Top Preschools 2008

Top Preschools 2008

By Lexi Gray Andrews, Samantha Cleaver and Maria Scinto
Photography by Jonathan Timmes and Seth Freeman

Preschool is more than circle time, snacks and nap. Today’s parents expect a thorough and quality education for their little ones. “There’s a crescendo effect that’s beginning,” said Mark Ginsberg, executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. “Parents, teachers and economists are all saying that quality makes a difference.”

 

The methods to our madness
We started our search for the best preschools by talking to experts, parents, teachers and the children—we thought they’d have an opinion, too. Then we honed in on curriculum, staff qualifications, safety, parent communication and behavior management.

These programs serve children in preschool between the ages of 2 and 5. And each program is both state licensed and nationally accredited. Accreditation standards, said Toni Cacace-Beshears, CEO of Children’s Harbor in Virginia Beach, are well beyond the minimum. Above all, we looked for that important duality of caring for children while nurturing learning and development because, said Ginsberg, teaching children isn’t rocket science. It’s harder.

 

The nature of nurture introducing the preschools that get it
Quality child care is a teacher’s lessons, a child’s experiences and a parent’s influence. “In the 1970s,” said Sherril Reid, Annandale Weekday Preschool teacher, “learning through play was fancy baby-sitting. Now it’s focused skill-building. Years ago, Play-Doh kept children busy; today it’s a pre-writing tool to strengthen tiny hands.”
By Samantha Cleaver and Lexi Gray Andrews

 

The Child and Family Network Centers
3701A Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria; 703-836-0214; www.cfnc-online.org

It’s hard to argue with a preschool program that shows twice the student gains of other programs, especially when that program serves low-income families. CFNC has “all the bells and whistles” to help its students achieve, said director Barbara Mason. The curriculum centers around experiential learning. Parent Mamusu Terawally remembers when her son came home giddy with excitement. “They took us on the bus!” he told his mother. “And we went to the White House!” Terawally was pleased that her son got to travel. “It’s good for kids at that age,” she said. CFNC also looks out for parents, providing emergency financing when work is sparse and helping parents earn their GEDs. Terawally, who moved from West Africa in 2002, said the CFNC staff helped her get settled with health insurance, computer classes and a sense of community. She remembers a school gathering where the families and teachers mingled. “It was nice,” said Terawallly. “It reminded me of Africa.” Hours: CFNC has six locations in Arlington and Alexandria; hours vary by location, but each program has a six-hour preschool program and extended care until 5:30 p.m. Tuition: Program is free for eligible low-income families. Student-Teacher Ratio: 7:1 for fours, 6:1 for threes Highest Level of Staff Education: bachelor’s

The Butterfly House
3737 Seminary Road, Alexandria; 703-461-1786; www.vts.edu/community/childcare

The job chart at The Butterfly House in Alexandria is one of the ways students like Ava Wandler learn about responsibility. Photography by Jonathan Timmes

Emily Straight’s 4-year-old son loves the little things about his teacher, like the way she rubs his back at naptime. His teacher Anne Lowry spends all day adding little touches for her students who spend the day in a one-room schoolhouse. “With 2-year-olds through 5-year-olds together, we offer the curriculum to all kids,” said director Patricia Brinkman, “and they meet it where they’re at.” A typical day involves lots of free play and lots of responsibility. Lowry plans activities that are “as self-directed as possible so that [the kids] are in charge of their learning.” And the children help take care of the school. Elizabeth Rees’ daughter, Sophie, runs to the school’s job chart each morning to start her task for the day. In the one-room approach, Straight said, “it’s so interesting to see your child grow from being one of the little ones to being one of the leaders in the classroom.” And with so many teachers, Straight said, “I can always pull aside the head teacher if I need to.” Hours: 8 a.m.-noon for prekindergarten, care until 5 p.m. Tuition: $120 per week for seminary members, $190 for non-seminary members Student-Teacher Ratio: 4:1 Highest Level of Staff Education: bachelor’s

