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How to Look for and Evaluate Preschools

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How to Look for and Evaluate Preschools

Laura Standefer, Senior Preschool Investigator

October 14, 2019

Recently, I had to make the difficult decision to pull my son out of his beloved preschool. There was nothing wrong with the school itself, the days and times available for the pre-kindergarten program just didn’t work for our family. We spent the entire summer touring schools and programs, and I spent many sleepless nights wondering if we would make the right choice. We finally made a decision after weighing the pros and cons of each school and doing as much research as possible. If you are in the process of looking for and evaluating preschools, here are some tips and resources to help you out.

Looking for a Preschool

Nowadays, we have substantial access to word-of-mouth recommendations due to the many outlets of communication we have with other parents. We now have access to online reviews and discussion boards on social media. However, an online search can be incredibly overwhelming and relying discussion boards may cause you to miss out on a school that could really work for you and your family. HappiFamli’s Preschool and Childcare Guide is an excellent resource that includes an extensive list of schools in the Austin area and it can help you find exactly what you’re looking for. 

Once you see the amount of options for preschool and childcare options available in the guide, you may want to determine what type of school is best for your child based on your priorities for your children. HappiFamli’s guide lists and describes the most popular types of schools, including:

– Montessori schools, which are based on the idea that children learn individually at their own pace and teachers are there for guidance. They also emphasize the importance of children being responsible for and taking care of their own belongings.

– Language Immersion schools, where most of the class is taught in a particular language in order to help the students begin to understand the language and encourage them to speak it on their own. 

– Play-Based schools, which is based on the belief that most of children’s learning comes from free play and encourages the students to participate in age appropriate activities.

Play is the most essential tool for children to have in their early childhood development.

Evaluating a Preschool

When I was obtaining my master’s degree in Family and Child Development, we used the NAEYC as a primary source to obtain the most up-to-date philosophies and research information to apply to our future experiences in early childhood education. You can visit the NAEYC website to learn about all of their expectations for early childhood programs, but a few of them include:

 – Promoting a healthy and safe learning environment

– Using diverse and developmentally appropriate teaching approaches  

– Employing educationally qualified, knowledgeable, and committed professionals 

– Implementing strong policies to encourage high quality experiences for staff, students, and parents

HappiFamli’s guide also provides a list of things you should take into consideration when touring schools and childcare programs. For example:

-Do the children have various types of experiences throughout the day?

-Is there a strong connection between home and school?

-Will they be monitoring the child’s progress and adjusting teaching methods on an individualized basis?

These are questions that can be asked before making a decision in order to make the best choice when you are finally ready to enroll.

Many choices will be narrowed down by cost, hours of operation, and location, but the amount of things to consider when choosing a school may still seem overwhelming. I know that I felt an immense amount of stress and pressure when it was time to finally make a decision on my son’s pre-k program. But what helped relieve some of my anxiety was when I remembered the number one thing I took away from the years I spent in my graduate program: Play is the most essential tool for children to have in their early childhood development. This doesn’t mean that the other areas of assessment are not important (obviously, please make sure that the program is clean and safe). However, with the wide variety of philosophies and learning styles available, I personally believe it is most important to find a program that recognizes that each child is an individual and allows for that child to learn by doing what children are meant to do: play! 

Halloween Family Fun

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Halloween Family Fun

Laura Standefer, Senior Halloween Correspondent

October 7, 2019

The weather is getting cooler and Halloween is just around the corner. Halloween is probably the best holiday ever. There’s no obligation to make a fancy dinner or buy each other presents. You can dress up as your favorite character or food condiment, and guess what? No judgement. And if that wasn’t enough, there is free candy everywhere. If you love Halloween as much as I do, then there are plenty of activities in the Austin area to celebrate. Here’s a list of frightfully wonderful Halloween activities for everyone in your family.

Select Dates from 10/4-10/26: Boo at the Zoo at the Austin Zoo. A spooky train ride, a haunted mansion, and silly shows for the kiddos can all be found at this amazing event. Make sure to call and grab your tickets before they sell out! 

