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A Preschool Sampler

Before you begin poring over preschool applicants, trekking around town to observe classes, and agonizing between the school down the street and the more exclusive one 15 minutes away, check out our practical guide for choosing the perfect preschool. It m
By D Magazine |

A parents’ guide to 112 schools, from South Dallas to Frisco.

You put your application in. You get your checkbook out. You put your choices  in, and you shake them all about.
This time of year might have parents doing a stressed-out version of the hokey pokey, turning themselves all about to ensure their toddler gets in to the “right” preschool program.

One word of advice for parents poring over preschool applications, trekking around to sit in pint-sized chairs for observations, and agonizing between the preschool down the street and the more exclusive one 15 minutes away: exhale.

Two words for parents who don’t have a clue that preschool deadlines are fast approaching (some as early as December 1): waiting list.

If a preschool is in your future, “waiting list” is a phrase you will learn to live with—much like childbirth classes and ear infections. Why? First, urban parents continue to flee public schools—starting with preschool. The fear is that if they don’t start their child in that perfect school when the pool of entry is large (which is often at age 3 or 4), they won’t get in at all. Second, suburban parents—although they are more likely to go the public-school route later—have read the studies that show how vital the first several years are. Most parents send their children to some sort of preschool program to nurture little brains during the early years when the gray matter is most malleable.

How can it be so complicated when we’re talking only about a 2-year-old? Preschool administrators wonder the same thing. Most of them are amused by some parents’ obsession with getting their children into the perfect preschool.

Lois Davidson, director of Solomon Schechter, believes there is no right or wrong choice. She spends a lot of time educating parents about what early childhood education should and shouldn’t be. That latter category includes drilling little ones on their ABCs and 123s. Preschool is not college prep.

Parents are missing the point, says Sharon Goldberg, headmistress at Meadowbrook Private School. She recommends picking a preschool that makes you and your child feel good. That’s it. And, in her opinion, waiting until your child is 4 is a good idea, too.

So, considering your child, your location, and your needs, here are profiles of some of the area’s most intriguing pre-schools. On the accompanying list of 112 schools, you’ll find “recommended” preschools (in red), which were determined by  a survey conducted by D Magazine.

We contacted the heads of area private elementary and exemplary-rated public elementary schools, asking which preschools they would recommend. We figure they are the best judges because they see the result of what that preschool has done. Interestingly, preschools do not have to be certified or accredited, although many are, by national agencies, such as the National Association for Education of the Young, or church agencies, such as the Texas Catholic Conference Education Department.

So research. Exhale. And, above all, know your child. That’s what it’s all about.

Bent Tree Child Development Center
17275 Addison Rd. 972-931-0868

The lines between preschool, Mother’s Day Out, and day care blur more with each passing year. Rare is the preschool that completely accommodates a two-income, professional family’s schedule. Bent Tree is such a rarity.

The school is clean, organized, and efficient without being sterile. From 18-month-olds to kindergarteners, teachers stress a developmental education. In addition, children can eat breakfast here, and the school has its own chef for lunch—a lunch that might include biscuits made from scratch.

“What mothers want and what professionals want are the same thing,” says Marlyn Conrow, who started the school 13 years ago with one student. “Before I started the school, I couldn’t figure out why communities weren’t setting up programs like this.”

Smart Start
109 Natches Trace Dr., Coppell. 972-459-5956

Smart Start, which Dee Jammal opened four years ago, follows the Reggio Emilia school of educating, a preschool concept born in Italy in the early 1960s. The concept is one better experienced than explained, but it is basically a curriculum guided by the community and children within the class. Although the flow of the classroom is by nature spontaneous, the highly organized documentation of the children’s work—a written explanation of the learning journey—is equally important.

“The idea is that children speak in a thousand languages,” Jammal says. “Drama, music, dance, science—the list goes on.”

A class of 2-year-olds is speaking the language of shaving cream, smearing it all over their table. One child draws pictures; another has the shaving cream up to her armpits.

