My daughter just turned 4 and we have decided to put her in a preschool program a few mornings a week. She has been home with me up until now. I would love to keep her home until kindergarten, but she really wants to go to school and I think she could use more interaction with other kids. She is very verbal/precocious for her age but does not have much interest in learning numbers/letters etc (which is fine with me at her age). I have been searching for months for a play-based preschool in our area and the only two I can find are a 20 or 25 minute drive away.
I put her in a summer program at a school close to our home to try it for a month. She is there 2 mornings a week, from 9 to 12:30 and she completely loves it. She tells me that she does not want to go to a different school when summer is over and she wants to stay at the school she goes to now. The positives are a barnyard with animals, an outdoor classroom (which they don't seem to spend tons of time in), and good caring teachers. The negatives are it is more academic than I would like. Although they do seem to introduce the concepts in a child-friendly way (songs, finger plays, puppetry, stories, body movement) I would rather that they didn't force them to learn these concepts at this age at all. They also do learning centers/open classroom each morning. When I walked through the room at the end of the year last year, I definitely saw the kids printing their names and writing letters etc. The second negative which is a huge negative for me is that they have a computer in the classroom and they are supposedly encouraged to use it each day. I try to keep her away from screen time as much as possible at home and I am completely against the idea of paying for her to be in a program that uses them.... I don't see any value at all to computers in a preschool class. Although her teachers told me that they shut off the computers most of the time, not sure how true that is... The school also seems very into making money.
The farther away schools seem to be closer to what I am looking for- one is a RIE program and the other is a Reggio program, play-based with an art studio where the children can work every day. Very child-led, great teachers also. Mixed age classes (not sure how I feel about that). Then there's the drive- almost 2 hours of driving each day with drop off and pick up. And I have a 10 month old daughter also, who would be dragged along for the drive as well. She would only go 2 days a week to either of the far schools, so it wouldn't be too many days of making the drive. Also they are both less expensive than the closer school.
So for fall should I stick with the closer school where my daughter is happy so far, or a further one that seems to be more of what I am looking for? How far would you be willing to drive for preschool? Does anybody commute to preschool with a younger sibling? I would love to hear opinions, thoughts and experiences from others. I am pretty conflicted and I don't have much time left to decide. Thanks in advance and sorry for the lengthy post!
Hi OP, quick answer to your question: we don't have a car but we rely on public transportation. DD and I travelled by subway and bus to her Montessori school for three years (between the subway and walking - it took us about an hour each way). There was another Montessori school in our neighborhood but I decided against it because it just didn't feel like the thing we were looking for.
I have to admit that the travel time got old sometimes, especially when DD was tired or I was tired or pressed for time. However, I just feel it was the best thing we could have done. DD loved it and we were extremely happy with the program. Good luck with your decision.
I put her in a summer program at a school close to our home to try it for a month. She is there 2 mornings a week, from 9 to 12:30 and she completely loves it. She tells me that she does not want to go to a different school when summer is over and she wants to stay at the school she goes to now. The positives are a barnyard with animals, an outdoor classroom (which they don't seem to spend tons of time in), and good caring teachers.
I would stay where you are because she likes it, it is close, and there are some really strong positives.
Any school your child attends you will eventually find a couple of negatives for. I think to take your child out of a school where she is perfectly happy and doing nice things in hopes that a different school will be *more* perfect is futile. Focus on what is really great about where she is rather than making your life more difficult, forcing a transition on her she doesn't want, and risk putting her in a school that in 6 months you won't be happy with.
My kids school has an outdoor learning center, and they don't use it much when it is hot. I'm not sure where you are located, but its possible that they will use it more in the fall when the temps drop.
If she is happy where she's at, I'd go with the status quo.
The 2hr total travel time, strapped to a car seat for the younger sibling is a lot, IMO when younger sibling could be interacting with you/others or playing.
Good, caring teachers and a child who wants to be there? I would keep her where she is.
