For one, I really enjoy spending my time with Riley. I don't want to just ship her off somewhere so I can be "free." Would it be so easy to just have one little baby (Jackson) at home instead of a baby and a toddler? Sure. But it just didn't seem right at this age to send her somewhere without a real NEED to do so. Instead, I started trying to come up with the weekly themes for our "tot school" that you may have read about on the blog. We don't do this every week, and some themes last for a couple of weeks, but I enjoy it, and Riley really enjoys it, and it's basically totally unforced learning that is just following her lead and her interests (with a little bit of my guidance). It gives me a bit of extra motivation and means I am constantly searching for new ideas and activities for her.
And I come across all kinds of ideas for her, things like this, our "tray of fun."
But recently I decided I wanted to try something else with her. While there are tons of things we can and do do at home, and we do have some activities we do each week (music class, kindy gym, coffee group), I felt like we needed something more. So today I signed Riley up for the local playcentre- basically a preschool co-op. Today was our first day, and it was a total success. Riley LOVED it.
So what is a co-op, you ask... Basically the co-op is based on the premise that a parent-education nursery school is the ideal environment for feelings of self-esteem and self-worth to flourish- an ideal environment for kids to develop confidence, think for themselves, solve problems, explore and learn. Parents give their time and energy to build this culture for the children. It might sound a little "fluffy," but I think it's actually a fabulous thing for the little ones.
So now Riley goes to "school" one day a week for 3 hours. I will be there with her (and so will Jackson), but not necessarily WITH her all the time. There are so many things for her to do there, and other kids for her to interact with. She's one of the younger ones (probably more 3 year olds than any other age), but she had a blast today. In the 2.5 hours we were there today, she did the following: used homemade purple playdoh to make shapes and "cookies," which she decorated with all colors of glitter and sprinkled with "frosting." She painted using brushes and her fingers, and she painted MY fingers. She built a tower with wooden blocks. She used her very own scissors for the first time. She washed her own hands at a sink at her own level. She sat at a table with 10 other little ones and ate a snack and drank from a cup. She played in a sandpit, jumped on a trampoline, went on the swings and slides and tunnel and through an obstacle course. She played in the water table with yellow dyed water. She "cooked" a sandwich with pretend food, and talked on the phone, and put five baby dolls to bed. She read stories and she hung out with other moms and toddlers. She basically had an absolute blast.
I didn't even bring my camera because I had Jackson with me, and I had my hands quite full (since the parents are quite hands on in this co-op setting!), but trust me, we had a blast. We call it "school" and Riley can't wait to go back to "kool!" And for me, it's just what I was looking for for her at this age- TONS of great toys and resources, unstructured play with other kids her age as well as some slightly older and younger, opportunities for her to explore and create and play, a community of like-minded adults there to foster the right kind of learning environment for the children. I'm not just dropping her off and leaving her, Jackson can come with me, she's getting to interact with new kids and has the chance to explore and learn and play in a great environment, and I get to meet some new people as well! Oh and in case you were wondering, Jackson was basically the perfect baby the entire 3 hours. He slept in his car seat for the first hour, woke up and ate, stayed awake for a short while, and then slept in the Beco carrier for the rest of the time. Thank you Jack Jack for being a superstar.
Anyway... I always thought I loved having a BABY, but seriously, having a TODDLER is such a blast. The learning, the fun, the imagination, the things she says, the ideas she gets, what she finds funny... seriously it is the best thing ever. I mean, come on, what is not awesome about this??