Pamela Chan, Editorial/BCFamily.ca
When my children were close to age three, they were at an age when there seemed to be a mass exodus from the government funded Strong Start programme into privately run preschool programmes. But at the time, I realized that my preschool plans for them amounted to home schooling. Most of the time, I felt confident in my decision to not place them in a drop off preschool programme. But I also recall one time, for example, when a mum was making one of her infrequent visits to the local Strong Start programme with her child. She explained, in what felt like a haughty tone, that her child was going to a Montessori programme most of the time. In the next few months and years, I would come to learn that this type of parent – not all parents in Montessori but this specific type – is very concerned that their child should be in what they perceive to be the “best programme” every step of the way.
Lest I should appear to be a critic of programmes like Montessori preschools, I should pause here and mention that I hold a Montessori AMI teaching diploma for the pre-school/kindergarten age group. I have also studied traditional early childhood education methods and focussed my research on specific programmes such as the Waldorf and Reggio Emilia methods. Since I taught in Canada and in an international school overseas for a number of years, I also had the opportunity to observe programmes in various types of early childhood education programmes inside and outside of Canada. While completing a Master of Education programme at UBC, and working for three different research projects, I took part in further investigations that included a focus on the early years. It’s not an understatement to say that I had all the information I needed at my fingertips as my husband and I discussed “the best” place for our twins to attend a programme.
We have a Strong Start programe up the road from our home and also have one that is a little over a 30 minute walk in the other direction. As an alternative, the second school is a five minute drive from our home. These programmes are no-fee government funded programmes that run early childhood education programmes for the infant and preschool set. A child can start to attend the programme as soon as they are born. The catch is that it is a parent participation programme. This means that a parent, grandparent, caregiver or guardian needs to be with a child when he/she is on the premises. Once a child is confident taking part in the programme, the adult can step back and stay on the sideline, operating like a preschool assistant when a child needs assistance or guidance. The programme does not offer the same experience as a private preschool where the parent leaves for a few hours or the whole day (if it is a full-day Montessori programme for children age four and older).
At the two Strong Start programmes near our home, the teachers are early childhood educators who run programmes that have the look of a traditional preschool programme. This means that there is a strong literacy component built into the curriculum. Other developmental and educational goals are built into the programme as well. It could be argued that there is less of an emphasis on activities such as learning to write your letters and numbers, and reading. The Strong Start programme is run in the morning or afternoon, depending on the location. One of these two programmes has a Reggio Emilia focus to it, matching the Reggio Emilia choice programme that is in the school.
For our family it made sense to take advantage of these programmes. For my former Montessori colleagues, it might seem to be an oversight to not have enrolled my children in a Montessori programme; however, I should clarify that I have set up a room in my home that had shelves and materials set out. When my children were ages 0 – 3, this material was the equivalent of the non-Montessori material and puzzles that you would set out in the early days of a new Montessori school year. After meeting with a local Montessori teacher, I was able to acquire early years Montessori material to add to my collection. I also created and found Montessori additional material to use with my children. And I have a large collection of books for young children. During their 0 – 5 year old years, my twins’ response to the environment that I set up was enthusiastic.
I also managed to listen to online workshops on the Waldorf Connection website. While the content of this website is geared towards home schooling parents using the Waldorf programme, there are some great tips for any parent who is homeschooling.
At one point, I mentioned to a parent that I would be using the Strong Start programme coupled with attendance at a My Gym classes, meet-ups with other Home schooling families, community centre courses, Place des Arts music and art courses and their homeschooling experience. She exclaimed that I was fortunate to have my Montessori training to use with my children. Of course this is undeniable; however, I also feel strongly that any parent who is at home with his/her children has the same option to combine attendance at a Strong Start programme of their choice (each one will have a different flavour) and home schooling that will fill in the gaps for school readiness. This combination provides the opportunity for children to socialize in large groups with other children and get to know the rhythm of a classroom and the requirements of being with a teacher. Most children also have an opportunity to take part in organized activities where a parent is not present, such as swim class, a sport or gymnastics course or a faith-based or language class.
A well run Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia or early childhood education programme is a beautiful sight to behold. I revel in the opportunity to either teach or simply be in such an environment. For many parents this option of drop off pre-school makes sense and a combination of Strong Start and homeschooling efforts isn’t a preferred choice. This is particularly the case if the programme also functions as childcare while the parents works outside of the home. In households where both parents work outside of the home full-time, daycare programmes with a preschool curriculum are a necessity.
It is worth pointing out that the Strong Start programmes are equally as dynamic and stimulating as other traditional, Early Childhood programmes. In any school district there can be classes that attract different age groups and provide different experiences. Many families either don’t have the financial resources or simply choose to combine Strong Start classes with other opportunities for their children. Some parents have told me that their decision to not enroll their child in a formal preschool programme has been questioned. Others have said they are happy with the decision and feel that their child is prepared.
This is the decision that I took for my twins until they were 4 1/2. For the final half year before they started Kindergarten, we combined attendance at Strong Start with a half day drop of Pre-School programme, three days a week, so that they could get used to going to school by themselves and focusing exclusively on the teacher and the assistants for direction, rather than having a parent nearby.
Do you have a Strong Start in your community that you either use or have used in the past? Did you combine Strong Start attendance with Home Schooling efforts or other programmes?
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For more information about homeschooling, here is a good resource to get you started.
More about creating a visual schedule for children. This might be of interest to some home schooling parents.
Mindset for Moms (an E-Book that helps mums to find perspective in their role as a mum)
Similar to the Strong Start programme, in Sweden there is less of an emphasis on reading and writing in the multi-age preschool programmes.