How is it February with 1.5 year olds, and we're already stressing about WHAT preschool our children are going to be attending in the Fall?!?!
"YOU ARE KIDDING ME?!" was my initial reaction to a girlfriend, who informed me preschool registration started like, TODAY. I broke out in a sweat and could not even fathom the idea of my little, itty, bitty munchkins waving goodbye to me at school.
At first glance, preschool "shopping" is an incredibly trying task if you have no starting point. You need to be smart about it, and break it down into a few categories that will best fit your families needs. This will quickly clarify a path to a few schools that you can further research.
I never imagined this to be a make it or break it component, but after one year of preschool under our belt and prior wavering between a school that was a 5 minute drive versus a 25 minute drive, I now see the light. I would advise not having to drive more then 10-15 minutes to a school. This is truly going to narrow down the playing field of contenders.
2. Discipline/Conflict Resolution Style:
If you are placing your child in a preschool at the young age of two, I've found it important to find a school that will mimic what you, yourself do at home when there is a conflict. You are in the beginning moments of building your communication, conflict resolution, boundaries style for your littles; you want this to be consistent. In our case, our school not only encourages the style of discipline we use, it has empowered me as a parent to use new techniques that I may never have been exposed to otherwise.
3. Curriculum Style:
Truly preschool is just that. "before school." Find a program that you believe in and fits your child's personality. A place that will challenge your children to learn at their own pace, and in an environment they feel confident to excel in. For some that may look like a child-directed play based curriculum. For others it may be a faith based curriculum that helps teach those building blocks of faith early on. We gravitated towards a co-operative curriculum that is creative based and implements Reggio Emilia principles. We wanted to foster an environment for our kids that would continue to allow them to be kids and learn cooperative and expressive communication skills very early on. This Reggio Emilia style is closest to how we parent and discipline at home and is a perfect extension for them to attend twice a week..
Be sure you and your partner make it a priority to tour each preschool that is on your list. Have a list of questions that you can ask the Director during your visit (see Questions to ask). Don't let them shy you away from viewing a class "in session."
Narrow it down to your top three and set a 2nd appointment for your children to come and shadow a classroom as well. Don't let the lack of "readiness" cues your children might show discourage you when shadowing. The other children have acclimated into their settings and routines over the past year and developmentally matured since their first day, so don't compare!
While you are going through this process of elimination, be realistic and recognize the school setting, the educators, the director, should feel like an extension of your home. If anything was off-putting during a visit, go with your mother's instinct and choose a different school that you feel will work for your family during this pivotal transition for your kiddos.
5. Ask Questions:
Don't shy away from asking any/all questions you may have for each school. If you want to narrow down your long list of options, ring the schools and ask to speak to their Director. When you start touring your favorites, make sure to sit down with the Director and ask additional questions. (see Questions to ask)
To help better understand what Curriculum Style is the best fit, take a look at the most common programs below (courtesty greatschools.org) with personally recommended preschools from mamas located here in the valley.
1. Montessori: The Montessori school philosophy is based on the work of Maria Montessori, an Italian educator, who founded the movement in 1907. The underlying idea of Montessori is that children are individual learners with teachers as guides. Children participate in a variety of hands-on activities. Play materials are designed for specific purposes, which guide the child’s playtime. Montessori fosters personal responsibility by encouraging children to take care of their own personal needs and belongings, such as preparing their own snacks and cleaning up their toys. A wide range of ages may learn together in one classroom, and children are encouraged to help each other learn. The focus on individual learning allows students to work at their own pace, which promotes a healthy environment for special needs children.
2. Waldorf: The Waldorf philosophy, which began with the founding of the first Waldorf school in 1919, is based on the ideas of Austrian educator Rudolf Steiner. The underlying principle of the Waldorf program is dependable routine. The daily and weekly schedule follows a consistent rhythm, and teachers often remain with the same group of students for up to eight years, allowing them to form a trusting relationship. The atmosphere is home-like, with all-natural furnishings and playthings and a group-oriented curriculum. Waldorf emphasizes creative learning, such as play-acting, story readings, singing, and cooking. The goal of this system is to develop the child emotionally and physically as well as intellectually. A Waldorf school is good for students who thrive on predictable rhythms.
3. Reggio Emilia: Reggio Emilia schools are based on the highly successful preschools developed by the townspeople of Reggio Emilia, Italy during the 1940s. As in Montessori, students take the lead in learning. The curriculum consists of projects that reflect the interests of the students. Teachers observe the spontaneous curiosity of their students, and then guide them to create projects that reflect their pursuits. Children are expected to learn through mistakes rather than correction, as they are considered equal learners. Their play and projects are documented in photographs and records of their own words, which allows teachers and parents to follow each student’s progress and helps children see their actions as meaningful. Reggio Emilia schools emphasize creativity and artistic representation, so they may be a good choice for students who are learning English.
4. Religious: Many churches and religious schools offer preschool programs. They may follow any preschool philosophy in determining curriculum, and they may incorporate varying degrees of religious content and/or training. If you are interested in a religious-based program, be sure to ask about their curriculum and philosophy, too.
5. Cooperative: Parents who want a big role in their child’s preschool education may want to consider a cooperative preschool, which can follow any preschool philosophy or a combination. Its distinguishing characteristic is that parents take on significant roles at the school. Participating parents take turns to fulfill various duties, such as school upkeep or preparing snacks. A professional teacher is usually hired, but may be assisted by parents in the classroom. This can be a less expensive alternative, as heavy parental involvement minimizes extra costs. Try looking for schools supported by a regional or state organization that regulates parent participation preschools in your area. Also consider finding a school that has not joined an organization or even starting a new one yourself or with a group of similar-minded parents!
6. Developmentally appropriate/play-based: Developmentally appropriate (or play-based) preschools are fairly common. Their primary principle is to promote participation in age-appropriate activities, such as unstructured hands-on play, group story-time, and themed activities. Kids are encouraged to learn through play, though some have added more academic content in response to demand. Play-based philosophies may draw from multiple philosophies such as Montessori or Waldorf.
7. Language immersion: In a language immersion preschool, all or most of the classes are conducted entirely in the new language. The teacher may demonstrate her meaning while she speaks, but rarely or never translates. This method is more appropriate for young children than translation learning (the more common teaching method for adults). The content may be guided by other preschool philosophies. The focus on a new language develops the child’s language acquisition ability while providing fluency in the new language. Language immersion is best for children who are developing first language skills at a normal rate. It may temporarily slow development of the first language, and so it’s inappropriate for children who are struggling in this area.
8. Outdoor (forest schools): The concept of outdoor preschool has been growing in popularity since emerging in the 1950s in Sweden and Denmark. There are at least a dozen outdoor preschool options in the Seattle area. These schools are generally child-directed, encouraging children to explore freely, follow their own impulses and connect to the natural world. Students in an outdoor learning environment can expect a lot of hands-on, experiential learning. The benefits of such an approach are thought to promote imaginative play and creativity, as well as strength, balance and good health. There are a variety of options to consider in this area, from total outdoor immersion to a regular exposure the outdoors.
9. Structured, themes, additional schools:
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