My second child KG who is now 4 yrs and 5m old is going to preschool three half days a week. My son KB who is now 6 yrs and 3m old went to a preschool program offered by the city (two hours a day, four days a week) for age three and to a proper preschool for three half days a week when he was age four. He is now in first grade. I think back to what my perspective to preschool is after seeing him go through kindergarten and now first grade and having seen four different kind of preschools between the two children.
I find that at the end of the day, no matter what the reputation of the school is, it finally boils down to the teacher. Where I live, it is pretty hard to find spots in good preschools. And really am still not clear on how to find that perfect preschool. I sometimes wish I could just get early education credits and start a preschool that fits my requirements! Because I still have not come across a preschool that has all that I want. Either the school emphasizes academic learning too much or they do only play and have no emphasis on academic learning.
Parents who are both working have to send their children to day care anyway so it makes sense for them to spend a premium in terms of money and time in finding a really good preschool. If the child is going to be at school during most of his/her waking hours, then it is worth spending a lot of money on preschool. But after my experience with preschools I feel that if one parent is not working and does spend a good amount of quality time with the child, then preschool is necessary only so much. It helps to get used to being away from the parent, to get used to making friends without the parent guiding the process, to get used to authority (although I have a whole lot of thoughts about that part). From my perspective I find three half days a week more than enough. I did not choose that, it so happened that the tiny preschool that KB went to only had three half days open and the school KG now goes to had only one spot available when I applied and that was for three half days.
KG went to a play/developmental preschool at age three. Her teacher was a loving, charming and lively teacher. I was really happy with that school for age three. KG's teacher loved children. She would hug them, talk to them and would rarely yell at the kids. Their school had a great play yard and plenty of good play equipment. They read books to them but any ABC's she learned came from her learning at home. No writing ever. I felt there was always some chaos in the room because the children were playing a lot and I somehow felt at age four KG needed a little more focused play or quiet time. It so happened KB changed schools so I decided to change schools for KG also. I love Montessori materials and I like the activities that make children focus and do work quietly. But the problem with Montessori schools in our area is that they are way way too expensive esp considering that I am home with the kids and they don't "need" to spend time at school or day care. Nevertheless, I found a school that was somewhat affordable for four full days (9 to 3). Let's call this school M (for Montessori).
I had an uneasy feeling even when I toured school M because when I went to the pre-K classroom, the teacher did not look up or make eye contact with me or KG. She may have been busy with the kids but I still cannot understand why they cannot acknowledge us when they walk from one desk to another by just giving a half nod at least. When I initiated with a smile, she smiled back a little. Anyway, the director of the school was very good and the distance/cost/timing etc worked well and they were serious about "teaching" the kids a lot. In a way I was impressed by all that but I kind of brushed aside the discomfort I had with the how the class environment did not seem warm, esp the interaction between the teacher and students. When I took KG on the first day of school, we walked in at 9.00 a.m. (some of the kids walk in a line at 8.45 a.m. it seems). I was stunned that no one welcomed her or even looked at us. Two lead teachers and one assistant teacher. Every one was busy. One crying child fully occupied one teacher. I found it very strange. First day of school and no one to say hello to a child who is new to the class. Anyway I settled KG in and got her going on some activity and I left. She was OK when I picked her up. But at night the ranting started. KG who normally goes to sleep in a wink if she is tired would come from her bed to the living room five times or so worrying about school and constantly saying " I don't know what I am supposed to do!", "Ms.M gave Brandon a time out", "My lunch mat did not have any crumbs, why do I have to put a wet sponge on it?" etc etc. After about two weeks of this ranting, I finally went and spoke to the director. He was very understanding and he told the lead teacher Mrs.D to keep an eye on KG and "teach" her some of the Montessori activities since she was not familiar with some of them. Mrs.D was nice and did help KG through the adjustment for a bit. But the ranting still continued. And every day I found that the atmosphere was the same. Stern looks from the teachers towards the children. May be this is how a Montessori works, am not sure. But I have seen one other Montessori which is quite far from my house. There the teachers were very warm and nurturing towards the kids even if the activities were all the same as school M and the kids were still focused. It basically did not gel well with me because KG was sounding worried and hassled every night even though she did not cry when I dropped her. Towards the end of September, I started thinking about pulling her out. One morning KG said to me, "Mrs.M held my hand so tight, it hurt me. Why did she do that?". I asked her why she held her hand and what time of the day it happened. KG said, "She said that I had to say "Good Afternoon" to the kids. Why should I say it to the kids? They are not my teachers!". I don't know what really happened then, but what ever it was, this was the last straw. I did not want this kind of hand holding and being forced to say good afternoon etc in preschool. I had seen that teacher harshly plop a crying boy in the time out chair. I could believe she was capable of being a little rough with the children. I emailed the director that day and told him I would be pulling KG out of that school and that it was not working out. I found another play school near by with just 12 kids per class and the teacher was very warm and cheerful when we went to tour the place. She looked at KG and talked to her. That was important to me. I could only get a spot for three half days but I took it anyway.
I actually feel happy that I get to spend more time with KG. It does give me very little time to do anything for myself. But I still enjoy my time with KG. I am able to sit and read to her when KB is at school. I am able to take her to the library, to the farm market and so on. She reads simple bob books, does simple mental additions, does simple mazes or we play with her million hot wheel cars. I feel glad things turned out this way. KB went to pre-K only three half days a week. At that time, some of the Montessori kids were probably a tiny bit ahead of him in reading. They could read say level 1 books very comfortably but he had to read those slowly (when he was 4.5 yrs old). He then joined a Montessori for Kindergarten where only about 4 kids were from non Montessori preschools. KB had no problems keeping up with them and did very well in Kindergarten. He is now in first grade and has been placed in the advanced readers group after the assessment. In effect I feel that preschool is not an absolute must. It is good to send kids to preschool because it is fun to be around kids and play with age appropriate play equipment. But if the parent can spend a lot of time at home with the child and also take the child to city classes like "clay play" etc, that should be more than enough to cover all the bases. I personally feel/felt that for preschool age, it is most important to be with a loving and nurturing teacher. Without that I felt as if I was sending the child to some kind of juvenile prison where they have to obey rules or else! Children are so precious and innocent and they can be so easily manipulated or made to feel scared by people of authority. It is important they learn how to behave well but it is equally important as to how they are taught those rules. I may yell at my children at home but they know that they can voice their opinion back to me in equal measure. But with a teacher, they don't have that freedom. So the responsibility lies on the teacher to know where to draw the line when it comes to disciplining the children or in knowing how to do it. I am getting away changing schools because KG is only in preschool. My friend's child is in fourth grade and her teacher is rude and screams at the kids in the class. But at that age it is very hard to change schools. I am not looking forward to dealing with those situations. For now, I am happy with the way things turned out with KG's preschool. She is happy and hence I am happy !