The Illinois Early Learning Project lists five factors that parents should consider when choosing a preschool: teachers, curriculum, safety, happiness of the students and expected level of parental involvement.
These were not exactly the factors I was looking for when I chose a preschool for my children. I would have to say cost was at the top of my list, followed...probably...by cost...and then safety and then happiness and so on.
Luckily, as errant as my methods may have been, after just one year of floundering about the preschool wilderness, I stumbled onto one that fit all of our needs. The teachers were kind and willing to explain the curriculum. The kids were behaved and involved, and the place was locked up like Fort Knox during class hours.
But there are many, many preschools out there, and picking the best one for your child can be tricky.
The park districts of Mokena, New Lenox and Frankfort all run their own preschools. Many area churches also offer early education. Then there are daycares, home daycares, and secular private schools. All claim to provide a well-rounded, early childhood curriculum.
One private school in particular, in Orland Park, caught my attention and made me wish I had heard of it before.
The Mi Sol Montessori school on Southwest Highway is the only preschool within 25 miles to offer 3- to 5-year-old students Spanish immersion. Traditional classes (science, math, language and geography) are taught entirely in Spanish —and when students graduate they are “functionally fluent.”
“It's a three-year cycle,” said Alex Camarena, the Mi Sol administrator. The program is designed for children beginning at age three and continues through kindergarten. When they graduate, children are able to hold conversations in Spanish with a native speaker.
But even at age four, Camarena said, “they're still in that sensitive period of language,” and a child beginning a year later will also benefit from the program.
Classes at Mi Sol have a 10:1 student-to-teacher ratio, and all of the teachers are Montessori-certified, have four-year degrees and are native speakers of Spanish, Camarena said.
But language immersion may not be high on your priority list, and you may even be debating whether or not to send your child to preschool at all. It can be expensive, and it's not the law, but it could be an important stepping stone in your child's educational journey.
The New Lenox Park district works with schools to develop their preschool curriculum according to recreation coordinator Jean Petrow.
“We have met with District 122 to find out what they want the children to know when they get to kindergarten,” she said.
The park district's program is designed for kindergarten readiness, and milestones include first and last name recognition, letters, phone numbers, shapes and colors.
Petrow said that enrollment in one of the many programs available in the area is important because, “things have stepped up so much,” in recent years. She can see that it has because while she is the park district's preschool director, she also has a 17-year-old son.
“When he was in kindergarten they were learning colors," she said. "Now they are writing. They're starting a lot earlier and kids are expected to know more.”
But the biggest benefit she sees coming to children through preschool are the independence and social skills that the time away from parents promotes. She places the interaction preschool provides above academics.
“I think relationships are the most important things you can learn” she said.