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Play-Based vs. Structured Preschools
My husband and I are researching preschool for my 27 month old, to start after he turns 3. It is overwhelming. We have visited a number of schools ranging from play based co-op to Montessori. However we are having a hard time figuring out what is right for our son. We get a lot of folks telling us how incredible their Montessori school is, but the ones we have seen seem very sedate and rigid in working with materials "the right way" and lack the sense of joy of the play based programs. On the other hand, we visited a play based co-op and it seemed like a chaotic free-for-all and totally overwhelming for my son.
I am not fond of strict philosophies in anything, and we want something that provides my son with structure and learning opportunities but doesn't limit his exploration. He is an easy going happy kid, cautious with new things, one to observe before jumping in. But he also has a strong sense of order, is extraordinarily verbal, and loves music and dance and imaginative play. I want him to be well prepared for school, but I don't want to stifle his chances to just be a kid. And I want him to engage with the outdoors and natural activity, even if he isn't the first one to jump in the mud.
Are there any recommendations for preschools in the El Cerrito/Richmond area that are a happy medium between play and structure, not especially dogmatic (I am a little wary of the hard-line Waldorf as well as the strict Montessori), and with ample outdoor areas, that we should look at? We would prefer something with a full day option and that is not a co-op, as we both work full time. My son has been in an amazing full-time family daycare since he was an infant, so he is no stranger to being away from us, playing with other kids, sitting for circle time, and other such things that many of the programs we look at seem to emphasize as brand new skills. Thank you for any leads!
I doubt this preschool is unique in it's balance of imaginative free time and structure. Keep looking. I too found the Montessori schools too sedate and rigid for my taste, though I know lots of children who have done wonderfully there as well. However, developmentally, kids need to learn through play. So find the school your son will ''play'' best at. Love Play
The Cedar Creek students, however, do not spend all or even a majority of their day in ''formal'' Montessori mode. They have ample free time on the playground with plenty of opportunities to pretend, run around, climb, dig in the sandbox, etc. They also have an art teacher who supervises different art projects each day, with the children rotating in when they desire. There are also weekly music sessions and dance classes.
The teachers are Cedar Creek are the school's best asset. Many of them have worked at the school for a long, long time. To a person, they all understand preschoolers and what makes them tick. My daughter, who was initially shy in her new surroundings, is eager to go to school each morning. I see why since Cedar Creek is a warm, nurturing yet dynamic place. I know that you were looking for Richmond or El Cerrito. Cedar Creek is in North Berkeley, not too far away. It has the added advantage of being blocks from the North Berkeley Bart station. Happy Cedar Creek parent
This is our second year with the school, and we have found they foster a good balance between curiosity-led exploration and structure. They allow the children to set the curriculum, with some direction from the two instructors. Both group and individual works are encouraged, and children can use the materials on their own or with classmates. I feel the most important parts of a Montessori education is personal choice and taking responsibility for ones own learning, and these areas are emphasized in my son's classroom. There is some structure to the day. The children have a schedule for the day's activities, and work time, nap time, outside time and lunch occur at the same time every day. There are some special activities that break up the week, like music or art-project time. My son's teachers also organize presentations during the year. We got to watch a preschool-version production of the Nutcracker in the winter, and a Vivaldi-Spring show before summer. Dancing, playing, singing (and learning some languages - we get Chinese in our classroom) are part of every day.
You mentioned a large out-door area. The Berkeley School has a lovely out-door space with a huge sandbox, a train table, and monkey-bars. (There are many other things to explore, but these are what my son talks about the most!) The Berkeley School also has full-day, extended childcare, which is great for working families. I hope you check out this amazing preschool, because you won't have to look anywhere else! Good luck in your search. Megan
I live in South Berkeley and am starting to look for preschools for my two-year-old daughter. I had not thought much at all about educational philosophies for preschoolers (I don't particularly have one!), and it appears from looking that essentially every place I talk to has a ''play-based'' or ''emergent curriculum'' or some other such thing. (We have read so many times that a school promises not just to drill your child with letters and numbers that my husband has started joking that it is illegal to teach the ABCs in the Berkeley city limits.) I don't know that I am against a play-based curriculum, but I am curious to know what a more structured preschool curriculum might look like, if only to understand what all of these other places are defining themselves in opposition to. Can anyone recommend a good, less play-based and more traditionally structured preschool program in Berkeley? Are there any? Thanks! Confused Mother
- Montessori is extremely popular here and probably the most common alternative to ''play-based''. Personally I am suspect of basing a program on theories developed a century ago, but I think the best schools here have updated some of the elements, see BPN for a list of schools, Wikipedia for a general article on Montessori.
- Reggio Emilia (see Wikipedia) is another approach, also from Italy from the same time. Many schools will tell you that they have ''an element of Reggio Emilia''.
- Play-based can mean a lot of different things, most play-based schools do have quite a bit of structure and teach the kids a lot. The one where my kids go/went has circle time twice a day, regular educational walks (look at plants, animals, measure things in the environment etc.), lots of music, many themed projects (songs, art-work, games related to one thing) and the teachers do teach those kids who are interested to write the letters and sound them out and everyone learns to write their own name to sign their drawings. They have an emergent curriculum which works out really well, basically when the kids show interest in something the teachers go with that and develop it further so the kids are always enthusiastic about what they are doing.
