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