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Preschool Decision: Guide to Picking the Right One for Your Child

Should you pick a cooperative, childcare-based, church-affiliated, Montessori or school district affiliated program? Get a bit of insight.

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Shopping for a preschool is not exactly like buying a burger. Curriculum is one factor – and, perhaps even more so, the staff and philosophy. What parent wouldn't want a welcoming environment where classroom instructors treat their young students with respect and nurture their unique differences?

Well, with all of the options available in southeast Michigan, you still may be able to have it "your way." Whether you're looking for a preschool that encourages more parent involvement, one that offers before- and after-school care or one centered on religious instruction, there's a preschool out there for your child.

Cooperative preschools

Cooperative preschools, or co-ops, are preschools that have traditionally required a high level of parent involvement. Parents help in the classroom, serve on the board and are assigned specific tasks or jobs that support the day-to-day running of the classroom. For example, a parent may be asked to take home towels to wash or make Play-Doh at home for the children to use in the classroom.

However, with today's busy schedules, many co-ops have adapted by relaxing some of their requirements. At the nonprofit Mayfair Co-op Preschool in Farmington Hills, for example, parents are assigned a year-long task that can be as involved as board membership – or more behind-the-scenes, at-home work.

Parents choose from an application that lists all the jobs and what they entail, explains assistant teacher Fran Brown.

"We always make sure to try to give them their top options," Brown says. "We try our best make everybody happy." The involvement is the selling point, says Brown – herself a mom of two, including a son who participated in the 4s program.

"I really fell in love," Brown says. "It's such a self-esteem booster for children to have their parents involved. I think the kids really feel the pride."

Weekly summer play dates keep that going. "You're staying involved for the entire year," Brown says. Even her son, who's now in full-time kindergarten, still goes to the play times to catch up with is pals. "It's really a lifelong friendship that you're making."

Because of the high level of parental involvement, the adult/child ratio at Mayfair is about 1-to-4 or 2-to-7, so parents know their child is getting a lot of attention. Its curriculum is focused on learning through play – and centered on social, emotional, physical and cognitive development.

Tuition at Mayfair is on par with similar programs in the area. To keep tuition low, fundraising is required. There's also a $150 fundraising goal per family per year. There are a variety of options, from pizza kits to bowling nights to a silent auction – or parents can opt to write a flat-rate check.

Visit the Greater Detroit Cooperative Nursery Council directory to find an option near you.

Childcare center preschools

Due to long work schedules and commutes, many parents require a full-day program with wrap-around childcare. Childcare centers are often the perfect choice for such families.

The Goddard School for Early Childhood Development – which has local schools in Canton, Lake Orion and Macomb – has programs serving kids from infant to school age (about 6 weeks old to about 5 old; may vary by location).

Here, the programs aim to create "confident, joyful and fully prepared students," Goddard's website notes. Preschoolers' development is fostered in learning centers for math, science, dramatic play, music, creative art and computers; kids experience fitness, art history and manners, too.

Tuition rates tend to be competitive in the preschool/early childhood development center market.

Church-affiliated preschools

Like childcare centers, church-affiliated preschools vary from program to program as to curriculum and level of parent involvement, as well as the level of religious education introduced into the classroom.

First Steps Preschool is an outreach ministry of the First United Methodist Church of Brighton.

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