How to choose the best kindergarten?
In the US, there are many different types of kindergarten programs. There are private kindergartens that are part of preschools. There are private kindergartens that are part of schools which continue to upper grades. Kindergarten is also the first year offered in public school. While kindergarten is not compulsory in the US, most parents have their child attend when he or she turns five.
Parents have the opportunity to select their favorite school. But with this opportunity comes the burden to “get it right.” This first experience with “formal” education becomes extremely significant. Will this first school experience set the tone for all the subsequent years of school? Does admission to an elite kindergarten open doors to all future scholastic endeavors, even paving the way to admission to a prized university? How will parents know where their child will thrive? What sort of learner is the child, anyhow? Parents have very little information about their child as a student at this point. Yet they want to make a good decision, opting for the best kindergarten.
Knowing the types of kindergarten schools that are out there helps to simplify the process.
There are two main types of approaches: teacher-lead or student-lead programs. In student-directed programs, the children take the lead and the teacher guides. In teacher-directed program, the teacher structures the activities and the students tend to do the same things at the same time. In both situations, schools deploy learning strategies that are developmentally appropriate. Importantly, there is no right nor wrong approach. Used well, either can offer children a nurturing, positive and engaging first experience with school.
Kindergartens may also be categorized as play-based or academic.
Play-based programs believe that children learn best through play which engages the children’s curiosity and leverages their innate drive to learn. Academic programs tend to be more overt in their declaration that they are about skills-building in math and science and reading. They will talk about “readiness” for first grade. Both have a play to learning relationship. Play-based uses play to drive learning. In academic kindergartens, play exists to serve learning. While both methods have merit, it is critical that parents understand the school’s orientation.
Here are several of the prominent early learning models.
It is very important to understand the founding principles for each method. Individual schools may vary in their observation of the original tenets, being more or less faithful to the founding philosophy. Still, the key principles will frame the best kindergarten school experience.
- Reggio Emilia
- Forest School
- Language Immersion
With so many options how does a parent decide?
Thorough preparation is the key and knowledge builds confidence. Here are some helpful tips to support your approach to best kindergarten schools:
- Start your school search approximately one year before you want to enroll your child. Schools host open houses typically from October through January. Visit all the schools that interest you. Apply to those that appeal.
- Rely on your network. Sometimes elite kindergartens have low profiles and scant internet presence.
- Know how often and how long you would like your child to attend. For example, half or full days for how many days per week?
- Attend kindergarten fairs. This is a great way to scoop up a lot of information in one place. Come with a few key questions to ask.
Ultimately, trust your intellect and instincts.
Reflect on which programs made YOU happiest, confident and optimistic after your visit. While parents always consider a good school match for their child, this confidence is often conveyed through a sense of assurance that the parent feels. Can you picture your child happy at the school? Let your answer to that question guide your decision-making.