Friday, January 10, 2014

School Information Series: Family Preschool

School Type: Private Cooperative Preschool

Are you looking for a cozy co-op preschool, where as soon as you walk in you notice how the place is bursting with happy kids, ready to explore and learn? Do you want a place with 43 years of experience guiding young minds in a forward thinking, child led approach? Would you like a participatory atmosphere, where parent involvement is essential in the school, and you get to have real input and ownership in your child’s education? Family Preschool is all of this and more. I can speak personally about this preschool, as both my children attend, and I can’t speak highly enough of them as a parent and former educator.

Their mission statement says it all: “How children feel about and see themselves is the basis upon which they build all other relationships and take on the tasks of childhood. Family Preschool is committed to offering a preschool experience that builds a child's self-confidence and independence, thus enhancing self-esteem. Our program recognizes the individual differences in needs and development among children. Through a carefully structured and flexible environment, the program encourages the unique social, emotional, physical and intellectual development of each child.”

The school was founded in 1970, and has been on the forefront of childhood education in the Triangle ever since, while still maintaining a loving, inclusive but close-knit community. In 1987, they became one of the first preschools accredited by 
the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). In 2008 FPS moved to their previous church location to the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (ERUUF) campus. (While the school has always been located in church facilities, it is non-sectarian and retains autonomy over curriculum choices and their  approach to education.)The campus is a combination of rooms for the different ages, who engage with their peers but also have chances to play and learn with other ages.

The children are separated into several classes, lovingly renamed each year after creatures that kids adore. The classes are gender-balanced to ensure a proper amount of socialization, behavioral growth, and peer modeling. The FPS school day is from 9am - Noon for ages 2-5. The school year runs from September through May, with many opportunities for socialization throughout the summer months.

The Parents Morning Out program  (PMO) is a one or two day option for the youngest set. The current group are called “Ducklings”, and should be 1 year old by August 25th but not yet 2 years. They may attend one or both mornings. Only six children are enrolled for each day, and the ratio is 1:3, as the FPS teacher is present, but also a parent volunteer. The low ratios and individualized attention is something hard to find in larger schools, speaking from personal experience as my kids have been in former schools where they disappeared into large groups.  

The program gets even more fun for 2 year olds, just as they’re exploring their independence. One group of 8 children meet on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (3-day program), and a separate group of 8 children on Tuesdays and Thursdays (2-day program). Each group has the same teacher, who is assisted each day by a helping parent, making the ratio 1:4. This year they’re called the “Treefrogs”, a much more fun thing to say than the awful “terrible two’s” label so many toddlers get stuck with.

As the FPS children get older, they age into the exciting program for 3-5 year olds, where they share the large classrooms with three staff teachers and two “helping parents” that volunteer as part of their co-op hours. Three year old children attend school four mornings per week, Tuesday through Friday, while the older four year old and five year old children attend all five weekday mornings. Each teacher in their separate room has a mixed age gathering of 8-9 children who spend gathering and snack time together. The rest of the day, the kids are welcome to roam around the many stations in all three rooms, and play together when outdoors. These older kids embrace their group names of “starfish”, “bluebirds” and “crickets”. 

At Family Preschool, the snacks are healthy and safe for all children, adhering to their Allergy-safe for All Children policy. Food items containing medically-documented allergens are not brought into the school for snacks for any children, including food brought for special celebrations. Children in the older classrooms may stay for an “Lunch Bunch”, which is an optional additional hour each day for a small added fee, where they bring their own lunch from home. These lunches do not have to adhere to the allergy policy, but strict precautions are in place to avoid exposing any child with allergies to the problematic food. Again, I know this firsthand as the mom of a child with a life threatening food allergy.

Play and learning is child led, where they are given appropriate time at all ages for free play. Option include sensory tables, art provocations, dress up, puzzles, science projects, and more. Gathering time is held for 2-5 year olds in their classrooms, where they may tackle the current theme by reading books about the subject, having discussions, or learning songs. Ample time outdoors is an essential part of the day for all ages. The playground is full of well maintained wooden structures for exploring, and there are nature trails to explore nearby. The oldest pre-K children have frequent field trips throughout the year, and are gently encouraged as they gain skills they’ll need in school both in and out of the classroom. 

Upcoming Events:
Come by and check out Family Preschool this weekend at their open house, from 3-5pm this Sunday, the 13
th. Refreshments will be served, children are welcome, and tours will be given. If you can’t make it, feel free to call and arrange to come by whenever, or contact me with any additional questions.

How to apply: 
FPS is currently accepting applications for the 2014-15 school year beginning until February 6th, 2014. The lottery will be February 7th, 2014. Applications should be submitted electronically. Preference is given to existing families.

Where they are:
Phone: (919) 402 .1500
Family Preschool, 4907 Garrett Road, Durham, NC 27707
For more information email, or the author of this, Kat Benson at SoDu Parents Posse


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