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    Categories: Lifestyle

Early decisions key for kids

The kindergarten and pre-school staff from Vital Grandin Catholic Elementary School

Your baby is getting bigger. And in the blink of an eye, it’ll be time to send that busy youngster onto the school bus or be dropped off with a snack and a hug. Whether we parents are ready to let go of our little baby is one thing, but once we pull ourselves together, there’s much to consider – a school-site preschool, or private facility? English track, French immersion, Cogito or faith-based? Literacy or play-focused?

Educators agree, all these considerations should be preceded by school readiness. Lois Gluck, supervisor of curricular services K-12 at St. Albert Public Schools, said children turning five by March, 2015 can attend full or half-day kindergarten at any of the district’s schools, and she recommends starting with an open house visit to schools of interest over the next couple of months.

“Do the preparation work – have immunizations up-to-date, get hearing and eyes checked, and have your child independent in toileting and dressing,” said Gluck. “Then look at their social and emotional maturity. Parents say ‘my child can count to 20’ or ‘she knows the alphabet’, but how does the child play with others?”

At either school division, half or full day kindergarten can familiarize a child with a specific school, its routines and expectations, though full days may be a lot for some children to manage. There is a monthly fee for the all-day route, too.

“Parents know their child best ,” Gluck said. “Above all, you want your child to be successful and happy at school. We’re fortunate to have two districts that serve children well in St. Albert.”

At Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools (GSACRD), all programs are faith-based in English or French immersion tracks, though some parents think ahead about schools with sports academy programs (dance, soccer, hockey). Three schools in the division have preschools, which offer the benefit of early intervention if help is needed with speech, language or physical challenges.

The district’s longest-running preschool is at Vital Grandin Catholic Elementary School, offering morning and afternoon half days with small classes and a mix of community children and those needing supports.

“For kids with significant challenges, the preschool is a great resource. Small classes with highly qualified staff makes for a rich learning environment,” said GSACRD early learning consultant Kate Watt. “We encourage independence, but we meet kids wherever they’re at.”

St. Albert parent Greg Rainer, who’s now planning school for his four-year-old daughter, said it’s a big decision. “I’m thinking of the sport academy at Albert Lacombe. We watch what the kids like doing at home and try to find the best fit for them in a school,” he said.

At the preschool level, it’s all about a parent trusting their gut, according to Ashley Priestley, co-owner of Pollywogs to Leaping Frogs Preschool. The long-established facility offers two or three times per week attendance for kids aged 2 to 5 for fees of about $135 a week.

“Lots of first-time parents don’t know you have to think about fall attendance in January,” said Priestley. “There’s play-based and literacy-based schools, but ultimately, parents choose for convenience, and whether they trust who they’re leaving their kids with.”

Like most all preschools, Pollywogs to Leaping Frogs requires children to be toilet-trained and independent with dressing and eating. The school has a balanced program of learning and playing that follows the school calendar. “It’s kindergarten readiness, definitely,” added Priestley. “Kids learn to explore and build confidence. It’s a great first step.”

Lucy Haines: Lucy Haines has been a freelancer writer for the St. Albert Gazette since 2012. She writes features on travel, food, seniors, homes and gardens.