Tips For Choosing a Pre/Nursery School For Your Child

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When we lived in British Columbia and kindergarten started at age 5, we started doing preschool research when my son was around 2 years old. We decided on French Immersion preschool for him as a number of our friends were going to send their children to the same spot, and it was a nice bright space. He started a few months before he turned 3. I liked that I could send him more than one day in a row (their actual preference as language retention is better when exposure is constant) and most preschools were only Tuesday, Thursday at age 3 and Monday, Wednesday, Friday at age 4. We also loved that he was not only socializing, but learning a second language as well.

Now that we live in Ontario where junior kindergarten starts at age 4, the whole system is different. Most people call pre-kindergarten programs nursery school and they start when your child is anywhere from 18 months to 2.5 years old. Living in a much bigger city now (versus the suburbs back home) I was faced with an enormous number of options for nursery and preschool programs. Here is a run down of some of the major options you may find in your community:

Montessori:
This program is based on the work of Maria Montessori, an Italian educator who founded the movement in 1907. The philosophy of Montessori is the idea that children are individual learners and have teachers as guides. Play materials are designed for specific purposes, which guide the child’s playtime. Montessori encourages personal responsibility by allowing 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 are often placed together in one classroom, and children are encouraged to help each other learn.

Montessori instructors graduate from a special training program. Schools have the option to affiliate with recognized Montessori associations, but a school may use the Montessori name without being affiliated with a Montessori organization. Be careful to check the mission statement and curriculum of your Montessori school to ensure it would be a good fit for your child.

Cooperative:
Parents take on significant roles at the school in this type of program. 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. It is even possible to start your own program yourself or with a group of similar-minded parents, which gives parents the ultimate control over the style and focus of the programming and activities.

seren preschool Immersion:
In a language immersion preschool, all or most of the classes are conducted entirely in the chosen language. The teacher may demonstrate or gesticulate their meaning while they speak, but rarely translate. The philosophy may be guided or follow other preschool philosophies, but the focus on a new language develops the child’s language acquisition ability while providing fluency in the new language. Language immersion is great for children who are developing their first language skills at a normal rate. It may temporarily slow development of the first language, so it may be challenging for children who are struggling in this area.

Religious:
Many churches and other religious institutions 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 to ensure it is a good fit for your child.

Play Based/Nature/Outdoor:
This is not a new idea in preschools or nursery schools, but has grown in popularity as research shows that children fare the best in a play-based environment for early learning. Many nature-based preschools even spend the entire day (usually a half day program) outdoors regardless of the weather, unless the temperatures are dangerous or the amount of precipitation is not manageable.
Now you are asking: how do you choose one? I think there are some critical issues to address when you are debating the pros and cons of each program:

  • First and foremost, is the style is a good fit for your child? A child that craves structure and needs specific rules and guidance is not likely to thrive in a Montessori environment.
  • Visit the space. What is the outdoor space like? Where is the classroom? Many preschools end up in the basement of facilities due to space limitations and for me this is not ideal, but may not be critical for others.
  • Talk to the teachers. Sometimes you can get a really good feel for a teacher by just having a conversation with them. Trust your mom gut on this one.
  • Ask for recommendations. How long as the program been around? Can you talk with parents who currently have children in the program or have had their children pass through the program?Any credible program should be happy to have you for a visit and answer your questions. If not, this is a big red flag!

There is definitely an option out there for everybody. Some people choose not to send their children to preschool or nursery school at all, but I think it’s a great way for children to socialize and learn some basics that will be relevant in kindergarten – such as circle time and sharing or taking turns with toys or materials and cleaning up when finished. Keep in mind that many programs require registration a full year or even more before you child is set to begin. I added my 14-month-old to the list at a cooperative program and was told I was unlikely to get a spot in the next intake due to the waiting list! Also, some preschool programs may require children to be fully potty-trained which can be a deal-breaker for many parents who are still working on this skill at ages 2 or 3. There are so many programs out there that there is bound to be one that is an ideal fit for your child.

darcy grad silly

Have you had great success with a specific preschool or nursery school program that is not listed here?

