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How to Find & Choose a Preschool
Please help me with updated and recent information about preschools. I am looking for a school that offers part time (3 full days), that's not too far away (I just moved to N. Oakland) and that can accomodate both my children 2 & 4 years old. I went to the preschool fair offered by East Bay Moms, have looked through the archives, but wanted to hear some recent posts. Thank you for any suggestions!!! Erica
Our Nanny is in a graduate program that ends in December. She is a long-time family friend and has been watching our 20 month old daughter for over a year. We'd like to keep working with her as long as we can and then find a preschool in the new calendar year. It seems like most programs enroll new kids in the Fall. Has anyone had luck finding openings mid-year or is that difficult to do? Thanks. LR
Hi- Even though I panicked a year ago about getting my (just turned) 2 year old boy-girl twins into a preschool for fall 2010, I was so preoccupied with day-to-day survival that I completely missed the fall tours and December application deadlines that is seems almost all preschools have. Has anyone else gone through this? Any suggestions? I've been researching, calling and emailing like crazy, but it's tough getting any responses due to the holidays. I'm trying not to get crazed and am having a hard time not continuing to kick myself. My criteria are affordability and the ability to have at least 3 full days, at least 8:30-5:30. Full time and Spanish language a plus, but not necessary. Suggestions and any encouragement welcome. anonymous
Ok, so I've heard that I need to find a preschool for my daughter (who will be 3 next October) NOW. I'd love something on the Rockridge/Temescal/South Berkeley area. Interested in various schools but they want you to pay a $40 application fee, THEN tour. Well, how do I know if I want to apply until I tour? Am put off by some of their websites that give no real specifics on how to apply, etc. Is there an easier way? It seems like most places just rely on word of mouth...what do people who haven't lived here for ages do? How do you find these places and decide? Is there a secret I haven't been let in on? Out of the Loop
My youngest son did three years and for two different years had male teachers which was great and my oldest did one before kindergarten. My kids were very ready for their public elementary schools due in part to the time spent at HL. Most pre-schools that are popular stop accepting applications anywhere from January 1st to March 1st and send out acceptances in early May. You need to apply to a few schools if you need regular care or possibly look at a co-op or Piedmont play school if you simply want a few hours ''off'' while your child socializes. mom of HL alums
I am the director of Rockridge Little School. Parents who submit applications to us by January, February or even March have a very good chance of being accepted into the school for September. If parents call in later months we may have to put them on a wait list, but there are always unanticipated changes and wait list families are often offered a spot. This is very typical of East Bay schools.
If you talk to parents of three and four year olds you will find that they generally find a space in the school of their choice, so submit your applications and relax. Enjoy the opportunity to learn about the great Bay Area preschools. When you find one you love, make sure you let your enthusiasm shine through. Holly
hi, We are a family of 5 (children 5,3,0.5), and planning to move to the area from Israel in few months. We are coming for a visit next week- and I have wondered how can I use my time the best- I need to look and choose preschool and school. Do I have a chance finding a place in the middle of the year? Do I need to set an appointment or I can just show- up in the place and look around? thank you for any help, Sharon
There are a ton of preschools in the area. Check out some of the reviews on the website attached to this list serve.
And, yes, you need to call ahead for an appointment. Or email ahead. It would actually be really good if you can email or call now, to find out what school would even be open when you are in town. Some may be on holiday break.
If you explain your situation and they are open, some may be willing to accommodate you. Just remember, the weeks leading up to the winter holiday are a very busy & hectic time here for schools. Don't know if you are interested, but there are some preschool that have a Jewish focus. The JCC in Berkeley has a preschool. East Bay Mom
We are planning to relocate to Rockridge with our now 2 year old daughter. Can somone direct me to a comprehensive listing of preschools in the area for next September? Are there typically waiting lists? What are the fees like typically? And regarding public school Kindergarten (and beyond) do I need to begin investigating now? Are there waiting lists there too? I've recently moved to the bay area from New York and am not familiar with the process here.
Hi, I looked in the archives for advice about when to get on preschool
waiting lists and while the consensus there was that you didn't need
to pre-enroll in utero or anything, it also seemed to indicate getting
into preschools wasn't a problem around here. BUT, the advice is from
2000 and 2002, and I just had dinner with a mom with 3 kids (her
youngest is now 2 years old) and she said the waiting list thing could
be a hassle and she wished she were more on the ball getting her
eldest on the lists when preschool was an issue for him because he
didn't get into ANY when he was three.
