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Preschool Primer

When should you start looking at preschools?

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of births in Calgary since 2004. In 2004, Calgary had approximately 66,200 children under four years of age. By 2010, The City of Calgary estimates that that number will increase to 91,300. Yes, that is a 40 per cent increase in the population of little munchkins in this city. Can you say Baby Boom? This means that you may have to register your child for preschool before your child is preschool age. During my research, one preschool told me that they have already started to receive registrations for infants who wish to attend the school up to two years in the future.

At what age does preschool start? Preschool starts at ages three and four. There is no law requiring you to send your child to preschool. It is completely optional. The goal of preschool is to help develop fine and gross motor skills, as well as social skills. Preschool can also help your child with the transition into Kindergarten.

Starting to research preschools after your child’s first birthday may seem extreme; however, it may prove to be necessary in the coming years in Calgary. Starting early will give you time to find the right school and to register your child well in advance. Since programs and teachers can change, check to make sure that your choice of school is still valid closer to the date. At the very latest, you should start your research a couple of months prior to the registration deadline.

Some program registrations are ongoing, which means that you can register your child anytime during the school year. Most preschool programs, however, have a one-day registration, normally held in February or March for the following September. As a rule, you will need to stand in line for several hours. Dress warmly; bring a cup of coffee and a lawn chair.

Don’t forget to bring any registration forms that need to be filled out ahead of time and the following pieces of information:

•  photocopy of your child’s Birth Certificate
•  immunization record (available from your public health clinic at no charge)
•  Alberta Health Care number for your child
•  names and phone numbers of emergency contacts for your child
•  lots and lots of cheques

We arrived at a preschool registration at 5:45am for a 9am registration only to find that we were third in line. The first in the queue had been there by 2am. I had heard of other queues starting up to eight hours ahead of time. Whatever you do, get there early, dress warmly and bring a warm drink and some reading material. Long gone are the days when we would stand in line for concert tickets like this!

Regulation of preschools: Preschools are licensed and governed by Alberta Social Services (Social Care Facilities). Child Care Regulation sets out the minimum standards that must be met in child care facilities prior to a license being issued. These standards are intended to ensure that the health, safety and developmental needs of children are being met.

Child and Family Service Authorities (CFSAs) license, monitor and enforce standards of care under the Child Care Regulation. Calgary and Area is regulated under Region 3 of the Child and Family Service Authorities. Their website can be found at; click on “Child care.” You can also contact your nearest CFSA office for information on assessing and choosing quality child care or preschool or to register a complaint about a regulated child care facility or preschool.

One interesting fact to note is that Alberta Children’s Services does not require preschool teachers to have any qualifications. There are requirements for daycare teachers, but not for preschool teachers. Preschool instructors tend to be highly trained, but exact qualifications are at the discretion of the preschool.

Preschool classes run either two or three half-days a week, depending on the age of the children. Programs are offered either in the morning or the afternoon and are usually not more than three hours in length. Some private programs run preschool five days a week and some are scheduled for full school days.

What kinds of preschools are out there? There is a wide range of preschool philosophies. Here are a few schools of thought (pun intended) that you may wish to find out more about:

•  Montessori Program
•  Play-based Programs/Learning-through-play Programs
•  Reggio Emilia Program
•  Traditional Learning Programs
•  Waldorf program
•  Typical costs

Community preschool programs vary considerably in price. Two-days-a-week programs cost between $90 and $215 per month ($810 to $1,935 per year) and three-day programs range from $100 to $235 per month ($900 to $2,115 per year). You will also need to pay a one-time administrative fee (typically less than $80).

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