Fredericksburg Cooperative Preschool
810 Princess Anne St., Fredericksburg; 540-373-7057; fpi.communitypoint.org

When Vanessa Sekinger was choosing a preschool for her daughter Fiona, she used the experience gained from a decade-long career as a teacher. “When I met with the preschool’s teachers, it was my first experience on the other side of the table. They did an excellent job of letting me know about the school, and how my daughter would be spending her days,” Sekinger said. The Fredericksburg Cooperative Preschool is a tight organization of parents, each sharing responsibilities and playing a role in their child’s education. Sekinger, of Fredericksburg, also voluntarily fills one of the co-op’s leadership positions. “Fiona was very shy before she entered the preschool, and now she’s a totally different kid. She’s made so many friends and is so comfortable at the school,” Sekinger said. “My husband and I briefly debated whether we could continue to donate our time to the co-op, but there really was no question when we saw how much Fiona had blossomed there.” The co-op’s curriculum is based on learning through play, with daily exercises focused on art, science, social studies, literacy and math. The children also take field trips to local businesses and parks, and frequently receive visits from local members of the community. “The children really learn in a family environment, which is one of the things that originally really drew me to the co-op,” Sekinger said. Hours: 9:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Tuition: $90-$110 per month Student-Teacher Ratio: 4:1 for 3-year-olds, 5:1 for 4-year-olds Highest Level of Staff Education: master’s

Classroom of Discovery
201 E. Frederick Drive, Sterling; 703-927-3333; www.classroomofdiscovery.org

Though she was immediately drawn to the Classroom of Discovery, Erin Wolf of Bethesda, Md., decided to enroll her daughter Sophia somewhere closer to her home. After just a week and a half, Wolf pulled Sophia out of that preschool, due in part to adjustment issues and concerns about her daughter’s potentially fatal food allergies. “The Classroom of Discovery’s director said, ‘Come check us out, you can stay with Sophia every day until you feel she has adjusted,’” recalled Wolf, who immediately felt the staff and curriculum were extraordinary. All parents are encouraged to ask questions and sit in on school days until they feel totally comfortable. “We have an open house for the parents and kids, but they are welcome to visit whenever they want,” said Jackie Baker, the preschool’s director. Parents are often drawn to the preschool’s focus on developing creativity. “Our whole goal is to initiate creativity in children and get them to think outside the box,” she said. The preschool is divided into different “centers,” each with a different theme, including math, dress-up, housekeeping and literacy. “We read about four books a day as a group, and children often pick out books throughout the day and ask us to read with them privately,” Baker said. The school’s policy of giving children only healthy, organic snacks also appealed to Wolf. “Instead of giving the children a bag of pretzels, they are getting carrots, hummus and cheese quesadillas.” Hours: 9 a.m.-noon, with the option of 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Tuition: $2,730-$3,990 per year Student-Teacher Ratio: 5:1 Highest Level of Staff Education: master’s

Kindercare Learning Centers
83 Sugarland Run Drive, Sterling; 703-430-9494
10496 Sudley Manor Drive, Manassas; 703-368-5599; www.kindercare.com

Kindercare Corporation operates dozens of preschool facilities throughout Northern Virginia, with a curriculum designed specifically for each age group. Kindercare’s preschool program provides exposure to science, math, music, literature and writing, said Sterling director Anita Nicoletti. “We touch on these subjects every day as part of our routine. We focus on creativity, imagination and physical development,” she said. Reading skills are a focal point of each day’s curriculum, said Nicoletti. The children come together as a group for story time in the morning and afternoon, but are also encouraged to use the library for private reading. Each of Kindercare’s teachers receives several days of training per year through the company. The bulk of Kindercare’s teachers have been with the company for many years, said Nicoletti, who added that most staff members are also active members of the local community. “The teachers have a lot of open communication with the parents. When the parents arrive in the morning, the teachers greet them and let them know they are available for communication and concerns,” said Nicoletti. In addition to several formal conferences scheduled throughout the year, parents are welcome to set up meetings with their child’s teachers at any point in time to discuss concerns. Hours: 6:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Tuition: $208 per week for full-time care Student-Teacher Ratio: 10:1 Highest Level of Staff Education: bachelor’s

