Subtitle: How to Be a Productive Member of
Society a Group Preschool Tour
I've been to visit a few preschools recently, and frankly, I'm shocked at the lack of social intelligence that many adults have. Admittedly, I have a low tolerance for people in general (I smile politely, but on the inside I roll my eyes) . . . but the questions that I have to sit through at these things would drive even a nice person over the edge. So here's an education on being a productive, non-annoying, contributing member of a group info session and tour, broken into 3 easy lessons:
(FYI: While I'm writing specifically about a special needs preschool tour, these general guidelines are so universal that I think they could even apply to a normal college tour)
You're playing the long game. The "Group Information Session and Tour" is only Step 1 of the many step process of "getting in" to a preschool. If you're interested in a school, Step 2 is generally bringing your child back for a playdate. At this time, if you're still interested, and the school is interested in you, you can ask every question that you've ever had. But the group tour? It's only Step 1. Step 1 is for broad, general information. Pace yourselves.
Have some social intelligence, folks. This is not you, alone, in a room with a school director. There are other people here, and while you don't have to be their buddies, it might do you good to consider that everyone who is there has their own perspective, and they aren't there to hear about you and your kid. Your company will probably include:
-Parents who realized quickly that this school is not a good fit for them, but feel obligated to politely stay until the end.
-Parents who are sure this school is the perfect fit and are excited to come back for a play date, and are waiting until then to ask a million questions that are specific to their child.
-Parents who are visiting a special needs preschool for the very first time, and are feeling the emotional blow of realizing that this is where their child fits.
-Parents who have been on 8 other tours this month, and just want to get the facts and get out.
-Parents who need to get to work.
-Parents who are worried about how their child is managing with the babysitter.
Lesson 1: Questions during the Infomation Session:
The school director/session leader is trying to make a cohesive presentation---they have important things that they want to tell you about their school, and want to address the most common questions that they get. But they can't get through their presentation because you. keep. interrupting.
Asking a few general questions is fine (after the body of the presentation). We are all here to get information about a school's practices and policies, and you may have questions that are appropriate and useful.
-if you have asked 8 questions and no one else has asked any, it's time to stop.
-if the school director/tour leader starts to give you a sideways glance when your hand goes up, instead of pleasantly calling on you, it's time to stop.
-if you feel the need to say "Just one more quick question", then you're already apologizing for monopolizing the time, and you need to stop.
Example 1: We are in an observation room (the classroom has one-way mirrors and so we're in a mini-room where we can see and hear (through a microphone system) the classroom, but they can't see us). In the corner of the classroom closest to us, a teacher is handing out toys cars from a basket, saying "And Tommy, this car is for you. Do you know what color it is? It's blue!" etc.
Mom in my group: "Question---I notice that the teacher is selecting the cars and handing them out to the children. Now, I'm just wondering, would there be other times when the child is allowed to pick their own car from the basket?"
Tour leader: (brief pause, opens her mouth to answer) "Well, there might---"
Mom in my group: "I'm just asking because my Joey loves playing with cars, but he really prefers the ones that have the big wheels on the bottom. So I want to know if he would get a chance to play with them, or whether he would just have to have whichever car the teacher gave him, you know?"
Me (on the outside): (turns away from the group so no one can see me stifling a laugh)
Me (on the inside): Seriously? Are we really spending time discussing the intricacies of the school's toy car distribution practices? Please shut up. I don't care about what type of car Joey likes. I'm betting no one else in this group does either. And I don't care how they hand out their cars---this is a great school, they clearly know what they're doing, they don't need parental micromanaging input on how to best pass out plastic cars.
Example 2: We are in an empty classroom, looking around at all of the cute little art things, their daily schedule, etc.
Mom in my group: "I notice that they have play-doh here. Do they use that a lot?"
Tour leader: (Gives some answer about art time)
Mom in my group: "Oh, ok. My daughter Ally is just really starting to discover play-doh and work creatively with it, but she only wants to use her hands and not the utensils. Would that be something that they would work on, encouraging her to use the utensils?"
Me (on the outside): (turns away to stifle a laugh)
Me (on the inside): Seriously? Our kids are 2. "Discovering play-doh and work creatively with it" makes it seem like you think she may be the next Michelangelo. She's probably squishing it, shoving it into the container, and eating it. I'm sure these teachers, who work with 3-5 year olds all day, have a great system for play-doh time, and a bucket of play-doh appropriate "utensils". They're professionals, they know how to help kids with the play-doh. (Eye roll)
Lesson 3: How to decide if your question is "Group Tour Appropriate"
Helpful questions are general questions that could apply to more than one child (in other words, it's not all about your kid). Some examples: Are you able to handle children who need support walking? Do you have experience with assitive technology for communication? Are any of your speech therapists PROMPT trained? Those are some questions that could pertain to my kid, but also might provide helpful information to others in the group.
Need help figuring out if your question will turn you into "that mom"? Here are some self-check questions:
-Is it too specific? (Like the car distribution question) If yes, then rephrase:
"Will Joey get a chance to choose a car with big wheels?" can easily turn into "Do the children get any choice time to play with the toys in this area?" Win-win.
-Are you using the question just as a vehicle to share tidbits about your child? (Like the creatively working with play-doh question) If you want to start your question with a story ("Mary was playing with that same toy the other day! Would her class play with it here?") then it might not be necessary. You don't need to sneak in cute information about your kid to the tour leader. This isn't "The Bachelor", folks---no one's getting a rose at the end of the tour. We already established that Step 2 is to come back for a playdate----save your stories for then.
-Is this question really going to help you decide whether this school is a good fit for your child? Really, if they tell you "No, they don't get to choose their own toy cars" are you going to wave your hand, say "Ok, we're out" and leave the tour? Do you really even care?
-Are you forcing your agenda? If you ask 3 questions about ABA (or PROMPT, or music therapy, or time outs or whatever thing you have in mind) and are repeatedly, gently told "That's not really our thing here . . . we chose to instead address things this way . . . " then get the message. If you're still unclear, follow up with the school director in a one-on-one conversation. If you keep saying "But Marcus really benefits from a structured hierarchy of stickers", you look foolish. Again, you're at this school because you've heard good things . . . you either need to get on board with their methodology or find a better fit elsewhere. There may be room for compromise, but the group tour is not the place to hammer out those details.
-Is it too specific for Step 1? We're all here to learn the basics about this school. It's not important that I learn about their snow day policy right now, or whether they prefer lunchboxes or lunchbags. These are things that you only need to know once you're child is coming to the school. These are Step 3 (or maybe even Step 4) questions. Again, pace yourselves.
-Are you beginning to get death looks from other parents? Are people sighing loudy? Pointedly checking their watches? Take the hint.
Looking at schools is overwhelming, and nerve-wracking. Each of us wants to find the best possible fit for our child. We all have questions and concerns, but I don't care too much about most of yours and you probably don't care too much about most of mine, either. So let's agree to listen to the presentation, ask general questions, and save the detailed stuff for later. Thanks.
(title quote is from the Black Eyed Peas)