So my questions are:
**I have a 3 month old. Is it too early to worry about the preschool thing if I'm looking at starting a program at age 3 for my son? (Please tell me it is too early!!!)
**When DO you start getting your kid on lists? A year in advance? Two years? More?
**Is 3 years old the average age most people enroll their kids in preschool?
--Unschooled in preschool issues
There were a few schools that asked for applications with baby in utero but I basically ruled them out for obvious reasons. However, most preschools that I researched (in general) had a 2.9 year requirement - i.e., your child had to be at least 2.9 years old to start preschool. Some schools offered younger classes and some required older children but on average, I would say it was 2.9 years.
Most of the preschools I encountered did their enrollment process the fall or winter before enrollment - i.e., most preschools start in the fall (around September) so most of the preschools did their enrollment process the fall or winter the year before. Most schools won't even take applications unless your child will be of age the following Fall so you couldn't apply early even if you wanted to.
I would recommend going to the preschool fair held by East Bay Moms (http://www.eastbaymoms.com/preschoolfair.htm) usually in January or order their preschool directory. They provide a general resource of local preschools q not all of them but a good sampling. From there, you can start to look at schools by location or by philosophy. I think October, November and December were the months most of the schools did open houses and visits. Usually after that, you can decide to submit an application and then they notify you sometime in January - March if your child was accepted.
Also, most of the schools will give priority to siblings first and then if spots are available are looking for the right sex balance, age grouping, diversity, etc. So it doesn't matter if you apply first or last, they are looking for a good fit for the school.
So as far as you
questions are concerned:
* Yes, 3 months is too early to be looking at preschools. Try around 2 years old.
* There is not a waiting list per se and most schools don't allow early applications.
* 3 years seems like the average age for most preschoolers.
We applied to several schools and got accepted to all except one and were lucky enough to get into our top choice so don't be anxious about the process. You will find a preschool you like and it isn't as difficult as it may seem. -Lived through preschool process
We are looking at 3 great preschools for my 3y.o. son who will start in Sept: Ducks Nest, Hearts Leap North (new site) & Claremont Day Kensington. I am feeling overwhelmed with making this decision; they all seem like fabulous schools with great teachers/philosophies/reviews. They also each have various +/- related to logisitics (e.g.,location, hours, lunches provided). Any advice about these 3 schools in particular or making such a decision in general? And what really matters in the end logisitically, assuming that all else is equal? Will it be that big of a deal if my son attends one school close to home for a year (Hearts Leap N), but then has to switch to their other location (Julia Morgan Ctr) for Bridge-K, which though beautiful, is not convenient to where we live (N Berk) or work (Richmond)? Is it a great benefit to have hot meals made for him so we don't have to pack a daily lunch (Claremont Day)? Or, all else being equal, if one school offers an amazing play-yard and beautiful community garden (Ducks Nest), does this outway another program with slightly longer hours (CD) or that is closer to home (HLN)? We have spent a lot of thoughtful hours comparing the schools based on traditional merits, but I also want to honestly hear how much the logistics matter in day-to- day family life. We both work FT and have a 2nd child in daycare, so mornings and evenings are very busy and time can be precious. Thanks for any insight! holly
ack! very unexpectedly I have found a job after not working (outside the home anyway) since my son was born. He is now nearly three and a half. While it is exciting for me and I had been kind of thinking about preschool it now feels quite urgent- -and terrifying. Help! It seems like everyone is full or has an endless waitlist. Is it possible to find a good school midyear? It feels very overwhelming at the moment. Thanks for any insight parents. -julie
I was in the same boat in November and was able to find a great preschool for our son. Just start calling schools on the list and visiting. I guaranteee you that there are openings - even at the good schools. joj
It may be hard to find a spot but remember, ONE good spot is all you need. C
Our daughter will be attending preschool in about a year, and I've begun to do the research on the schools, scheduling tours, etc. My issue is that I really feel overwhelmed by all the choices and philosophies out there. I could see her doing well in a structured Montessori program, but I could also see her thriving in a play-based program. My question is, how do I figure out which school philosophy and system is best for her? Really, I could see her at any of these places, they all sound pretty wonderful! confused mama
Play based, Montessori... kids are adaptable and if your child doesn't have any special needs they might indeed all be great. So get a reasonable list together and make some appointments. What looks good on paper might not ''feel'' right in person. (I recommend visiting without your child). Definitely read the reviews here at BPN too. I also found savvysource.com to be very helpful, especially the ebook which might be overkill but was very useful in determining what criteria to use. Good luck! (We ended up getting appointments at three, visiting two, and picking one, which we're on the wait list for but feel like it's worth the wait). just been through it
Our ultimate decision hinged upon the temperament of our child (VERY curious, loves to learn, had spent her previous time with mommy and would benefit from a robust and intentional social curriculum) and upon the tour and admissions process of the schools we looked at. It's all about what is the best fit for your family and, most of all, your child.
