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Preschool to kindergarden: When Skills Emerge

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Preschoolers are absorbent sponges with a natural love of learning. At this age, children are often developing their personal learning styles and preferred ways of discovering the world. Some are more tactile, others more visual or auditory.

These are also the years of emerging academic skills as youngsters start to acquire early reading and writing skills.

Expanding the Horizons of Preschoolers

Small class sizes and increased focused on language and the arts. These are some of the reasons that Stacey enrolled her son Cole into a private school in junior kindergarten after her family moved to the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.

"Cole had French every day in JK and he'll start taking Spanish in Grade 1 or Grade 2," says Stacey, describing what appealed to her about sending him for kindergarten to Glenfir School in Summerland, B.C. "Music is also a big component at the school and I think they do it every day."

"It's gearing children to be well rounded right from the beginning," Stacey says.

Her younger daughter Kate will be joining Cole at the school as she enters JK.

"We have friends that take a huge family holiday every year, but I would rather invest the money in my children's education every day."

Still, Stacey says she doesn't see private education as the "be all and the end all. You can't just put your children in a private school and think they are going to take care of everything. You need to be very involved wherever they go to school."

"It's just that we all want to give our children the best start we can and I think we're doing that at a private school," she says.

Giving preschoolers a head start

From the ages of three-and-a-half to six, Sarah Graves has watched her daughter blossom into a confident and self-assured learner. Sending her child to the Casa program, aimed at preschoolers, at Bannockburn Montessori school, in Toronto, Ontario, is one of the best decisions she has made, Sarah says.

"I've seen her transition from being the youngest child, modeling herself on the older kids, to taking on a leadership role in the group," Sarah says. "My daughter has flourished under a system that begins with a great deal of structure and then allows a child freedom to make choices."

Sarah believes her child is much further ahead than if she had enrolled her in a regular kindergarten at age four in the public system. "I'm thrilled with the foundation she has received from Montessori," Sarah says.

Likewise, Johann Cy had a positive experience when he sent his daughter Hanna to a similar private preschool program at a Montessori school in Mississauga, Ontario. "My daughter absorbed a lot and very quickly. She was assessed as intellectually gifted and she thrived in this strong private preschool learning environment," Johann says. "It brings more out of the child." Hanna remained in private school until she completed Grade 3, when family circumstances led to her parents sending her to a public school in Grade 4. "She was really, really bored at her public school. She was excited about learning at her private school."

Johann says he and his wife decided to make sacrifices and enrolled Hanna in Grade 5 at St. Jude's Academy, a private day school in Mississauga, Ontario. She is once again thriving. "From our experience, I would say to send a child to private school right from preK. It gives them an advantage from the get-go," Johann says. "To build a strong house you have to start with a strong foundation."

Making the most of the years before five

Nela Muzzatti, a mother of two young children, took to heart the saying "The years before five last a lifetime." It was key to her decision to enrol her daughter Danielle into a Montessori school at the age of two and her son Michael, when he was 18 months.

"They are just absorbing everything around them at that point. They are natural learners," she says. "Nearly four years old, my daughter knows letter sounds and can read small words." She thinks her children's early exposure to a school environment has been a definite plus. "It's given them a head start. It's going to give them an advantage in the future."

Although Nela is a junior kindergarten teacher in the public system, she and her husband have made the decision to keep their two children in private schools at least during their elementary years.

"I know first-hand what it's like to have a 20-to-1 ratio with four-year-old children," Nela says. "I know how difficult it is for teachers to scramble to give attention to all the kids. But you teach to a general curriculum and there isn't much opportunity, for example, to extend the curriculum to meet the needs of a student who is more advanced."

Nela would like her own children to benefit from the smaller class sizes that private schools have to offer. "I think this is particularly important in the younger years."

Does she foresee her children still attending a private school all the way through to high school? "It's hard to say. It's so much money. But as long as we can do it, we'll probably keep them in a private school," Nela says.


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