A Simplified Guide to Your Top Preschool Options

We examine the most common and properly-regulated preschool options for your child.

Sending your child to preschool for the very first time can be a really emotional time for any parent — especially for international parents.

Your little one will take her first steps in the world by herself, so you naturally want to ensure she gets the best possible experience. Deciding where to enroll your child can be a little overwhelming when faced with the many different options available.

Thankfully, there are great options for your child. Here are the types of preschools most commonly found in the U.S. and some guidelines on how to decide what would work best for your child and your family.

Co-op Preschools

Co-op or cooperative preschools are run by parents in partnership with education professionals. In some cases, the school may be run entirely by parents, who also double up as teachers in the classrooms. Such a school is called a full co-op.

In other cases, school is managed and taught by professional educators but parents are expected to volunteer once or twice a month as classroom helpers. The advantages are:

  • Low cost to parents
  • Opportunity for parents to be involved in their kids’ classrooms and activities
  • A great adult to child ratio in the classroom

Preschools run by churches or other religious institutions also offer similar benefits with some religious education added to the classroom curriculum.

Some issues that parents may run into with co-ops are:

  • Working parents may not have as much time to spend volunteering in their child’s school.
  • Co-ops usually do not offer extended before and after school hours, requiring alternative arrangements when both parents work outside the home. The hours are usually short — about three hours and some schools offer programs only three days a week.
  • Co-op schools, especially those run by parents rather than educational professionals can run into management issues, so you may like to talk to other parents about the school environment and management before making a final decision.

Home-Based Preschool

If your child is shy and dislikes large groups of children, a home-based preschool may be the way to transition your kids into a bigger school. This type of school has an informal home-like environment and has a very small number of kids that can be less alarming to little ones. The small class size also ensures more individual attention. This can lead to kids achieving more academically, especially if the teacher is a well-trained and dedicated individual.

However, there is usually only one main teacher in such a school although there could be a helper teacher, which means there is very little oversight related to the teacher’s activities. Since the school may be less regulated you would need to ensure that teacher has all the required certifications and licenses for herself and the premises.

The Public School or Government-Assisted Option

Many school districts across the country offer preschool programs in the local public schools. Residents local to the district can apply for admission. Many districts offer free preschool admission to low-income families through the Head Start Child Development program.

Families who do not meet the income criteria for Head Start usually pay an inexpensive fee. School bus transportation may not be provided to the children. President Obama has repeatedly stressed on the importance of high quality preschool programs and wants to expand funding for the programs.

Things to think about before enrolling in a publicly offered preschool program:

  • The program will only be as good as the school district. If you happen to live in a high-performing school district, it is likely that the preschool program will also be of good quality.
  • There are many critics of the Head Start program who debate the quality of its preschool program so you should look into it carefully.
  • Public preschool programs typically start only from age four and many are likely to be half day programs. So working parents would need to look into other options to meet their needs.

Montessori Preschools

Montessori preschools follow a specific method and curriculum founded by Dr. Maria Montessori in the early twentieth century. Some features of the Montessori Method include:

  • Child-centered methodology which lets the child choose what he or she wants to learn from a set of carefully pre-selected material set out on accessible shelves in the classroom.
  • Montessori materials are constructed to help kids learn independently at their own pace.
  • The classrooms are mixed-age — a primary age classroom will have kids ranging from three to six years old.
  • The math curriculum is advanced, materials teach concepts starting with the concrete and moving to the abstract. Montessori kids graduating from kindergarten usually know the concepts of multiplication and division.

Some points to consider before enrolling your child:

  • Montessori schools are among the more expensive because of the specific materials and classroom environments they require.
  • You should also check that the school is certified with the American Montessori Society (AMS) and that teachers are properly certified in Montessori teacher’s training.
  • Some kids who graduate from Montessori preschool may have initial trouble adjusting to a regular classroom because they are used to a lot more freedom of movement and choice in how they structure their school day.

Some preschools may use a different curriculum mixed in with certain aspects of Montessori.

Preschool Franchises or Chains

There are a number of well-known preschool chains that operate across the country in the form of franchises. The schools are characterized by:

  • Well-documented procedures and trained teachers.
  • Plenty of oversight from the main corporate offices.
  • Daycare-type facilities, such as webcams in the classrooms, and extended hours before and after school — which is helpful for working parents.
  • A uniform, documented curriculum that is followed across all franchises, making it easier to transfer your child to another location if you happen to move.

Some features to watch out for:

  • Some of the franchised preschools can be large and rather institutionalized in nature, which young children may not respond well.
  • Your kids will come in contact with a larger number of children, which could lead them to falling sick more often in the initial days.
  • The schools are also more expensive as they are run by profit-making organizations.

In some places like New York City, certain preschools can act as Feeder schools for highly-coveted private schools that have limited admission spots. If you want your child to go to one of the latter, you need to plan for it.

The early years do play a significant role in a child’s development. It is important to consider all aspects of the school and personally visit the preschool before reaching a decision. Sometimes your decision can hinge on a simple unforeseen factor like how your child interacts with his prospective teacher and that can make a world of difference.

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