We found our place at Berkeley Montessori School. And as she enters the second half of her Kindergarten year, we couldn't be more pleased with our choice. We looked at a LOT of schools to find the one that fit our child and our family.
Pay attention to the admissions process -- how does it feel to you as a family? How does your parent visit feel in relation to your parenting philosophy? Is it echoed by or in conflict with your approach? Or are you not sure?
How is the child visit structured? Is it set up to learn about your child or around adult schedules and needs? I was astounded at the number of ''popular'' schools where the child visit seemed to be very hard on children.
What do you ultimately want for your child at the end of this trajectory? It's VERY hard to determine the ''right fit'' for a kid that's 2 years old. That being said, you can find the right fit for your goals as a parent and hope you're right. :- )
What do you want your child to have experienced at the end? Do you want him/her to be a kid, with the empowermemt that goes along with that and no other responsibilities? Do you want the fast track to Harvard? Some schools will intimate that they can do that. Do you want some combination, and/or a place where s/he can be herself and learn and grow from both angles?
We ultimately chose Berkeley Montessori because we wanted our very curious child to have the exposure and access to the learning that takes place, *if* she wanted to take advantage of it.
We weren't expecting the amazing explosion that took place -- reading long before K ; math; geography; sciences like astronomy, meteorology, geology, botany and zoology; sensory development, and a social curriculum that's enabled our child to really blossom in a safe environment. She has eaten up every minute of learning she's been exposed to, and without pressure.
We didn't expect the decision process to be as hard as it was, but at the end it was very easy. Listen to your instincts, do your homework, and know that if you decided wrong, you can fix it for next year.
Much luck, Lisa
I've just started the process of looking for a preschool for my son. Many of the BPN archives refer to a booklet produced by NPN as the best way to start the process but NPN apparently stopped producing the booklet a few years ago. I'm wondering if there are any other similar resources or suggestions on how to start this process now that the booklet isn't available. Sharie
My daughter is just 2-months old, yet I have heard that I need to get her on pre-school waiting lists now. How do I find what are all the possible pre-schools in our area and surrounding? How do I learn about different types of pre-schools eg waldorff inspired v. montessori v. other? We live in Alameda and I am absolutely commited to enrolling her in a Spanish immersion pre- school (not just bi-lingual, and preferrably with Spanish speaking families) and hope to have the option throughout her academic life even if that means some travel (without giving up all the other top quality attributes in a school that one looks for). (Unfortunately we are neither afluent in order to independently afford private tuition nor low-income to qualify for scholarships--but it is a priority so we will find a way). I am aware of Centro Vida and Escuela Bilingue Internacional, but I hear there are others out there, I just don't where to begin inquiring and comparing. Thank you. international studied mami
You're a long way off from needing a preschool! Not all schools even have waiting lists, not all waiting lists are guarantees (openings can depend on whether or not siblings get priority, or the number of children leaving vs. number waiting to get in).
And even if you do put your child on a waiting list, who's to say you'll even still like the place when the time comes? Staff, policies, conditions change, not to mention just figuring out your child's needs and personality.
So, knowing that ANYTHING can happen in the next 2-3 years, take your time. Simply call places up and start visiting, start asking other parents at the park, playgroups, etc.
Many parent publications have done articles on finding a preschool and give you lists of what to look for and questions to ask. Look for back copies online or in libraries, or just keep an eye out for the next time a magazine publishes the revamped article. But number one: RELAX! It'll be fine. Take it one step at a time. Mom of Two
We are beginning the daunting(?) process of looking for a preschool for our now 2 year old son. We are in Berkeley. Diversity (we are interracial), languages, art, creativity and gardening are all important to us. We are interested in co-op schools and non. We are currently paying $650/month for a home daycare and are eager for our son to be in a more stimulating environment. What do preschools cost? How do we narrow down the choices?
Bananas may also be able to give you a range for current preschool rates. It's worth a call.
That said, the New School, on Bonita at Cedar, 548-9165, is a play-based preschool that has all the elements you mentioned. Like any school, you'll need to visit to see if it fits with your and your child's style--but we absolutely loved it. Good luck!