Thanks for all the responses. Yesterday we went to look at one of the schools 20 minutes away. I told my daughter that if she stays at the school she is at now, when summer is over she will be in a different class and start learning letters and numbers. If she goes to the other school she will just play there. She immediately said, "I want to go to the other school where I just play." She is happy at her school because it is all about play right now but I'm not sure if she will like it once the school year starts and there are academics involved. She is pretty uninterested in them. I just don't want her to dislike school for years to come because she was pushed into academics too early. I want her early experiences with school to be fun and positive. I realize that I run the risk of her being unhappy with a change to a different school as well. Trying to choose the best place for her... I have searched all over for a closer play-based school and there is nothing. :(
I also feel like any school that is trying to teach these academic concepts to kids at a preschool level does not have the best interest of the children in mind- they are doing it because they are responding to pressure from parents to make sure they are prepared for kindergarten. There is so much research that shows the positives of play for kids and the negatives of early academics. This is obviously just my personal opinion but I have found so much info to support my thoughts on this subject...
I really appreciate all of your feedback so far. Thanks.
She is happy at her school because it is all about play right now but I'm not sure if she will like it once the school year starts and there are academics involved. She is pretty uninterested in them. I just don't want her to dislike school for years to come because she was pushed into academics too early. I want her early experiences with school to be fun and positive. ...
I also feel like any school that is trying to teach these academic concepts to kids at a preschool level does not have the best interest of the children in mind-
but based on your own description, the curriculum is mellow and play based:
I don't see that singing song and doing finger plays is forcing anything. It sounds like the introduce things in a very play based way. Children often become interested in things when they are taught in a fun way and doing them with their peers. It's one of the advantages of school over home for part of the day. Just because she is uninterested in doing something with you, it does not follow that she wouldn't be interested in doing it with someone else in a different context.
In wanting her experiences to be positive, I think you've defined what is "fun and positive" in very black and white terms. You've decided that the alphabet can neither be fun nor positive, not even as a finger play.
Also, what are your plans for next year? If she is 4 now, in my state she would be old enough for K next year, and most kids entering K know these things. The ones who enter K without this introduction are considered behind.
Yes, she will be in kindergarten next year. She will be going to a Waldorf inspired charter school where they have half day kinder with lots of play as well as introduction to letters and numbers. So I'm not worried about her being "behind" if she doesn't get much of that this year. I have also come across tons of research showing that kids who attend play-based preschool are actually better off academically later in school. Here is a quote from an article from msnbc:
"...In 1999, Marcon published a study in the journal Developmental Psychology that looked at 721 4-year-olds selected from three different preschool models: play based, academic (adult directed) and middle of the road (programs that did not follow either philosophy). Marcon followed the children’s language, self-help, social, motor and adaptive development along with basic skills.
“What we found in our research then and in ongoing studies is that children who were in a [play-based] preschool program showed stronger academic performance in all subject areas measured compared to children who had been in more academically focused or more middle-of-the-road programs,” says Marcon.
According to Marcon and other researchers, children who are subjected to overly academic environments early on have more behavior problems later and are less likely to be enthusiastic, creative learners and thinkers.
“You will frequently get short-term gains with a highly academic approach (in preschool), but they come with long-term consequences,” says Marcon. “A lot of early childhood studies only follow children to third grade. But when you take it into fourth grade and beyond that’s where you see the big difference. That’s when children have to be more independent and think.” .....
And that is just one of many similar articles I have found....
I don't know, it just doesn't sit well with me that they are learning how to write and having daily computer time at this school. This school also has 45 minutes of "small group" time each morning to teach new concepts. That sounds like a lot to me no matter how fun they try to make it for the kids. They are only 4 years old. I just think there is plenty of time for that later. I am fine with some ABCs being thrown in here and there but for the most part they should be playing now in my opinion.... Call it black and white thinking if you'd like. But my daughter only gets one childhood and I do not want to deprive her of any of it.
And I really appreciate your response and all responses, even those who do not agree with my perspective. :)
My DD entered kindergarten at four. I'm not sure how public and private schools are in your state, but there is a huge recognition here that kids entering kindergarten are doing so at varying levels. DD had a seven year old autistic child in her class who was brilliant in math concepts but couldn't speak, and a range of other kids who either could read or didn't even know the alphabet. At least in New York, there's a recognition that kindergarten is an eventual equalizer. No one has to start in the same place, though.