My guess is the reason most claim to be play-based is that according the to latest research that is really the best way to go. The authority on that is right here at UC Berkeley, Alison Gopnik, see http://www.alisongopnik.com/ also see a very accessible article by her on preschools: http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2011/03/why_preschool_shouldnt_be_like_school.html Hope this helps! Anon
Our daughter loved the structure of the day and activities. During 'work' time, the children are able to choose an activity and material, on their own or in a group, which can range from working with shapes and letters, preparing their own snacks, making art, to using beads and blocks to learn about numbers and math. With loving guidance from teachers, they tend to stay in an area (like shape puzzles) until they have mastered it, and then move on to increasingly more challenging works. It's so satisfying for them, and for us as parents, to see when they have figured something out and want to demonstrate.
Our son has a lot more energy and we were concerned he might not do as well in such a structured setting, but he is entering his third year there and absolutely thriving. It turns out that he loves the rhythm of the day, and is learning to sit longer with works and focus. He begs to stay in after school, so he can do more art and projects.
Both kids have learned to read, and were lucky to have teachers who are bilingual in Spanish and English. This gets rolled into their day in many ways -- from songs, counting and stories, to big celebrations on Dia de Muertos and 5 de Mayo. Other classrooms have teachers who speak other languages and similarly bring cultural traditions to daily learning.
To be sure, there is plenty of play time on the campus. There are four little houses, each with a classroom, and a big common play yard and garden. The outdoor environment is pretty magical! It is worth taking a tour to learn more, and talk to current parents. signy
We are looking at choosing between two preschools which are very different programs. We like both mainly for 1) indoor/outdoor facility 2) proximity to our house(walking distance). We are drawn to School A for the curriculum but are a little concerned about how our very active and talkative daughter will do in their relatively subdued environment. At the same time, we are concerned that play-based programs like School B will not offer her enough ''intellectual'' stimulation to be able to foster her knack for learning (at 2 1/2 she reads all the letters of the written alphabet and written numbers to 10, etc). Is there a school with a happy medium? It seems like the schools that have an ''emergent'' curriculum maintain some of that balance but I'm not sure that School B has that kind of focus even. Proximity (walking/biking distance) is vey important to us as both of us bike to work but should we be looking farther afield to find a school with this balance? Seeking a good fit
My son did great in this less-academic setting. He had so much fun playing and that's what I think preschool is for. He was never bored and always wanted to stay for their extended hours (it was a traditional morning only preschool but offered afternoon hours that were even less structured--nap/rest and play, basically.) He got lots of social time which is what he needed--he was advanced academically but socially behind.
My son was a fall birthday so ended up repeating his 2nd year of preschool, at the same school, same teachers but different kids. He loved it the second time around just as much.
Our school was Broadway Children's School in Oakland. It is not anywhere near full-time so it may not work for you. However, I think you can find a play-based preschool that will still give your child a rounded experience. Play is good for kids
I'm curious about how wide the range is of types of preschool whe it comes to free play vs. structured activities (circle time, games, field trips and the like.) The school we are thinking about is, we've been told, about 75% free play and 25% activities. Where is that in the spectrum of schools? Does that much free play time ever get overwhelming for kids? Is the alternative a more academic preschool? Just curious. Katie
We are thrilled to have our child enrolled for the fall in a play-based preschool. But, I just found out that they don't provide any instruction for academics (I had thought they provided a little).
My child is already writing her name correctly and clearly on her own. I have not been pushing her, but instead spent 2 weeks showing her the letters in her name and how to write them. She blew my mind by spelling and writing her name out when I was in another room.
We read our kids lots of books, and she now seems to be showing an interest in reading and learning how to write. We do fun preschool books together where she gets to cut, paste, trace, and write numbers. Is this enough? What else can I do to fill in the gaps academically for what she will not be learning in preschool. I'm not pushing her -- my child is drawn towards this and I'm responding to her. thanks
There is no concrete evidence that academic preschools, are in the long run , better for children. There is however, numerous research in favor of developmentally appropriate, play based preschools.
I was a teacher and preschool director for many years and I can assure you that most of what kids learn is obtained from home and parents. My goal is to have my children be life long learners. In my opinion, play based, developmentally appropriate preschool is the best possible place to foster this. For more information do a web search and check out the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). They have a wonderful publication entitled Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Children from Birth to Age 8, that I highly encourage you to read. There are several preschool that are accredited by NAEYC, this is always a sign of a great preschool. Good Luck! Hope this helps! Teresa
I'm afraid to say that most schools will probably never meet her needs, so you will probably spend a lot of time supplementing or may end up homeschooling. You're in for a lot of work! Just don't ever let others convince you to stifle your child... watch out for those who say, ''Let her be a child,'' or ''Why are you pushing her?''
It sounds like you know in your heart what to do. You are NOT pushing her. There are some good email lists on the web for parents of gifted children, where you can find support and excellent suggestions from other parents who are in the same situation. Try http://hoagiesgifted.org for a good start. Good luck! long-suffering parent
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