I am a married Mom of 3: Boy (4 yo), Boy (2 yo) and Girl (11 mo old). I founded MomsOutLoud.com in 2008, which is now DFWMama.com. (Basically, I decided I liked Rachael and her team so well I wanted to join it!) Now I'm here, writing about what I know and love - raising kids in North Texas.

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The Preschool Decision: A look at traditional preschools

This article is the third in a series in which Moms Out Loud takes a look at all aspects of preschool. The first article in the series focuses on the importance of sending children to preschool. The second article in the series focuses on montessori schools.  Upcoming articles include a discussion about the choice not to send children to preschool, how to find the right preschool and other issues surrounding this important topic. Stay tuned!

The Preschool Decision Series

Traditional preschools typically feature the classic preschool experience, emphasizing both socialization and pre-academic skills in an age-group setting. Such preschools are offered in religious organizations, community centers and in child care centers. These preschools vary greatly in style, depending on the director’s or organization’s philosophy regarding early childhood education. There is not one central governing board that directs the actions or curriculum of traditional preschools.

Basic Approach to Education: Pre-Academic vs. Play-Based

Traditional preschools offer a range of styles. Some focus more on academics and structured learning while others provide large amounts of play time. Pre-academic traditional preschools are “teacher-directed” and offer more formal instruction periods. Language arts, math skills, phonics & early reading skills, and fine motor skills are all taught. Pre-academic schools usually structure their school based on a particular curriculum and have established outlines for what children are to learn during the school year. Pre-academic preschools strive to prepare students for Kindergarten and the formal school environment.

Play-based preschools operate on the principal that children will learn by playing and experimenting with toys, language and art materials. The activities of the day have minimal structure at these types of preschools. Rather, children are encouraged to explore and play (individually and together). Proponents of play-based preschools believe that preschoolers are not developmentally ready to fully grasp reading and math concepts, but learn more from playing freely and interacting with others.

The Classroom

The traditional preschool classroom is typically adorned in festive, primary colors. Art work hangs from the wall. Child-friendly bulletin boards share basic concepts and skills. Color invades the mind and exudes an enthusiasm for learning.

In the preschool setting, children often work at small tables. Occasionally seating charts are made and nameplates are used to designate individual work spaces. Children can be seen working individually or in small groups. However, they typically are working on the same type of assignment or project simultaneously.

Many preschool classrooms are divided into centers or stations. There is often times a home station where children can role-play basic living skills such as cooking food, a block station, an art station, a manipulative station, a music station and a library or book station. Children often rotate through these stations at specific times of the school day. Visitors to a traditional preschool class will also notice the use of labels as a way to identify various items in the room (i.e. “light”, “door”, “table”) Items are labeled to promote understanding of the written word. Labeling of items especially when paired with a picture rendition of the item also lets children know where things belong and promotes independence during clean-up time.

The traditional preschool classroom can seem busy to an outsider. Often times, young children are excited to be learning, excited to be with friends and excited to simply be doing something on their own. Such excitement can create a loud, boisterous environment. However, many traditional preschools strive to also teach students spatial awareness and how to follow commands. Children can often be seen getting quiet instantly when the teacher gives a particular hand signal or walking down the hall silently in a perfect line.

Structure of the day

Traditional preschools often meet for four to six hours, two to three times a week. Children arrive mid-morning (around 9am) and leave mid-afternoon (2pm), although such times vary by school and organization. The day usually begins with a group circle time in which such concepts as days of the week and weather are discussed and charted.  Larger preschools have children rotate throughout the day, moving from various settings and classrooms every 30-40 minutes.

Traditional preschools have a snack and lunch time, depending on their hours. Some even have a rest time in the early afternoon to allow children to nap. Others dismiss before nap time arrives to allow students to rest at home rather than at school. Again, such options vary greatly by school.

Basics

Most traditional preschools do charge a tuition, although there are some government-funded options that are free-of-charge or available at a significantly reduced rate. Although typically not nearly as expensive as Montessori preschools, traditional preschools can come with a hefty price tag.

Traditional preschools attempt to keep student/teacher ratio numbers low. Because they vary greatly in program structure, there is not an average established for this statistic. However, a good ratio that promotes a positive learning environment would be a maximum of 12 students for every one teacher. Most preschools also have at least one teacher and one assistant in each classroom.

Teacher certification, as well as school certification, can be a tricky path to navigate when dealing with traditional preschools. Some schools boast that all teachers are college-certified while others say nothing of teacher credentials. It is important to do the research and determine how what training teachers have completed and if the school itself is certified or accredited.

Curriculum also varies based on school preference and guiding philosophies. Many mix and match various elements to make a perfect fit for the environment they hope to establish. Although this can appear to be a scattered app
roach to early education, it is typically done by degreed professionals who understand learning theory and the developmental stages of a child. Traditional preschools that are run by religious organizations often time incorporate aspects of religion and faith into their curriculum.

Why do Parents Choose Traditional Preschools?

Many parents opt for a more traditional approach to preschool because they want their child to be ready for the structure and routine of formal education. Lisa A. of Colleyville selected her daughter’s preschool in order to “provide the foundation for early reading” and an “opportunity for (her) to have fun with friends.” Elizabeth H., mom to two in Southlake, opted for a church-run preschool because of its “excellent academic preparation and strong biblical influence in learning activities.”

The Buck Does Not Stop Here

Do not let the provided description of Montessori and traditional preschool create the assumption that these are the only two options. Although they are the most prevalent types of preschools in the area, there are several other popular approaches to early childhood education. The Waldorf Approach believes that young children learn best through creative play while the Reggio Emilia Approach focuses on the design and completion of group projects. Some parents want to have a significant hand in their child’s education, choosing to become a member of a preschool co-op or to do preschool at home. Others desire for their children to be involved in a preschool that has a strong focus on learning a foreign language, such as a Spanish immersion preschool. Doing research and asking questions of other parents can help individuals learn of all the preschool possibilities available to them in their area.

Regardless of what type of preschool is chosen, the most important thing to consider is if the school provides a safe and loving environment for the child. The main goal is for the child to feel secure and respected in his place of learning. Everything else will fall in place.

Lynley PhillipsDuring the time she is not sporting a feather boa and sipping tea with her little girl, Lynley Baker Phillips is a stay-at-home mommy and freelance writer. Her work can be found in various publications, at Examiner.com, and on her blog. Contact her at savethephillipsfamily@hotmail.com.

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