It seems like preschool came out of nowhere. Once the new year began, it’s like an internal clock went off, yelling at me to figure out what my son’s first step toward school would be. And good thing it did because January is when all the open house programs happen and registration begins in February. I like to think I’m a mom who plans ahead, but I was not prepared to start thinking about next September this winter.
That’s not to say I haven’t thought about preschool. I fell in love with The Peaceful Preschool, a homeschool workbook I discovered on Instagram a few months ago. You spend one to two weeks on each letter of the alphabet working on phonics, counting, fine and large motor skills, practical and art skills. I love the reading lists the most. I usually pick up all the books for the letter from my local library and we work through the lessons at our own pace. Sometimes it’s one letter a week, other times we don’t do lessons at all. The curriculum helps me make the most of my limited time at home during the week. It creates engagement where before we’d have passive reading time. I find moments of learning where I didn’t before. Sadly, homeschool is just not an option when both parents have full-time jobs.
Like most things, I approached finding a preschool with an itemized list, including a stack of a half-dozen books I borrowed from the library about the best ways little people learn and how to teach them. There’s a lot of alternatives to preschool, and I’m not talking about Montessori methods. After coming to the realization homeschool wasn’t in the cards or – my personal favorite – forest school isn’t located anywhere near us, I made a list of our more traditional offerings.
Here are the preschool options I unveiled:
- Traditional public preschool – it’s five days a week for a few hours every day. It’s 100% publicly funded (our tax dollars at work), including a snack and carton of milk. Unlike in other states, Illinois doesn’t offer preschool to everyone. This program is called Preschool for All and you’ve got to qualify for it. We’re signed up for an interview in April, but I don’t think we’ll even make the waitlist. This program is for children who really need the leg up before they enter kindergarten. I know all mothers must think this of their children, but Leigh is pretty smart. He may be socially stunted having spent the first three years of his life at home so I don’t want to leave any stone unturned.
- Traditional private preschool – these range from daycare programs calling themselves preschools to 9-month curriculum-based programs. They can be anywhere from two to five days. And there are lots of them. Everything from chain schools like Kindercare, The Goddard School and La Petite Academy, to privately-owned schools like A Child’s Place Early Learning Center.
- Christian private preschool – our church has a local program where parishioner children attend. There’s a pre-K teacher and two teaching assistants in the classroom. It’s an accredited school reaching up to 8th grade. A little background to my story: I attended a private Christian school in Chicago. It’s actually where I met my husband.
- Public park district program – ours is called Camp Crayon. I’m in love with the name of this program because it describes exactly what I think toddlers should be learning at their age. They have both two and three-day programs and graduated classes for 2.6-3-year-olds, 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. Only 20 children are allowed per class and it is largely play-based learning where they develop emotional, social, physical and intellectual skills.
These are the options we’re exploring because I feel confident they’re the right ones and we can afford them.
I’m apprehensive about making the wrong decision to start school so early because there’s no going back after you start. Your child is in school for the next 12 to 18+ years. I just can’t enroll my child in a 3-year-old preschool class and then next year decide not to continue him into the 4-year-old program with his new friends. That wouldn’t be fair. Once we commit, there’s no going back and that’s intimidating.
Why is parenthood so difficult?!
The jury is still out. When did your toddler start preschool? What kind of program did they enroll in? I’m desperately searching for the right answer.