NOTHING BEATS A SIMPLE VISIT WHEN CHOOSING A PRESCHOOL
Do an internet search for “Calgary preschools” and a number of terms will come up — preschool, playschool, junior kindergarten, Montessori and Waldorf — just to name a few.
The array of options can be difficult to navigate. And when coupled with the pressure of finding something that suits your child’s individual needs as well as the rest of your family ’s schedule, choosing the right preschool can be a confusing process.
The first step with finding the right preschool program is to unpack some of the terms. Some schools may use the words “preschool” and “playschool” interchangeably, to others “playschool” may mean a specific program that involves play-based learning.
“Junior kindergarten” can refer to any program for four-year-olds, or it could suggest an emphasis on academic instruction. Since preschools aren’t regulated by the city’s school boards, these terms often don’t have consistent definitions.
“It’s up to parents to ask questions,” says Cynthia Prasow, an instructor and early childhood education specialist at the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education.
“What do we mean by ‘playschool?’ Can you tell me what a day looks like? How is the environment set up? Is it inviting, with age-appropriate activities as opposed to a more structured setup that doesn’t allow for play? You may assume that because something is called playschool that it will include play — but you do need to ask.”
For Stacey Watson, choosing a preschool for her four-year-old son August was easy. She wanted a place for him to learn literacy and numeracy basics and interact with other children his age. Her only real requirement was that she wanted to be able to walk there with him every day.
“My entire decision was based on what I could walk to,” says Watson, who enrolled August in the same Pre-Kindergarten Educational Services program that her older daughter had attended a few years before.
“At the time my daughter went to preschool there was another one in the neighbourhood that we could walk to, but it was non-secular and I knew that I didn’t want that. So the decision came down to ‘Is it secular and is it walkable?’ And that was it.”
While Watson’s decision boiled down to basics, other parents might look for specific programming that will suit their family’s educational philosophy.
Waldorf programs, for example, are based on methodologies that involve oral language and a multisensory approach that de-emphasizes academics and literacy until a child is in Grade 1.
Montessori is another buzzworthy philosophy that many parents are drawn to because of its combination of child-centred learning and a regimented curriculum that involves completing activities in sequence before moving forward to the next.
Rose Bolton decided that Montessori was too philosophical for her three-year-old daughter Charlotte, so she decided on a local community playschool, until she realized that the short days and a hefty volunteer schedule wouldn’t work while she was on maternity leave with her newborn son or when she returned to work the next year. Bolton ended up enrolling Charlotte in a nature-focused preschool — partially because she thought the outdoor activity would suit her daughter, but also because the school could provide additional child-care hours.
Of course, in addition to Montessori, Waldorf, nature schools and community schools, parents can opt for religious-based schools, preschools that feed into private schools that go all the way to Grade 12 or bilingual preschools.
Ultimately, Prasow advises that parents choose a school that fits with their lifestyle and gives them a good feeling when they see the classroom in action, rather than dwelling too much on which philosophy will suit their child.
“Try not to stress over it,” she advises. “Sometimes we tend to overanalyze it and forget to let the child be a child. Of course you want to put them into a recognized place, but affordability is a factor, too.
“The best thing is to go in and take a look. Pop in and take a look when class is happening — you can learn enough by seeing the children in the classroom.”
The best thing is to go in and take a look. Pop in and take a look when class is happening — you can learn enough by seeing the children in the classroom.”