Choosing the right preschool for your child can seem like a daunting task. Programs offer different approaches and philosophies and may vary considerably in terms of hours, prices and activities such as outdoor play and field trips.
Parents should be aware that preschools are usually open for fewer hours a day than daycares — and sometimes only for morning or afternoon sessions. It’s best to check the hours and prices first when trying to narrow down your choices. As you start looking into preschools, you’ll probably encounter some of the names and philosophies mentioned in the sidebar. But keep in mind that many preschools use a variety of methods, all designed to help a child grow and thrive.
In fact, the best preschool environment fosters growth in all areas of development: physical, cognitive, social and emotional. It’s widely accepted that children learn through play so most programs include activities such as dress-up, arts, music and playing outdoors. However, some preschools include activities that focus on developing pre-reading, writing and math skills (for example, educational software used on the computer).
To find out more about a preschool, schedule a visit and talk to the teachers. Observe what is going on and ask about a typical day. How much time do children spend outside? Must they stay seated for certain periods to do reading or arts and crafts? Are there specific times set aside for group activities?
Nina Howe, professor of early childhood and elementary education at Concordia University, urges parents to look for programs that suit a child’s temperament, character and interests. For instance, if your son really enjoys pretend play, make sure the preschool offers this type of activity. Howe also reassures parents that there is no “right” or “wrong” preschool program. Just try to find one that suits your child and gets him excited about learning, discovering and sharing.
In researching programs, you’re likely to run across different philosophies, often based around the ideas of a particular educator. Here are some you’ll find around Montreal:
Dr. Maria Montessori worked in the early 1900s with special needs children in Rome. She believed that the years from newborn to age 6 were some of the most important for learning and Montessori schools teach kids to become independent while learning at their own pace.
The Montessori name is not legally protected so any preschool can use the term to describe its program. Over the years, various organizations have been created to offer accreditation in what they see as the correct use of Montessori methods. Families interested in this approach should visit the school, interview staff, watch what goes on and then make a decision if the school suits their child.
One key element of the Montessori approach is the idea of a “prepared environment,” where children can, with minimum help, carry out activities. For example, one of the first things a child might learn is how to take something from the shelf and how to put it back, says Yasmine Ghandour, owner of the Orchard House preschool in N.D.G. that offers a Montessori-based program. (The school incorporates the Montessori philosophy with some of the more current thinking on early childhood education.)
Even this simple action encourages children to be active participants in their learning by choosing their own activities and learning how to complete what they’ve started.
Montessori developed educational tools that teach children specific skills or concepts, which are a hallmark feature of these preschools. For example, a set of 10 wooden counting rods form a staircase pattern when arranged correctly in order of size. The children can see when they’ve put the pieces in the right place and, once they master a task, the teacher introduces a more complex exercise.
Montessori schools don’t separate kids by age because they want to encourage a family atmosphere where younger children learn from the older ones and the older ones reinforce their learning by teaching the younger classmates.
The following is a list of some local Montessori and Montessori-based preschools.
Montessori School of Pointe Claire
Pointe Claire (514) 697-3792
N.D.G. (514) 483-6556
Pointe Claire (514) 630-3993
West Island Montessori School
Roxboro (514) 684-3733
Montreal (514) 382-2112
École Montessori International
Montreal (514) 331-1244
Garderie et jardin d’enfants Montessori
Beaconsfield (514) 697-9509
Greenfield Park (450) 671-9231
Outremont (514) 273-3482
T.M.R. (514) 731-7120
Heart, Mind & Soul Montessori Academy
Montreal (514) 955-3335
These schools are based on the theories of philosopher Rudolf Steiner who, in 1919, opened a school for the children of employees of a factory in Germany. Waldorf preschools focus on social skills, respect for the environment and creative expression.
Unlike Montessori schools, the terms “Waldorf,” “Steiner” and even “Waldorf-inspired” can only be used with permission from the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, an organization that provides information, accreditation and teacher training in Steiner’s methods. The association’s website, www.whywaldorfworks.org, contains many resources for parents interested in this approach.
In Montreal, the École Rudolf Steiner in N.D.G. offers pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes for children ages 4 and 5. Francine Laterreur, the school’s development officer, says Steiner believed that children of this age learn largely through imitation and example, as opposed to being told what to do. Therefore, Waldorf preschool teachers impart lessons by modelling behaviour and skills that the children can imitate.
Imagination is also a key word at these preschools. For example, at storytime, the children listen to the teacher’s tales but are then encouraged to make up their own play based on the stories they hear, says Laterreur. Kids are offered simple materials made of wood and other natural substances, which they use to create their own playthings.
Computers and other high-tech equipment are not used at the preschool level as they are thought to interfere with cognitive and sensorial development if introduced too early in a child’s life.
The Waldorf approach is similar to Montessori in that 4 and 5-year-olds are grouped together, encouraging a family atmosphere. The Waldorf classrooms are also designed to look more like a home than an institution and children who continue in Waldorf schools into the elementary years will have the same teacher.
École Rudolf Steiner de Montreal
Montreal (514) 481-5686, www.ersm.org
Named after the Italian town where this approach was founded in 1963, the Reggio Emilia method emphasizes project-based learning. This approach aims to foster strong relationships between teachers, children, parents and the community.
There is no organization providing Reggio Emilia accreditation but the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance, www.reggioalliance.org, offers information on the approach. The municipality of Reggio Emilia, along with other partners, has created an organization called Reggio Children (www.reggiochildren.it) to share the work being done in the city.
Val Morena, part-owner of the Garderie Centre de l’Exploration in Lasalle, which has a Reggio Emilia-inspired program, explains that the teacher’s job is to provoke thought and encourage children to take their own interests to the next level. For example, if the children express an interest in dinosaurs, says Morena, the teachers then devise dinosaur-related projects.
Teachers meticulously document each child’s interests, activities, and progress so parents can follow what their children are learning. Much care and attention is also given to making a Reggio school a pleasant atmosphere for both children and adults. This includes ensuring there is natural light, indoor plants, mirrors and carefully displayed art work. Like Waldorf, the Reggio Emilia schools use toys and equipment made of natural materials as much as possible.
Garderie Centre D’Imagination
Lasalle (514) 365-5115
Garderie Centre De L’Exploration
Lasalle (514) 365-1550
Garderie Centre Créatif de Lasalle
Lasalle (514) 364-9111
Solomon Schechter Preschool Academy
Cote St. Luc (514) 485-0866
Academie Prescolaire Mont-Royal
T.M.R. (514) 937-1662