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HomeEducationSchoolHow Maryland preschools are meeting parents’ needs

How Maryland preschools are meeting parents’ needs


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Preschool options expanding

At St. Anne’s School in Annapolis, for example, parents have the option of having 2- to 5- year-olds attend school every day, or several days, depending on their schedules.

“We have a lot of flexible options,” says Lisa Nagel, head of school. “It’s what our community needed.”

The day typically ends at 11:30 a.m. for 2-year-olds, and noon for 3-year-olds. But parents can also chose to add an afternoon enrichment class, which includes lunch, rest and topics as varied as science and foreign languages.

St. Anne’s also offers before and after-care and allows families to enroll in programs some days, but not others. So, a preschooler might have an extended day one day to accommodate a parent’s work schedule, but have shorter days the rest of the week.

“What’s most important to today’s families is consistent, quality care,” says Nagel. “If a child stays with us until 6 p.m., the communication trail follows — how much lunch they ate, how long they napped… Those are the kind of details that parents want to know.”

Families’ schedules include many variables: late shifts, telecommuting, and help from relatives, such as grandparents.

In more affluent families, a parent might stay home, but still be able to send children to preschool class a few hours a day, a few days a week. Or, nannies may do the dropping-off and picking-up.

Ashbury Community Christian Preschool in Arnold has a before and after-care wrap-around. Only about 10 percent of students’ families (out of 200) use the option, says Vickie Whitley, the director.

More preschool academics

preschool7But even preschools with traditional hours are evolving in other ways, in part because kindergarten is more academic than it has been in the past when most were half-day programs.

“The 3-year-old program still focuses on the social and emotional aspects, but they’re also learning basic shapes, numbers, colors and problem-solving,” says Whitley. “For 4-year-olds, there’s a stronger academic piece… counting to 10, learning letters and sounds.”

It’s still fun, Whitley says, with the traditional free play, finger-painting and story time that have become the hallmarks of preschool.

Childcare or daycare centers, too, have responded by mixing learning through play and more academic preparation for full-day kindergarten. The main difference between a center and a preschool is the age of children — centers often take children as young as 6 weeks old — and how long the children stay.

A longer day will incorporate nap, meals and snacks, but if a school is accredited, they’ll be using an approved curriculum, weather they call themselves a childcare center or a preschool, says Willer.

“Our learning is throughout the day,” says Diana Chaffee, educational director at Cradlerock Children’s Center in Columbia, which offers full-time care for children 6 weeks to 5 years, and a part-time program for 3- and 4-year-olds.

Of course, not all daycare centers — or preschools — are created equal.

“It’s important to have a highly qualified staff,” says Dr. Francine Favretto, director of the Center for Young Children at the University of Maryland. “I’ve heard horror stories about lack of training and turn-over.”

At the university preschool, the teachers all have bachelor’s or master’s degrees in education, she says.

But beyond the preschool vs. daycare dilemma, there’s another decision facing families today — whether or not to enroll at all. Once you calculate the costs of child-care, some parents find that working (at least a traditional 9-to-5 job) doesn’t make financial sense. And if a parent is home, starting a preschool program may be delayed for financial reasons.

“There are typically waiting lists for preschools and daycares in this area,” says Carrie Springle, president of the board at Calvert Nursery School in Prince Frederick. “Not this year.”

The 3-year-old class at Calvert has openings for the first time in a long time, she says. This may be from a natural dip in the number of 3-year-olds in the area this year, but Springle has heard that many parents have opted for public school programs, and that others are delaying preschool until their child has turned 4.

Springle, a stay-at-home mother of two from St. Leonard, does some teaching at home with her young kids but she also sees the benefit to sending her kids to a quality preschool.

“The socialization of preschool is important,” she says. “Your children don’t listen to you the way they do to other people.”

Click here for tips for preparing your tot for preschool

Photos provided by St. Anne’s School in Annapolis

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