The school has received a lot of attention lately. The crew from Barney filmed the children at work, and the school will be featured in an upcoming book by early childhood education expert Judy Harris Helme.

White Rock Montessori

1601 Oates Dr. 214-324-5580

Sitting outside a preschool classroom at White Rock Montessori are 29 pairs of galoshes, lined up side by side so the kids can play outside on muddy days. Galoshes are the only school supplies your preschooler needs here. By the time he’s in kindergarten, that list also includes a fabric place mat, napkin, and napkin ring.

As with other Montessori schools, the “environment” is already full of materials specially designed for the Montessori method. Three-year-olds carefully pour colored water from one glass pitcher to another, getting their concentration and hands ready for writing. A 4-year-old nearby sets the table for snack time—and will clean up with a broom, dustpan, sponge, and spray bottle when snack time is over.

White Rock opened in 1975 and moved into its own building in 1998. These days, gardening is one of the preschoolers’ favorite classes—especially looking at earthworms through magnifying glasses, rain or shine.

The Learning Tree
7112 Gaston Ave. 214-320-9690

A slender, square column soars out of the ground near the entrance to the Learning Tree. The words “May Peace Prevail on Earth”—in eight languages—cover the column’s flat surfaces.

The school’s founder, Judy Allen, had an idea back in 1969 that a preschool with international themes could bring faraway cultures close to home for the youngest of children. And with that awareness would come peace and understanding.

Allen taught in schools in the former Soviet Union and Lithuania and is still involved with orphanages in Russia and China. She is also helping to establish a foster-grandmother program at a Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In Dallas, her students do what they can to delve into our world’s culture—making Russian porridge during the weeks of Russian studies, dancing to an African drummer, and going to a Chinese market.

Allen often receives postcards from college graduates traveling the world who remember something they studied at her preschool. Obviously, her lessons last.

Reading Friends

5228 Pershing Ave., Fort Worth. 817-738-9430

You won’t find Mag the Monkey and Pal the Parrot just anywhere. After shopping around for materials to fit her school’s needs, Nancy Spencer decided Reading Friends simply needed its own books.

Teacher Danna Shotwell spent three years writing and illustrating the series of books the school now uses. Built around a “Jungle Friends” theme, the books use colorful animals and their names to teach children letter and sound recognition and how to write. Teachers print and bind all the books at the school.

Reading Friends is so popular that parents have been known to spend the night in front of the little red schoolhouse before registration day. The school franchised in 2001, and last year a Colleyville branch opened. A branch in Allen is in the works.

“Parents come here because they love the academics,” Spencer says. “But they leave talking about how we treated their children.”

Spanish Schoolhouse
7659 Preston Rd., Frisco. 972-208-4449

A 3-year-old in a pink “Barbie Sport” t-shirt and a red flamenco dancing skirt watches intently as her teachers act out the dance they lead. “Uno. Centro. Dos. Centro,” they say, exaggerating their movements.

The girl hesitantly moves from side to side. She’s definitely having fun. And definitely not letting go of that red skirt.

You might be surprised to find a Spanish-immersion preschool in Frisco. As Latin American music fills the room, interrupted only by directions from the Spanish-speaking teachers, kids with names like Parker, Tatum, and Chelsea fit right in.

Four years ago, Vicki Kelly organized Spanish classes for preschoolers in her home. Parents loved it so much that she started a small preschool at a church in Allen. These days, she is the only self-proclaimed “gringa” (though she is fluent in Spanish) teaching at her now Frisco-based school.

The first two weeks of school, the teachers speak English and Spanish. From that point on (unless someone is hurt or otherwise troubled), it’s all Spanish. “We do everything other preschools do,” Kelly says. “We just do it in Spanish.”

Beaty Early Childhood School

1717 Nevada Dr. 469-752-4210

When the school year began, one teacher at Plano ISD’s Beaty Early Childhood School had a classroom with 18 students—and 14 different languages, including Arabic, Korean, and Spanish.

