4 guidelines for choosing a preschool

There are many preschool options available in Montreal but which one is right for your child?

Long before their children are eligible to start kindergarten at age 5, many parents start exploring programs and centres offering educational services to little ones. There are many preschool options available in Montreal, from private centres to public schools offering full-day programs for 4-year-olds.

To make the right choice for you and your family, it is good to think about the following four elements.

1. Approaches to learning

According to Dr. Will Penny, Concordia University’s program director for child studies, there are two basic preschool categories: custodial and developmental.  A custodial preschool is a place to play in a safe environment, and can be as simple as “a neighbourhood parent who converted their basement into a daycare,” says Penny. The adult is there to provide care and allow the children to play, but there is no formal educational component. 

In developmental preschools, children are taught, through play-based activities, how to recognize letters and numbers. Some of these preschools are based around a specific philosophy and approach to learning. One is the Montessori system where, as Penny notes, “They take the natural instincts of children – seeing and touching – and turn them into learning experiences. Seeing becomes reading, touching becomes writing.”  At these preschools, the games, social activities and pre-literacy activities are designed to prepare children for school. (For more information about the Montessori-style approach, visit www.montessori.edu.)

Another system is called Reggio Emilia. It started in Italy and focuses on developing a love of learning from an early age rather than learning straight information. “Children in preschool will be entering the workforce in 17-18 years,” Penny says. “The jobs they will be doing probably won’t be invented for another 10 years. If you haven’t inspired a lifelong love of learning, they might fall behind.”  The Reggio Emilia approach emphasizes a strong communication between parents, teachers and children and a focus on encouraging little ones to explore their own interests.  (Further information can be found at http://www.reggioalliance.org.)

2. Balance between structure and free play

Children need a varied and stimulating environment to keep them engaged and eager to learn. Daniel Hrycyk, owner of The Learning Tree, a private daycare and preschool on the West Island, says parents should look for a balance between structured activities (working in a group to count and sort buttons, for example) and free play (dress-up, building with blocks, etc.). “If children are only used to free play, they have a harder time adjusting to a structured environment at school,” Hrycyk says.

3. Location

Most parents search for a preschool in their neighbourhood or close to  work. These preschools may be in stand-alone centres, but the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) offers programs operating from six elementary school. “It’s kindergarten for 4-year-olds with certified teaching staff,” says Lise Charlebois of the LBPSB. “It’s a play-based structured learning environment. Children have access to technology, smart boards, and laptops. Play and learning are intermixed.”

Children may attend for a half or full-day. There is no obligation for children to stay at the school where they attend K4.  Each school may vary slightly with what is taught in K4, but they all follow the same basic education plan.

4. Cost

The fees at private preschools may initially seem high compared to our subsidized daycares but Montreal tax professional Michelle Boelen explains that parents may be able to deduct part of the fees as a child care expense. The first question to ask is if the preschool issues a receipt for federal daycare fees and a Quebec Relevé 24. If yes, then the fees may be eligible but the rules differ for the federal and provincial governments.

Boelen says that Revenue Canada generally requires that both parents have earned income (from employment or a business) in order to claim child care expenses. The actual amount which may be deducted varies depending on how much income the parents earn, but it can not exceed $7,000 per child, per year and it must be claimed on the tax return of the parent with the lower income. So, for example, if the lower earner’s marginal tax rate is 22 per cent, then you could save $1,540 in federal income tax if you are claiming the maximum amount of child care fees.

In Quebec, the child care expenses can be used to apply for a tax credit. Only one parent needs to have earned income in order to apply. The maximum amount of child care expenses that can be used to calculate the credit is $9,000 per child. At a tax credit rate of 26 per cent, you could save $2,340 of income tax if you are claiming the maximum amount.

However, Boelen notes that there are various exceptions to these rules, especially if a parent is at school full time, has a disability or is separated from his or her spouse. So it is important to consult with a tax professional for each family’s specific situation.

Preschool can be a magical time for children, where they move outside the family circle to make friends and learn new things. While the sheer number of options out there can seem overwhelming, parents who take the time to visit centres, ask questions and get recommendations can usually find a place to suit their needs. 

Preschool resources for parents:

Click here for a large list of preschools located in the Greater Montreal area (including Laval and the West Island) .

Lester B. Pearson School Board’s preschool program information can be found by visiting www.lbpsb.qc.ca.

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