Sunday, March 20, 2011

The preschools tour

Well, I guess I never thought this time will come so quickly and it did. It was time to look for a preschool for our son. He's 19 months right now and we would like to start something short from 2-3 years old and, like a transition phase, then move towards 5 days/ week, half a day kind of thing.

But where to start? Especially in a city as big as LA? What to look for? What do we actually want in a preschool?

We knew for sure we didn't want strictly day care. For us, it's not important how long the hours are but what he learns and discovers in those hours. I don't want to get back to work yet (yes, it's a choice and I'm happy we can afford to do it) so finding a place to take care of him was not an issue.

We knew we didn't want huge preschools that were also elementary schools; the kind that starts at 2 y.o. and go all the way through 5th grade or 8th. We just didn't feel we'd want to decide for such a long term, as they say, one step at a time, plus we just wanted a very cozy, comfy feeling, just like he would go from our house to a bigger house full of kids and big playground.

We wanted a place where our son would learn through play (it's the best way for his age), and through discovery, where his creativity would be nourished and challenged, where he would have the freedom to roam with older kids and learn from them.

And again, where do you start your search?

Well, the first thing we did was to buy The Whitney Guide. It is truly a vey good point to start with. It has a good selection of preschools from all zones of Los Angeles and it's very well written, pointing out the questions and answers a parent should get. Plus rating the schools was an amazing tool to have an idea about that establishment.

After we read the guide, we started making a list with the pre-schools we wanted to visit (the ones which  came close in the philosophy and curriculum we've wanted and also the ones near to the place we are living).

I called each and every school we wanted to tour and set up appointments over the course of a month and a half (February through March).  One recommendation would be to start sooner as some schools have a very long waiting list.

And here's our journey.
First, I'll list the pre-schools in the order we toured them:

1. The Country school- is situated in North Hollywood. Their philosophy is: "all children should be given the opportunity to grow socially, emotionally and cognitively in a supportive, nurturing environment at their own pace". You can enroll your little one of he's 2 y.o., but first you will go through a transition phase where you would come with your toddler and stay with him and then gradually move away from him.
We loved the layout of the school and the outdoor space. The preschool classes are well appointed and the kids seemed genuinely happy and interactive with each other. The teachers were interactive very well with the kids. We loved they had a music room and the opportunity for the kids to learn other languages. They also have a library and a science class in the campus.

We didn't like that much that it was on the larger size of what we were looking. Here, kids can go til' 8th grade if you want them , too, so the campus seemed a bit too big for a toddler and too small for having all these different age categories together (although the outdoors space is set up for each age group).
The tuition is on the higher end, as well. They are not a year round school, so basically you would have to pay starting from $9,300/year for 3 days a week and going up to $16,720/year for Pre-K.
I don't want to be mean or judgmental  but when you ask this kind of money you expect the BEST of the BEST, the Sorbonne of the preschools and Country School does not fall in that category.

If I would give them stars ( * - being WORST and *****- being BEST ) I would give them ***.

2. A,B,C Little School - situated in Sherman Oaks. Their philosophy  is "on the Whole Child". Well, A,B,C Little School is a clean school. That's the first thing that stroke me to the chore. Everything is very well taken care of, organized and put in place. The outdoors space is not too grate; they are like 3 different play areas for 3 different category of kids, but no green or sand space what so ever. I didn't get the feeling that kids are too creative or challenged to be creative. It was more like a " laisser faire" kind of feeling.  It's a year round schools and the tuition starts at $155/week (for 2 days/week) and can go up to $195/ week (for 5 full days).