ALIVE! Child Development Center
2723 King St., Alexandria; 703-548-9255; www.alive-inc.org

Alive! educators emphasize learning through play. Students like DeJuan Kyle use their imaginations with real-world scenarios applied to pretend games. Photography by Jonathan Timmes

Carrie Diggins, lead teacher with Alive, remembers when her class designed their own cars from cardboard boxes. “We painted the cars and added license plates,” she recalled, “turned the housekeeping area into a DMV and made pretend driver’s licenses for the children. Then the preschoolers learned their colors by choosing which car they liked at the school’s pretend car lot.” The DMV is just one way Alive’s students learn through play. Diggins loves when her students are engaged in pretending. Her role “is to engage them in conversation to get them to move from one level to the next.” Family support worker Hope Schutte uses play to help the children with disabilities learn how to share, take turns and express their feelings in her weekly play group. Alive’s staff is accustomed to working with children with behavior or developmental disabilities. “A lot of time kids with developmental or emotional problems aren’t getting enough attention at home,” said director Pam Allen, “so all they need is a little extra attention.” Hours: 6 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Tuition: Alive provides a sliding scale, depending on a family’s ability to pay. Student-Teacher Ratio: 8:1 Highest Level of Staff Education: master’s

Rosalind Rhymer Preschool
3113 Anderson Ave., Quantico; 703-640-6446; rosalindrhymerpreschool.org/default.aspx

When Beth (left) and Emily Goodall moved to NoVa from Australia, they made friends quickly at their new school, thanks to the Rosalind Rhymer buddy system. Photography by Jonathan Timmes

Rosalind Rhymer Preschool is a tradition for many families, according to Tracy Esparza, the facility’s director. Esparza said it is common for parents who went to the preschool many years ago to enroll their own children. “We’re a big word-of-mouth school—very small, but with a great reputation. Parents are pleased with how well their children are prepared for kindergarten,” Esparza said. Teachers often choose a daily theme to tie together the educational focus. “If the theme of the day is pumpkins, then we’ll read books about them, have a teacher-directed art project focusing on them, and the kids will write in their journals about them,” Esparza detailed. Kate Goodall’s family moved from Australia to Northern Virginia in January 2006 and had to make a quick decision about where to send their daughter Emily, then 4 years old. Emily was understandably nervous about the recent change in her life, and Kate was relieved when RR went above and beyond to seamlessly transition her daughter into the preschool. Emily was set up in a buddy system on her first day, which helped her make friends immediately. “We were very fortunate,” Goodall remarked. “Everyone there is friendly, and they are very welcoming to parents who want to become involved with the school.” Hours: 9 a.m.-noon, with the option of 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuition: $85 or $115 per month, depending on how many days a week the child attends Student-Teacher Ratio: 10:1 Highest Level of Staff Education: bachelor’s

Montessori School
2425A N. Glebe Road, Arlington; 703-276-1360; www.childrenshousemontessori.org

At Children’s House Montessori, each child spends individual time with his or her teachers working on lessons based on his or her interests and the foundational concepts. “It’s all about practice makes perfect,” said director Denise Touma. The children have to master one concept before moving on to the next. The Montessori structure, said parent Molly French, has allowed the teachers to take time with her daughter, Carol, who loves the language arts center and, at 4, is already reading three-letter words. “Montessori is very academic,” Touma said. The children learn English, math, geography and science, as well as grace and courtesy. It’s also independent—the children select their own materials, then put them away when they’re finished. “My kids got a kick out of doing things themselves,” said Susan Fox, whose twin daughters and young son attend Children’s House. The parents have to be independent, too. At the beginning of each school year, Touma helps parents build community through parents’ nights and play dates for their children so they can help take care of each other. Hours: 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m., preschool from 9 a.m.-noon with care before and after Tuition: $1300 per month for full day (7:30 a.m.-6 p.m.); $1100 per month for shortened day (7:30 a.m.-3 p.m.); $900 per month for half day (7:30 a.m.-noon) Student-Teacher Ratio: 10:1 across the board; 8:1 for twos Highest Level of Staff Education: master’s