Beaty is the only public preschool recommended on our list, although its two counterparts in Plano—Barron and Pearson Early Childhood Schools—are equally impressive. Plano ISD is breaking new ground with its early childhood programs. Students at these three schools fall into one of three categories: state-funded for prekindergarten children who are age 4 by September 1; special-education students ages 3 to 5; or fee-based children who were 3 by September 1. Only Plano and Spring Branch (in Houston ISD) have such a program, which is unique because of the tuition-based element.

Two 4-year-olds bring attendance lists to the office and are met by a fill-in receptionist they’ve never seen: “We’re from the Beaty school,” they say definitively, as if they’re from across town.

“They have a sense that this is their school,” says Principal Susie Vaughan.

Northaven Co-operative Preschool & Kindergarten

11211 Preston Rd. 214-691-7666

Parent involvement is a good sign at any school. At Northaven, it’s just the way the school operates. Because the school is a co-op, parents work in the classroom one day a month as a teacher’s aid, rotate classroom snack duty, and work in the office.

Northaven, which opened in 1969, is an oversized child’s playroom. White paper plates decorated with gooey orange paint, obviously strewn by little fingers, dry on a ledge in the hall. Quilts from previous kindergarten classes line another hallway.

Five-year-old Andrew sits down with his teacher, Dr. Kathy Delsanter, adding words to a picture he drew earlier: “Jasper is my dog. He is a big dog. He plays with me a lot. He gets nervous sometimes. And he flips. He does somersaults. And he doesn’t obey so much.”

They read the story together, then use glue to add Andrew’s chapter to the group’s first class book.

Meadowbrook Private School
5414 Northwest Hwy.

Meadowbrook has a reputation for graduating kindergarten students who get into the area’s most exclusive private schools. But if you’re picturing a cutthroat environment that tries to cultivate future Harvard Law School grads, you haven’t visited this little schoolhouse on Northwest Highway.

Meadowbrook is idyllic. Surrounding the children is an 80-year-old brick-and-stone house; in a nearby creek, ducks bob their heads in the water. In kindergarten, teachers take the erasers off pencils. The message: making a mistake is okay.

Meadowbrook has only 38 coveted entry spots each fall. Many of those spots are already spoken for because the school automatically takes siblings. Headmistress Sharon Goldberg’s advice for getting in: “Read to your children.”
Solomon Schechter
18011 Hillcrest Rd. 972-248-3032

David Stein, campus rabbi at Solomon Schechter, acts out an argument between two kids about whose family is better.

“My grandpa is better than yours,” he says, moving to one side.

“My great-great grandpa is better than yours,” he says, moving to the other.

“My great-great-great grandpa is better than yours.”

And so on. Finally, the make-believe kids look in the Torah and find out they both came from Adam and Eve. “Everyone in the world comes from the same two people,” Stein tells the room full of preschoolers. “So nobody can say, ‘My family is better than your family.’” Later, the entire group sings “Happy Birthday” to three classmates—first in English, then Hebrew.

Solomon Schechter is the area’s largest Jewish preschool. The children start writing books at age 3, books that go home with each child to share with his or her parents.

“The more parents are involved, the more pro-school they become,” Director Lois Davidson says. “It’s a wonderful cycle.”

The Science Place School

1318 Second Ave. @ Fair Park. 214-428-5555

The Science Place has a preschool?

Director Christy McLaughlin hears that comment often, which wouldn’t surprise her so much if the school hadn’t been around since 1957.

Science, obviously, is the preschool’s main focus. Imagine going to school in a place everyone else considers a field trip.

“What do we know about chimpanzees?” Mr. Paul asks the class of kindergarten and first-grade students.

Arms shoot quickly into the air.

“They don’t have tails,” one offers.

“They make lots of sounds.”

“They sleep at night.” Then a discussion ensues about what “nocturnal” means.

This is the third year the school has offered a part-time Spanish-immersion program. Last year, the school started its own kindergarten program with a handful of first-graders mixed in. Next year, the school will offer second grade, adding an additional grade each year through the sixth.