“Daddy, Daddy, look….. TOYS!!!!!”
Elation. Ecstasy. Euphoria. Never has a 2 year old been as excited walking into a cousin’s toy room.
Which is perfectly understandable. I mean, just look at these photos of us playing with all of those toys.
Over the next few weeks as Jr spent time with all 9 of his cousins, his world view evolved significantly.
“Daddy, I want to go home.” (to play with toys)
“Daddy, I want friends.” (to play with toys)
“Daddy, I want to go to school.” (to play with toys)
As the proverbial kid in the literal candy store, he wanted the dream summer vacation that never ends. (But of course, this being the Internet and all, somebody with poor reading comprehension will get on their soap box about how there was an absence of toys or play time with other kids prior to this point in time. That would be false.)
We were already planning on returning to Taipei to Recharge and Create. Perhaps a regular playgroup / pre-school would offer play time and socialization while also providing Mommy and Daddy with some personal time. Listening to your kids is a wonderful thing.
I chatted up a few of the American and European teachers (“we teach English” is a big selling point) and Winnie read online reviews. We met with a school and viewed a classroom, but weren’t completely sure what to ask. This was uncharted territory for us. Unstructured play time? Yes. Freedom to explore? Yes. Kids and toys to play with? Also yes. We started with 3 hour days, picking him up after lunch.
Day 1: Jr woke us early, excited to go to school. “Mommy, school!” He didn’t like the lunch so the teacher fed him cake and potato chips.
Day 2: Jr says he doesn’t want to go to school. We learn that they don’t bring his particular class (kids < 3) to the park to play because it is “too difficult.” (The class has 2 teachers for 6 kids total, and the park is next door.)
Day 3: Jr screams and cries, saying he doesn’t like the teacher. I can’t identify any one thing that is off, but something feels wrong. Teacher tells us that Jr is “behind for his age” because he doesn’t respond well to authoritarian behavior. “Don’t worry, I’ll make him listen…”
We don’t go to school on Day 4, or ever again. Clinginess is at an all time high, and Jr panics if Mom isn’t in the room. He refuses to go on a bike ride or to the swimming pool with me (things he loves), just repeating “mommy, mommy, mommy.” Separation anxiety is expected for 2 year olds, but this is not normal. Bit by bit we uncover disturbing things, such as the teacher telling Jr “Your Mom won’t come pick you up if you don’t eat ALL of your lunch.” We later share concerns that only became clear in hindsight, such as kids in the class seeming excessively timid.
For the next 3 or 4 weeks we returned to our normal routine, playing with toys at home and going to the park. Jr’s desire for socialization continues to increase; he is constantly approaching other kids at the playground, offering to share his toy cars and asking if they want to play together. He is very much an extrovert.
Winnie arranged regular play dates with her friends, who all have children around a similar age. This is a big hit.
We met with the staff at the nearby Montessori school and discussed the previous school experience. The Montessori Method sounds perfect.
It is a view of the child as one who is naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared learning environment. It is an approach that values the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive.
Jr’s new teacher proposed a transition plan, where we began with just 1 or 2 hours per day with Mom in the class room. Slowly we increased time in class / reduce the time Mom is present, now to zero. He has yet to stay beyond 4 hours, but we will start nap time at school this week.
Jr is once again excited to go to school in the morning, has no apparent separation anxiety, and loves his teachers and fellow students.
They play at the park, swim, go on field trips, help with food prep and clean up, and play/create/learn, as shown in the following photos. (I’ve only shown his solo activities for the sake of others’ privacy… and also, I don’t pay those other kids for their modeling work.)
How much does Montessori school cost in Taipei? We just paid for an entire semester of full days, which go from 8 am to 4 pm. This includes lunch and 2 snacks per day, plus a field trip every 3 weeks.
Total cost: 123,178 TWD (~ $4,175 USD)
Half days cost 15% less
That is roughly $1,000 per month… or about the cost of many State Universities in the US. And there is a waiting list…
What does this mean for our future? Will Jr be following the mainstream K-12 public school path? Is the world travel dream dead? Is Taiwan our forever home?
We have been cross examining the question of home school or not home school since before Jr was born, and fortunately it isn’t a binary thing. We definitely view education as coming primarily from home and being self directed, so the Montessori style is a nice balance. We also continue to read books together, sing the Alphabet song, color & paint, etc…
Travel and education actually go really well together, as demonstrated by this lesson in colors in Split, Croatia.
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We are sorting through travel ideas for school breaks. We’ll have 2 weeks during Chinese New Year (just booked flights to Vietnam) and a 3 month summer vacay. Summer is super hawt and humid in Taiwan, so we would like to be elsewhere. This will probably include visiting friends and family in the US, as well as a bit of adventure somewhere else (still have to pass the PPT.)
This does come with a cost, as for the first time in our 5+ years of travel to date we would have the additional expense of a home base. Fortunately, we planned for that from the beginning.
Neither of us believes that Taipei is our long term home, but it is a nice place to live. Future destinations: unknown.
After a couple whirlwind years (Jr has already been to 28 countries, a few multiple times) Jr has expressed a desire to spend more time with other kids. OK, let’s do that.
Spending 24 hours a day with your parents is a wonderful thing (when you’re a toddler…), but then again so is spending 20 hours together. And maybe even a little better, since Mom and Dad get to do a little adulting.
The transition to normalcy involved a rough couple of weeks, no doubt. We definitely learned a great deal about our expectations and intentions through the process, and I am absolutely grateful we didn’t need to balance jobs while finding a healthy solution.
Everybody is feeling pretty good about where we ended up. Jr happily goes off to school each morning, and excitedly tells us about his day. And adulting is going great.
Although… maybe things are going a little too smoothly around here. Last evening, Jr told me:
“Daddy, tomorrow we go ride an airplane, OK?”
Kids…. gotta love ’em.