August 3, 2021 — By Wendy Sachs

Once your little one hits the age of 3, developmentally they are ready to head out into the world. They are testing their independence and learning how to play with others and make friends. This is preschool time!

It can seem a little overwhelming to choose a school. There are all different kinds of programs. Add mixed feelings about the loss of the infant and toddler stages and pressure from friends, family and society as a whole, it is often difficult for parents. Let’s take a look at some information to make it easier.

Know your program!

Preschool philosophies can be very different and at any given time there may be a “hot” new school boasting of amazing results. It’s useful to know a little about the types of schools that are in your area.

Montessori Schools

Montessori schools follow the teaching of Maria Montessori, an Italian researcher who believed “the hands are the teacher of the child”.  Marked by mixed ages, Montessori programs group children from ages 3-5 sharing the same classroom. It is very hands on and creative. The Montessori classroom is calm and children are encouraged to be very independent. If you are looking for craft projects to come home every day or a letter of the week, Montessori will be a bad fit for you. There are many preschools that have adapted Montessori curriculum, adding in elements from other disciplines.

Reggio Emilia

A Reggio Emilia focus refers to a philosophy founding in Italy that champions open ended learning with a focus on art, self-expression and a child led curriculum. The Reggio classroom relies heavily on the nature and Reggio teachers may not have any training or credentials. Self-guided students and teachers as journey facilitators is the norm. Without a focus on academic concepts, you won’t find learning to read or worksheets.

Play Based

Play based programs are ones that allow for a great deal.  Possibly all of the day is child led and open concept. In a play based program, educators believe play is how all children learn and teachers observe and facilitate play,  directed by the child. Certain concepts are pulled out of  observations for further enrichment. Play based programs spend a great deal of time outdoors with a pattern or flow to the day.  A schedule is not used.

Traditional Preschool

Traditional preschool can incorporate some or many of these philosophies but will also have familiar elements such as the letter of the week, circle time or calendar time. Focusses on academics for kindergarten prep, there is  a focus on phonics and math concepts. These programs will still often have hands on activities, center and group work and dramatic play.

If you have an idea of the philosophy you gravitate towards, how do you know which school is the best fit? It is important to remember that while one child may flourish with the hands on self-guided approach of one school, another child may be more comfortable with a schedule and plenty of structure. Knowing your child is crucial.

Questions to ask or things to look for in your visits

  • Ask about teacher qualifications and turn over in the program. A quality staff is maybe the most important thing as much of the success of teaching depends on the relationships built with our young learners!
  • Ask about the outdoor time and be sure to look at that space. No matter what the program, we know kids this age need plenty of outside time where they can move their bodies and learn to take healthy risks.
  • Check out the community. Your child will be making friends and you will want to feel comfortable not just with the staff but with the other parents in the program.
  • Get a copy of the parent handbook and read thru all the policies and procedures. Make sure they align with your needs.