Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Choosing a Great Preschool

I think there are so many factors to consider when it comes to educating our children. What's right for one family will certainly not be a perfect fit for another. As family units, our priorities, histories, and preferences vary dramatically at times. It should come as no surprise that a group of great parents will choose different paths for their kids.

For us, there were a few factors that needed to be in place:
  1. The program had to be play-based: We believe this is how our children learn and grow. Our 2- and 3-year olds would not thrive in a classroom where they sat at desks all day and practiced tracing letters. They, do, however build imagination and motor skills as they play dress-up and explore a sensory table.
  2. There needed to be enough, but not too many, kids: There are ten children in the 2-year old class and thirteen in the threes. There are two teachers for each class. I want to make sure that my children are adequately supervised. I also want them to have plenty of peers. And guess what? You know one reason I think preschool serves a role that a play-date cannot? My kids need to learn to interact with individuals who are not their buddies. They need to learn problem-solving, negotiation, and compromise skills... and not just with their best friend down the block. Social development is a critical skill that we use throughout our entire lives. We don't take that lightly.
  3. The preschool needed to be affiliated with the public school system: Why? Because this is how my children are able to receive any needed therapies. As C. turns three and ages out of early intervention, the school system takes over. By sending her to a preschool affiliated with our school system, we allow her to receive her therapies as part of her daily routine. Additionally, preschools with therapy services on-site are often developmentally based and that fits our philosophy perfectly.
A few things that didn't matter?

  1. A religious component: I would not have a problem with Christianity being woven into my children's education. But it's not a reason I'd choose a school. Guiding them through faith is MY job. And my responsibility. The lessons they need in this area should come, I think, from our family and our church.
  2. Proximity: I drive 17 miles each way to that school. When C. turns three, she'll qualify for school-provided busing. But, until then, it's a hike. I'd much rather drive than settle for an inferior program.
  3. Status: There's something to be said for enrolling in a preschool with an excellent reputation. But I refuse to be part of a status game. I've heard of parents paying well over a thousand dollars a month for preschool (although I often ask myself if this is truly school or just fancy-pants childcare???).... to me, that is borderline crazy. We each make our own choices, but- to me- I would never (and could never) pay that kind of money just to say, "My child attends Super Awesome Brilliant Kid Academy."
Is there a perfect solution? Of course not. I would encourage you to make a list of your own priorities if this is a decision you'll be facing soon. Successful children can come out of all sorts of educational frameworks. My only definite recommendation is that, regardless of what avenue you choose, you notify your public school system if you have any reason to suspect a delay (in speech, fine motor, gross motor, cognitive development, etc.) Your school system will guide you through the process of evaluation. If, in fact, your child could benefit from therapy, they'll help you know your rights- whether you choose a public school, private school, or to home-school.

Good luck!

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