OP, I think you need to pick what is the right fit for you and your child (and I say both "you" and your child because educational choices mean a lot to me personally and I'm sure they mean a lot to others). Point being, if you feel you're making the best choice by traveling further for a school that fits your family's model then by all means take the plunge. I chose to travel because the school which was further away comported with my particular educational values. DD was perfectly happy at her daycare (gasp!) before she started Montessori, but I wanted more. Sometimes parents are in the best position to assess where their child is and the parents' educational goals for the child.
Just to add to my previous post about travel time: although it was a bit much sometimes in terms of the physical getting to school, DD and I were together one-on-one for at least two hours a day just talking, playing games, pretending, etc. by virtue of our travel time. I'll always cherish that.
OP- I completely, absolutely, 100% agree with all of your thoughts on preschool, and DH and I feel as strongly about it as you do. I chose a preschool that has not changed it's basic plan in 36 years. When I toured the Director said, "here our #1 priority is social and emotional development." Lots of fun while learning how to wait your turn, wait in line, be in charge of your possessions, be respectful to others. No 'academics', no emphasis on computers (they had a couple but really not used). During her second year the kids brought lunch one day a month (it was normally 9am-noon but it ran until 1pm that day). This was to prepare them for full day kindergarten, when they have to eat at school. My DD absolutely thrived at this school, she always LOVED going. She is starting kindergarden in the fall and I feel she is 100% ready; I largely credit her preschool for this.
When she started at this school we lived in the town, but then moved 20minutes away. I drove it and while I don't have a younger DC, I work from home some days and need my large computer monitor to work most efficiently...and with the longer drive and short school day I lost that luxury, working on my laptop at the library by her school instead.
We are TTC#2 and if we are fortunate enough to have another he/she will go to this school, even thought the commute will be a PITA. I'm agree with Freud - the first 5 years are paramount. I say do the commute.
Cats Cradle and Snydley,
Thank you so much for your responses and your support. It's nice to hear other people's experiences with similar situations. Posting this thread has really helped me work through some of my indecision on the subject. Still up in the air, but leaning heavily towards commuting to one of the schools that fits with our philosophy better. Just feels right at this point.... Thanks again. :)
I'm familiar with all the research . It sounds like you have a great plan for both this year and next. If I had realized you only wanted support for that plan, I would have offered only support. I've no desire to debate with another mom about what is best for *her* child!
In the state I live in, a 4 year old would not be allowed to enter a public K -- it's the law. K here is very academic -- pretty much what I did in first grade a million years ago, and kids who don't the know alphabet are behind. In K, they are expected to learn to read, write, and do math on paper. It's just how it is. I'm not saying that is how K should be, or that is how K is everywhere.
I think that if a parent were planning their child entering a program with the same expectations as the public K where I live next year, it would a lot of sense to introduce the alphabet, the days of the week, etc. this year. It's why I asked what the plan is. The OPer has a plan for next year that doesn't require that her child already know the alphabet and such, so its irrelevant.
Ds goes to a playbased Reggio Emilia inspired cooperatively run preschool. (It is 2.5 blocks from our house so I don't have a strong opinion on commuting). I would like to point out that while it is a play based school, while it is emergent curriculum, and mixed age there is a lot of hard core learning going on. Some of that is through circle time (they do circle time, this is a time where the group is split olders 4-6 and youngers 2-4) the youngers have a brief circle time usually, song, book, activity and the olders get pretty deep into concepts their circle time may go up to an hour depending on the interest level of the group. They have done studies of outer space, bugs, circus tricks, animal habitats, gardening etc. The thematic elements are usually pulled from things the kids are interested in and are pretty much guided by their interest and by their willingness to engage. (last week we investigated water beads, we did a variety of experiments with them over the course of several days, we made observations, we made predictions etc) It is usually pretty awesome.
Ds's school does not force kids to participate in any skill based academic learning (this is what I would call letter recognition, number recognition etc) however they do a lot of conceptual learning (they read a lot, they talk about characters in the books, they compare books, they retell stories through acting out, they do tons of science explorations, they garden, they explore the yard and all of its animal inhabitants etc). However, during their quiet time (the school runs from 9am-2pm with a optional 2pm-5pm aftercare) many of the kids request letter tracing worksheets, cutting worksheets etc (I think someone must have brought some in one day from home and then they became all the rage). The kids are allowed to self-select if that is something they want to do. During quiet time they can also look at books, do beading, build quietly with blocks etc (they are also not required to nap and no one does nap).
