All photos are courtesy of St. Philips Preschool in Frisco.
If you’re a first-time parent, you should know that February is about the time to register your child for preschool next fall. I know it seems early, but spots fill very quickly.
Don’t be like me and decide in late May that you think it might be nice for your little one to enjoy some socialization in a preschool next school year.
I learned that by waiting too long, my top choices for preschool were full and already had a lengthy waitlist. Do yourself a favor and start talking to friends, researching, and touring schools now for the 2018-19 school year. You’ll find many are already hosting open houses and offering early registration for new families.
So now that you know a bit more about the registration timeline…
What should you be looking for in a preschool?
- Does the school offer the hours you need?
- Are you comfortable with the school’s measures to ensure the health and safety of your child?
- Is it important to you whether the school is religious or secular?
- Does the tuition match your budget?
- How important is the location? Do you need the school to be close to home, or close to your office?
Once you’ve narrowed your list by evaluating these basics, dive deeper into the structure, curriculum, and philosophy of the school. Of course, there are a lot of factors to consider here, too. One in particular which is top of mind for many families is Kindergarten Readiness.
What is Kindergarten Readiness?
This term means different things to different people, but basically, we’re talking about assessing how well a preschool will prepare your child to thrive in a kindergarten classroom.
One thing I consistently hear from parents is the surprise over how different kindergarten is now, compared to when they were in school. The expectations are much higher, and the days may even be longer, as years ago kids often attended for only a half day.
Is Kinder the new first grade?
Many people say ‘kinder is the new first grade.’ There’s plenty of debate as to whether or not this is a good thing, but the fact remains it’s the reality. The rigorous curriculum parents are observing in kinder is based on statewide standards. Many Frisco ISD teachers recognize these expectations are high and they work hard to include plenty of fun in the classroom with creative “brain breaks” throughout the day.
What skills are needed for Kindergarten?
To get a better idea of what Kindergarten Readiness looks like from a teacher’s perspective, I spoke with my son’s sweet former kindergarten teacher, Miss Hytchye. Based on her experience, the primary academic expectations are:
- Fluency in recognizing letters and sounds
- Ability to write uppercase and lowercase letters
- Ability to spell their name correctly.
- Familiarity with a handful of sight words. Although they really don’t expect children to enter kindergarten knowing sight words, Miss Hytchye strongly recommends reviewing sight words early. She sees a great difference in the reading level by the end of the Kindergarten year of those students who came in knowing at least a few sight words.
- Ability to count and recognize numbers 1-30. Mrs.Hytchye says children who can count and recognize numbers are better prepared to tackle the problem-solving work they’ll do in kinder.
- Ability to follow 3-4 step directions. Children who come to kindergarten already able to follow 3-4 step directions have an easier time adjusting to the classroom.
- Demonstration of certain independent skills such as zipping a jacket, hanging up a backpack and taking care of bathroom needs.
That’s a pretty tall order, right? I think our parents were proud if they just sent us to kindergarten knowing not to eat paste!
If you choose not to send your child to preschool, of course, you can work on these skills at home. But if you’re looking for a preschool, why not evaluate them with these things in mind?
How do you evaluate a preschool?
When you’re researching schools, you may wish to go on a tour and have some time to chat with the director. Allow me to help you make the most of that time by knowing what to look for and what to ask. I sat down with Autumn Chavez, Director of St. Philip’s Preschool in Frisco. Here are the areas Mrs. Chavez recommends that parents consider:
- What is the rate of teacher turnover? Of course, you want low turnover so your child has consistency in his teachers, but low turnover is also an indicator that teachers are happy and treated well at the school.
- What are their student/teacher ratios? A low ratio is key. As an example, in the 4-year-old classes, the state allows for one teacher for every 16 students. Teachers are not able to give as much one-on-one attention at that ratio. Look for a school that has something closer to two teachers for every 16 students.
- What are the qualifications of their teachers? This can often be the difference in your child being babysat and your child being educated. Look for a school that requires their lead teachers to have a college degree. And if you can find a program like St. Philip’s where many of their teachers also earned a teaching certificate and spent time in elementary schools, even better.
More and more research is showing us that the most critical period of brain development is during the first five years of life. With this in mind, your child’s preschool teachers might actually be the most important teachers they ever have!
- Is there a formal curriculum for the teachers to follow? Whether the school has developed one in-house or purchased one from an external source, the important thing is to make sure one exists and teachers aren’t left to just “wing it” when it comes to your child’s education.
- Is the curriculum play-based or academic? And does this adjust as the child moves up through the program? Play is important – children learn a lot through play. But as the child gets closer to kindergarten, you want to see more structure develop into his days. Miss Hytchye commented that she and the rest the kindergarten team at her school have noticed that children who come from a strictly play-based environment have a harder time adjusting to kindergarten.
- What specials programs do they offer? Many schools have music, art, PE and maybe even Spanish class. A favorite at St. Philip’s is Investigation Station, where kids get to explore hands-on through all kinds of fun and interactive stations. The day I visited, kids were working dinosaur puzzles, digging for “fossils” and making dinosaur sculptures with kinetic sand – all activities that help develop hand strength that is so important for fine motor skills.
- How is your child’s progress assessed? There’s plenty of testing once our kids hit elementary school. I doubt anyone would lobby for testing at the preschool level, but you do want to assess your child’s progress. At St. Philip’s, teachers keep samples of the children’s work throughout the year, allowing for comparison to mark progress. They also have a checklist of skills they’re watching for. This information is shared at a parent conference and can be a very helpful tool for parents debating whether or not their child is ready for kindergarten.
Is there a Transitional Kindergarten program available at the school?
Transitional Kindergarten (sometimes called a Bridge) is a program some parents choose for their child after his or her four-year-old pre-k year if they feel they just aren’t quite ready for kindergarten. This is often a class for those children with summer birthdays who barely make the cut-off for kindergarten. Mrs. Chavez says she sees that age getting pushed back, sometimes to include kids with April or even March birthdays.
Transitional Kindergarten is not just for kids with late summer birthdays,” says Autumn. “It can also be a fit for those who just aren’t ready academically. It’s so important for a child to feel successful with their first experience in kindergarten. Sometimes it helps to give them a buffer year. It allows them to develop a few more tools to take with them to kinder and can help with self-confidence.”
You’ll want to ask the preschool how well the school’s Pre-K and or Transitional Kinder (TK) program is aligned with FISD. For example, in the St. Philip’s TK program, they take the first semester of FISD’s kindergarten curriculum and stretch it out over the entire school year.
While this can all feel very overwhelming, rest assured that there are many fantastic preschools in our area. While talking to fellow parents and researching online is beneficial, knowing which things are important to you will help you evaluate schools accordingly and find one that is just the right fit for your family.