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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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Director and lead teacher Lisa Guise says children at the preschool don't attend chapel or formal religious education classes, though lessons on biblical themes such as love, patience, kindness and self-control are woven into the curriculum. And kids do pray before snack, and kids occasionally meet with the pastor or associate pastor to learn about God and Christian holidays. A vacation bible camp is available in summer, too.

Guise says teachers model the Christian way of life, emphasizing values such as showing respect and kindness to one another.

And all faiths are welcome. "It's not intended to force a religion on people that they may not believe in," Guise says.

She described the curriculum as a play- and developmentally-based program. Children are encouraged to develop at their own rate. For example, the alphabet is introduced, but formal reading instruction is not forced on children who aren't ready. Teachers expound on it with kids that are capable of doing more, Guise says.

Like many church-affiliated preschools, First Steps does not offer before- and after-care. Morning and afternoon classes, which last a few hours, are available from mid-September to May. The program is two days a week for 3-year-olds and three for 4-year-olds. A junior preschool program for "young 3s" is also available two days a week – or, if enrollment numbers aren't quite met for that, a "parent and tot" program.

Parental help in the classroom is encouraged but not required, except in the junior preschool class. Guise says tuition is comparable to similar programs in Livingston County. A discount is offered for families with multiple children attending the preschool.

Montessori preschools

Parents looking into a Montessori preschool may do so with a bigger picture in mind: Many offer classes from birth through high school.

While programs may differ slightly from school to school, each essentially is centered on the same core philosophy Maria Montessori established – including learning the belief that all children have the innate ability to learn, but they do so at different rates.

At Go Like the Wind Montessori in Ann Arbor, kids use equipment in classrooms at their own developmental level (the school, set on 40 acres, spans infant through ninth grade). For example, the infant room is equipped with tiny furniture, items on the floor and mirrors. The toddler room has bigger shelves, tables and a gross motor skills area.

Kids use materials in a specialized way and repeat the work again and again until they master the concept they are working on. Classrooms are multi-age and run five days a week.

While parents don't volunteer in the classroom at Montessori schools, they can get involved in a variety of ways. At Go Like the Wind, that includes five "family service hours" (per every 12 months) – or a $50 payment to its "Parent Teacher Support Association."

Before- and after-school care varies from school to school, and scholarships may be available to those in need.

To find a Montessori school near you, visit the North American Montessori Teachers' Association's School Directory.

School district preschools

The children who attend public school-conducted preschools may get a leg up, says Lisa Gryglak, supervisor of Bloomin' Preschools, operated by Bloomfield Hills Schools. She says a big advantage is the collaboration of the preschool and kindergarten teachers – and wealth of knowledge that comes with it. It helps the teachers align the curricula to help prep kids for kindergarten.

Offerings are connected to three elementary schools. Its Conant, Fox Hills and Lone Pine locations offer preschool programming for tykes ages 2.5 to 5 years old (the latter two also have infant and toddler programs starting at 6 weeks).

Programs are child-centered and use a "creative curriculum program" centered on supportive, engaging environments, the Bloomin' site notes. To boot, Conant and Lone Pine are authorized IB Primary Years Programme schools – while Fox Hills is a "Visible Thinking" school, geared at fostering creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration.

Activities are hands-on and theme-based, Gryglak adds, and focus on academic and cultural growth – plus social and emotional. "If that piece isn't in place, it's really hard to do anything else," she says.

While programs are district-managed, they're tuition-based. Gryglak says the district can't spend state funding on anything but K-12 programming. It also offers small class sizes and childcare: wraparound at Fox Hills, and before-care only (prior to 9:15 a.m. and after 3:15 p.m.) at Conant and Lone Pine.

Gryglak says all locations encourage involvement. Parents may sign up to help in class. The Fox Hills location has a PTO (parents at the other two locations are encouraged to join the main elementary schools' PTOs).

Call your local elementary school or board of education office to find out if your school district offers a preschool program.

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