Many children do two years of preschool before entering kindergarten, and enrolling your child when they are 3 can give you priority placement for a spot in the 4 year old class the next year. Most preschool programs require the children be at least 3 years old and potty trained, although there are a select few preschools in the area that will take a child that is not yet potty trained. (FYI: Mothers/Parents Day Out programs are typically for children younger than 3 and do not require them to be potty trained.)
First, consider if you want a play-based program or a more academic program. Many will blend aspects from both, but there are some that are strictly one or the other. I found this article helpful in exploring the differences and it has a great list of questions to ask at preschool tours.
- Play-based: children are encouraged to learn through play, which research has shown to be very effective in early childhood education.
- Academic: these programs are very focused on school-readiness, with lessons, worksheets/desk work and many assign homework as well.
Next, consider the types of preschool programs available in our area.
- Religious preschool programs: Catholic schools, Jewish programs and preschools in churches of pretty much every denomination can be found throughout the metro. Some offer discounts to members, so consider checking out the program at your house of worship.
- School district peer model programs: In Kansas, the Olathe, Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley and DeSoto districts have peer model preschool programs where neuro-typical peers are in the classroom alongside students that have been identified in need of services for various delays. Unlike some states, free preschool is not offered through the districts in KS/MO except to those students that have been identified for services (pricing varies by district). Some districts on the Missouri side of the state line offer limited peer model classrooms, but the program is not as widespread as it is on the Kansas side. If having your child be a peer model in one of these programs interests you, check out the early childhood education portion of your district’s website to see the requirements and application deadline. I have heard nothing but raves about these programs from many friends that enrolled their children as peer models. If a peer model program interests you but your family requires year-round care, you are in luck. Check out the program at Children’s TLC in Kansas City, MO.
- Head Start programs: These programs are government sponsored and meant to serve low-income families. You can learn more about Head Start here and locate a local Head Start program here.
- Daycare centers with a preschool component: If you need all day/year round care for your child, these programs are likely your best option. Most daycare centers have a preschool curriculum they use for children from ages 3-5. Some centers will subscribe to a specific philosophy/type (Montessori, Reggio-Emilia, play based, academic, etc). There are also some daycare centers that offer part-time preschool programs that don’t require enrollment in the full day program.
- Other preschool programs: In-home preschool programs (similar to in-home daycares, but with trained teachers and a preschool curriculum.) Homeschool preschool co-ops. Parks and recreation preschool programs (Johnson County has a really awesome Nature Play program in western Shawnee). Preschool programs run by local gymnastics centers (Pinnacle Gymnastics is one example.) Independent programs based on a specific preschool philosophy (Montessori, Waldorf, etc.)
Philosophies: (this is not a comprehensive list by any means but these are probably the most common types you’ll find in Kansas City).
- Montessori: This philosophy encourages the teachers to act as guides for each individual child as they learn at their own pace, through the work of play. Classrooms will often have a mixed age group of students. Children are encouraged to learn personal responsibility and how to do things themselves. Not all Montessori programs are true Montessori programs, so do your research and determine if enrolling in an accredited Montessori program is important to you.
- Reggio-Emilia: This philosophy is hard for me to summarize, so I turned to Wikipedia for a good synopsis: “The program is based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment based on the interests of the children through a self-guided curriculum.” Parental involvement in the child’s learning is also an important aspect of the philosophy.
- Waldorf: This is another play-based philosophy, and requires all teachers to be Waldorf certified. Structure and a predictable routine are part of the foundation of the program. Electronics/media are not used in the classroom, but you will find toys and costumes to encourage engaging in learning through music, art, dancing and drama. Another unique aspect of the Waldorf approach is that teachers will often stay with the same group of students (mixed ages) for several years in order to build a strong relationship with each child and stay engaged in their learning.
I know I just threw A LOT of information at you all at once, but I’m curious to hear what kind of preschool you chose for your family, and I know other Kansas City moms would appreciate a recommendation for a specific preschool program in the comments.