Children at Treehouse Learning engage in experiential learning

Children at Treehouse Learning engage in experiential learning through an art study on Frida Khalo. (Photo courtesy: Treehouse Learning).

If you decide to enroll your child in preschool, there are a few key things to consider to find the right program and environment.

Four Boulder County preschools weigh in on what makes for quality early childhood education, so that children are ready to enter kindergarten loving school. Preschool provides children with pre-kindergarten academic skills, but also gives them an opportunity to learn through play, build fine motor skills and receive positive discipline.

“Parents should look for a program that is well-rounded and puts as much emphasis in social-emotional development as academic or cognitive development,” said Amy French-Troy, development and communications manager for the TLC Learning Center in Longmont.

The TLC Learning Center, founded in 1956 as the Tiny Tim Learning Center for children with cerebral palsy, provides educational and therapeutic services for special need and typical students. Currently there are 70 students, ages six weeks up to kindergarten readiness, at all income levels, abilities, races and backgrounds.

“Kids are learning how to do school at that age,” French-Troy said. “They’re learning how to do things in preschool for K-12.”

French-Troy recommends researching a school by checking its curriculum online, asking about the school population and requesting a tour of the building.

“Every kid has different needs where school is concerned,” French-Troy said. “What might be a good fit for one kid may not be for another. Do your research and make sure you’re getting a good vibe of what the place is all about.”

Treehouse Learning, founded in 1997 in Louisville, offers play-based learning through a whole-person curriculum that incorporates movement, music, art, language and culture with learning happening in the context of relationships and interactions with the world.

“These are the experiences that lead to optimal brain development,” said Amy Benson May, owner and executive leader of Treehouse Learning. “We support whole-person development and integration through intentional responses and respectful experiences.”

When looking for a preschool, Benson May recommends paying attention to the educational environment and opportunities for children to engage with the learning materials and people around them, she said. The environment includes things like quality of interactions, such as shouting directions versus inviting participation, and opportunities for outdoor learning and immersion in nature, she said.

“For parents when visiting centers, they should put themselves in the shoes of the child to see the space and interactions,” Benson May said.

Apple Tree Christian Preschool and Kindergarten, founded in 1999 and located inside Broomfield United Methodist Church, offers half-day, extended day and flexible daily rate programs for children ages 2.5 years old to kindergarten. The program follows a Christian curriculum and is play-based with a strong focus on social-emotional development.

Sara Godwin, director of Apple Tree, recommends parents ask for a school tour, meet with staff and observe classes in session to see how teachers interact with students. Other things to consider are the level of parental involvement and the operation of the school as a for-profit or a nonprofit, which typically pays higher wages and has lower turnover rates.

“Parents need to ask about the school philosophy and make sure the philosophy of the school gels with their personal interests,” Godwin said.

Kohl Street Kids, a Broomfield-based nonprofit preschool and before- and after-school program founded in 1995, has an academic and social-emotional focus with a whole-child approach.

“The most important thing is that they should look for a place they trust where everyone is treated with respect and dignity,” said Elizabeth Arneson, director of Kohl Street Kids. “They should look for a center where families can be included and there’s a partnership. … For us, it’s more of everybody’s included in the children’s goals.”

Boulder Valley School District offers a preschool program for children ages 3-4 through the Colorado Preschool Program, the Special Education Program and the tuition program at 19 schools within the district. Early childhood education follows a creative curriculum focused on the whole child, a strong foundation on social-emotional skills and learning academics through play.

“One of the most important things is that there is an environment where the child feels safe and secure,” said Theresa Clements, director of early childhood education at BVSD. “There’s positive interactions between teachers and the child and among children. … Having positive relationships helps them feel safe and secure, so they build that strong foundation by being able to engage in the classroom and being curious about their environment.”

By Shelley Widhalm, Raised in the Rockies.