Breaking down preschool benefits and pricing
While many parents turn to preschool as a means to reenter the workforce, preschool’s main benefit lies in its ability to foster the development of kids under age 6. Picking a preschool should be an easy task, but with so many different philosophies, the process of researching ideologies can be overwhelming. In addition to school philosophy, parents have a multitude of aspects to consider -- like cost, location, schedule, accreditation, teacher credentials, safety, discipline, and their specific child’s needs.
Every child is different, so a preschool should be selected to address their growth areas and challenge their strengths. This article can assist parents in making the right choice for their child’s first formal educational experience.
What is preschool?
Preschool is a place for children typically between the ages of 3 and 5 to learn and play before beginning their education at primary school. It can foster social skills and help develop a love of learning through the exposure of vocabulary, literacy, math games, and the arts.
"Preschools promote social and academic growth while building confidence and relationships with others,” said Tonie Mitchell, director of the Village Academy in St. Augustine, Florida.
Generally speaking, a preschool will identify as being either play-based or academic-based. Before researching where your child should attend preschool, you should first decide what you hope they will gain while in attendance. Regardless of the philosophy you choose, preschool has much to offer young children.
“Students who attend preschool have a strong social and academic advantage over students who do not,” said Caitlin Edwards, a kindergarten teacher at Rock Springs Elementary School in Apopka, Florida. “They are more easily able to navigate the unwritten rules of school and already have a background in the skills being taught. Students who have never been in a school setting often struggle to catch up to their peers who attended preschool.”
It’s best to start researching preschools early, as space is often limited. Understanding the variety of terms used in preschools will help you find a program that best suits your child’s needs.
Types of preschool
1. Academic-based: In an academic-based preschool, you will find the day organized by teacher-directed activities. Academics and skills are at the core of the curriculum, and educators are largely responsible for directing learning. Students may choose activities from a selection of predetermined options.
2. Play-based: Free play is a critical part of the developmental need at this age. Play-based preschools provide an environment that allows the child to stimulate intellectual curiosity while learning social skills. These schools are considered “child-centered,” meaning students select activities of interest and educators serve as facilitators to guide the child along their selected learning path.
3. Montessori: Designed as a “child-centered” program, Montessori schools are often viewed as play-based to outsiders. However, the Montessori program has a focus on academics, but differs from most preschools in that the child sets his or her own pace. Working on their own level means a Montessori classroom is not arranged by age, but by ability.
4. Cooperative: Organized by a group of families with similar philosophies, cooperatives require all families to participate in providing education to the students. The preschool is administered and maintained by the parents as a non-profit, allowing parents to provide input to the daily curriculum, but it also demands their skill and time. Cooperatives are generally lower in cost, but they’re difficult for parents who work a full-time job because the preschool can not run without parental attendance.
Questions to ask
While touring preschools, you will have a lot of thoughts racing through your mind. It’s best to compile a list of questions so you can get all the information you and any other family members may need. Many things may vary from location to location, so it’s important to consider the following:
What is the educational philosophy of the preschool?
What is the educational requirement of the teachers? Are they CPR- and first aid-certified?
What is the teacher-to-student ratio?
Do the students nap daily? What does that nap schedule look like?
Can outside food be brought in, or are all meals and snacks provided?
What is the sick policy?
Is your child required to be potty-trained?
How is discipline handled?
Average cost of preschool
Tuition varies depending on your location and the quality of the preschool. As children enter daycare, parents can expect to pay the most for infants and rejoice as tuition costs drop each year.
Reports from the Economic Policy Institute show that costs are higher in metropolitan areas -- like in Washington, D.C., where parents can be prepared to pay an average of $17,842 per year. States like Alabama, which ranks 50th in the nation for preschool costs, averages at about $4,871.
How to lower the cost
Depending on your location, sending your child to preschool can often feel like you’re dishing out for a college tuition. According to a recent study, the Economic Policy Institute found that the in-state public college tuition in 23 states was lower than the cost of full-time child care for a 4-year-old. When shopping around, consider a few of these points to help lower your weekly tuition rates.
1. Look outside your neighborhood. If you live in an area with high property value, you may find that the preschools also carry a hefty price tag. Looking in the next city over or at a preschool along the route to work may significantly cut down on cost.
2. Seek home-based preschools. Without the lofty overhead of owning a commercial building, home-based preschools tend to be lower in cost. Another perk is that these daycares tend to have a much smaller teacher-to-child ratio, allowing your child to receive more individualized attention. Unfortunately, as a result of these two major perks, reputable daycares tend to fill up very quickly and have lengthy waitlists, so start shopping early.
3. Seek government assistance. Many states offer financial support for low income or military families to aid in sending their child to preschool. More and more states are offering free programs for 4-year-olds, the typical age just prior to attending kindergarten. Most free state programs have shortened weeks or limited hours, such as 9 a.m. to noon, but free child care with a reputable preschool is a win no matter the length of time.
Read next: Is your child ready for preschool?
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