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Monday, April 22

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It's 2am and you wake in a cold sweat. What has woken you? You do a mental checklist. Lights? Off. Dog? Inside. Internet bill? PAID. Thank God! So what is it that's haunting you, even in your sleep? Then you remember the source of your anxiety -- your baby will one day go to college, which means she'll have to go to a great high school and she can only get into a great high school if she have a good elementary school and to obtain that you must get your foot in the door in a kick-ass preschool. Ack! Or perhaps you are thinking of the here and now and simply want to have a head's up on their education and wonder if you'll make the right choice. Either way, the time to begin planning your 2- or-3-year-olds' first educational step is now.

Where do you begin? You may think, "How much can one preschool differ from another?" After all, there are only so many ways you can take a nap or stack a block. Or are there? Like high school, there are two main choices for preschool: public and private, and within private preschool choices are the subcategories of religious, non-sectarian and different educational philosophies (e.g. Waldorf and Montessori). Among those choices, you are bound to find a few that are good matches for your child and you.

One of the first things you may want to decide is if you'll be looking into a private or public school. If you are going the private school route, you may want to tour the prospective school or attend an open house. Almost all schools offer a tour or open house of the grounds in which prospective parents have the chance to meet admissions staff and ask questions about the school. Some schools offer only tours, while others only open houses; the difference between a tour and an open house is that an open house will usually show you the facility and present a talk about the program, while a tour will take you through the school while class is in session. Once you attend a tour or open house you can narrow your choices down, and by seeing the school and students in action you will have a better idea if it is an environment suited to your child. Deadline applications for the majority of the private schools is in December or January, so be sure to apply and/or visit in a timely manner.

Afraid to give Chicago Public Schools a shot? Think again. They're wonderful. Many of the CPS preschools are on par with the standards and guidelines of The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). NAEYC-accredited programs are popping up all over CPS preschool programs, in both the free programs and tuition-based preschool programs. Programs with NAEYC approval are held to higher standards than programs that are merely licensed by the city or state. Additionally, they have a low student/teacher ratio for a more intimate setting. The Illinois Office of Early Childhood Education is also involved with these schools and is dedicated to the emotional, social and creative preparation of children in their schools, so you know your child is getting a great educational start.

In beginning your preschool search, here are a few definitions to aid you along the way:

Montessori -- A Montessori education is founded on the philosophy of Italian physician, Maria Montessori. The philosophy stresses the importance of early childhood education and focuses on a child's natural desire to learn. The Montessori classroom is designed for a three year age mix (three to six, six to nine, and nine to twelve) which allows for both individual and social development, as well as the younger children learning from the older. The role of a Montessori teacher is to be more of an observer than a direct instructor to the child. Special learning materials, known as "Didactic Apparatus," are used in the classrooms.

NAEYC -- Founded in 1926, the National Association for the Education of Young Children is a governing body which presents standards and guidelines for preschools across the country. The NAEYC's goal is to improve the quality of education for children from birth through 8. The NAEYC provides many schools with certification and resources to improve the conditions and practices of early childhood education in their schools.

Waldorf -- The Waldorf approach to education was developed in 1919 by Austrian educator, artist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner. The Waldorf philosophy addresses the needs of the child by educating the whole child: the mind, heart, body and soul via imaginative play, imitation and developing a sense of wonder for all living things. Children's imaginations are nurtured through storytelling, creative movement (known as "Eurythmy"), the arts, cooking, nature walks and more. Children spend eight years with the same teacher.

Hopefully, this brief introduction will get you going in the right direction. Good luck in your search and whether it be private or public schooling, know that what's really important is that your child will have the interaction and socialization that are needed and so vital at this age.

Tour Dates and Times for Various Chicago Preschools:

The Ancona School
4770 S. Dorchester
773/924-2356
Open House: November 14, 2pm
Religious Affiliation or Educational Philosophy: Montessori

Brickton Montessori
8622 W. Catalpa
773/714-0646
Open House: November 10, 9am
Religious Affiliation or Educational Philosophy: Montessori

The Catherine Cook School
226 W. Schiller
312/266-3381
Open House: November 21, 1pm
Tours every Tuesday and Thursday at 10:30am October through December
Religious Affiliation or Educational Philosophy: None

Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School
3751 N. Broadway
773/572-1236
Open House: November 14, 1pm
Religious Affiliation or Educational Philosophy: Jewish Day School

The Latin School of Chicago
Lower School
1531 N. Dearborn Parkway
312/582-6200
Tours held the first Tuesday of each month at 8:45 a.m October through May
Religious Affiliation or Educational Philosophy: None

Near North Montessori School
1434 W. Division
773/384-1434
Upcoming Tours, beginning at 9am:
November 12, 2004
November 19, 2004
December 10, 2004
Religious Affiliation or Educational Philosophy: Montessori

Francis W. Parker School
330 W. Webster
773/797-5107
Tours take place October through March. Call for exact dates and times.
Religious Affiliation or Educational Philosophy: Influenced by John Dewey

Sacred Heart Schools
6250 N. Sheridan
773/262-4446
Tours take place Wednesdays at 9:30am October through May
Religious Affiliation or Educational Philosophy: Catholic

Waldorf School of Chicago
1300 W. Loyola
773/465-2662
Open House: November 21 at 2pm and 4pm
Religious Affiliation or Educational Philosophy: Waldorf

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About the Author(s)

Alejandra Valera is a new mom and writer. If there's a baby- or kid-friendly place, product or event you think she should cover, email her at .

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