Pre-K options in Eden Prairie, Chaska, Chanhassen, Victoria and Waconia

Early learning programs offer area families a bevy of options.
Sarayu Gottemukkula attends Jonathan Montessori School in Chaska.

Tempting play stations for burgeoning chefs, mail carriers or market owners. Bouquets of art supplies. Stories cloaked in bright-colored jackets, ready for young hands to pluck them from the shelf. On the surface, choosing a preschool could appear to be as easy as picking what looks right or is high on the play factor, but parents are increasingly evaluating results-based programs that suit their family values and tend to their child’s educational and social needs. Options can be found in Early Childhood and Family Education (ECFE) programs, daycares and preschools.

“ECFE really is a category unto itself and is as much, or more, for parents as for children,” Marti Erickson, Ph.D., of momenough.com, says. “I think it is a terrific resource for any and all parents as a way of getting valid, practical, up-to-date parenting information from licensed professional parent educators, as well as building supportive relationships with other parents who have children the same age. At the same time, children benefit from playtime with other children, guided by licensed professional early childhood educators.”

Daycare and preschool spaces “are captured under the umbrella term ‘early care and education,’” says Erickson, the former director of the Children, Youth and Family Consortium at the University of Minnesota. “With so many moms and dads of young children being employed outside the home, the majority need to find some type of childcare, which may be a nanny in your own home, a childcare home (licensed or not, run as a business or a less formal arrangement with a friend or family member), or a childcare center, which offers care and education during hours convenient for most parents' work schedules.” She continues, “Preschools usually are less tied to parents' working hours and may offer, for example, only two or three half-days a week. But these days there are more and more ‘early care and education centers’ that really are preschools but have full-day programs with extended hours to accommodate adults' work schedules.”

Early Childhood Family Education

ECFE is offered through school districts in Minnesota, including Eden Prairie, which offers a wide variety of options for children birth to 5 years old. ECFE programs focus on educating parents, as well as their children, and classes are often held on a weekly basis for a couple of hours. The Eden Prairie ECFE program recently introduced Practice Preschool and Preschool Sampler classes.

Preschool

The Eastern Carver County School District, Eden Prairie School District and Waconia School District all offer preschools. Little Eagles preschool is offered in Eden Prairie. “There are many preschool options available to families in Eden Prairie, but Little Eagles Preschool is the only one that aligns with Eden Prairie Schools’ K-12 curriculum,” Jenni Ebert, community engagement coordinator, says. “The curriculum is rich in math, reading, science and art geared for kindergarten success and aligned with the K-12 system.”

In addition to options offered through school districts, there is also a wide array of private preschools.

Rose Gildor sifted through many area programs before finding a school that best suited her child—Jonathan Montessori School (JMS). Gildor notes that there are a host of options throughout the area. “It all depends on what your family is looking for,” she says.

While Gildor and her husband value education, the couple also wanted their son to benefit from the influence of teachers and staff. She also highlights the importance of getting to know the staff. “You better know who they are,” Gildor says. “They’re the people who (make) critical impressions on your kids.”

Montessori schools subscribe to Maria Montessori’s “absorbent mind” philosophy, and JMS in Chaska provides an authentic Montessori education, according to Lisa Drevlow, head of school. “Authentic Montessori really is about giving children the richest experiences and beautifully prepared materials and environment, as they are constantly unconsciously absorbing everything around them,” she says.

JMS provides hands-on learning in the areas of art, geography, language, math, science and sensorial exploration. “Our mixed-age classrooms (33 months-6 years) foster community, collaboration and curiosity as children develop academic and social skills, independence and a lifelong love of learning,” Drevlow says.

Daycare

Daycare facilities are including themselves in the school day. “Traditionally, parents thought they had to find separate preschools for their child,” Tracy Smith, director of Waconia’s Children of Tomorrow Learning Center, says. “It’s something that has completely changed over the last few years.”

Smith notes some children come to the learning center just for preschool—not daycare. Children of Tomorrow’s curriculum is anchored by Core Knowledge and is bolstered with Spanish, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM); and Guided Reading and Everyday Mathematics, according to Smith. “It really makes it a full, comprehensive preschool program,” she says.

Nicole Sipe’s 2- and 5-year-old sons attend Children of Tomorrow, and the eldest is in its pre-kindergarten program. In addition to the academics, Sipe appreciates that her son is exposed to Spanish, yoga and multiple field trip opportunities. The convenience of not taking her son to an off-site preschool is secondary, but it is a priority. “As working parents, being able to do one drop off and one pick up is huge for us,” she says.

The children at Jonathan Montessori School are provided with hands-on learning in a variety of subjects.

Looking for preschool or daycare options? Visit parentaware.org. The state-run website rates programs throughout Minnesota and offers a checklist for parents and caregivers to develop questions while assessing the quality of care and early child education programs.

Find a Good Fit
“Several decades of research clearly demonstrate that high-quality early childhood programs produce short- and long-term positive effects on children's cognitive and social development,” says Lisa Drevlow, head of school at Jonathan Montessori School. “As a result, there are many preschools and centers to choose from, which can leave parents of young children feeling overwhelmed by choices and options.” Drevlow offers items to consider when selecting a preschool:

1. Research | Visit the school’s website and reviews and learn about hours, fees and daily schedule.

2. Schedule a visit | Observe in the classrooms, and look for:

  • Warmth: The school should have an atmosphere that is welcoming and friendly.
  • Transparency: The school should encourage parents to stop by unannounced and encourage parents to be engaged.
  • Stimulating Curriculum: Daily schedules should feature plenty of time for physical activity, reading as a group and independently, socializing, crafts, healthy snacks and lots of one-on-one teaching.
  • Food: Find out about the school’s guidelines. Do the parents or the school provide food and are healthy eating habits encouraged?
  • Staff: Staff should be highly trained, caring, and trained/certified with CPR and other emergency training. Ask about the staff turnover rate, and inquire about the school’s discipline philosophy.
  • Facilities: Examine a school’s cleanliness and safety.
  • Licensure: Check the preschool’s license from the Minnesota Department of Human Services and review any correction orders.

3. Trust your intuition | “Preschool age children need curriculum and materials that are engaging provide for academic and social development,” Drevlow says. “They need a warm, clean, safe environment with qualified teachers, who are well happy with their jobs. Once you’ve toured the facility, interacted with the staff and observed in a classroom, you should be able to see your child thriving at the school if it is the right fit.”