We're relocating from out of state to Oakland in October. Unexpected, so we missed all the deadlines for private preschool this Fall. Does anyone have any advice or suggestions for other group options for young 3 yr old? Are their part-time daycares that may be an option? Any suggestions would be wonderful!
Does anyone know of a book that lists and describes many of the preschools/daycare centers in the East Bay (I live in No. Berkeley)? I'm the mother of 2.5 year old twins + a 9 month old and am overwhelmed by the number of schools! Since I'm just a bit busy, I can't seem to keep track of the many programs that are either mentioned to me or that I read about on this network. I also don't have a network of other friends in our area to draw upon. I recall someone showing me a book that was available at one point but I don't know if it is still published. Thanks~ Overwhelmed
My child is just about to turn 2 at the end of the month and my husband and I have decided it's time to think about sending her to pre-school. My problem is that I don't really know how best to navigate through the sea of choices available in the Berkeley area; ie: Montessori, Waldorf, co-op, etc... Our daughter is VERY verbal, socializes well and generally seems like a well rounded toddler. So how do I know what situation will be best for her? It seems like a shot in the dark? Any advice from those who have 'been there' will be GREATLY appreciated. Thank you all. New Mom
I was very happy with the way I went about looking for schools. I did not begin with deciding on a particular educational philosophy, I began simply by looking at schools nearby. I looked on the BPN archives for places that would be convenient and had good recommendations, asked friends, etc. Then I called the places and made appointments to see them. I asked very few questions on the phone (only total basics like what hours they were open and how much they cost) and instead waited till I saw a place to judge it. I made several appointments over a month and half time span. Then I started visiting.
From the visits, I quickly began to realize what was important to me about a school and what wasn't. I started to see what I liked and what I didn't, so that in subsequent visits to other places I could seek out the qualities I had identified as important to me. What I found was that I was drawn to a particular educational philosophy, but I never would have figured that out by reading about the philosophy first. I had to see it in action. After I figured out this was what I wanted, I then sought out schools that practice this philosophy. After that, it was simply a matter of what place felt right.
So, I really recommend just starting to make appointments at all different kinds of schools in order to identify what you like and what you don't. Don't read up on the philosophies until after you've seen a place and it appeals to you.
Good luck happy with how I did it
My husband and I are interested in starting to look for a preschool for our daughter. I know that the NPN has a guide with lots of information about lots of preschools, including things to ask and look for. We have already been contemplating issues of academic vs play-based, etc. My question is really about logistics of the search.
I would imagine the first step is to call the preschool. At that point though, I don't know what to expect. I can't imagine that every parent who calls with vague interest in a preschool gets to visit/tour/speak with teachers/interview the director, etc. that I would want to do when really interested in a school. So is there some kind of initial ''phone interview'' and with whom could I expect that to be, probably not the person who initially answers the phone? If we think we would really be interested in a school, what can we expect as far as a visit-just a time to drop in? Whom should we expect to be able to speak with? And what about wait lists? We are looking for next fall so do we do our touring/interviewing etc now or when we make our way through a wait list? Will those schools with waiting lists usually allow you to tour if there is a long one? What about deposits? How often is that required and when is it expected?
As you can tell, I'm feeling pretty awkward about getting started with this. Do people feel that they got considerably ''better'' as they went, like with job interviews? For example, should we start with a school we are less interested in? Any advice will be appreciated.
confused toddler mom
I think that many parents here in the Bay Area tend to make the preschool search too complicated and stressful, often treating it like they are competing to get their child into the right college. There seems to be this prevailing sense that there are ''good'' preschools and then there are ''great'' preschools, and that somehow we as educated parents must put our child in the very best preschool or else our child will be at a disatvantage somehow. This kind of perspective has spread through out the community and has created a sense of confusion and ''panic'' among so many parents who are new to the preschool searching process. Thus making it difficult for new parents to make decisions for fear they may make the ''wrong'' choice. My best advice is to try to keep it all in perspective, and keep it simple. Afterall, it is only preschool! Laurey
Get on the phone and ask the director the questions you can. Arrange a visit, you will know which schools are definite matches for you and your child and others are not. I have personally found that the most important match point is the director's philosopy and respect for each individual child and family. You don't want your child to feel alone at school each day. This is the beginning of her schooling experience. If you cannot find a school in your neighborhood to your liking, be sure to look a few miles further out, for a good preschool match for your child is critical for future happiness, confidence and schooling success.
