Stimulate Your Child’s Curiosity

2006 JULY – DAILY CAMERA – Archived

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Daily Camera – Boulder, Colorado

Picking a Preschool

Finding the right one can be challenging, but trusting your instincts can help

By Cindy Sutter, Camera Staff Writer
July 29, 2006

When Karen Romeo decided to look for a preschool for her two youngest children, she went visiting.

“I looked around and walking in on eight different preschools in the area,” she says. “I … sat anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes. You get a real clear sense of the big general things, the big, general things, whether it seems hyper and noisy as all getout, whether it seems calm, whether the kids are lethargic or engaged. Certainly how the teacher responds to the kids, what kind of communications are going on, how often the kids move from play activity to play activity.”

Romeo’s strategy is a sound one, experts say. After you’ve asked questions about the basics: teacher qualifications, teacher-to-child ratios and staff turnover, curriculum and philosophy, observation can tell you much of what you need to know.

“It’s a very helpful part of the process,” says Alan Simpson, spokesman for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, an agency that accredits preschools and day care centers. “It will be an important part of whether this feels like the right program for your children. The program should feel really warm and welcoming and inviting for young children.”

Romeo ended up choosing Sunflower Preschool, a Montessori-based school with an emphasis on science and the outdoors, that has been operating for 25 years.

“It wasn’t too wild. It wasn’t too low-key,” Romeo says. “I loved that fact that unless it’s really severe weather, they eat outside every day for lunch. I think in this day and age, some of us don’t get as much time outside with our kids as we’d like. We can’t go stand in the front yard with them for three or four hours. I want them to get as much time outside as we did as kids.”

Debra King Ellman, owner of Sunflower, says the natural world is a focus for the school.

“We give children the opportunity to explore the environment, to be outside, to learn about plants and native animals.”

Whatever parents are looking for in a school, she advises them to take their time and ask a lot of questions.

“I tell parents who want to sign up quickly. ‘Look around. Slow down a bit. Look at a variety of preschools.’ I want them to make sure it’s a good fit for them as well as their child.”

While there’s no hard and fast definition, preschools are generally part-time, while day care centers offer full-time care. Preschools often place a greater emphasis on academics, although some day cares emphasize learning, as well.

Parents should ask the preschool director about the center’s learning philosophy and what skills will be emphasized.

At Sunflower, for example, academics play a key role. The school is accredited by the NAEYC, which emphasizes appropriate learning for children of different ages. But Ellman believes social skills are even more important for young children.

“It’s the biggest preparation for kindergarten,” she says. “If a child is very shy or … very immature and not able to share, when he gets to kindergarten it’s going to be very rough. It doesn’t matter if he’s reading at a first grade level. We’re big on curriculum at Sunflower (but) I look at it as icing on the cake. The most important thing is social and emotional skills and a safe environment, because they are so very young.”

That said, the center sets goals for every child to be able to write his or her name and know letters and numbers.

“I like to say to parents, ‘Our goal is for you child to thrive in kindergarten, not just survive.'” Ellman says. At the preschool, in keeping with its Montessori base, children are self-directed, choosing from a math area or language area, for example, rather than receiving direct instruction as a class, Ellman says.

Romeo says it’s important for a preschool to be a good fit for the children and for the parents.

“(You should be) making so sure that the preschool style really goes right along with your parenting style,” she says.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Cindy Sutter at (303) 473-1335 or

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