As you all know, I am a mama to a 2.5 year old lil’ stinker. Being at home with her has afforded me the time to teach her many things, and read her so many books that I am pretty sure I could recite them from memory word for word. The one bad thing about being home with my lil’ pumpkin is that mommy has taken the role as best friend, and she hasn’t had tons of social time with other kiddos her age. I have started a couple playgroups, joined a couple, taken her to classes, as well as the playground, but her daddy and I thought it would be nice for her to have regular set interaction. Thus, the search for the perfect preschool began.
As many parents do, I picked up the first book on the subject of choosing a preschool. I had heard so many horror stories about getting into a preschool, wait lists, interviews, and applications, and to be completely honest, I was a little freaked out about starting the process. I read, How to Choose the Best Preschool for Your Child, and that book covered everything from the start of the search, through the tours and application process, and covers preparation for the first day of school (which I admittedly have not read yet – I must be in denial that my lil’ girl will be starting preschool this fall). If you are embarking on this journey, I would highly recommend this book.
After hours of research as to what our options were, I managed to narrow it down to 15 potential schools. Knowing that there was no way that we could visit this many preschools, I read, and re-read each website, and searched high and low for any reviews that we could find on these schools. After examining what we truly wanted from a preschool, how much we could afford on preschool, and location, we were able to narrow it down to 6 schools. Then the tours began. Below I will outline our opinion of each school that we visited.
1. Park Prep Academy – Located in Jersey City. They use the Bank Street Developmental Interaction Approach, and use a multi-aged classroom. They focus on engaging each student based on their development level, rather than on their age alone. They have a great student to teacher ratio at 4:1. They have a large classroom, with multiple stations for the children to work on different developmental skills, and the facilities were very clean. They have a doctor on site, a piano in the classroom that they use for music class, and weekly Spanish class, all included, in addition to their curriculum. They have different options for part time, as well as full time, and they encourage parent involvement. They do not require children to be potty trained coming in, and will aid in the process. The only down side is that they do not have their own private outdoor play area, though there is a community park across the street. Overall, a really great program and preschool.
2. Apple Montessori – Multiple locations. We checked out the Guttenburg location. Obviously, their teaching approach is Montessori. They had a good sized classroom, and it was very clean (as were the manipulatives). They have a good teacher to student ratio for a Montessori school, and offer enrichment programs, such as Fastrak. Fastrak is a program, at an additional cost, that covers subjects outside of the typical Montessori Program, such as art, astronomy, and geography. If you are looking for a long term program, they offer continued learning passed kindergarden. The children do not need to be potty trained, and they aid in the process. They offer part time and full options, and they invite the parents in four times a year. Only possible negative would be the extremely small outdoor play area, but if academics is your thing, then this place is great, and the small play area is not a big deal.
3. Green House Preschool – We checked out the Fort Lee location, but they are opening up a Ridgefield location this summer. Their teaching philosophy is a literature-based Reggio Emilia style, with all students being the same age in each class. There was a good teacher to student ratio (4-6:1), and a nice sized classroom. There were different stations that were teacher directed, but also had free play. They had a very large outdoor play space, and their own library. There is a large amount of parent participation, and being potty trained is not required. This preschool also has a lot of different options for part time , as well as full time schedules.
4. Little Learners – Located in Ridgefield. This preschool is owned by a Lutheran church, but does not teach religion in their curriculum. There is an optional bible story/songs class once a week that you can sign your child up for if that is of interest. The teacher to student ratio is average (about 1:8), and you pay by hourly bundles. It runs more like a daycare, than a preschool, and the classes are split up by age. The classroom itself is not very large, but they have their own library, and they offer piano lessons as an extracurricular activity. On the down side, they have a relatively small outside play area, with a very limited amount of things to play on. Also, in order to be in the preschool program, they do require children to be potty trained, so keep that in mind if you are looking into this school.
5. Hooks Lane School – Located in Fort Lee. This preschool has a play based curriculum, with a nice, private backyard, and a lot of things to play on. They had a variety of part time and full time schedule options, with all students being the same age in each class. The thing with this school that made it rank last on our list was the building set up in general. The building was a two story house, with most teaching being done on the bottom floor. Though they had a lot of things for the children to play with, the bottom floor was more like a basement apartment, with only two very small windows located close to the ceiling. Kids need to be exposed to a lot of light, and with the majority of their time being spent down there, this was definitely a negative. The upstairs room was a good size, with large windows letting in good light, but they only spend a small amount of time up there during the day for their more active play, such as dancing, and doing the parachute. There didn’t seem to be very good security for the building, but since it is in a suburban neighborhood community, maybe it is all that is needed. The student to teacher ratio was higher than others, being 9:1, and there was no extracurricular activities that were offered, except for computer class, which we personally are not fond of (though may be a positive for others – we may just be old fashioned). As for potty training, children are required to be potty trained before starting here.
6. The Young School – Located in Ridgefield. This school sounded like a good school, but it no longer exists. Green House School has taken over this building, and will be their Ridgefield location.
I will not say which school we decided on, but I hope that you have found this somewhat helpful if you are looking at schools in the Northern New Jersey area. I know I looked at as many review sites, and opinion sites, and hearing honest, first hand opinions were helpful to me in the narrowing down process. There were other great schools in the area that we would have looked at, but decided not to based on my daughter not being old enough in time (her birthday is in September), location (we don’t have a car), and price. No matter what your preferences are, make sure you take the time to check out your top choice preschools. It makes all the difference in deciding what school will be a perfect fit for your lil’ one. Good luck on your preschool journey.
Park Prep Academy – http://www.parkprepacademy.com/
Apple Montessori – http://www.applemontessorischools.com/locations_guttenberg.html
Green House Preschool – http://www.greenhousepre-school.com/home.nxg
Little Learners – http://www.littlelearners-ridgefield.com/
Hooks Lane School – http://www.hookslaneschool.com/home.htm