It's a fun process, and a very important process. When you find a school you like, you'll know. It's very instinctive.
Good Luck! Happy preschooler mom who did her research
However, I ended up finding the preschool that my child attends by asking my neighbors, friends, and other moms I met at the park and Gymboree. I toured 3 schools and chose one that a neighbor was sending her child to. My second choice was one that a friend sent her kids to. I was really busy with work and pregnant with #2 while making this decision. I felt guilty about it, but reasoned that these other people had visited tons of schools before choosing the ones they did. In short, if you can find other people who seem ''like you'' in terms of how they are raising their kids, you can use their legwork! happy with our choice
Now some places do tours on a regular schedule, others are less formal. One place (the Duck Pond) actually makes you pay them an application fee before you even get a tour when you fill out your application. I always thought that was weird myself; its not the norm. When I was looking it was almost always the director that took me around (these were not big preschools).
As far as getting in, some do first come first serve, others select you. Each place is different and you just have to ask!
Good luck. Hilary
Hello, I'm hoping for some help in finding the right preschool for my 3-1/2 yo son. For some reason, I'm having a difficult time learning about good preschool options in the East Bay Area, though I have used UC Berkeley Parent's Place and have continued to ask around. Does anyone know of any other resources for locating preschools (ideally with descriptions and/or webpage info)? Also, I'm looking for specific preschool recommendations. We live in Berkeley so would prefer something close-by, but would also consider Albany and Emeryville. I'm looking for a preschool that, above all else, feels warm and loving, safe and accepting, and that is compassionate to children's tender feelings since my son is sensitive and tends to thrive in such environments, yet wilt in ''colder'' less-sensitive ones. Of course, the typical preschool activities (art, dance, play, circle time, music,etc..) are important as well. I don't want him getting lost in the crowd. We visited McGee's Farm Co-op and both loved it but am not sure if I'm really up for that level of participation since I'm now pregnant with my 3rd baby. Ideally the school we're looking for would feel like a child-centered, diverse community of people who really care about and respect children and their families (kind of like a co-op without actually being a co-op, if that is possible!). I'd prefer something that offered 2 or 3 mornings/week and accepted 2 year olds since our second child will be 2 when our third is born. I'd very much appreciate hearing from people who have already found or know of such a place where they feel really good about leaving their child. Thank you so much for your help!
Hi - I am beginning to investigate preschools for my son and am having a hard time figuring out what I want from a school. I have received lots of recommendations from friends, but haven't found the information particularly useful -- everything sounds acceptable, but nothing stands out. However, I did learn a lot from reading past posts on the subject... particularly from people who expressed things they did not like about particular programs. So, I am hoping to hear from you about issues you have or had with your preschool -- not the name of a school, just the issue. I am particularly interested in hearing from people who chose a particular philosophy (Montessori, Waldorf, Art-based, Academic, ??) and then discovered that it was not right for your child or family. Thanks!
At (what I thought were) the better schools, the teachers were engaged with the kids during play time, at the very least monitoring their activities and conversations, making sure that they respected one another, helping them sort out sharing and turn-taking and not throwing sand, and all that stuff that is often challenging (yet so critical!) at this stage of development.
Relatedly, I paid a lot of attention to discipline. My preferred approach is for a teacher to take the time to talk through an unacceptable incident with a child, providing a lot of reasons for not engaging in whatever behavior. I was definitely drawn to places where the teachers managed these interactions with respect, compassion, and firmness instead of anger or punishment.
This is an overgeneralization, so please take it as such, but I found that kind of adult inattention to play time more frequently at ''academic'' pre-schools. I infer that this is because the teachers see their job as ''teachers of curriculum,'' so the socialization issues (which in my opinion are much more pressing at this age) do not take the same place in their work as for teachers of more play-based or kid-centered approaches. I am sure that there are academic preschools out there where teachers are more attentive to the kinds of socialization that needs to happen at playtime, but I didn't encounter any in my own search.
Good luck. A Mom
I think a good preschool is one where the teachers are happy and their needs are met, so that they can better meet the needs of our children. When the teachers appear to be intimidated by the administration, I think that is a problem. Looking for the Perfect Preschool!
I am rueing having chosen this school because the moms are, mostly, stay-at-home moms (somewhat snobby and self-involved), the physical set-up of the school is not conducive to any sense of community, the school has ZERO diversity, and I feel like I have landed in a pre-school in the middle of Piedmont or San Marino, Ca. This is not why I had chosen to live in Berkeley. My child is happy, so I am grinning and bearing it. But you might want to look closely at the physical set-up of the school, the ethnic make-up (although how could one know until the first day?), and location. We are hill dwellers, too, but I honestly think that the immediate neighborhood adjacent to the school, which largely ''feeds'' the school, is homogenous whereas our neighborhood is less so.