Weekends through 11/3: Barton Hills Farm in Bastrop will be holding their fall festival and pumpkin patch all month long. With corn mazes, a giant jumping pillow, and, of course, so many pumpkins to choose from, this is an amazingly traditional way to celebrate the fall/Halloween season.

10/19: Little Land Play Gym’s 5th Halloween Spooktacular will be held at their north Austin location. Are you a member? If so, then this event is free! Call or check back on their Facebook event page for additional information on everything this spooktacular event will entail. 

10/20: Halloween Monster Mash at The COOP, presented by Keep Austin Young. Come for spooky arts, crafts, and treats. Make sure you get your tickets beforehand!

10/26: Fable Fest at Elizabeth Milburn Park. Come in your favorite costume to one of the best parks in town for magical events and storytelling. 

10/26: Halloween Hootenanny at the Thinkery. We all know that the Thinkery knows how to put on fun events for adults and kids alike. Get your costume and buy your tickets for some Thinkery-style Halloween fun. 

10/27: The Halloween Children’s Concert at the Long Center. Enjoy music from the majestically talented Austin symphony. The fun starts at 3pm. 

10/31: Fall Fun Fest at Old Settlers Park. If you’re looking for an event specifically for preschoolers and toddlers, head to Old Settlers Park in Round Rock for a free event put on by the Parks and Recreation Department. 

Public, Charter, and Private Schools: How They Compare

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Public, Charter, and Private Schools: How They Compare

HappiFamli, Senior School Correspondents

October 5, 2019

Choices in schools have certainly changed a lot in the last generation or two.  Today education is a complex topic with questions about school quality, accountability, curriculum, and teacher training.  What this means for you, as you try to decide on the best school for your child, is that you have to educate yourself on all the choices available.  Unfortunately, doing that is no longer as straightforward as it once was.

To help you make your decision, here is a general description of and comparison between public, charter, and private schools.

Public schools are schools that are maintained at public expense for the education of the children of a community or district. They are part of a free public education system receiving tax dollars.  

Charter schools are public schools that are independent of school districts through contracts with state or local boards.  They are independently operated public schools started by parents, teachers, community organizations, and for-profit companies. These schools receive tax dollars, but the sponsoring group may also come up with private funding.  Charter schools usually challenge standard education practices and sometimes specialize in a particular area, such as technology, the arts, gifted or high-risk children, or adopt a basic core-subjects approach. 

Private schools are non-governmental schools that are not administered by local, state, or national governments. Because they do not accept public funding of any kind and instead use tuition charged to students as their source of funding as well as grants, donations & endowments.  Private schools are autonomous at the federal level but must adhere to basic state guidelines (such as agreeing to teach reading and math and adhering to building codes). 

When it comes to private versus public/charter schools, there isn’t a right answer to the question, “Which is better?” But given the different qualities of each type of school, there is a right answer to which one is the best fit for your child.

School and Child Care Philosophy Overview

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School and Child Care Philosophy Overview

HappiFamli, Senior School and Child Care Correspondents

October 4, 2019

Once you see the amount of options for preschool and childcare options available, you may want to determine what type of school is best for your child based on your priorities for your children.  Below is a high-level overview of the types of educational philosophies included.

