The day has arrived - far sooner than expected - that you need to start looking for kindergarten for your child. For whatever reason, you've determined that the local public school is either not up to par, or doesn't offer the depth and breadth of learning and extra-curricular activities you see as necessary. Charter schools, magnet schools - while these might be options, handing your child's educational future over to a lottery system hardly seems like the quality approach you want for your child. You may have heard glowing reports from other parents, friends and colleagues about this or that private school. So here you are, in search of the right private school. In Los Angeles for example, the pressures of protecting your children from the public school system due to its generally poor reputation and scare stories you may have heard, combined with the plethora of private school choices and their limited openings, make for a trying time for many families.
As a first step, parents need to answer some questions themselves, such as "Is it all about prestige, or is it about finding and getting accepted to the school that is best for your child?" Being frank with yourself about your child's prospects at any particular private school can be difficult, but will serve you better in the long run. Rather than applying to only the most "prestigious" schools, or, conversely, putting an application out to every private school in sight, consider getting the help of an educational consultant to help you examine your options and winnow them down to what appear to be the best options for you. Of course you have to be prepared to accept a professional's considered opinion, advice and assistance, every step of the way.
Introducing a variety of schools and winnowing down the final list is perhaps an advisor's most important function. Any educational consultant should help keep the process organized and make sure everything gets done and submitted well in advance of deadlines. There is no doubt that private school application essays should get a careful review and edit, but resist the temptation to have someone else write them for you. You want your application to 'read' the way you speak during your interview with the private school admissions representative.
When weighing your private school options, here are some key ideas to keep in mind:
The good news is that you will survive the private school admissions process. Fortunately the cliché is true: There is a great school for everyone, and things are going to work out just fine.
Many people come to L.A. School Scout for help in finding a preschool with available space – and without a 3 year waiting list. High quality Los Angeles preschools, especially on the Westside, are notorious for keeping families on waiting lists for years. Blame it on the “too many siblings” factor, blame it on the baby boom (four seems to be the new two), blame it on the lack of a sufficient number of spaces for the number of children out there in need of preschool – whatever it is, many of you will find yourself in the position of touring far too many schools, in the hopes of getting into one.
So my choice of a title for this article – “Choosing a Preschool in Los Angeles” – might seem puzzling. After all, it looks like the family is hoping to be chosen, and not the other way around. But just because L.A. preschools are in high demand does not mean that parents are powerless in having a say in what they want for their children. Just because a preschool or a particular educational philosophy might be popular one year does not mean that you should take everything in about the school without casting a critical eye. Instead, here are some tips on what to look for in any preschool – whether everyone you know thinks it is a highly desirable school or not.
A high-quality preschool program can help set your child on his or her way, including promoting kindergarten readiness. Hours, cost and convenience are important considerations, but what else is important? These tips can help you choose a preschool that fits your family.
While this is far from a comprehensive list of questions when touring preschools, looking at preschools with a critical eye will help you go far in your quest for the right school for your child.
What are the differences between a Developmental Kindergarten and regular full-day Kindergarten, and why would parents be interested in putting their child in a transitional kindergarten?
Developmental Kindergarten and Transitional Kindergarten are the same, and serve the same purpose, acting as a bridge for children who need the gift of time – time that is essential to become more confident as they move to the next level of academic achievement. Sometimes the gift of time is literal – they don’t quite fit the age cutoff for kindergarten, but have gotten all they can out of preschool.
A Developmental Kindergarten program has a comprehensive curriculum that meets the needs of the 5-year old child at a pace that has been adapted to best suit their abilities. As children acquire skills, they advance at their own individual pace to the next level.
Quite simply, DK is very similar to kindergarten, but it is for a child who is not quite ready for kindergarten. Children in DK will do a lot of the same things, but at a slower pace and with more individualized attention. Classes might be smaller, with a greater teacher:student ratio, allowing the teachers to do more experiential, or “hands on” activities. Students might have all the same special subjects as the other grades (P.E., music, art, library, computers), but the school day might end an hour or so earlier.
Does the work in DK differ significantly from Pre-K or Kindergarten? That often depends on the school. Ideally a DK program would have a more developmental curriculum, even in an academic environment, including more of an activity-based program, and functioning as preparation for kindergarten.
But the great gift of Transitional or Developmental Kindergarten is that it provides a way for children to enter the school environment at different levels of social-emotional and interpersonal maturity. And since children in K are expected to have longer attention spans and greater ability to concentrate, DK offers practice in these areas. There might be more one-to-one attention, for example, although in all good classrooms instruction should be differentiated for each child, according to individual needs, abilities and academic and social-emotional readiness.
Ideally, children would come out of preschool with many of the skills they will need for a successful kindergarten experience. In the real world, not all preschools are alike, nor do all children attend a preschool that will teach them these skills. Some children attend a pre-K, which might focus more on academics (pre-reading and pre-writing activities). So giving children a “bridge” year, or the “gift of time,” as some refer to it, is a way to get them used to going to school, but in a classroom setting that more closely resembles their preschool environment.
In thinking about the differences between Developmental Kindergarten and Kindergarten, we can look at three major areas of early childhood education: social development; attention and concentration; and individual attention.
In order to enhance social development, some of the social skills developed in a Developmental Kindergarten are:
While these behaviors are also the goal of preschool education, not all children reach the same level of maturity at the same time. And although clearly children in Kindergarten are still learning these skills (and will probably do that for the rest of their lives!), they will learn them at an increasingly advanced level.
Attention and Concentration
In their ability to pay attention and concentrate on the work at hand, children in Kindergarten are expected to be able to concentrate on an activity for longer periods of time than children in preschool or DK. Many children in Kindergarten will get homework of up to 15-20 minutes each day; it is rare that Developmental Kindergarten students are given that level of commitment and responsibility for homework. Developmental Kindergarten recognizes that children are at different levels of development, and may still need a rest period or nap time; this is not in Kindergarten.
Finally, there is a greater emphasis on one-one-one attention in DK, while there is often more group work in Kindergarten. While all good classroom teachers should be able to differentiate instruction for the level of the students in the class, children in Developmental Kindergarten may run the gamut from already reading to not reading at all. The teacher will give appropriate work and individual attention to each student at their own level. So, for example, reading in DK is taught individually according to each child’s needs and abilities, whether it involves sharing a book together or the child reading the text independently. Children in Kindergarten are usually taught reading in groups, whether it be in one formal classroom group or broken up into smaller groups. Ideally children in Kindergarten have the concentration and social skills necessary for small group reading lessons.
In looking at the differences between preschool, DK and Kindergarten, however, one area stands out over all, that is, that DK functions as a real transition between the child-centered curriculum of preschool, and the academic expectations of elementary school. In every sense, then, developmental kindergarten is a real gift to your child, allowing for more time to experience the joy of play-based learning, giving them the best of both worlds.