How Do I Find the Best Preschool for My Three Year Old?

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Everything seems to happen so much faster today. While parents who went to kindergarten in the 1960s may have never even heard of preschool, today’s three, four, and five year olds are showing up at preschool ready to tackle more than just a fun social schedule. Before preschools became the step ahead that many families expect, kindergartners were allowed to come to school, spend time with friends, and, very often, leave by noon. Now that half day kindergarten options are few and far between, finding a good preschool to prepare children seems to be a goal for many families.
Choosing the best preschool is often a task that is very different for every family. Parents who are concerned about a strict attention to academics, for example, will look for settings that are focused on phonics, math skills, and, in some cases, an introduction to a foreign language.
Parents who are looking to focus on developing grit, a new focus of many educators, may be some of the same parents who are concerned about finding a good preschool with one of several unique approaches. Outdoor preschools, for example, incorporate free play in an outdoor setting whenever possible. Donned in full body raincoats on some days, these kids are encouraged to build their own shelters using natural materials and their imaginations. Always close to adult supervision, these outdoor students get to focus on the environment, while also completing academic activities.
Parents who are attempting to focus on the whole child may look for Waldorf or Montessori environments. In Montessori classrooms, for instance, even the youngest preschoolers are given opportunities to select their own “work.” Making choices from practical life, sensorial, math, language, and cultural, Montessori children are encouraged to make their own work choices, as well as follow a fairly specific routine for setting up materials and returning these materials when work is complete.
Research continues to show the benefits of preschool. For many Americans this can mean finding a good preschool can become a rather competitive contest. Look, for example, at the increasing numbers of students who are enrolled in both public and private preschool options:

  • 33% of three year olds were enrolled in preprimary programs in 1990
  • 56% of four year olds were enrolled in preprimary programs in 1990
  • 41% of three year olds were enrolled in preprimary programs in 2012
  • 66% of four year olds were enrolled in preprimary programs in 2012

Fast forward from 2012 to today, and the latest preschool enrollment numbers indicate that more than 5 million American children attend some kind of academic preschool before ever attending kindergarten.
What were you doing when you were three or four years old? If you are in your 50s or older, chances are that your “education” before kindergarten was simply learning to do what an older sibling demanded. In today’s competitive educational society, however, it is becoming more and more apparent that finding a good preschool is not just a luxury, but a necessity.