Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Day Care versus K4

Well, we have come to that point in Grace's life when it is time to start thinking about her future schooling. Believe it or not, my little girl actually has the nerve to keep growing up, so I might as well face it and try and prepare her the best I can.

When Grace and I moved to Milwaukee to be with Aaron, the initial plan was for the three of us to live in Aaron's house for about a year or so, and when the time came for Grace to start attending kindergarten, we would move out to the 'burbs. Milwaukee Public Schools in general don't have the greatest reputation in the world, so we were planning to move out of the city so Grace could attend a school in a nearby district.

Now that Grace and I have been here for a while and are putting down roots in our neighborhood (which I LOVE), Aaron and I have decided to stay in the city for a while. I have done some research into Milwaukee Public Schools, and yes, like any other large city, there are plenty of schools in our district that I wouldn't dream of allowing Grace to attend. However, there are also an abundance of schools, including our neighborhood schools, that are excellent, award-winning learning centers. I am also fortunate enough to have friends that have both taught in MPS and were MPS students, and I have gotten tons of great information from them about the district and about some of the specific schools in our area.

Grace has been in day care since she was six weeks old because I have needed to work full time. The day care she attends right now is fantastic--Grace absolutely loves it, she's learning tons of stuff, she is coming out of her shell more and more each day, the rates are reasonable, class sizes are small, and it's less than a mile from our home. The center's administrator has a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education and 25 years of experience at this facility, and it shows. The curriculum is organized, challenging, and balanced. The children clearly flourish there, and it is apparent that the teachers truly enjoy their work and care for the kids. I couldn't have asked for a better environment for Grace.

I had planned to keep her in this day care until kindergarten, but recently I have been weighing the idea of enrolling her in the K4 program that our neighborhood elementary school offers. The attractive thing about the K4 program is that, starting at age four, there is more exposure to the "academic" side of things and there is a real focus on preparing kids for school. And, our neighborhood elementary school is actually a specialty school, concentrating on Arts and Humanities. Being that Grace is an artsy kid, I think that building on that interest and providing her opportunities to learn more would serve her well. This particular school has received honors from the state for their programs and word of mouth from some of the parents whose younger kids attend Grace's day care along with lots of research tells me that this particular school is one of the best in the district.

The other reason why I am seriously considering enrolling Grace in K4 is a letter we received recently from Grace's day care. In the letter, the administrator clearly states that the center's focus is shifting from a "preschool" type of environment to an "infant, toddler, and older toddler" program. Red flag. It is true that many of the center's families enroll their children in the K4 so there aren't an abundance of four-year-olds in the center (in fact, there are only a handful), and this shift in focus shows me that the center is responding to that fact. I understand where they are coming from--they have to tailor their program to work for the majority of the kids--but I'm more than a little concerned about what will happen to Grace if I keep her in this center next year and she becomes one of the only four-year-olds there. Will she be blended in with the younger kids? Will she continue to be challenged? Will keeping her in this center help to prepare her for kindergarten?

She loves this day care center, and so do I, but I need to weigh these issues. I want Grace to be prepared and to have all of the opportunities that she can to gain knowledge. I also want her to be in an environment where she feels comfortable enough to flourish. Transition has not always been something Grace has handled well...she's like her mommy in that respect. I am touring our neighborhood elementary school the first week in January and enrollment time comes right after that, so I'm going to have to make a decision pretty quickly. Looks like some late nights pacing the floor and doing internet research are in store for me.


Carrie said...

Hi Sara!

I just clicked over to your blog to see what's shakin, and here you're talking about one of my favorite topics -- preschool!

Here's my 2 cents: She is, of course, going to have to leave her daycare for kindergarten eventually anyway. And going to the preK program at her future elementary school will probably help ease that eventual transition.

I'm not a huge fan of all the academics they shove at kids in early childhood programs these days, but at least if she's at the school they'll know exactly what she's heading for in kindergarten and prepare her for that. Also, there's the issue of meeting kids who will be her future classmates. That was one of the big reasons I put Nutmeg in our neighborhood park's preschool.