While it used to be common for kindergarten to be a child’s first experience with organized schooling, today’s children are increasingly involved in preschool programs.
In fact, by the time children are one year away from normal kindergarten age, or four years old, about 64% will be enrolled in organized preschool. State governors are increasingly supporting and recommending preschool programs, especially for children who come from low-income families and are considered at-risk. While there are plenty of preschool programs, finding the right one can be a challenge.
Know Your Child
One of the first steps to finding the right preschool is knowing your own child. Every child has a different personality and different preferences. Like adults, some children may learn better in a small, one-on-one setting, while others may thrive in groups. This information is crucial to finding the right preschool. Placing a child in a large daycare may be intimidating and difficult if she has spent most of her life in small, intimate groups. Likewise, a child that is used to lessons, play dates and daycare may become bored in a smaller preschool setting.
Types of Preschool
Besides the size of a preschool center, there are two main types of programs- public and private. Public preschools may run under state funded umbrellas like Head Start, while private schools offer a full plethora of programs and environments.
Public preschool is ideal for parents with limited resources. In many cases, public preschool is subsidized and participating costs families little or nothing. Programs like Head Start do not have a vigorous academic program but often focus on social skills, routine and developing positive teacher-child relationships. Parents may have little say over issues like class size. Depending on the demographics of a particular area, public preschool may be the only available choice for many families, especially in rural or underprivileged areas. Keep in mind that millions of children are later successful in public school after attending a public preschool program.
Private preschool is becoming increasingly competitive. In many big cities, waiting lists are so long that parents sometimes place their children on the roles when they are born. Private preschools offer the advantages of a broader assortment of programs and philosophies. Private preschools can focus on music, academics or take a hands-on approach to learning, such as the Montessori method. Private preschool can be prohibitively expensive, but parents have more control over class size, peer group and the overall learning culture. When it comes to a private school, keep in mind that bigger and more expensive isn’t always better. Choose a school that fits your parenting philosophy, your budget and your child’s personality.
Regardless of which school you choose, be sure to check their individual policies for items that might affect your child. Some preschools, for example, require all students to be fully potty trained, while others will work with parents to reach this goal. Some parents also find the food choices at preschool to be a high priority, so know how this will affect your family.