Back to School: The Preschool Possibilities

You’ve surely heard stories about the competitive nature of preschool admissions in Manhattan. It seems that the competition hasn’t completely crossed the East River. If you didn’t enroll junior in a nursery school pre-birth, you didn’t miss the boat. There are still many amazing options in Queens for your preschooler. You’ll want to move soon though so you can thoroughly explore your options and avoid being too low on the waiting list, if any.


 Choosing a Nursery School

 

Quality

The accrediting agency for preschools is the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Unfortunately, the accreditation process is difficult and most providers are not accredited. In New York City, though, the Bureau of Child Care of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene regulates public and private child care providers. Click here for a list of group child care providers licensed by the city.

If you are considering a program, it is important that you visit the location, of course and keep an eye out for cleanliness, child proofing, nutrition, and general safety issues. You should also ask whether teachers have early childhood education degrees. In all cases, workers should be cleared to work with children through criminal background checks.

Another good way to gauge quality is to ask other parents about their experience at the school before you make a judgment. If you’re looking at a program at a school, speak with the Parent Association President or the Parent Coordinator.

Philosophy

There are a number of considerations in this category. One is the program’s school of thought, of which there are several. The main ones are Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, and High and Scope. The schools differ in the level of control the child has in the classroom, the level of structure of the environment, and class size. It’s worth studying the different types and seeing which one best suits your child’s character. While these schools of thought aren’t necessarily represented at schools in Queens, you can get an idea of some of the elements you’re looking for to match your child’s temperament and learning style.

Another type of philosophy you’ll want to look into is the school’s philosophy on discipline. This is particularly important with children of this age, since they are known for testing their boundaries constantly. Also, toddlers need consistency so you really need to be on-board with the type of discipline they subscribe to.

Schedule

One big difference between preschool and day care is the schedule. Most preschools function during limited hours and only certain days in the week, while day cares often accommodate the schedules of working parents. If you work, you will want to figure out if the programs you look at will accommodate your schedule. If the programs are only part-time, who will drop off and pick up your child? What arrangements will you make on off-days?

Special Needs

You know your little guy or gal’s learning needs and you know his or her physical limitations. It is important that you check these against what any preschool offers. What do they do for food allergies? Is the space wheelchair accessible? Does the program offer opportunities for all types of learners?

 

What’s Out There


Head Start and Subsidized Child Care

The Head Start program provides free early childhood education and wrap-around social services for low-income families in the city. As part of the program, parents receive help with their job search and are able to participate in a number of adult education opportunities. In order to be eligible, families must meet financial eligibility requirements. There are about 40 Head Start Centers in Queens. See NYS requirements . To find a center in your neighborhood, call 311 or check out the directory online.

The city also provides subsidized child care for qualified families with children between two months and 12 years of age. Child care is provided through contracts with approved centers and private home childcare providers. To find out if you’re eligible, use the online wizard. To find an eligible provider in your neighborhood, see the directory. Call 311 for more info on applying.

Public Pre-K

While many schools have pre-K programs, there are never enough slots to go around, especially for the full day programs. There are also some Universal Pre-K  programs at community-based organizations which qualify as Pre-K and are free. In order to be eligible for Pre-K, your child must be 4 years old by December 31 of the year he or she enrolls. Depending on the type of funding the program receives, there may be additional eligibility requirements such as an income cap. Also, if you are applying to a DOE program, there are zoning rules which may increase or decrease your child’s priority for admission. You can apply in person at the school or organization, your borough enrollment office, or online. The first round of enrollment takes place in the spring before school starts and the second round takes place in the summer. Call 311 to locate your zoned school or call your Pre-K borough director at 718-642-5871 to find a program for which you are eligible. Visit the DOE website for a pre-K program directory.

YM & YWHA Programs

Most YM & YWHAs offer some sort of Early Childhood Education programs starting with infants. The Central Queens Y has a nursery school program for 3 and 4 year olds, which offers a full day of activities. The Enrichment Program for 3 year olds is a half day program. They also have a Pre-K program with additional enrichment classes for 4 year olds. While all these programs are tuition-based (which includes family membership for the school year), they also have a free pre-k in partnership with the DOE. Their programs offer gym activities, music, and Hebrew programming, among other opportunities.

Family Day Care

Family Day Care is child care provided out of private homes by child care workers for infants and young children. These types of programs often have very flexible hours and sometimes have sliding scale prices. More than any other program, this type of childcare is often found by personal referral. One agency that offers referrals to licensed family day cares is the Jewish Child Care Association. With offices throughout the city, the JCCA, not only offers the referral but offers wrap-around services such as professional development for the workers and social services for families. For more information about their services, call their Queens office at (718) 575-7040.

Another option you may already making use of is private child care with friends and family. This is a long-term option that many parents use. This option may be free or low-cost. Some groups of parents get together and form a sort of co-op, where they take turns caring for each other’s kids one day a week, for example.

Cooperative Preschools

These programs require some level of parent participation. At Queensview Nursery School and Kindergarten in Astoria, lower tuition prices are balanced out with chores for parents. Moms and dads are expected to work at the school’s offices once every few weeks. They are also expected to serve on committees and to do maintenance work at the school. Working parents can fulfill their duties by working on special workdays. What a great opportunity to be fully immersed in your child’s education.

Church and Parochial School

Some churches have programming for preschoolers as do parochial schools. Rainbow Christian Preschool offers preschool programs for kids from 2 to 4 years of age including Nursery and Pre-K. Their curriculum is focused on hands-on learning through creative play. As a mission of St. Jacobus Evangelical Luther Church, they provide a Christ-centered atmosphere for their students. In their non-Universal Pre-K classrooms, they’re lessons include prayer, Bible teaching, Christian songs, chapel service, and regular visits by the church’s pastor. If religion is an important part of your life, or you want it to be, this type of school may be best for your son or daughter.

 

Who can help

 

Getting a Referral

There are several agencies that list preschools or day care centers.

The New York City Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) Consortium provides referrals to local child care providers. Call them at (888) 469-5999.

Early Care and Learning Council’s website provides information about what to look for in quality day care. It also lists local day care referral agencies.

The Office of Children and Family Services has a day care facility search function, which lists almost 2000 licensed options in Queens.

Greatschools.org provides reviews of nursery and pre-K programs as well as tips about enrolling.

 

Financial aid


Dependent Care Tax Credit

If you paid someone to care for your child so that you could work, you may be eligible to claim a tax credit on your taxes. In order to claim dependent care for your child, your child must be claimed as a dependent and be age 12 or younger. As with all tax matters, there are many rules governing this credit. Please refer to the IRS website for more information.

Dependent Care Plans

Many employers have programs where employees can set aside pre-tax dollars for child-care. You should speak with your employer’s human resources rep in order to talk through the benefits and drawbacks of this type of program. Check out the IRS for more information.

Scholarships

Some private schools may offer scholarships for eligible families. Make sure to include this as one of your questions.

 

The benefits of attending preschool are seen into adulthood—better communication and social skills, better critical thinking, etc. It follows that you’ll want to put a lot of thought into where your toddler goes before kindergarten. Happy researching!

 

Sandy Jimenez