teacher even gave us a great recommendation for a babysitter!
Another great part about living in Ireland is that the state pays for one year of part-time preschool, under The Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme. It is very important to Ireland that all children enter primary school prepared, so the state provides one year of preschool. It is not compulsory, and parents may send their children to any preschool participating in the scheme. (Virtually every preschool in the country). This year, we will pay nothing out of pocket for Isaac’s preschool. The state pays the school on our behalf. The subsidy is not lavish. It covers 3 hours/day, 5 days a week (15 hours) of preschool. If your child is in a program that is longer than 15 hours a week, the subsidy is deducted from your tuition bill. The preschools must be vetted and licensed, and follow standard curriculum guidelines (very similar to the US). Some preschools are Montessori, play-based, language immersion, and in some areas you can find a Naíonra, an Irish-language preschool.
In Ireland, you have the option of starting your child in Junior Infants (the first year of primary school) at age 4. We opted not to do this with Isaac because 1.) we want him to stay with his “peer group” in the US, so that if/when we return to the US, we can enroll him in school with kids his age and 2.) Isaac’s birthday is in late May, so he would be a very young 4-yr old in the classroom. Although I think he is academically ready for school, I don’t think this is the best decision in the long-term. We are very pleased with his school and his teacher, and most importantly – Isaac is having lots of fun!