  • Cooperative:
    • Parents who know their own children’s needs can best guide a preschool toward excellence and integrate home and preschool life through significant, required parent participation in the preschool
    • Can follow any preschool philosophy or a combination
  • Emergent:
    • This philosophy prioritizes active participation, relationship building, flexible and adaptable methods, inquiry, and play-based learning. 
    • Curriculum is child-initiated, collaborative and responsive to the children’s needs.
  • International:
    • Most are dual-language programs.
    • Focus on development of critical thinking skills.
    • Can follow any preschool philosophy or a combination
  • Language Immersion:
    • All or most of classes are conducted entirely in the new language.  
    • Can follow any preschool philosophy or a combination
  • Montessori
    • Based on underlying idea that children are individual learners with teachers as guides.
    • Fosters personal responsibility by encouraging children to take care of their own personal needs & belongings.
    • It stresses the importance of adapting the child’s learning environment to his or her developmental level, and of the role of physical activity in absorbing academic concepts & practical skills
  • Reggio Emilia
    • Based on several principles:
      • Children must have some control over the direction of their learning
      • Children must be able to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, seeing 
      • Children have endless ways & opportunities to express themselves
    • Emergent curriculum content and activities developed collaboratively by teachers and children 
    • Children expected to learn through mistakes as they are considered equal learners
    • Emphasizes creativity & artistic representation
  • Waldorf
    • In the Waldorf method, learning is interdisciplinary, integrates practical, artistic, and intellectual elements, and is coordinated with “natural rhythms of everyday life.” 
    • Goal of system is to develop the child emotionally and physically as well as intellectually
    • Emphasizes creative learning
  • Play-Based:
    • Primary principle is to promote participation in age-appropriate activities 
    • Children can develop full complement of cognitive, social, emotional & physical skills best when most of the day involves free play with material that can be used individually or by small groups.

How to Help Your Elementary Student with Homework

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How to Help Your Elementary Student with Homework

Krista Anderson-Hill, Senior School Correspondent

September 30, 2019

HOMEWORK!!!  Just the word makes some of us, kids and parents alike, cringe. At its best, homework helps teachers identify what skills and knowledge students are absorbing in class and homework can help students develop independent study skills. At its worst, it can fuel meltdowns from tired kids and breakdowns from parents who simply cannot understand the “new way” of teaching math.  If you are already starting to sweat just thinking about your kids and homework, hold on. Here are a few simple tactics to make the process of homework less painful for everyone.

1. The 10 Minute Rule 

One of the most helpful tips I received from an elementary school teacher was the 10 Minute Rule.  The 10 Minute Rule is a generally agreed-upon guide among educators regarding how much homework is healthy and productive based on grade level.  According to the Rule, students should spend 10 minutes per night, per grade level, working on homework. That means if a student is in grade 1, they should spend 10 minutes on homework per night; if they are in grade 6, they should spend 60 minutes per night.  This rule gives parents a guideline of how much time should be devoted to homework and when to advocate for more or less homework.  

2. Make Time 

As a  parent, one of the most helpful things we can do for our elementary school-age kids is to set regular homework time.  For the most part, it should be consistent, at the same time each school day. Many experts recommend giving kids a 30-minute break after they walk in the door for a snack and time to unwind and then it is time for homework.   

3. Create Space

Once you have the homework time set, devote a special homework space.  Some kids like to do homework independently in their rooms, others like to be front and center at the kitchen table. Regardless of where it is, this space should be relatively quiet, free of distractions, comfortable and allow for easy access to homework supplies (pencils, markers, paper).

Focus on helping your kid develop problem-solving skills and when needed, how to ask for help from his or her teacher.

4. Stay In Your Lane

When it comes to homework, your role as a parent is a supporting one.  You are there to motivate, guide, support, and love: provide praise, help with directions, answer basic questions, review work for completion and encourage breaks.  RESIST the urge to provide the right answers and complete your student’s assignments. Focus on helping your kid develop problem-solving skills and when needed, how to ask for help from his or her teacher.  Most teachers make themselves available for extra help and highly encourage students to seek out support. And, here is a little secret …most teachers can tell when the parent is doing the homework for their kids!!

5. Recognize the Warning Signs

Problems with homework can serve as a red flag or warning sign.  If there are continuing challenges with homework like routinely exceeding the 10 Minute Rule, having meltdowns, constantly forgetting homework, these could be a warning sign that something else is going on under the surface.  Reach out to your kid’s teacher and share the homework struggles. The two of you can work together to uncover the source of the difficulty. Homework stress could be as simple as your kid learning and practicing organizational skills. Or, it could indicate the need for a learning evaluation to rule out or diagnose a learning difference.