Computer Associates Montessori Children’s Center
2291 Wood Oak Drive, Herndon; 703-708-3699

The Computer Associates Montessori Children’s Center is a preschool “based on the belief that education is more than just a search for intellectual skills, it is a preparation for life,” said Lisa Spring, manager of the facility. “Our philosophy fosters independence in children and follows the child rather than the teacher.” Spring said the preschool’s children are typically very excited to attend because they are in the same building as their parents. Knowing their parents are close adds an extra layer of comfort to the children’s day. “An [Association Montessori Internationale] primary classroom is designed to be very welcoming and universal,” Spring said. “Everything in the environment is child-sized.” Spring said the preschool promotes an environment full of exploration, language and the importance of community. Each room is set up to encourage children to participate fully in every aspect of the day, making them feel like valued members of their community. “This environment encourages children’s full participation, building on their self-confidence and self-esteem,” Spring said. The preschool focuses on language, math, science and geography. Children also participate in a Spanish immersion model, with one teacher speaking only in Spanish and the other only in English. Hours: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuition: $221 per week to $252 per week Student-Teacher Ratio: 5:1 for 3-year-olds and 14:1 for ages 4-6 Highest Level of Staff Education: bachelor’s

Westminster Weekday Prekindergarten
2701 Cameron Mills Road, Alexandria; 703-549-5267; www.wpc-alex.org

Sarah Sullivan (left) and Dani Shahin enjoy picking learning “themes” at Westminster. Photography by Jonathan Timmes

There’s no formal curriculum at Westminster. The teachers work on goals for each student’s age. Jim Larrison, parent and president of the board, originally chose the school because of its style. “I thought it was best for kids that age to develop in a free environment,” he said. In the 4-year-old class, each child is assigned a week to choose and plan the theme. Carrie Sullivan’s daughter, Sarah, chose giraffes for her week. “Sarah and I built a life-size giraffe out of construction paper in the classroom,” she remembered. Teacher Carolyn Burke remembers that week, too. “We had to bend the giraffe’s neck so that it could fit in the classroom,” she said. After the giraffe was built, they measured each student against the giraffe, made giraffe puppets and read books about giraffes. The week-long themes are fun, said director Nedra Trahant, who has studied Harley-Davidsons, skyscrapers, ballet and beauty with the students. “I love that way of learning,” Sullivan said. “It’s not like we have the letter A, the letter B, but for space week, we practiced the letters S-P-A-C-E.” Hours: 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Tuition: 2 days a week for 2.5-year-olds, $235/month; 3 days a week for 3-year-olds, $305/month; 4 days a week for 4-year-olds, $370/month; 5 days a week for 4-year-olds, $435/month Student-Teacher Ratio: 5:1 for twos, 6:1 for threes, 8:1 for fours Highest Level of Staff Education: bachelor’s

Prince William/Early Years Academy
3480 Commission Court, Lake Ridge; 703-491-1444; www.princewilliamacademy.com

At Early Years Academy, (from left) Sarah Ringwood, Angelina Nguyen and Alexander Padilla learn foreign languages like Mandarin and Arabic. Photography by Jonathan Timmes