For us, it did not bring anything we were interested in, except for being clean and well appointed.
Stars ranking: **

3. A,B.C Little Schools - I know it's confusing. It's not the same one, but as far as I understood, the owners of the schools are in the same family, that's why they kept the same names. Anyway, this preschool is situated in the Studio City area but they have some other branches.
The same kind of vibe and attitude as the one above but far more dated. Tuition about the same as the one I've mentioned above.
Overall impression: not so good.
Stars  ranking: *

4. The Doheny School (they don't have a website)- is situated in West Hollywood. Their philosophy : "Only a secure child learns at a pace approaching his full potential." The moment we stepped in the school, we were welcomed by a bunch of happy kids working like busy bees around the tables. Then, Paula Carter, the director, came and showed us the school. And let me tell you, she knows exactly how to win you over. The size of the school is just perfect: 3 class rooms and a very nice backyard with a transformed garage that serves as an arts and crafts workshop. The kids interact with each other and we loved the multicolored, multi cultural diversity. It gave you the feeling that yes, we can live in peace and harmony.
The tuition is quite acceptable: it starts from $650/ month for 3 half days and it can go to $985/ month for 5 full days and it is a year round school.

We loved it, loved it, loved it!! In fact, we even put an application! See what will happen!

Stars ranking: *****

5. Chalk Preschool - is situated in the Westwood area. It's a pretty new preschool, they've opened it one year and half ago. And by being a new school, it comes with those benefits: bright newly painted walls, fun and colorful designs, everything is clean and organized. The outdoor space is quite acceptable and fun.
Overall, it seemed a nice place where kids and teachers interacted very well together and the stuff is very nice and helpful.
We didn't like the fact that it seemed different age kids would not interact too much with each other : the twos would be outdoors only with the twos etc.

Stars ranking: ****

6. The Caterpillar cottage - is located in the Encino area. It's a home based kind of preschool for the moment but its founder, Heather, is absolutely an unbelievable teacher. She's started as a Montessori preschool teacher and after obtaining her Bachelor's degree, she spent eight years of work as an early education researcher and program evaluator. Her house that became the Caterpillar cottage is fun, well organized and kids are really, truly unbelievable happy and thriving.
Her approach of intentionally mixing 2/1/2 y.o with 3 and 4 years old makes this place even more special as the little kids have a leader to follow and the older kids have the opportunity to be responsible and take care of the smaller ones.

Stars ranking: ****

7. The Pinecrest preschool - the one we've visited is situated in the Van Nuys area. Mostly, I was not impressed by anything they showed me. I believe if you're actually looking for a little more than daycare but we the emphasis on the daycare aspect, then probably, this would be a good fit for you.

8. The children's circle nursery - for some bizarre reason, we've scheduled to tour this preschool at the end of our list. And good thing, we did. It gave us the chance to appreciate it even more. When we got to the Children's circle nursery, it was around 9:30 am and all the kids were outside playing. And what an amazing place to play in. Absolutely the best play area I've seen so far in a preschool! The kids were filled with joy, genuinely happy, thrilled with happiness and full of creativity.
Tim, the director of the school, told us that "infants and toddlers learn best by doing rather than by being shown or told. And at Children's circle " we do not so much "teach" them as we help them to learn."
And I believe another's parent review about this place tells it even better:

"If you believe that pre-school should be all about academics, this isn't the place for you. CCNS is a developmental pre-school teaching kids how to communicate and how to work as part of a community and I couldn't imagine a better education for a 3 - 6 year old. The classes are mixed ages so the little ones learn from the older ones and the older ones learn how to deal with the little ones. It's an amazing community and feel very lucky to have had a chance to be a part of it personally and for my child. "

After watching the kids at play, we had the chance to go in the classroom and watch them being creative in a circle time or drawing pictures, building farms etc. There was this unbelievable connection between the kids and teachers that just felt so natural and right.
All in all, it just seemed the right fir for our son's personality and our philosophy about how we would like the school for our kids to be.  Can't wait for him to be a part of that amazing world.

Stars ranking: *****

Well, my friends, this is our journey. I hope my post will help future parents who will start their journey into the world of preschools. :)

1 comment:

  1. Pre School is one of the best choice we have made for them as they love going to school. It is a wonderful experience for kids. Preschool is good for kids. Thanks for sharing the Post.Nursery School In Chennai


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