EMPHASIS ON PLAY
There are many different preschools, but most share the same goal
It might not ever go on his Ivy-league application or in her curricula vitae, but many parents believe getting a child into a “good” preschool is a worthy endeavour.
If they didn’t believe it, there wouldn’t be parents putting children on preschool waiting lists from the moment of birth.
Of course, most parents fall somewhere between those who pick out preschools prenatally and those who expect to slide into a program a few months ahead of time.
The de Groots had a sound strategy for getting their children into the preschool of their choice.
Amanda de Groot says registering for their desired preschool was made easier when they decided to put their son in at the age of twoand-half rather than wait until he was three or four.
They now have two children in preschool — five-year-old Jasper and three-year-old Anneka.
“There is early registration for returning families, but even with that, you do need to line up early on registration day for some locations. Jasper was on the wait-list last year, but did get a spot.”
The procedures for registering children vary from physically lining up in person to online registrations. Either way, it’s largely every parent for him- or herself unless they have an “in.”
Surprisingly, there are a lot of “ins.” If you are referred by a friend with a child in your desired preschool, sometimes this will give you a priority placement.
Many preschools run by community organizations and associations, churches or athletic associations will give priority registration to families with existing relationships, memberships or affiliations.
There are preschools in Calgary — particularly programs with a strong academic or preparatory focus — that maintain waiting lists for years, even from birth. Some of these preschools also charge a fee to be on the waiting list.
Some preschools aim to teach children to read and write before kindergarten and others have curriculums that include virtually every subject and multiple languages. Some incorporate activities such as yoga, outdoor education and drama.
The de Groots weren’t really wowed by promises of academic excellence, however. Amanda says their primary considerations were location and the availability of a two-and-a-half-year-old program and a play-based philosophy.
“It was important for us that the school had a strong focus on play and social interactions, as well as having a gym space available for gross-motor development,” de Groot says.
Finding a preschool with a focus on learning through play seems to be heavily favoured by early childhood education experts as well.
“While it’s really tempting for parents to look for a school with a clearly outlined schedule that seems to be accomplishing a lot, there needs to be opportunities for open-ended play as too much structure in play can limit a child’s capabilities and even make them second-guess themselves,” says Catherine Smey Carston, director of the Centre for Child Well-Being in the department of child studies and social work at Mount Royal University.
She also says there should be no difference between a quality child care program and a preschool program. Children should be engaging with people and their surroundings in meaningful ways.
The ultimate goal is social and emotional development and the opportunity to form relationships, says Linda O’Donaghue, instructor in the early learning and child care program at Bow Valley College.
“The main avenue for children to do that is play, and when children are bored and unchallenged, often we see them communicate that in their behaviour,” O’Donaghue says. “So a visit to a preschool to watch how children are participating and interacting can really help you see that in action.”