Prince William/Early Years Academy was founded in 1987 as the result of Samia Harris’ frustration with a lack of educational options in Prince William County. Harris’ desire for more alternative schools in her county prompted the creation of Prince William/Early Years, which has more than tripled its student body since its inception. The curriculum includes math, science, social studies and music, but parents are most impressed with the school’s focus on languages. Preschool students receive exposure to Spanish, French,
Mandarin and Arabic. “From the age of 2 they’ve been learning foreign language on a consistent basis,” said Michelle Fulton of Manassas, whose sons Zach and Gabe are currently enrolled. Kara Dotson of Woodbridge said her daughter Abigail loves the opportunity to see “the big kids” at school, since the academy accepts children through eighth grade. As for Abigail’s preschool education, Dotson said, “The academics are extremely high for that age group. The teaching staff and parents are all very involved, and it’s really a wonderful school. My daughter will have exposure to languages before even entering kindergarten, and that’s terrific.” Hours: 6:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m., with two-, three- and five-day programs Tuition: $170-$315 per month Student-Teacher Ratio: 8:1 Highest Level of Staff Education: master’s

Annandale United Methodist Church Early Learning Program (ELP) and Weekday Preschool (WPS)
6935 Columbia Pike, Annandale; 703-256-8667; www.annandale-umc.org

The Early Learning Program believes that music is “one of the most international ways of learning.” Photography by Seth Freeman

With children from 14 different cultures, the ELP uses music because, said director Cherrie Welch, it’s “one of the most international ways of learning.” Each day, the 2-year-olds sing songs and play their own mini-recorders. When they’re not singing, it’s “very school-like,” said parent Patty Friedman. “They have their own class, their own teacher, their own cubbies. It’s like preschool, except they’re tiny.” Alison Salanski, WPS teacher, said she loves seeing the children’s smiles in the morning. Salanski puts the children in charge of daily activities. “It’s their room,” she said, “and they work hard to create it.” Whether they’re learning about snowflakes or dinosaurs, teacher Sherril Reid wants her students to take the lesson in unexpected directions. “That’s what being child-centered is about,” she said. “If the kids go on a tangent, you have to go with them.” WPS’s monthly programs also capitalize on student interest with petting zoos, jugglers and a fossil collector who shows dinosaur poop. Hours: 9:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m. with care until 2:30 p.m. Tuition: ELP tuition is $175 per month for one full day, $350 for two days, $525 for three days. WPS tuition ranges from $166 per month for two-day classes to $375 per month for five-day classes with $99 per day for extended care. Student-Teacher Ratio: 7:1 for threes and 9:1 for fours Highest Level of Staff Education: bachelor’s

Fairfax United Methodist Church Preschool
10300 Stratford Ave., Fairfax; 703-591-3177; www.fairfaxumc.org/Preschool/Preschool.htm

At Fairfax United Methodist Church Preschool, students enjoy field trips to places like Hidden Pond that “stimulate the child’s perspective.” Photography by Seth Freeman

Carla Padovani’s preschool search was focused primarily on accreditation. “That was more important than how far away the preschools were, or even how much they cost,” she said. “I’m so relieved I decided to focus on accreditation, because that’s how I found UMCP and immediately thought it was top-notch.” Padovani, of Annandale, said she was confident in the skills of the teachers and never once questioned the decision to enroll her sons Andre and Quinn, now 7 and 5, respectively. “It felt like my boys were in an elementary school, not a preschool. You could tell the teachers were very educated and enjoyed their jobs—they were not just looking for a paycheck.” The preschool’s philosophy is that children should be able to choose how and where they want to play and learn, said director Diana Jenkins. Depending on the week’s curriculum, UMCP organizes field trips that stimulate the child’s perspective. “If we’re studying bakeries, then we go to a bakery,” said Jenkins. “We’ve also gone to a farmer’s market and a number of local parks.” The preschool also coordinates an interactive theater for 3-year-olds, which offers puppet shows and mini-concerts. Hours: 9:15 a.m.-noon Tuition: $145-$180 per month Student-Teacher Ratio: 7:1 for 3-year-olds, 8:1 for 4-year-olds Highest Level of Staff Education: master’s

Spring Mar Preschool
10125 Lakehaven Court, Burke; 703-239-1213; www.spring-mar.org

Kate McKay enjoys playing in the “block room” at Spring Mar co-op preschool where parents get directly involved with their child’s education. Photography by Jonathan Timmes

Spring Mar was started in 1963 by area moms who wanted another option for their children’s early education. Today, they use a cooperative model with parent volunteers, and it’s not all moms.

