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How Much Should Preschools Adjust to Meet Parents’ “Natural” Preferences?

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Nissa Mollema, of the blog Cloth Diaper Guru, published a post this week about a Floridian friend who was told by her daughter’s daycare that they couldn’t use cloth diapers – as the family did at home – because it was illegal in their state. So the family sent their kiddo to daycare with disposables for a year… Until Mollema did some (easy search-engine) digging and discovered that cloth diapering in a daycare is not only perfectly legal in Florida, but the state’s laws include a clause specifically addressing the proper handling of cloth diapers in a daycare setting. (In fact, Mollema couldn’t find even one state that prohibits cloth diapers in daycares – see the full list here.)

I’d be pretty upset if I were the friend in question; if a daycare, school, or other childcare provider is unwilling to accommodate a family’s requests, the family should be informed of that directly so they can choose to either compromise their preferences in order for their child to attend that school/daycare/etc., OR seek another option that better meets their needs. Lying to parents is obviously not okay for this reason and others, but the anecdote Mollema shared made me curious about how much our kids’ schools can and should adjust their standard operating procedures to correspond with parents’ choices at home.

I think most parents appreciate that maintaining regular routines (thus maintaining organization, consistency and calm) in a childcare setting, while also accommodating a wide array of individualized needs and requests for each child, is a tall order. At the same time, most parents try to choose childcare and school options that not only value this tall order, but also do their best to fulfill it. After all, many children are in school for most of the day; parenting lifestyle choices don’t count for much if they’re only in effect when the kids are sleeping. Childcare also isn’t cheap – annual childcare expenses often exceed college tuition rates (!) – so it makes sense that parents would expect a high level of care once they’ve chosen an option that suits them.

When our family first moved to Austin, we initially thought that we’d tap some of the drop-in childcare options that exist here once Kaspar was old enough to attend them (he was six months old when we moved; most drop-in places kick things off at 18 months). I had heard great things about a few of these places from other moms in the area – several are consistently highly rated, and run by capable, kind people. The price looked exactly right, too; parents can pay more in advance to pay less by the as-needed hour. And, with open-hours designed for freelancers, and other irregularly-scheduled parents like us, we thought we’d found our ideal option, given that we’re sometimes totally slammed with work, and other times have more flexibility.

As we discovered our son has severe food allergies to contend with, however, and as he grew into a routine-happy toddler who’s highly attuned to his environment, we realized consistency was going to be key, for both his happiness and safety. We opted to pay more – tuition’s a big expense for us, for sure -- and found a wonderful, nearby Montessori school that not only completely accommodated Kaspar’s extensive (and 100% necessary) food needs, but whose staff met amongst themselves to devise – and then share with us – a way to meet those needs without leaving Kaspar out of existing mealtime routines in the classroom. (Later, when I asked that the classroom be entirely nut-free for emergency-avoidance, they happily complied.)

We also chose the school we did because their approach to education, and to caring for each individual child, matches up with our own ideals; this means we don’t have to make too many special requests, because they’re already on it. (They ask, for example, that each kid arrives on the first day of school with a good supply of whichever diapers, lotions, sunscreens, etc. his parents prefer him to use.) In turn, we’ve been happy to take cues – and seek advice -- from Kaspar’s teachers on everything from toilet training to setting up his room at home.

KasparKelsey

Photo: Kaspar, reunited (post-summer vacay) with his beloved teacher Miss Kelsey, at his school's fall picnic.

Our choice has really worked out for us -- hooray! -- and Kaspar’s thriving as a result of it (his relationships with his teachers and friends are real, and enriching), but I know the ride isn’t always this smooth for everyone. A former colleague, and still-friend, of mine in New York actually stopped working because she couldn’t get the childcare balance to work out in her (or her kiddo’s) favor; she was constantly exhausted from commuting and working full-time, and he had constant diaper rash from too-infrequent changes at his (not inexpensive) daycare. Bummer, right? On the other hand, I’ve heard horror stories from friends who work as (all-star) nannies, preschool teachers and daycare employees about completely overbearing, smothering parents who make endless, over-the-top demands, often in the name of natural parenting practices.

It’s a fine line. Many parents feel their natural parenting choices are nothing less than health and safety-related (with good reason). But there’s also, obviously, a point at which the decision-making must be handed over to the teacher. Even in our situation, as much as I’ve given Kaspar’s school’s staff Epi Pen demonstrations, written out symptomology to watch for and what to do when said symptoms occur, and explained when to call me and when to call 9-1-1 – knock on wood they never have to – I still leave him at school each day and trust that they’ll be careful, and use sound judgment. I do trust them, too, so I don’t need to call them and smother. Of course, I have this level of trust because they’ve called me to double-check whether ingredients in their hand soap will be okay for Kas; I know they’re thinking the way we do at home, and aren’t rolling their eyes at parental requests. We work together to make the classroom community work for everyone. I'm happy to chip in on that score, too; Kaspar brought popsicles for his class at the beginning of summer, and I’ve made rice-flour play dough for the classroom, as well. Collaboration is a beautiful thing.

How much have you asked of your child’s daycare, preschool or school in order to extend your natural parenting choices into his or her school day? How much has your childcare complied? Did you make your childcare choices based on your parenting style? Horror stories? Success stories? Share with the class!

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