One of the most difficult decisions that I have made during my twins’ entire young lives was choosing a preschool. *Sigh*. You would think that I was helping my children decide on a college. The process was just as exasperating. As a parent, you want the very best for your children. You want to equip them with all of the necessary tools they need in order to be successful in life. I was very wrapped up in making sure that my children have the proper head start to learn what they needed to be successful in life. However, I learned a very interesting lesson myself along the way.
As the first major decision that I had to make for them, I took my job — the preschool search — very seriously. First of all, I’m a researcher by nature. I research everything. Google is my very best friend. So, of course, I began to research types of preschools in my attempt to find the best fit for my twinkies. But even that process was overwhelming. Just by researching preschool curricula online, I became anxious. So many choices. But what is the best curriculum for preschoolers? What does the research say?
I started looking up the many options. Play-based or academic based? What’s Montessori? What’s Reggio Emilia? What’s Waldorf? What are the similarities and differences? What’s more important? That my kids learn their ABCs or that they learn how to socialize? Was preschool even that important? Full-time or part-time? And all of this was bombarding me before I even thought about the costs. Preschool costs can be astronomical. I read articles about parents taking out loans and spending close to college tuition rates on preschool. Whew. It was a lot.
However, once I became better versed in my options, what they were, and what the benefits were to preschool and certain curricula, some of my anxieties subsided. I decided that I thought my twins could benefit from preschool. Being twins, they were very used to playing with each other, but I wanted to broaden their socialization. I wanted them to learn how to play and share with other children. I also decided that I was not looking for a solely academic preschool. My priority was that my kids attend a school where they are cared for and nurtured, a school that helped to stimulate their natural curiosities and foster their learning through play and hands-on activities. I wanted them to learn, of course, but not in a traditional academic school-based way.
I discovered that Reggio Emilia and Montessori matched most closely with my personal philosophy. By doing the proper research first, I was able to narrow down my search options by looking at the schools that incorporated either of those curricula. At that point I started to tour different programs. That process was time consuming and overwhelming, though worth it. I got a chance to meet administrators and teachers, observe classrooms, and ask more specific questions. I was able to discern the school’s culture.
Here are some of the questions I had in mind as I observed the classrooms:
- Do they have an open door policy?
- Do the children appear happy?
- Do the teachers appear happy?
- Are the kids engaged?
- What kinds of learning and socialization activities are they doing in the classroom?
Actually going on classroom tours was eye opening. I was able to compare and contrast different programs, and really determine what is most important to me. I was also able to see the Montessori and Reggio Emilia curricula in action (or lack thereof). Reading about a preschool philosophy is one thing. But to actually see it implemented is another. Also, observing more than one program also helps because not all schools implement the same curriculum in the same ways.
Though the process was long and sometimes tedious, it was a valuable experience. I was able to find a school that fits most of my requirements. I chose a Reggio Emilia program that emphasized play as the primary activity for preschool children. It is also a school that teaches important socialization skills to their students. I fell in love with the teachers and the school. Ultimately, I think I was able to make the best choice for my kids. They are in a preschool program that I love. My kids are thriving and growing. They are cared for, nurtured and intellectually stimulated daily. They are excited to go to preschool every day, and come back telling funny and interesting stories about their “friends” (classmates) and teachers and talk about all of their experiences and activities.
The most important thing that I discovered in this process is that, yes, I do want the very “best” for my children, like any parent. But it’s not about the “best” in absolute terms. It is about the best fit for you and the best fit for your children. It is about discovering what’s most important to you as a parent and choosing the option that fits in with you and what you believe. There is no magic school — no magic program. In the end, my children are happy and therefore I am beyond satisfied. I could not ask for anything more.
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Rashain Carriere-Williams and her husband, Kellom, are the parents of 3 year old boy/girl twins, Aubrey Madison and Karson Michael. She is also senior director at a non-profit agency in New Orleans, LA.