My husband and I are, for lack of a better word, atheists. So when it came time to put our almost four-year-old daughter in preschool, I was dismayed (horrified really) to find our options were either far too expensive or church based.
After a lot of research (grilling other moms) we decided our best option was a local Presbyterian preschool (Presbyterian is like Catholic Lite). I had heard good things about the school and was assured by my (only) atheist friend (we live in the South) that the religion there was minimal. When she suggested we could carpool, the deal was sealed.
Meet and Greet
Meet-and-greet day had me a little nervous. The school, though inexpensive, was in an “old money” part of town. There were a lot of polished blonde mommies there who all seemed to know each other. Their children were smocked and monogrammed to within inches of their lives. The girls were adorned with trunk show duds and giant hair bows. The boys were reminiscent of Little Lord Fauntleroy. There were some regular Target shopping types too, but we were the minority. And speaking of minorities, there were about none.
My daughter’s three-year-old class was surprisingly wonderful. Aside from some awkward party planning moments and parent work days, the southern culture didn’t affect us much. My daughter had two awesome certified teachers who had both taught public school and did not seem the least bit wacky. They taught her to recite her address, phone number, days of the week, months of the year, continents, and all 50 states. I was bragging my head off all over town. According to my daughter, they never spoke of God except before snack when they said a prayer. They had “chapel time” once a month, but my daughter never remembered what happened there; just that the chapel was pretty.
They did have music class once a week and the music teacher sang exclusively about God except for when she was singing about Jesus. One day my daughter sang me a song about God. I asked her who God was since we had yet to discuss religion. She said “Oh, that’s just my music teacher’s imaginary friend.” I told her that she was exactly right and a very smart girl.
We had such a great experience with the three-year-old class that we decided to send our daughter to the same school for Pre-K. The class sizes were smaller than Georgia Pre-K and it was only a three-hour day as opposed to the 6.5-hour day at GA Pre-K.
We made the wrong choice. By the time she started Pre-K, our daughter had matured a lot. We had discussed religion over the summer. I told her that her dad and I did not believe in God but that most people did. I told her to listen to everyone’s opinions, gather information, and formulate her own opinion as she got older. She declared herself an atheist immediately.
It bothered her then when she went back to school and her teachers were telling her things she just wasn’t buying, like that God created clouds when she knew full well about condensation. Although she did not vocalize it, I think my daughter felt like she was fibbing when she was singing those Jesus songs and that made us both feel bad.
We didn’t exactly hit the teacher lottery that year either. It turned out the lead teacher wasn’t certified. I didn’t feel like she was really teaching much and there were some major communication problems between us. The religion was still pretty minimal, but it there was an overall vibe that was not there the previous year. Oh, and the Easter story, you know the one with the nails and thorns, scared the crap out of our daughter. I suggested that we try homeschooling, but by then she had made friends and was adamant about staying. Overall, she had fun despite grappling with some pretty grown-up issues.
When deciding on a preschool, take into consideration your child’s personality and age. If they are three or four, they should be fine. If they are sensitive, precocious, and going on five, you may have a problem with a church preschool. If you do go the church route, pick a denomination like Presbyterian or Methodist that is not all fire and brimstone. Baptist, Pentecostal and Evangelical churches can be pretty spooky. Most importantly, follow your intuition, and if that doesn’t work, there is always PBS Kids.