School Year

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Steps to choosing the right preschool

Kindergarten used to mark a child's first foray into formal education. But preschool has now taken up that mantle for many students.

Some parents may recall their own preschool experiences, mostly remembering extended moments of play and more monitored fun inside the school. But as the world of education has become more competitive, and students are required to meet certain standards at even earlier grade levels than before, preschool has undergone its own transformation.

Academic preschools have become a popular choice for parents hoping their children can gain that extra edge. Rather than the play-based philosophy preschools adhered to in the past, academic preschools introduce students to the rigors of the classroom. These academic preschools often teach math and reading. Proponents of this type of learning say that children are sponges at early ages, and the more information they can be presented with, the more they are likely to retain it. Children who are able to sit and focus for 20 to 30 minutes at a time and are very curious and ask a lot of questions may make for the best candidates at academic-based preschools. Other children may be more comfortable attending play-based schools.

While parents who hope to enroll their students in preschool may have to choose between a play- or academic-based curriculum, there are other factors to consider as well.

• Is proximity to your home important? Some parents prefer that their children's preschools be close to home, while others want a school closer to their office. If your commute to work is long, then keep in mind that children will spend more time at a preschool close to home, which can cost more and reduce the amount of time parents and their children spend together.

• Should the school be faith-based? Religious organizations frequently offer their own faith-based preschool programs. Parents will have to decide if they want a faith-based curriculum for their young children.

• Are pre- and post-care services available? A school that has flexible hours may be appealing to some. This enables parents to drop off and pick up children according to their own work schedules or in coordination with school hours for other children in the family.

• Visit the school and assess the environment. A school may look excellent on paper, but you will not get a feel for it until visiting the school during a school day. Take your child along and get his or her opinion. Parents may love a particular school, but if kids are uncomfortable, the school may prove ineffective.

• Confirm the curriculum before enrolling. Schools may have different educational philosophies. These can run the gamut from the Montessori Method to the Waldorf Approach to the High/Scope Approach. Familiarize yourself with a school's educational philosophy so you can be sure you are making the most informed decision possible.

• Go with your gut. Sometimes choosing a preschool boils down to a facility that just feels right. At this stage in a child's education, schooling is about learning social skills and growing acclimated to the routines of the classroom.