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Mud Season

Started: 2011-11-13 11:41:42

Submitted: 2011-11-13 14:14:51

Visibility: World-readable

The weekend after I climbed Chiefs Head Peak, it rained all day in Boulder and snowed above 8,000 feet, effectively ending what was left of the summer climbing season. Fall stayed warm and sunny until late October, until a big snow storm dumped 10 inches of snow on my back porch. Calvin liked the snow and convinced Kiesa to build him a big snowman in the back yard. I seem to have avoided photographing the snowman but I did get other pictures from the storm. That storm did unkind things to my shrub roses but didn't break any branches on our big trees, but the follow-up storm a week later broke one branch on my maple tree.

Our current plan calls for selling our house in Longmont and moving to Gunbarrel next spring, with the precise timing to depend on the liquidity of the housing market. It's not yet clear what our longer-term (three to five to ten years) plan is, which impacts the rent-or-buy decision almost as much as the condition of the housing market three or five or ten years hence. (I have a complicated spreadsheet calculating our variable and fixed costs of home ownership and estimates the equivalent rental cost (that is, the money we spend that we don't cash out of the house at the end) taking into consideration the purchase price, mortgage terms, sale price, duration, mortgage interest tax deduction, and ongoing maintenance. Building this spreadsheet led me to two new financial functions I hadn't previously known about, cumipmt (cumulative interest payment) and cumprinc (cumulative principle payment).) Given the spread in fixed-rate mortgage rates versus variable-rate mortgages (since no one expects wild economic growth or higher interest rates in the next several years) and our relatively limited time horizon, I may have almost talked Kiesa into a 5/1 ARM, but I expect she'll want to run all of the numbers all over again next spring.

This means we've been looking at preschools for Calvin in the greater Gunbarrel area. Boulder seems to have a paucity of daycares for infants and toddlers but a good selection of preschools (though three of the four preschools we looked at do take toddlers, and two of the four take infants). From research online, Kiesa picked four candidates: Mountain Shadows Montessori School, Boulder Country Day School, Miss Catherine’s Creative Learning Center and Infant Center, and Boulder Journey School. These preschools represented a fairly broad spectrum of educational philosophies, but she decided to skip the nearby Waldorf school. (The application asked questions like, "How was the pregnancy?" and "How long did you breast-feed?") She scheduled tours at each of these facilities and I joined her for three of them.

We visited the Montessori school first and sat in on the preschool class, where a bunch of kids were sprawled out over the room doing various learning projects. I had only the vaguest idea what I was looking at, but I eventually figured out what they were doing. One kid had a thousand-element string of beads spread out most of the length of the classroom and was counting off the beads in units of 10 and labeling each one with a printed label. At first glance the kids seemed to be playing quietly, but on closer inspection they were supposed to be playing in a very specific way, according to the rules on which the manipulative was designed. This school was very proud that it was an AMI-certified school, which I quickly labeled the "orthodox" Montessori, as opposed to the "reform" or "heterodox" AMS certification. I was happy to accept Dr. Montessori as a visionary in her time but I had trouble imagining that a hundred years of research in child development and psychology could be easily dismissed as irrelevant.

We visited Boulder Country Day School next, located near the geographic center of Gunbarrel, and serving kids from preschool up to eighth grade. It was clear from the outset they were very professional and a little pretentious; two grade-school kids in their school uniforms met us on the sidewalk in front of the building and pointed us in the right direction. The school takes itself very seriously and implements a fine classical education; preschoolers learn French and gradeschoolers learn Latin. I think Kiesa bonded with the school librarian over her questions about the integration of the library materials into the school curriculum. I wasn't quite sure what to make of the pre-k kids doing worksheets tracing the letter "k"; my best understanding of the current state-of-the-art child education research is that one need not start with "real" education so young, but what makes preschool essential is the human-interaction soft skills. I saw at least one coworker in the tour, though he split off into the middle school tour and I focused on preschool.

In the entrance of the preschool building a sign read, "Unattended children will be given espresso and a puppy."

I skipped the Miss Catherine's tour (among other things, I had a hard conflict) and joined Kiesa for the final tour at Boulder Journey School. This preschool is the current incarnation of the preschool Willy attended in Boulder from 1991 to 1992, then known as Make a Mess and Make Believe. (Bethany and I would add "it's cleaned up" to the name, which seemed to suit our impression of Willy's habits of cleaning up after himself as a preschooler.) Since then it changed its name, moved to far north Boulder, and adopted a new cutting-edge educational philosophy, based on the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy.

(Last week was an inauspicious week to think about anything coming out of Italy, as Italy suddenly became the most recent domino to wobble in the Euro debt crisis. On Wednesday -- the day before our tour at Boulder Journey School -- Italian government bond yields shot up above 7% and global markets plummeted. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi finally resigned on Saturday after parliament passed its austerity measures. Here's a look at The Economist's cover photos of Berlusconi.)

While touring the airy and somewhat scattered school, I tried to remember what I saw while Willy was in preschool and captured some vague memories of dimly-lit halls at an abandoned elementary school in south Boulder filled with art projects and exhibits and things that seemed as if they were supposed to be somewhat educational if I could only figure out what they were supposed to be. The lighting had changed but the accoutrements in the hall remained. The school had an interesting child-based philosophy: they start each day with a "meeting" in which the teachers let the preschoolers decide what they want to do that day, within the general bounds of what's available for them. This was a far cry from the "play with these manipulatives and you'll learn something" Montessori structure, or the classical-education-scaled-down-for-preschool at Boulder Country Day School, and seemed to fit what I expected in a preschool, though a nagging voice in the back of my head asked at what point I expect children to start building structure into their educational experiences and doing things they don't want to do because it'll build character.

After touring the schools, Kiesa and I went out to eat last Friday night to discuss what we had seen and decide on our course of action. (This appeared to be a bad night to waltz into downtown Boulder without a reservation, as the restaurants were full on the first night of "First Bite Boulder", a multi-course fixed-menu event. Kiesa's first choice, Leaf, was full, so we wandered through the crowds downtown before ending up at Bombay Bistro, a good (if somewhat stereotypical) implementation of northern Indian food.) We compared notes (hers typed and in detail, mine mental) and concluded that, at the very least, we were not lacking options. I worried, briefly, that I was making one decision that was going to affect the entirety of Calvin's education, but decided that wasn't worth worrying about. We eventually settled on Boulder Journey School as our tentative first choice, though we won't know until next spring if they have a preschool slot available.

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