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Jen Shragge is a yoga instructor and all around eco-diva. She now lives back in her hometown of Toronto after ten years in the Vancouver area. Jen’s days are filled by her seven year old son and husband plus her toddler who was crazy enough to make her arrival on Christmas Day. In her spare time, (do moms really have spare time!?) Jen is a stylist for Peekaboo Beans, a play-focused quality children's clothing line.
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14 responses to “Tips For Choosing a Pre/Nursery School For Your Child”

  1. Laurie P — March 24, 2016 @ 8:04 am (#
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    My boy attended and bilingual school, not french immersion, and it was perfect for him!

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  2. Treen Goodwin — March 24, 2016 @ 9:18 am (#
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    Great tips , thanks for sharing , i think it is awesome if they can go to an immersion preschool its a great thing for them to learn both languages if possible 🙂

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  3. kathy downey — March 24, 2016 @ 10:00 am (#
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    These are all great tips,thanks for sharing.

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  4. Elizabeth Matthiesen — March 24, 2016 @ 11:47 am (#
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    I love it when children can learn more than one language as they grow up. With my first I tried speaking to him in English and he just stopped speaking so I didn’t do it with any of my other children. One of my daughters brings up her son bilingually, German and English. Another daughter her children are being brought up speaking 3 languages, German, French and English.

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  5. Dandi D — March 25, 2016 @ 3:40 am (#
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    It’s great to know all the great options there are for preschool!

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  6. AD — March 25, 2016 @ 12:01 pm (#
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    The kiddos started a pre-school just after they became mobile at around 1… Love that there are so many options now. I had mine in a Montessori, Immersion program. But I love the idea of outdoor/nature schools; too many kids don’t know how to explore nor play.

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  7. Kristina — March 28, 2016 @ 12:04 pm (#
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    So many options! Thanks for the info.

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  8. Kristy Graboski — March 30, 2016 @ 7:57 am (#
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    These are great tips! I have never heard of Montessori before, this is all new to me!

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  9. sarah alexis — March 30, 2016 @ 10:27 pm (#
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    It’s not an easy decision that’s for sure!!! I found one for my son that is located conveniently at a primary school – and it made the transition of “starting school” much easier for him!

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  10. MaryAnn — March 31, 2016 @ 9:32 am (#
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    Choosing where to send my son to pre-school was actually a pretty easy decision as I just chose the pre-school that was in the same location as his daycare. Choosing where to send him to kindergarten however was much more difficult. It felt so much more permanent.

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  11. Elizabeth Matthiesen — March 31, 2016 @ 4:18 pm (#
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    It is so important to find the right placement for your child. My daughter has been very unlucky. Her son stayed at a private daycare and her daughter was to go there too, at the very last minute the lady said she couldn’t as she’d taken in someone else. My daughter, due back to work in 3 days, was spinning but luckily did find another spot for him. Then it was school – her son was registered at a school then suddenly the Daycare said they couldn’t take him there (up until then everything was fine), then they said it was because the bus driver had quit – a total lie, as they saw him there a day later! My poor daughter rotated again, managed to get her fees back from the school where her son was registered (a very understanding lady on the phone) and cancel the registration. Then had to register him last minute at a school close to the Daycare. Which I think was the whole reason that they didn’t want to bus him to the other school.

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  12. mike gismondi — April 1, 2016 @ 5:37 pm (#
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    We had a hard time picking one but after going for a year to a traditional preschool, we opted for an outdoor one. Both have benefits and our son loved them both. For both we went beforehand to check it out with our son.

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  13. Laurie P — April 3, 2016 @ 7:34 am (#
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    I like that you’ve covered a variety of options, very informative!

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  14. Elizabeth Matthiesen — February 23, 2017 @ 4:40 pm (#
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    It is so important to find the right preschool or nursery school for your children, these tips will no doubt many who are on the search for the right one for them.

    Reply

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