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Knox’s Montessori Kindergarten in Taipei: so worth it!

I recall when I was still early on in my pregnancy and was planning for child care for when I went back to college the following fall. I was naive in the way of babies and considered a caretaker to merely change and feed him adequate for the needs of an infant. Planning for commuting infrequently between Taipei and Kaohsiung, with Knox attached to my chest, I went up to an old lady at a food stand that was on my way to college and asked her if she would be willing to watch over a child for about 100NT an hour (the going rate for licensed nannies here is at least 150NT/hr). I figured I could drop him off on the way to school and pick him up on the way back. She wanted me to provide a crib that she could keep him in while she tended to the stall.

When Knox was born, our plans changed, and we decided that I should commute frequently and Knox go to care in Taipei, where Mike could pick him up when I was not in town. First I looked for nannies. According to the law in Taiwan, each individual nanny can only care for up to 3 infant/toddlers at a time, as more would overwork them and lower the quality of care. As there was a baby boom due to it being the year of the dragon, a lot of mothers had already found nannies pre-birth, so I felt that I was probably late in the game. I finally was introduced to one in our neighborhood by a friendly lady I met on the street. She said she took her son there. When I went to visit the nanny, she had 2 toddlers and one infant in the house (not including the lady’s child, who was a “temp”), and the space was small and dark, albeit clean. I asked her if she would take the kids out once in a while. “Not the infants, no, they are too small and cannot walk.” Which I took to mean that she would not take out ANY of the children, as she was the only one caring for them.

I asked what she did when they cried. “Oh the infants I leave in the crib. They cannot hurt themselves in there and if I hold them a lot they will become clingy and difficult.” This was the first time I had heard this famous traditional Taiwanese nanny formula for easy to care for children. Ignore their cries and they will not cry so much in the future but lay in their crib all day while you can go about your business. I looked at the kids she was caring for. Knox was six months at the time and he was sitting up by himself. The other infant there was 5 months and she laid there in a shallow rocker, not even yet able to turn over. The nanny did not pick her up or look at her once while I was there. The toddlers stared at me, rather dully I thought. They did not seem either excited nor did they smile. One started crawling over to the other kid and slapping at the child, taking her toy. The nanny reprimanded him but he went over and did it to the other kid.

Later on I overheard one of my friends here declare: “I can always tell, in my class, which children have been raised by their parents, which of them by their grandparents, and which of them by nannies.” According to her, there is an increased degree of unresponsiveness and dullnes to the children who are raised by nannies, “because they all do the cry-it-out.”

Since then, I have developed a small appreciation for the cry-it-out method: but only for a short while to get a feel of what they need, or so the child can develope a full sleep cycle. At the time, fresh from pre-birth crunchy granola douhla lessons, the idea of leaving a child in the crib all day upset me very greatly (and still does). At this point I had gotten to know my little man for a while, and he was not, as I had previously imagined : “an inert little caterpillar whose only needs are to be fed and changed and burped.” every single day he was more and more engaged with us. And I do not think he would be if we weren’t holding him and smiling at him and talking to him and showing him things all the time…

The second place I looked at was a community nursery my friend had found for me off the government registry of certified nurseries. It is two blocks from our residence into a quiet alley and the space was clean, large and bright, full of well organized toys. Parents are allowed to drop in anytime unannounced, and in that way I felt safe knowing that there was that level of tranparency.

I dropped in a lot so Knox could play with the other kids. He seemed very interested in looking at the other children. Once in a while I sat in the baby nursery and showed him the infants who could not sit up yet. They were cared for by a separate nurse. Here, I was dismayed to see that they also conducted the cry-it-out method, being very careful not to hold them anytime they cried except for feedings, rocking their cribs to sooth them when they did wail. I thought: this is horrible, I am glad Knox will not be going into this class as he is too old now.

There were 8 children in the next class up, the Principle told me that they would be adding another class soon so there wouldn’t be too many children in a class. I never saw them add another class in the 3 months I visited. When I brought it up with the teachers they appeared puzzled.

I was satisfied with this place and meant for Knox to go there when my school started. In the beginning of September, two weeks before school started, I brought Knox to visit again and the teachers were feeding the children lunch. They were all standing, each in his own crib, while the teacher spooned congee into their mouths one by one. As one kid was being fed, the others stood there waiting. I asked why those who were finished were not let out to play. The teacher said they were understaffed that day (which seemed to be the case everytime I was there) and did not have someone to mind them while they played. I think they were either being inconsistent, or having the children stare and wait for most of lunch time was their modus operandi.

At this point I noticed that, even thouh the children here were much more reactive than the children I had seen with the nanny, they exuded an air of boredom/listlessness. I was upset to tell this to Mike, as I did not know if there were any better options and it would only make him lose confidence in taking Knox there every day.

The previous week I had visited a Montessori playspace with another mother. There, I had obtained the phone number of the only Montessori nursey (registered to that group) that took 0~3 year olds in Taipei. I had called them the same day but they told me their baby class was already full, as they had 3 infants to one teacher already.

Now I felt desperate, and decided to go there in person and beg/cajole/show the Principle my cute child to get her to agree to take on one more. (Hey look, he is no trouble at all, look how good tempered he is!) I made sure Knox had napped well that day before taking him there. I sat with her for half an hour and related my situation. She became concerned amd interested when I told her about the child/caretaker ratio at the other nursery. She thought long and hard and said she had to ask the teacher if it was alright for her to take on one more child, and if she agreed the Principle herself would come in during meal times to assist in feeding. I was shamelessly smiling, pleading, and complimentary about the Montessori method, which I had enjoyed for a brief stint as a child (possibly my happiest memories) and which my husband and I found matched with our own philosophy about raising children (children love to do things, to learn to become self-efficient).

So it was that Knox was accepted to this school that occasionally take the little ones into the park for some grass and sunshine, that has taught Knox to sit at the table, eat healthy freshly prepared foods, and spoon his own food into his mouth at the bright young age of 10 months. This is the school where Knox has practiced crawling up an incline, walking, and playing with cabinet doors plus other objects every day. This is the place where the teacher tells us every day of his new accomplishments (or shenanigans) with pride and joy. This is the place where Knox has developed regular nap times, where the older children allow Knox to steal their tools and every one of them know him so when they ask me “Who are you?” and I say “I am Knox’s mommy.” They smile and say with happy recognition (they do not yell) “Oh! Knox’s mommy!”

Looking back, I shudder that I was so laissez-faire in my initial approach and would consider leaving my child in the care of an unqualified stranger (she has been a mother before, so she must know what to do!). I realize now that my vision of him being a basically inert creature whose only needs pre-language  would be the bare necessities and overhearing adult conversation to be woefully off the mark.

This morning at drop off Knox reached out smilingly for the teacher when she approached, and then waved good bye to me. He has thrived and become confident and happy. This nursery has done far beyond our expectations and we are so grateful for it being there, for them taking such lovely care of Knox. We are sad that we will have to move soon and I hope to bring Knox to visit when we come back to Taipei!

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