I am sharing this to let you know that even if your lo goes to the further away school she may still be engaged in 45 minutes of conceptual learning and the folks involved in that will see it as play based, child led, and developmentally appropriate because it really can be.
I would probably choose the farther away school, however I would hate to see you choose it and then see things like I've shared above and be upset or underwhelmed by the school.
I told my daughter that if she stays at the school she is at now, when summer is over she will be in a different class and start learning letters and numbers. If she goes to the other school she will just play there. She immediately said, "I want to go to the other school where I just play."
you know when you put it this way even i will say i want to just play. who wouldnt.
have you visited the new school with her?
you must make the decision as a family. not about your dd. if the commute is going to put a lot of stress on the family it just isnt worth it. on top of that as a long distance commuter myself it does get really old. do you know what you are going to do when she is in school. are u going to drive back home just to leave and go fetch her in a couple of hours or so.
you really have no idea how she is going to do next year when they do start the learning.
bigger and better than 'academic' or 'playbased' are the teachers and do they truly love the kids or is it just a job for them. the kids REALLY pick up on that.
dd was in a playbased dc/ps too but by 4 they had started K readiness activity in many fun ways.
and really which school will ever be able to beat the banyard!!!
it is a tough decision and only later will you discover how over the top you were buying into all the research that is out there. i have walked in your shoes and so over-thought everything.
does your dd not have computer time now?
tbone- thank you for sharing that. The school I am leaning towards sending her is a Reggio preschool, so I believe that what you are talking about will be a large possibility at this school. They said that the morning meeting/circle time starts out fairly short at the beginning of the school year and gets longer as the year progresses and depending on the interests of the children. As long as she is engaged and has some amount of control over how she is learning and what she is learning, then I feel at least okay with it. What you describe sounds pretty good compared with the closer school, which gives 2 worksheets a day, every day, to "prepare them for kindergarten". I know nothing will be perfect, and I just have to get past finding the "perfect school" for her. Doesn't exist. A Reggio school sounds more in line with my ideals than the closer school definitely. But thank you again for telling me about that because it is good to know going into it...
meemee- thanks for your thoughts. I agree that it should be about our whole family and not just our daughter. I really do feel that the farther school won't be too bad, because she will only be going two days a week. It's a four hour school day and a 20 minute drive each way. I will still have just over three hours at home to take care of things/run errands etc. My younger daughter will have to be in the car for an hour and 20 minutes total two days a week. Not perfect but I think we can manage it.
I completely agree that the barnyard is really great but I don't think it's enough to keep me at this school. They certainly have all the bells and whistles (barnyard, outdoor classroom, pretty campus, big playgrounds, etc). But another mom who toured the school said it best when she said, "I felt like a number there. They didn't make me feel like they really cared about me or my child." I feel like they are very driven by money. There are some teachers at the school that seem very sweet and I do like the teachers that she would have next year, but I don't feel comfortable with my 4 year old doing 2 worksheets a day and having computer time every morning at school. She does not have computer time now at home or at camp. I am anti-computers at her age :)
The other thing is that it will save us a few hundred dollars a month to go to the farther school. It seems silly to pay so much for a program that we really don't love, when we can pay less for something that seems to fit with our values more.
We did visit the new school that she may attend in the fall and I loved it. We visited it months ago. My daughter would pretty much tell me that she wanted to go to every single school we visited and this one was no exception :) It is very arts based and I love that. The teachers seem really caring and I love that they do a home visit before the school year starts which is pretty unheard of among other preschools around here (and really great I think) :) The only downsides are of course the distance and also they have mixed age classes and I am not sure how I feel about that. My daughter is pretty mature and very tall for her age so I just hope that she will fit in okay being one of the older kids in the group. But as I said above, no school will be perfect. Right now this one feels like the best fit so I just have to go with that. I am pretty indecisive so it is extra hard for me to choose something that feels so important. But I'm sure that I am over-thinking it, especially because I tend to over-analyze everything :) Hopefully whatever I choose will be the right choice for her and for our family :) Thanks again!