Talking to Kids about Growing Bodies & Puberty

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Talking to Kids about Growing Bodies & Puberty

Alison Macklin, Guest Blogger

September 23, 2019

You want to know what? Being a sex educator, I had these fantasies about how I would have conversations about sex and sexuality with my kids. They would go something like this: My son and I would be reading an age-appropriate book about sex and sexuality and we would go through the book while he sat quietly in my lap asking questions and me, explaining, in my educator language, the scripted “perfect” response. He would nod in understanding and we would snuggle in and he would know everything, and I would pat myself on the back and…” then I woke up. I had my children and with all things that comes with having children, what you imagine when having children isn’t quite the reality.

Instead of my dream scenario, I’m having conversations about sex in-between ordering food at the fast-food restaurant drive-thru in-between chauffeuring my kids between after-school activities, while trying to referee a disagreement between which Pokémon would win in a battle, and instead of answering my question about whether they want combo number 1 or number 3, my 8 year old son asks me, “mom, auntie didn’t choose to be gay, right?” Now, this scenario might phase me, if I didn’t remind myself that talking about sex, especially with young kids, is actually pretty easy. 

I know, I know. You are probably thinking I am being ridiculous but stay with me here. Young children are curious and not ashamed of their bodies and they don’t pass judgement. We are teaching them all sorts of rules for how to be in the world, this is a great time to teach them some rules that have to do with sex too (in an age-appropriate way). Use simple language. Use short answers. If there are follow-up questions answer them again using short basic simple language. Once the kiddo has heard enough they are going to let you know. Here’s the thing, it’s usually us, the parents who get embarrassed. Our kids are the ones running around naked without a care in the world. If you don’t make it a thing, it’s not a thing.

So, what does that even mean? 

  • When kids ask about what their body parts are, use anatomical language. Call a vulva a vulva (or at least use the word vagina) and a penis a penis. They aren’t bad words, don’t make them bad words. If a kiddo says, “look! There is a baby in that person’s tummy!” Gently correct them and tell them it is in the person’s uterus, not the tummy. Depending on the age and the kiddo, some will take that answer and you are done. Others will want to see the organs and understand what the uterus is and how the egg grows. All of that is fine! You can say something like, the sperm come from a penis and the egg comes from the ovary. Remember, keep it basic!

  • Remind kiddos that no one can touch their private parts without their permission and this is called consent. Practice consent in your house when it comes to bodily autonomy. Did grandma come over and want a hug and your child wasn’t in the mood? Respect your child’s wishes and don’t make them give a hug if they don’t want to. They are the boss of their body and make sure they know that.

  • If there is a parent in the house who has a uterus and has a menstrual cycle, don’t hide it. It’s OK to explain that you get a period once a month and that it doesn’t mean that you are hurt, but it means that your body doesn’t need the egg anymore. Also, make sure that kids understand the blood comes out of a different hole than the pee. And here’s an idea, if you are in a heterosexual, two-parent household, push gender-roles and have dad purchase period gear for mom. 

  • If you see a same gender couple, explain how people are attracted to different kinds of people and that love is love and that’s OK and that different families look different.

  • If you see a person who is transgender, and you child asks about them, talk about how that person maybe has a penis but didn’t feel like a boy on the inside so they decided they wanted to be a girl and now they feel much better and are much happier. So, we are going to respect her and help her to be happy because we love our friends and want them to be happy.

So, Alison, what happened in the drive-thru? “We’ll take two number 3’s, Charizard will definitely beat Digglet, and yes, Auntie was born gay.” My son’s response? “I KNEW Charizard would win!”

Alison Macklin is the author of Making Sense of “It”: A Guide to Sex for Teens (and Their Parents, Too!) and has been working in sex education for over 15 years and believes that all people deserve to have honest and accurate information about their bodies and sex so that they can make the best decisions for their life. She believes that all people deserve to have healthy, consensual and pleasurable sex when they are ready free from stigmatization and shame. Alison also believes that life is best lived with sarcasm and heavy intakes of coffee.

Currently the Vice President of Education and Innovation at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, Alison lives in Denver, Colorado and is the mother of two children, 3 dogs and a cat that believes he is a dog.