Time to pick a preschool

by Amy Jo Bazile

My three-year-old is so excited to go to school. Every morning he packs his backpack with his favorite toys and is always ready to go before his brothers. It is all pretend now, but next fall he will officially begin preschool. It is time to get looking and find the right fit because preschool enrollment around Marysville is in full swing.

Preschool can set the stage for a child’s future learning. The U.S. Department of Education says children who participate in good quality preschool programs have better language, cognitive and social skills. In addition, they are more likely to graduate from high school and be successful in later life. And, I think, preschool should be fun too. It is a tall order, so how do we sort through what is available and what is best for our families?

Most preschools in the Marysville area are privately operated and will charge a registration fee and then monthly tuition. Along with cost, the time and location of the preschool must also meet the family’s busy schedule. Almost all preschools require children to go to the bathroom on their own, so a late toilet-trainer will limit preschool options.

A few years ago, when my middle son was a preschooler, monthly tuition did not fit into our budget. We found great online preschool programs that were low cost, or even free. We used one of these programs with a small neighborhood group and he received an excellent, personalized preschool experience. For qualified families, Snohomish County’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) provides free preschool for children ages 3-5 years.

My oldest son attended a cooperative preschool, like the Marysville Cooperative Preschool. A cooperative preschool can be more affordable and allows parents to take an active role in their child’s preschool education. Parents participate in the classroom once a week, assist with school operations and attend parent education seminars. The curriculum focuses on social and emotional development through child-led and experiential learning opportunities.

Whatever type of preschool you explore, safety is a key component. Certified teachers, a low student to teacher ratio, and safety procedures are good signs of a safe preschool.

“Look for a safe environment for your child,” says Brenda Durand, director of Messiah Lutheran Little Lambs Preschool in Marysville.

I am also looking for a preschool with which I have similar beliefs about education and discipline. Preschools will provide a wide range of very structured activities to free time where children are encouraged to learn through play.

When touring a preschool, I also want to know about discipline techniques and religious instruction. Some preschools believe in distraction techniques for discipline and others will use “time outs.” Many preschools are run by churches and have religious education in their curriculum.

“It is surprising to me how few parents ask about our Bible stories,” says Durand of Little Lambs Preschool. She advises that parents check out the Bible lessons to be sure it meshes with their beliefs. Preschool will be a big change for your little one and mixed messages will be confusing.

I also think preschool is a fun and happy time. Bright colors and a variety of activities and experiences should excite and thrill a preschooler’s growing mind. There should be places for circle time, snack and art work. The bathrooms should be easy to get to and easy for preschoolers to use.

“We want each child to be a ‘happy camper’ and be successful at preschool,” says Kelly Stadum, director of Bethlehem Christian School in Marysville. The preschool environment should be warm, nurturing, clean and friendly, according to Stadum, and it should introduce the students to the world around them.

In Marysville, we have a great variety of preschool options to meet the needs of families and their preschoolers. My advice to other families is to take time to choose your child’s preschool experience carefully and thoughtfully. My three-year-old is really excited about preschool next fall and I am excited for him to embark on this new adventure. It is his first step into a lifetime filled with learning.

Amy is the mother of three boys and enjoys writing about kids and family issues. She and her husband and family have lived in Marysville since 2002. Comments? Email Amy at ajbazile@hotmail.com.

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