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Chicago offers many preschool options to fit families’ needs

More and more parents are choosing to enroll their children in preschool, but choosing the right preschool for your child is key, educators say.

“Preschool programs provide the foundation of a child’s educational experience,” says Andrew Slater, head of the lower school for GEMS World Academy-Chicago. “It helps them learn how to learn. How to be a part of a social group, learn what school is, and learn how to manage themselves within a broader context and community.”

Good preschool programs provide kids with the opportunity to explore and get out into the world, he says.

GEMS currently has a junior-kindergarten through sixth-grade program, but it is researching expanding services to even younger students.

Jenni Sorenson, community resource director at Lincoln Park Preschool and Kindergarten in Chicago, says high-quality preschools equip children with the skills they need to be invested, life-long learners.

“A safe, nurturing preschool will foster curiosity, develop problem-solving skills, empathy, self-confidence, literacy skills and joy in discovery,” Sorenson says. “Armed with these skills, children are prepared to continue to advance their learning and participate in their communities.”

She says having a strong sense of community is a central component at her school.

“Our Preschool Together and Read, Sing & Play classes serve to bring our curriculum to life for children as well as their parents,” she says. “Parent discussion nights, family events and dropping off and picking up from the classroom establish trust and collaboration with our families. Art and literacy partnerships throughout the city are opportunities for LPP to share and strengthen the resources of fellow education programs.”

Benjamin Hebebrand, head of school for Quest Academy, says his school has developed a program for 3-year-olds through pre-kindergarten that addresses the needs of the whole child: social, emotional, creative and intellectual.

“Being a school that meets the needs of gifted children, our early childhood curriculum is based on a highly inquisitive approach,” he says.

“Designed with the idea of allowing children to grasp basic concepts, our teachers first emphasize higher-order connections and patterns to foster each child’s curiosity, and secondarily emphasize specific academic skills that strengthen those conceptual understandings.”

Karen Palmer, on-site owner of the Goddard School in Hawthorn Woods, says her school has a play-based learning program that relies on a strong collaboration with parents.

“Making learning fun is at the core of our program,” Palmer says. “Each day children select activities and materials to explore and discover in an imaginative and creative way. We intentionally guide and extend the children’s play to ensure key developmental milestones are achieved across several learning domains.”

The ultimate goal is to raise happy, confident learners, she says.

Lila Jokanovic, directress of the Children’s House classroom at Council Oak Montessori School in Chicago, is head of the classroom that serves 3- to 6-year-olds. She says parents first must identify what they want their child to take away from the preschool experience.

“Some parents want their children to be world citizens, leaders and change-makers,” she says. “Other parents are more specific: they want their child to learn how to count to 100 and know their sight words.”

As a parent, she says, reflecting on your personal beliefs of education and childhood is important because a parent’s involvement in their child’s preschool is essential for success.

Jokanovic says a preschool classroom should be uncluttered, clean and easy to move around.

Parents also should know how discipline is handled and know what types of work the children will be doing.

Most important, however, is how a child reacts to the classroom.

“Are the children happy and engaged in their work?” she says.

Jill Due, director of admission at Catherine Cook School in Chicago, says parents should research the school, determine the student-teacher ratio and visit before deciding where to send their child.

Parents also should decide if their child needs a full-day or half-day program.

“Visiting a school is the best way for parents to know if it is a fit for their family. Your instincts will let you know if it feels right to you,” she says. “Also, talking to current families of the school and reviewing a school’s website can give one insight into the school community.”

Part of Making the Grade, a special advertising education guide.

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