How to Choose the Right Preschool for your Child

happy toddler smiling in kitchenWhen JRB was 2, I visited a  preschool in my neighborhood. It had a terrific reputation and I was quite impressed  with the school’s earnest belief in letting the children learn through discovery which included allowing them to engage 100% in any and all activities that interested them. If a child loves to build? He can build all day, A child wants to color ~ She can do it as long as she likes.  The school was perfect for JRB, I thought, as it would play to his strengths of doing the things he likes to do while cutting out the things he doesn’t.

What I didn’t think about at that moment, but what I soon discovered  was that finding a preschool that would only “play to your child’s strengths,” could / would be detrimental. When it comes education,  especially early childhood education you want to find a program that teaches your whole child which means promoting and nurturing your child’s strengths while also identifying, building and strengthening his  weaknesses. JRB was intelligent,curious and independent, but he had difficulty with motor planning, interacting with peers and participating in circle time.

I was lucky though, I had an awesome  pediatrician who noticed some telltale signs and referred us to a preschool specialist who could help us find a preschool that would better suit JRB. We ended up going to a fabulous community preschool which had a play based curriculum and  encouraged independence and discovery while also  promoting cooperation, creative play and open ended social interaction.  Jackson was happy, his social skills improved and the little things that used to be a challenging  (engaging in conversations with peers, joining the class for circle time) got easier and better and less problematic.

But there was an issue. When JRB was 4, one of the parents of an alum  reported that her daughter’s Kindergarten teacher complained that the children who went though out preschool program  were not prepared for Kindergarten ~ they didn’t have strong pre-literacy skills, number sense and some could not even print their names. It was a wake up call, the world was changing and what was once considered a “Kindergarten curriculum” (letter identification, phonemic awareness, etc.) was now considered skills children should learn prior to entering Kindergarten. We can debate about the appropriateness of this philosophy all day long and I am steadfast in my belief that  children are able to  learn when they are ready cognitively and some kids are just not there at age 4 or 5.  But I did change my mind about one thing ~ preschools should expose their students to activities that promote number sense and reading readiness. Children should have the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of reading, writing and simple math. For every child who isn’t “ready”  there are 3 children who are ready and exposing them to these concepts can only be a bonus (as long as they are “ready” and not pushed into learning) I talk a lot about the importance of play in a early childhood education. I am a firm believer that playing board games is one of the best ways to teach children the vital skills they will need throughout life (following rules, taking turns, playing  fair) but we need to give our kids every opportunity to succeed, which means incorporating an academic component into early learning programs. And that’s where the Gardner School comes in! The Gardner School is an academically focused preschool  for children ages 6 months through Kindergarten. It combines a play based curriculum with academics and prides itself on educating the whole child. The Gardner School only employs teachers with degrees in education or child development and are committed to creating a dynamic and rich learning environment for everyone.

Last week, I invited a group of women and their children to join me at The Gardner School for a luncheon / playdate where we could meet with the director and talk about early childhood education. I can not stress enough how wildly impressed I was with the school, the director and the staff. The space was clean and spacious with ample sitting areas for parents to connect with each other while they waited for their children. The classrooms were  child centric with dramatic play areas, book nooks, art centers and plenty of room to play.

photo 1-1

Kitchen Area for Dynamic Play

photo 3

The children eat in the cafeteria, which helps keep the classroom allergen and bug free

The School caters to working parents as it provides extended morning and afternoon hours and offers enrichment classes right in the building so children who want to take  ballet, drama, computers, etc.  can do so ~ without having to be schlepped  around. One of the things I loved most was the “nursing room” where moms and dads can pop in and nurse their babies in privacy thus allowing time throughout the day for parents and children to bond. To me this is indicative of Gardner’s dedication to nurturing the whole child which includes parents!  But the thing that got me, the piece de resistance in a facility of splendor was the playscape ~ imagine this: a HUGE room with cars, trikes, slides etc and a giant garage door that when the weather is nice, and surly it will get nice one day, opens up to a huge grassy area and playground allowing the children to play inside and out, riding their trikes straight from the playspace to the “trike trail” that circles the playground.  How awesome is that? If you have a child who is of preschool age or younger, whether you are working full time or not,  check out the Gardner School. I visited the school in Glenview / Nortbrook, but they are all over the country and hopefully near where you live. So go ahead, plan a visit, talk with the director, learn about their programs and let me know what you think! xo, Beth

Disclosure: I was compensated for organizing and attending the luncheon and playdate but the opinions in this blog are 100% my own.