“We have some dad helpers,” said Tracy McKay, director and parent, which “the kids think is a special treat.” By being in a co-op, McKay explained, the parents really get involved with their child’s school.
Inside Spring Mar are classrooms, an art room with sand and water tables and space to paint, and a block room for pretend play. The block room is redecorated depending on the theme and has been a campsite, a beach and a haunted house at different points in time.

“The kids love it,” said director Barbara Breckenridge. “They go into the block room and it’s a new world.”
Outside are playgrounds, fields and forest trails for the children to explore. McKay is excited to have her daughter, Kate, start preschool this year. At Spring Mar, she said, Kate will have “a year of real enjoyment about learning.” Hours: 9:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Tuition: Prices range from $160 per month for two classes a week to $275 per month for four classes a week. Student-Teacher Ratio: 4:1 for young threes, 5:1 for old threes, fours and fives Highest Level of Staff Education: bachelor’s

 

Setting the standards
By Maria Scinto & Vanessa LaFaso Stolarski

Every state has different criteria for licensing day care centers. According to surveys conducted by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) located in Arlington, parents seek much more than state standards. This chart outlines how Virginia monitors the places and spaces.

Staff/Child Ratio Age 2—8:1; ages 3-5—10:1

Level of Education Required of Center Directors High school diploma or GED plus 480 hours experience working with children and 120 hours of child-related training OR 48 semester hours or 72 quarter hours of college credit of which 12 semester hours or 18 quarter hours are in child-related subjects plus 1 year of programmatic experience OR an endorsement or bachelor’s degree in a child-related field plus 1 year of programmatic experience OR a graduate degree in a child-related field plus 6 months of programmatic experience

Level of Education Required of Teachers High school diploma or GED

Training Required of Center Staff Playground safety procedures, recognizing child abuse and neglect and the legal requirements for reporting suspected child abuse (required by §63.2-1509 of the Code of Virginia), confidential treatment of personal information about children in care and their families

CPR/First Aid Not all staff members need be trained in CPR and/or first aid, but there must be at least 1 CPR and first aid-trained staff member on the premises at all times and along on all field trips.

Hours of Required Staff Training per Year 14 hours per year (will increase to 16 hours as of June 1, 2008)
Staff Background Checks Criminal background checks must be performed, and applicants will be rejected if they have been convicted of a “barrier crime” (serious felony), non-barrier felony within the past 5 years or any act of child abuse or neglect. Only the individual’s name and social security number are required. Good schools go further, checking driving records, sex-offender registries and fingerprint scans.

Parental Involvement Centers must provide opportunities for parent participation in activities.

Communication with Parents Staff shall provide parents with written information regarding all center policies and must answer all questions regarding daily activities; at least twice a year written information must be provided on each child’s development, behavior, adjustment and needs, and opportunities must be provided for parents to provide feedback on the center’s program.

Parental Visits Permitted Custodial parents must be admitted to any child day program while their child is in that program.

Health and Safety Requirements There needs to be at all times at least 1 staff member on duty who has obtained within the last 3 years instruction on performing the daily health observation of children.
Ill Child Policy Children must not attend the center if running a temperature of over 101, vomiting, having recurring diarrhea or suffering from a communicable disease.

Administering Medications Anyone administering medications other than topical skin gels, creams or ointments must have received training from an R.N., L.P.N., physician or pharmacist; medications will only be administered with a parent’s written consent; records must be kept of all medications administered.

Building Safety Standards Each building must meet building and fire codes or have a plan in place to address these; local health departments must approve of water, sewage and food service systems.

