Unlike many European countries, the United States doesn’t provide universal access to early childhood education. Programs like Head Start and Bright Futures give some families access to publicly funded preschool, but most of us have to find ways to pay tuition if we want our three- and four-year-olds to attend school.
We’ll give you an overview of some of the preschool and pre-K options in Mt. Airy, and give you some pointers about things to look for.
Stay where you are
Last week we talked about day care, which is usually for children under the age of three. But most day care centers, including Mt. Airy mainstays like Childspace, Summit, and Preschool PLUS, offer preschool and pre-kindergarten classrooms as well as care for babies and toddlers. If your child is already enrolled in day care, the center's preschool program may be the best choice. The school is already part of the whole family’s routine, and if your kid is like most kids, transitions aren’t easy. If you work full time, sticking with your day care center for preschool is an easy way to make sure you have care until the end of your workday. Soon enough, when your child enters kindergarten, you’ll probably have to find an aftercare solution or cut back on your work hours, because unlike day care, school usually gets out at 3 p.m.
Reasons to make a change
If you already have an elementary school picked out, it might be worth moving your child early. Schools such as Greene Street Friends admit kindergarteners from their pre-K program before they take kids from other schools, so you might have an easier time getting a coveted slot for kindergarten if your child is already enrolled.
Many schools, such as Holy Cross Parish School on East Mt. Airy Avenue, Emlen, Henry, Khepera Charter School and Project Learn, don't admit children until they're five years old and ready for kindergarten. But Henry H. Houston School is the site of a Bright Futures preschool, which is run by the School District of Philadelphia's Office of Early Childhood. The program admits children who are 3 and 4 by September 1, and applications are available in the office at Houston, according to Houston principal Kim Newman, although she doesn't have oversight of the preschool program. Blair Christian Academy also offers preschool and pre-K.
There is no cooperative day care center in Mt. Airy, but there are two cooperative preschools. Because parent labor helps reduce the amount of paid staff the school must hire, tuition tends to be lower in cooperative schools. Many parents also find they like the extra involvement they get from co-oping.
The Big Backyard, in East Mt. Airy, is in the same building as Preschool PLUS. Named for its enormous outdoor area, the school is open to kids ages two-and-a-half to five. Parents work in the classroom, and also take on organizational jobs like leading fundraisers and summer programs.
The Cooperative Nursery School is on the grounds of the Unitarian Society of Germantown. The school has an unusual admissions policy that makes it more diverse than many other schools in the area. “While we generally admit children according to their date of application, we do make exceptions in order to maintain a gender balance as well as to insure racial/ethnic diversity,” CNS director Tracy Hagedorn said in an email. In other words, if the school has more boys than girls in a particular year, and you have a girl, your daughter will skip over boys on the waiting list. Parents work as teaching assistants, clean the school, and serve on the board of directors.
There are a number of other preschool options in and around Mt. Airy. The Waldorf School of Philadelphia, Germantown Montessori, and House at Pooh Corner all offer preschool programs with distinct pedagogical approaches.
If you’re concerned about academics, call three or four elementary schools you think you might consider. Ask the principal or admissions director which preschools their most recent batch of incoming kindergarteners came from—and which kids were the most kindergarten-ready.
But when it comes right down to it, academics may not be the most important thing for children this age. In all the preschools you visited, did any of them make you wish you were three years old again?
Send your kid there.
Editor’s note: Virginia C. McGuire’s son attended Summit Children’s Program, Childspace, and the Cooperative Nursery School.