What Preschool Style Is Right for You?

White House press secretary Sean Spicer speaks at the daily briefing at the White House on Feb. 3, 2017. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Abaca/Sipa via AP Images)

Now that my baby is a toddler, I’m actively seeking out programming suitable for his ever more awake and ready-to-learn personality. Along with story time at the library and age-appropriate religious events at local synagogues, I’ve added preschools to my list. What used to be an avenue for active 3’s and 4’s is now open to toddling 2’s. And that isn’t the only way times have changed since I was a kid.

Most preschool environments today function more along the lines of daycare environments. The preschool I attended as a child was a cooperative environment that required parent participation in their young child’s first stage of academic, social, and emotional growth. Daycare-style preschools attend to these needs through certified teachers and teacher assistants, while parents are expected to say their goodbyes at the door to children as young as age 2 for four hours or more.

Since so many children today are born into dual income households, the cooperative preschool I attended is one of the last of its kind in our area. Despite the fact that program costs are extremely reasonable, most parents are stuck paying much higher costs (think in the thousands of dollars a year) for daycare-style programs because they simply don’t have the time to volunteer in their child’s classroom.

There are huge differences in academic expectations as well. Yes, that’s right: academic expectations on three- and four-year-olds. Thanks to Common Core and similar public education initiatives, preschool students are now expected to study pre-literacy and pre-math. Think: sight words, take home books, worksheets, and more. Children are expected to sit at desks and learn how to perform a certain amount of seat work in preparation for kindergarten.

I was surprised to learn that my local school district is one of many that have pre-admission testing for kindergarten students. “It isn’t that big of a deal,” one mother told me. “They took my daughter into a room for five minutes and had her do things like stand on one leg, spell her name and recite my phone number.” Elementary schools are also more inclined to hold students back for an extra year of kindergarten if they aren’t “academically ready” for first grade. Hence many preschools are more inclined to advise parents to hold off on kindergarten enrollment based on preschool performance.

Daycare environment preschools often model themselves after kindergarten classrooms, while the cooperative preschool I visited works hard to meet the pre-literacy and pre-math requirements in age-appropriate, traditionally fun ways. The classroom environment favors circle time over seat work and is flexible to allow for time outside running and playing as needed. One teacher I spoke with was emphatically against worksheets and restricted “homework” to special projects, like taking home a book for the weekend to read with parents and siblings. In fact, any take home projects (including time with the class pet – a stuffed lobster) are designed to be completed with parental involvement, a key aspect of the cooperative philosophy.

Another nice thing about the cooperative preschool: a complete lack of technology in the classroom. In fact, the day’s schedule revolved around outside time. If the children arrived rambunctious or had spent the past day or two inside because of rain, they were quickly scooted outside to burn off some steam before entering into group activities.

Choosing a preschool for your child has traditionally revolved around schedules and finances. Now, thanks to changes in public education, it’s also becoming an increasingly academic endeavor. I am exceedingly grateful that the cooperative model still exists for my child. “To everything, there is a season.” He’ll be knee-deep in academics soon enough. Right now he needs the freedom to be a toddler and I need the freedom to be with him.