Just think about what your priorities are. My other children are enrolled in a private elementary school which is diverse, comparatively, and so I am biding my time until my child is a kindergardner, there. And, to be fair, my child is happy at this school.
I am aware, of course, that there is no perfect choice. Waiting it out
* Facilities (or school policies) which restricted the kids' freedom to choose between indoor and outdoor play. I want my child to play wherever he wants to, assuming weather allows.
* Rigid separation of age groups. I think kids benefit from multi-age groups in most cases (3's and 4's togehter, for example). Older kids get to be leaders, younger kids get older role models. Moreover, the kids stay with their caregivers for more than one year, which is preferable. One school I toured moved kids to the next class around their birthdays, which meant they left ALL of their classmates behind at once, instead of moving to a new class togehter in, say, September. That struck me unnecessarily traumatic.
* Poor variety of toys. At the same school I noticed the toddlers had a huge selection of puzzles to play with, but no dolls or dress-up clothes! I was told toys were rotated to ''keep kids interested.'' I rotate toys at home, too, but to me that means substituting one puzzle for another, not math toys for dramatic play toys! At another school, teachers limited the number of toys on the shelves at any one time too much for my tastes. I got the feeling they were hoarding some great materials that were ''too messy'' for regular use.
My concerns were based in my philosophy that preschool should be play-based. I believe young children need lots of opportunities to explore a variety of materials and make CHOICES! And finally, there should be tons of reading and writing materials around. Examine the books; if they look well-cared for, then the children don't get to handle them often enough. Loralee
When picking I looked at four different schools. (I talked to more than that, and narrowed it down.) One of the schools I looked at is an academic preschool. It actually is the preschool I went to, so I already knew a lot. The pluses: it is clean, I knew my kid would be safe, hot lunches, good preparation for school. The minuses (IMO): preparation for school... that meant too much sit still and learn time and not enough run around and be a kid time. When I interviewed with the director she started to shake her head because I was ''starting [my son] so late''. She then gave me a list of skills he should master by the time he entered at age 3.5. They included: sequencing; summarizing; inferring; knowing his colors, letters and numbers; how to set a table; his left and right. Whoa!!! That was over the top for me.
Another school I looked at was a Montessori school. It was in a home. The pluses: it was clean, the staff was small, friendly, and a close family friend is friends with them. The minuses: I am not personally too hot on the Montessori method. Lack of diversity. All the kids looked like they were wearing party clothes and stayed clean the whole time I was there... even while painting! It just was too weird. The hours weren't great, and for the price, I didnt' think it was worth it The third school I looked at was a play based school. The pluses: The kids could play with anything they were interested. The price was good. The minuses: They don't do formal instruction of any kind... to the point that it seemed like it was almost a free for all. While I was there observing I never saw any of the kids pick up their toys. At one point the director told me, ''We don't teach the children manners, they learn those at home.'' It was just too loose for me. I want my child to have some structure to his day. I also want him to be in a school that reinforces values that we have at home (and in society?) like picking up after yourself and saying please and thank you.
I ended up choosing a school that has both a diverse student body and staff. (Including a male teacher... I think that is so great!) The kids have a schedule that includes PLENTY of play time each day, but does also include some school activities like music, circle time, projects, colors, etc. The kids are grouped in classes by age, but for lunch, nap and play time (which is most of the day) all the kids are together so they all know eachother, regardless of age, and they know all the teachers so there is less anxiety about switching groups.
I don't know if that is the kind of info you are looking for. Certainly it is all JMO... YMMV. a mom
My husband and I are starting to think about preschools for our daughter. I have contacted NPN about its preschool directory and info session, but what I really need at this stage is some advice on the very first step in the process -- that ''mental conversation'' about what we're looking for. What questions did you ask yourself when trying to define what you were looking for in a preschool? What do you think are the most important considerations in selecting a preschool? (Maybe something you didn't give much thought to originally has turned out to be really important).