Climate Control Heat is not allowed to be set below 68 degrees; fans or air conditioning must be used when temperature is above 80 degrees.

Hazardous Materials Must not be located in close proximity to where food is prepared, must be kept in a locked place using a safe locking method that prevents access by children (the exception being cleaning supplies used to sanitize diapering areas or toilet seats)

Smoking Prohibited in centers that are not located in private homes—smoking prohibited in the presence of children in private homes and outside of centers

Playgrounds All surfaces must comply with safety standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials; playgrounds utilized in the months of June, July and August must provide shady areas.

Outdoor Activity Required whenever weather permits—15 minutes for each center operating up to three hours per day or session, 1/2 hour for centers operating 3-5 hours, and 1 hour for centers operating for more than five hours

Sleep or Rest Each center operating 5 or more hours per day shall have nap or rest periods of at least 1 hour but not more than 2 hours; sleeping children must be checked every 1/2 hour.

Meals and Snacks Centers must offer snacks and meals at intervals of not less than 1 1/2 hours but not more than 3 hours; all foods must follow age-appropriate nutritional requirements of a recognized authority such as the USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program.

Other Daily Activities The daily schedule, if not otherwise occupied by a field trip or special event, should allow for small and large motor activities, language and communication experiences, sensory experiences, art or music activities, and playacting or social living.

Discipline It is forbidden to use any type of physical punishment, to confine a child (except in a crib or play yard as used appropriately), to isolate a child out of sight or hearing of any staff member, to withhold or force food or rest, to make demeaning remarks to a child, to use another child to administer punishment, to punish by applying unpleasant or harmful substances, or to punish for toileting accidents.

Emergency Preparedness Each center needs to have an emergency preparedness plan which addresses natural disaster, chemical spills, intruders and terrorism.

 

What they’re teaching
By Maria Scinto

Montessori Mixed-age classes (usually spanning two to three years). Montessori-trained teachers offer a variety of structured learning experiences for children to choose from. Most learning tends to be “real-world” based—toy pots and pans will be used for cooking rather than as hats. Although private Montessori programs tend to be quite expensive, a number of public schools are implementing Montessori programs at the preschool as well as elementary and middle school levels.

Waldorf Based on the spiritual philosophy known as Anthroposophy, Waldorf education embraces the “whole child” and places a high degree of emphasis on fantasy and free play. The arts are emphasized, as is the natural world.

Reggio Emilia Child-directed learning—children and teachers are seen as co-learners, deciding on topics and working on projects together. The arts are emphasized, as is the school’s physical environment (a nice-looking classroom is supposed to inspire better learning).
Baptist These types of preschools tend to be overtly Christian, and frequent mention will be made of Jesus and his teachings.

Lutheran Lutheran preschools fall somewhere in between Baptist and Episcopalian ones. They may utilize Christian imagery and Bible stories, but they have plenty of secular imagery and activities as well. Lots of Veggie Tales (probably).

Episcopal Episcopal preschools tend to be the most low-key and ecumenical of religious schools. They may make mention of religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter, but usually try to balance things out by talking about Hanukkah, Ramadan, Passover, etc.

Catholic Catholic preschools are often attached to K-8 schools and prepare the children by teaching them the basic principles of the religion. Children may attend mass—usually a special children’s mass. You don’t have to worry about communion, though; First Communion usually takes place in the second grade.

Non-Denominational Christian These types of preschools may vary like their parent church organizations, but they’re typically more fundamentalist in orientation and, like Baptist centers, may try to incorporate a Bible motif into nearly every type of activity.

Jewish Jewish programs incorporate Jewish tradition and history into daily activities. Children hear Jewish stories, learn songs and maybe even learn a little Hebrew. There is very little proselytizing or attempting to convert non-Jewish students, however.

Unitarian May not be overtly religious at all, but will instead focus on ethics, teaching children to respect themselves and others. May celebrate holidays like the winter solstice and Earth Day.

 

(January 2008)