When I sent my daughter to nursery school, I wanted the most nurturing environment I could find. I chose a wonderful, progressive program in downtown Manhattan. A few years later, when we were interviewing uptown for a selective girl`s school, the admissions director told me that when my daughter would be interviewed there, they would test her. She would be expected to draw circles, squares, triangles and rectangles. My eyes opened wide in shock and I said, "But my daughter doesn`t know how to draw those!" She looked at my daughter`s file and said (rather snootily), "Oh yes, your daughter went to one of those downtown play schools." I was offended that she viewed the school I loved so much that way. But what could I do? Meanwhile, I ran into a neighbor who had sent her daughter to a fancy uptown traditional nursery school. She was applying her daughter to the same girl`s school. So I said to her, "Guess what! The kids are going to have to draw circles, squares, triangles and rectangles to get in." My neighbor said, "Oh, Erica can do that. They spent a whole month on a shape unit at her school." In fact, Erica had produced an entire shape book for every major shape (including diamonds!) during that unit.
So, when you choose a nursery school for your child, whichever type of school you choose, remember that at the end, there is a test if you want private school or a gifted program. Even if you send your child to a regular ol` public kindergarten, she will still be tested in the very early days for placement in slow, average and advanced ability groups. Some schools prepare kids for these tests and others don`t. Frankly, I probably would have chosen the same progressive school I chose no matter what because we loved it. But I wish I had understood from the beginning that there would be an important test at the end and if the nursery school didn`t prepare my child, I would have to. Here are the five most common types or philosophies of preschools you`ll see - Montessori, Progressive, Waldorf and Reggio Emilia. It doesn`t matter if you`re looking at a preschool in a church, temple, co-op, private or public program - they are all likely to have adopted one of these approaches to education. Montessori. Personally, I love Montessori schools and encourage you to tour one and see for yourself. Not only do kids learn a lot, but they are taught not to start a new project until they put the materials they were working on away. My daughter was always very messy and I have to wonder if she wouldn`t have been had I sent her to a Montessori school when she was very young. Marie Montessori started her schools in the early 20th Century as a way to train severely retarded children. The materials she created were so effective that they were later used with normally intelligent children. The goal of Montessori is to establish independence, self-esteem, and confidence in a child while fostering learning at his own pace.
In a Montessori classroom, the main interaction is between the child and the materials, not the teacher and the children. At first, the teacher demonstrates to the children the proper use of each set of materials. Then, the child can take the materials out, place them on a mat, and use them as the teacher taught her. When she is finished, she puts it away before starting another project. The emphasis is on self-directed learning. Once the teacher has demonstrated the use of the materials, children work on them individually or in small groups. With this level of individualized instruction, children with learning delays or who are gifted often do well in a Montessori classroom. The materials used in a Montessori classroom are built around three areas. 1) Practical life skills (folding shirts, tying shoelaces); 2) Sensory (handling geometric shapes, putting blocks into the right holes) and; 3) Language and mathematics (handling sandpaper letters and numbers, counting beads on a long chain). As you can imagine, children learn a great deal with this curriculum - numbers, letters, adding, subtracting, practical life skills, information and more. The Montessori classroom is usually very bright, warm and inviting. There are usually several learning centers where children can explore via hands-on, tactile materials.