Please note that I'm not asking for specific shool recommendations -- just asking HOW to think about this whole thing. Thank you very much! Sarah
P.S. I notice some common terms (such as ''play-based'' and ''developmental'') in the newsletters, but the I don't understand their definitions/differences - so if some kind soul would give me the run-down on that, too, I'd really appreciate it. :)
One of the first choices you may want to make is whether you want to get involved in a co-op preschool, and this will probably reflect your own personal situation (are you working; do you look at preschool primarily as childcare; do you want to be part of your child's education, or do you prefer to leave that to the ''experts''). I chose a co-op preschool because I had stopped working in order to be home with my daughter, and I wanted to be part of a community of parents who were involved in preschool education. I liked the fact that my daughter would be able to be with lots of her peer's parents, and that the preschool situation would be somewhat like the experience kids used to have in neighborhoods--a bunch of children playing with lots of parents around supervising. In fact, we are still connected to some of the families we went to preschool with, and they still feel like neighbors and family.
In addition to looking for a co-op, I purposely looked for a ''play-based'' program. I wanted a situation in which my child could make choices about what interested her, and would not be required to follow any preset curriculum. If she chose to play outside in the sandbox all day, she could do that. If she wanted to be inside being read to, that would happen too. I looked for a school that provided lots of options for kids, a wide variety of equipment, a low adult/child ratio, and most importantly, respected each child's autonomy in decision-making.
I don't think preschoolers need to be ''taught'' academics, and I would be very leery of schools that focus on pre-reading, pre-math, etc. Your child has the rest of his/her life to spend on academic, paper/pencil kinds of learning. The ''work'' of preschoolers is play; the play provides a foundation for the rest of their education.
In this context, pre-reading skills might include being read to (a ''good'' preschool, in my opinion, should always have someone available to read to children), and imaginative play (dress-up, puppet theater, etc). Pre-math skills would include building with blocks, puzzles, water play, legos, cooking, measuring, etc. Pre-writing skills could include play-dough, crayons, rubber-stamps, puzzles, dictating stories, etc.
Look for an environment that includes animals, cooking, musical instruments, singing, playground equipment, wheeled toys, etc. The ''stuff'' needn't be fancy, but it should be accessible and kids should be actively involved.
The preschool my kids attended had a ''circle time'' every day which kids could join or not as they chose. A few parents worried that if their children didn't go to circle time in preschool they wouldn't be able to behave appropriately when the time came for them to attend kindergarten. In my experience, both with my own children and the many students I have taught over the years, this was never a problem. In fact, most of these kids were the most ready for kindergarten, and quickly adapted to new behavioral expectations.
I feel very strongly that kids need the opportunity to be kids for as long as possible, and that frequently they are being pushed too quickly into formalized school situations for the convenience of adults. I could go on and on; I hope this gives you some ideas to help guide you on your explorations. Good luck! Judy
This is based solely on my observations. It seems that pre-schools start around 2 and a half, at the earliest. It's probably not too early to start looking, in case there's a waiting list or a specific time that they enroll new kids. There are lots of different kinds of preschools. Some are half day. Some are fullday. Some really are oriented toward parents who don't work, or work part time. Some are oriented toward parents who work full time, or nearly full time. Some are coops, some aren't, but most require some parent participation, although some more than others. Figure out what you need and want, and I'm sure you can find something that will suit you!
Parents Press often has ads for schools; also if you ask people they are always happy to give advice on their favorite (or not favorite) pre-school. Chris
- Pre-school is a made up term. The State of California does not certify or set curriculum guidelines for schools until kindergarten/elementary. All programs that we commonly refer to as daycare or pre-schools are viewed by the State as either in-home daycare serving 6 to 12 kids (this got raised last year to 8/? but I'm not sure) or daycare centers that serve 12 or more kids. The State sets teacher/child ratios and minimum education requirements for 'teachers' in these daycare settings but they are not what you traditionally associate with being a 'teacher'. Again, I don't remember the exact requirements but it's something like 6 hours of early childhood development classes to be considered an 'assistant' and only like 15 hours to be considered a teacher. Bottom line to all of this is that as a parent you have to determine the type of program you're looking for and ask a lot of questions about the specific qualifications of the 'teachers'. There is no standard that can be assumed because of the terminology used.
- I found the biggest philosophical issue for me to think through was the type of program I wanted. There are academic, Montessori and developmental programs. All of these have their own flavors which you'll have to form opinions about on your own. I visited some pre-schools where 2 year-olds were sitting at desks at scheduled times doing play tasks from a set of choices they were given. Other schools had open play with little interaction from adults. I was surprised at the number of different settings I observed (I visited 6 different schools). Your child's personality and development and your own views on academic structure prior to kindergarten all need to be thought through.
