Category Archives: FarmTots

Picking a Preschool

The preschool hunt, for some begins as early as they are pregnant, for others long after the child is born.  For me, the thought process began when Bobby was merely weeks old hanging out in a baby carrier.  I was shopping for apples at my corner market in Oakland when a fellow mom stopped me.  She asked whether baby was on a list for school.  A little shocked by the question – I said no.  At that point, I was really thinking about buying produce, not about preschool options for my little guy.   Since Bobby was not even old enough to hold his head up, I thought it was a little early to start thinking about it.  What I learned was that the waiting lists at some schools start as early as when kids are in utero.  Yikes, I was already behind the ball!

Researching Different Options

With this in mind, when I moved to Sonoma when Bobby was six months old, I began the hunt.  In foreign territory as neither child development nor teaching is my profession, I searched for information.  Looking for expert opinions I consulted books and numerous articles (like these 1 and 2) detailing different educational philosophies like Montessori, Waldorf, Emilia.  There is only so much you can surmise from a book though.

The best advice came from local moms at the playground as they had actual experience with kids at the schools.  As I learned that there were different degrees with which the philosophies would be implemented at particular schools.  From strict implementation to lax, from focusing on daycare to the preschool program, there were so many things to consider.

Visiting the Schools

A shopper by nature, I visited the top schools that I had heard about.  Armed with my lengthy list of questions in hand like student to teacher ratio and schedules, I carefully observed what each school had to offer.  As I became more educated about programs, my list of questions evolved.   What were their goals for their graduates? What approach did they employ? How did the school develop confidence in the child? How did they engage children?

Of course, practical considerations like location and schedule came into play as well.  As one particular school that I fell in love had a very short program.  The short program coupled with the travel time to get there was impossible for my work schedule.

The decision involved other things more specific to Bobby like temperament and handling food allergies.  In addition, Bobby’s reaction to the school was key.  This even required a separate visit for some schools.  When Bobby visited, there were some schools where he immediately seemed comfortable.  There were other schools where wanted to be held the entire time.

Factors to Consider

Ultimately, the following factors helped me compare schools and make a decision:

  • Kids – did the kids seem engaged?
  • Teachers – what was their approach to teaching? How did they interact with the kids? How long had they been there?
  • Structure – what schedule did the day follow?
  • Art – what was the school’s approach to art? Was it free form or worksheets?
  • Curriculum –  what was the curriculum? Was it play based, Montessori, Waldorf or a hybrid like High-Scope?
  • Environment – was it organized, bright & cheery?
  • Play spaces – how did the space seem? Was it safe, clean, inviting?
  • Approaches to Discipline – what was the approach to discipline?  Would kids be in timeout chairs wearing a cone of shame? Or is there another more positive approach?
  • Socialization – how does the school encourage socialization?

Shortcut for Sonomans

With so many great options, picking a preschool can seem like such a tough and even overwhelming decision at times.  The good news is that there are resources out there to make it easier.   Cindy Studdert, owner of FarmTots, put it best when she described her decision not to open a formal school due to the great and numerous child centered programs in town.

In Sonoma, the Sonoma Valley Mother’s Club hosts a preschool fair every other year.  As a past coordinator of the fair, I can say firsthand that it is a unique and fabulous event.  Numerous preschools and other kids’ activities attend to showcase their programs.  It is the event where you as the shopper can comparison shop for preschools under one roof.  Take your list of questions and go booth to booth!  It is a fabulous way to start comparing different schools.  This year, the Preschool/Tot Fair is on Saturday, March 16, from 10 – 12 at the Veterans Building.

If you’re outside of Sonoma, check your local mothers club to see if they host such an event.  If they don’t, maybe start one.

 

Thanks for reading and letting me share my musings with you.  I hope this article is helpful.  I’d love to know what helped you pick a school?

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FarmTots – Sonoma’s Version of Sesame Street

Last year, a friend of mine introduced me to a gem of a program in Sonoma.  FarmTots at the Studdert Family Farm is the country version of Sesame Street.  Tucked away, this darling farm offers days of discovery for young kids and adults alike.  With sheep, rams and chickens, kids can get up close and personal with nature. Farm Tots Cover

FarmTots Epitomizes What Sonoma Is All About

Besides the activities of this seven acre working farm, the main attraction is Cindy Studdert.  Cindy is a trained Montessori teacher and an experienced mom.   A natural with kids, her gentle manner guides and encourages wee ones to get their hands dirty while having fun and learning a ton.

One example is the way she taught Bobby how to care for plants.   The patience of her approach is nothing short of amazing.  It went something like this – Cindy took out plants for Bobby to water and handed him a small watering can.  Of course I thought he’d drown the plants with water as he is an expert in doing so.  As calm as a clam, Cindy explained to Bobby how he needed to make sure each of the plants had water.  He listened and did so.  After she saw how much he enjoyed waterinFarm Tots Plantsg the plants, she brought our more plants to let him water.  She then explained to him how the plants needed to be put in the greenhouse, but she asked him if the neighboring chickens looked hungry.   You can guess what happened next.

With a barn fashioned as a classroom and playgrounds galore, this farm is absolutely kid friendly.   The classroom decorated with twinkling Christmas lights boasts activities at every corner, including a sandbox.  The play structure has a steering wheel so young mateys can steer ye ship.

How did this jewel start?  It started out as a soccer program for kids.  As the kids became more interested in nature and the farm more developed, Cindy followed the children’s lead and modified her program to focus on farm activities.  Of course, she offers the typical preschool things like counting.  But what this program really offers is a hands on experience where kids can gain confidence in their abilities through working on the farm.  To me, this program epitomizes what Sonoma is all about.

Montessori Roots – Cindy’s model of engaging and interacting with the children lies with background as a Montessori teacher.  She emulates Mari Montessori’s’ tenet to follow the child.  Flexible as can be, Cindy makes space to create activities for what the child wants to do.  If a child wants to play in the garden, it’s available.  If they want to play fireman, then that’s available too.  Of if they want to steer a ship and play pirates, then off to the play structure.  If they ate all of the Farm Tots Mike Iketomatoes, then Cindy helps the kids plant more.

She follows another of Montessori’s tenets which is to teach practical life skills.  For example, kids learn to rake and sweep.  In doing so, they develop not only fine but also gross motor skills.

It also seems to follow some Waldorf principles as well as the program follows and teaches children about the rhythm of the seasons.  With fruit cocktail trees, children are able to enjoy loads of different fruit.

Most of the kids in the program also are in other programs as well.  So, the program acts as a supplement to those programs.  With all of the child centered programs in Sonoma, Cindy didn’t feel a need to open a school.

With a fabulous ratio of teachers to students, sometimes even 2 to 1, FarmTots can nurture children with individualized attention schools with larger ratios are unable to provide.

Sound good?  The Nitty Gritty – FarmTots is now accepting preschool aged and school aged children.  The program for preschool tots, starting at age 2.5, is on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 -1:00 (during the spring and then again in late August).  The school aged program is on Wednesday afternoons after school.  FarmTots also has a Parent & Tot Class on March 15, 29 and April 19, & 26 from 9:30-11 at a cost of $10.

FarmTots has a summer program that serves kids ages  2.5-10 during the weeks of June 17, 24.  July 8, 15, 22 and 29 (Mondays – Thursdays from 9:30 -2:00pm).

Contact Cindy Studdert for more information cindylane1@sbcglobal.net