In today’s current parenting environment the pressure to enroll your child in preschool seems to begin early and earlier. Today, many “preschool” programs start as early as 18 months. As a parent, that means you will have to relinquish some control over your child’s development pretty earlier; which can be a scary and overwhelming thought. The preschool hunt can be a stressful one as you quickly discover the child needed to be put on the waitlist while they were still in the womb and preschool tuition is expensive. Luckily there are several affordable preschool options with minimal waitlist. Let us now prepare for the preschool enrollment process.
The preschool milestone is a HUGE one, not only for the child but for the parent. For many parents, this is the first time the child is under someone else’s leadership. It’s normal and okay to experience feelings such as, will the teacher make my child feel loved? Will the other kids be nice? Will the school make sure my child is safe? A comforting fact is within the first month of your child attending school the answers to all of these questions will be made self-evident.
The best way to find the perfect preschool for you and your family is to first do your research then your due diligence of touring several schools. Step one: decide what learning philosophy fits your child best. No one knows your child better than you, and different personalities will flourish in different learning environments. I would encourage every parent to familiarize themselves with several teaching philosophies before coming to a conclusion. Below I summarize a few of the better known philosophies.
Child Development Centers (CDC) – are inspired by the social constructivist theory of learning. This theory comprises cognitive structures that are still in the process of maturing, but which can only mature under the guidance of or in collaboration with others. Collaborative learning methods require learners to develop teamwork skills and to see individual learning as essentially related to the success of group learning. Many of these development centers are the one-size fits all schooling approach. The classrooms models those of the traditional classroom.
Montessori – the Montessori Method of education, developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, is a child-centered educational approach based on scientific observations of children from birth to adulthood. They view the child as one who is naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive, thoughtful prepared learning environment. Montessori components include multi-age groupings that foster peer learning, uninterrupted blocks of work time, and guided choice of work activity. It also utilizes specially designed Montessori learning materials and meticulously arranged classroom. The classroom is prepared to encourage independence, freedom within limits, and a sense of order. The design of the Montessori education method strengthens the natural bond between positive feelings and learning. Inside a Montessori classroom children are learning to choose a project, work on it to completion, and reap the internal reward that comes with newfound knowledge and a job well done. Montessori children are laying the foundation of a lifetime of self-fulfillment.
Waldorf – the Waldorf education is a philosophy in which human possibility is seen as infinite. The Waldorf program seeks to create school programs that value and protect childhood. Running counter to the push for accelerated or “early” learning Waldorf values and cultivates youthful vitality. They have established an approach that lets children be children. Waldorf schools are concerned with the development of the whole child, both the inner aspects that are more qualitative and the outer aspects that are more quantifiable. In the Waldorf preschool, the multi-age classroom looks more like home than a classroom – stimulating and yet protective, comforting, and safe. In the Waldorf approach to working with young children, early academic instruction is absent. Young children will learn by doing. Play is a key component of the Waldorf early childhood program, especially outdoor play regardless of the season. Waldorf schools try hard to find protected natural play spaces often with trees, bushes, stumps and duck pounds. These elements foster imaginative involvement and a greater connection with the earth. Finally, work plays an important role in the Waldorf preschool. Work activities range from kneading dough, chopping vegetables and even clean up. Participating in work enables the children to learn important lessons early on, lessons that are necessary for life. They learn to do their fair share and to help others.
Reggio Emilia – The Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education values the child as strong, capable and resilient; rich with wonder and knowledge. They understand every child brings with the, deep curiosity and potential. The child’s innate curiosity drives their interest to understand their world and their place within it. Reggio Emilia is not a method of education it is an approach. Therefore no two Reggio-inspired communities should look the same. Some of the fundamental principles of a Reggio-inspired classroom include the belief that children are capable of constructing their own learning. There is also a strong focus on social collaboration and working in groups. The adult is not the giver of knowledge. Children search out the knowledge through their own investigations. Reggio-inspired learning environments are filled with natural light, order and beauty. Open spaces free from clutter. There is an emphasis on documenting children’s thoughts through careful displays of visual representations including photographs, drawings and sculptures. The Reggio Emilia Approach emphasizes hands-on discovery learning that allows the child to use all their senses and all their languages to learn.
The next step, is to tour the various preschools. Here are some of my tips for touring a preschool:
- Make sure you go while school is in session so you can get a feel of the school, classroom and teachers in action.
- Ask questions!! Below are a list of questions to ask:
- What are the teacher and student turnover rates?
- What is the educational background of the teachers?
- What is the school’s method of discipline?
- Are meals provided by the school or parents?
- How much time do the children get to spend outdoors?
- Evaluate the school’s security?
- What is the school schedule? Full or half days? Year round or school year? If after school care an option?
- Is potty training required?
As a parent, you want to be confident that you found the right preschool for your child. As mentioned above in order to do so, you need to find the educational philosophy you connect with, a preschool within your budget and one that meets the days/times you are available for pick-up and drop off.
In addition to the educational philosophies there are a variety of school structures to choose from. If you have a flexible work schedule or are a stay-at-home mom a co-op or parent participation preschool could be an ideal option. These schools require the parent to work in the classroom every so often and are usually significantly less expensive than full drop-off programs. A benefit of these programs is that having a parent in the classroom keeps the teacher accountable and allows the parent to have significant influence in implementing change in the school. Depending on the parents’ work schedule and child’s readiness full days might be appropriate. Other preschools might only offer half days a few days a week.
Many preschool’s curriculum are inspired from combining several educational philosophies. My final food for thought before selecting a preschool is to make sure both parents support the learning environment. This is because once your child begins school many of the things they are learning and how they are learning will transfer to home life. Whether you select a Montessori or Waldorf education, it is expected that the parents are actively engaged at home. It can be confusing to the child if expectations and freedoms at school greatly differ from those in the home life.
Good luck with your preschool selection! I would love to hear what school works best for your child and family.