- As far as age to start I think it really depends on what type of situation you currently have. I think the basic approach to use is to determine what year your child will start kindergarten. If you back track from that then you end up with how many years you want your child in a pre-school. I think the most traditional approach is that they spend 2 years in a pre-school program. Many pre-schools have programs for 2 year olds though which ends up putting your child in that setting for 3 years. In my situation I work full-time and had an in-home caregiver for the first 2 years. I'm part of a mom's group so my daughter did occasionally play with other kids (there are no older siblings). I felt that keeping her in that situation another full year was too limiting so I decided to transition to a pre-school. Her age when starting the program was 2 years and 3 months. She enjoys going and has several specific kids that she plays with most. Many of the 2 year olds do a lot of individual and parallel play which I still think is beneficial to them. I have observed that the 3 and 4 year olds are very social and do almost all of their play with one another. My own conclusion on this is that pre-school is very valuable for those 2 years prior to kindergarten and that a 3rd year (starting during the 2's) is questionable depending on how much interaction your child may already be getting in their individual situation.
- How long are they going to be at pre-school. I work full-time so I needed a 5 day a week full time program because I didn't want to juggle finding new 'daycare' (my in home provider didn't want part time work) and a pre-school. You'll find that many pre-schools split along full-time and full-time/part-time schedules. About half the schools I visited only had full time programs and are obviously targeted to full time working parents, of course you could attend part time but you had to pay for the full month. Given the amount of time my daughter would be there I didn't want a program that had too many children or that would be over-stimulating. An example in my own observations was that I loved the program at Duck's Nest and thought it would be great if Caitlin was only going 2 or 3 days a week or some morning schedule. But with 80 kids and the amount of activity going on I felt it was way too overwhelming to attend 5 days a week full time. I chose a program that has only 12 kids and is located in a home environment.
- There are a lot of detailed things about food and diapers that I wouldn't necessarily choose a school over but certain conditions are way more convenient than others. My pre-school provides breakfast (waffles, bagels, pancakes), a hot lunch (chicken, noodles everyday, hamburgers, fish sticks) and an afternoon snack (cheese, fruit). No toilet training is required (and no pressure put on the child to toilet train, I visited one school where I got a course in how to 'encourage' the kids into training quickly) and disposable diapers are provided. All of these things make the daily ritual of getting ready in the morning and dropping her off much less complicated.
- When interviewing schools I found I got more relevant answers if I asked questions in terms of example situations. Instead of saying 'What method of discipline do you use' I asked 'Take an example of 1 child playing with a toy and another child grabbing the toy, the first child is extremely upset and hits the child that took the toy away, would you intervene and if so, how would you handle the situation.' Other questions, 'my child doesn't want to eat anything for lunch, what would you do', 'my child is having a rough day and can't seem to get along with anyone, how would that be handled', 'what would you do with a child that is overly aggressive and continues to hit my child on a regular basis'.
- The cost for full time pre-school. When I looked last year I found the range to be $615 (the lowest priced school that had what I considered to be a good program, this was the Rainbow School in Rockridge but they were completely full for the Fall by the time I visited in March) to $795 on the high end.
Some upcoming pre-school events: (1998)
Tuesday, January 13, Neighborhood Mom's Preschool Panel from 7:00 to 9:30. The panel will feature 5 participants that will talk about different types of pre-school programs and answer questions from the audience. I think the woman from Bananas will be there again along with directors from some area schools that represent different program methods. After the panel 12 to 15 pre-schools will have information booths set up in the basement to field questions about their schools. I already recycled my newsletter so I don't have the exact details on cost for non-members (I think around $3 or $5). There is also a directory that you can purchase in the $10 range but that is optional. The location is a church located at 1953 Hopkins in Berkeley (corner of Hopkins & Napa).
Saturday, January 31, 7th Annual Preschool Fair from 11 to 3. This fair will feature 27 pre-schools. It's being held at East Bay French-American School located at 1009 Heinz Avenue, Berkeley (cross street: Ninth Street). Admission is $1 with free childcare provided.
The January issue of Parents Press contains a lot of ads for pre-school open houses. Many of these occur in January and early February.
Bananas is the best resource for getting a list of in-home, smaller pre-school programs that cater to the 12 to 14 kid size. They also have larger schools in their resource directory but I was able to collect much of that information via Parent's Press and the pre-school fairs. It's the smaller programs that don't spend a lot of time advertising and often are full based on word of mouth alone that you have to seek out through a place like Bananas.
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