Some of you have only recently embarked upon the interesting adventure that is parenthood. Others among you already have children in the school system, but still have younger ones barely out of diapers.

Whether you’re a first-time parent or a veteran, though, choosing a preschool for your tots can be difficult. Fortunately, we’re here to help. In this section, we talk about some important things to think about when picking your little ones’ very first school.

​INCORPORATED VS. DEDICATED PRESCHOOLS

You may have noticed that some schools profiled on this site offer grades PreK-5, PreK-8, or PreK-12. These institutions have incorporated preschools – which is to say, preschools attached to K-12 schools. At these schools, the preschool often feeds into the K-12 system automatically, without requiring an additional application. Depending on the school, this can be a huge benefit, since it allows for multiple tries at admission to the most selective institutions.

Of course, there are plenty of preschools that aren’t attached to K-12 programs. While some dedicated preschools are little more than glorified nurseries, many of them offer specialized programs for children’s intellectual and social development. Due to our K-12 focus, the Houston School Survey does not currently profile any dedicated preschools. If you’re considering dedicated preschools, though, there is no shortage of options.

PRIVATE VS. PUBLIC PRESCHOOLS

When you’re deciding between incorporated and dedicated preschool options, you’ll also want to consider the other major binary: private vs. public. In preschool as in K-12 education, both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Private preschools, both dedicated and incorporated, are more likely than public ones to use special curricula tailored toward the developmental needs of young children. As an added benefit, private incorporated preschools typically funnel into the main K-12 school without requiring an additional application. If a preschool is attached to a top-tier private school, the odds are good that it’s a high-quality preschool – and if you want your child to go to that particular school, it can’t hurt to get started early.

The major disadvantage of private preschool is, of course, the cost. At the incorporated private preschools profiled by the Houston School Survey, full day tuition for a 3-year-old ranges from $9,900 a year (Trafton Academy) to $22,550 a year (British School of Houston).

In contrast, cost is one of the greatest advantages of public preschool. At HISD-affiliated early childhood programs, children who are considered economically disadvantaged attend for free, as do children who meet any of the criteria listed here. For children who do not qualify for free PreK, HISD mandates a flat tuition fee of $4,590 per year.

While public preschools are less expensive than their private counterparts, however, they are not as universally excellent. This is not to say that no public preschools offer quality education – some, particularly those attached to Montessori, IB, and Vanguard magnet schools, are on par with the very best private preschools. However, many public preschools are not, so it’s important to do your research when considering public preschools as an option.

STARTING AGE

Some parents, by choice or necessity, send their children to daycare as early as possible. Others may choose to forego it entirely, keeping children at home until kindergarten. There is no “right” age for starting preschool – every child and every family is different.

However, when you’re deciding when your children should start their preschool trajectory, it’s important to remember that the availability of programs varies by starting age. While many dedicated preschools can accommodate young infants, incorporated preschools typically have a higher minimum age.

If you want to send your children to an incorporated preschool before the age of 2 years, your options are relatively limited. Of the schools profiled by the Houston School Survey, only these schools offer programming for children below the age of 2 – and even here, the minimum age is typically 14-18 months:

The options are somewhat more varied for 2-year-olds, but not by much. The following schools profiled by the Houston School Survey offer preschool for 2-year-olds:

The majority of incorporated preschools are designed for children ages 3-4. While a handful of HISD schools not profiled by the Houston School Survey offer programming for younger children, virtually all HISD dedicated and incorporated preschools offer programming from age 3 onward. Additionally, most private incorporated preschools – though not all – accept 3-year-olds.

TIME SPENT AWAY FROM HOME

Another important consideration is how long – and how often – you want your child to be at preschool.

Many parents who work part-time or work from home prefer partial days for their preschool children, so as to be able to spend more time with them. If both parents work full-time, though, they will need childcare for the entire business day.

Fortunately, most preschools offer varying lengths of school days to accommodate families’ schedules. The most common preschool schedule is a half day, but many dedicated preschools and most incorporated preschools also offer extended day schedules for working parents. These may begin as early as 7:45 am and end as late as 6 pm.

Additionally, if you don’t want your little one to spend part of every weekday apart from you, there are schools that can accommodate you – some dedicated and incorporated preschools offer Tuesday-Thursday and Monday-Wednesday-Friday options. These allow for a gradual transition into a school environment .

The Houston School Survey profiles several incorporated preschools which offer partial-week schedules:

Tuition for partial-day and partial-week schedules is almost always lower.

SPECIAL PROGRAMS

Preschools vary widely in terms of curriculum. Some simply provide activities to while away the time, but many use specially designed early childhood curricula to promote the development of social and cognitive skills. There exist a considerable number of preschool-specific holistic curricula designed by early childhood experts.

Dedicated and incorporated private preschools nearly always use such curricula. HISD’s dedicated preschools do not offer the same sort of brand-name early childhood education, but they do focus on cultural awareness and the attainment of literacy.

In addition to the host of preschool-specific curricula, there are also two widely-acclaimed educational programs which incorporate early childhood education as well as K-12 levels.

The Montessori Method provides for children as young as 2 years, and the IB Primary Years Programme can accommodate children as young as 3 years. Institutions which offer these curricula at the K-12 levels will also offer them at the early childhood level if they have incorporated preschools.

BREAKDOWN OF PROS AND CONS

Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of the four main types of preschool.

Private, dedicated preschool:

  • Pros: The school’s entire purpose is to provide top-quality programming tailored toward early childhood development.
  • Cons: Tuition costs are higher than you might expect.

Private, incorporated preschool:

  • Pros: In most cases, once your child has been admitted to the preschool, you don’t have to worry about reapplying to the main school – it’s smooth sailing from here. Plus, if the main school is known for its academic excellence, the preschool is likely to follow that pattern, either by starting its programs early or by employing a specialized curriculum designed for young children.
  • Cons: On average, this is the most expensive option.

Public, dedicated preschool:

  • Pros: You won’t break the bank.
  • Cons: While children will learn and grow and attain literacy before kindergarten, the school’s curriculum is much less likely to be designed by early childhood psychologists to target the holistic developmental needs of young children.

Public, incorporated preschool:

  • Pros: It’s cost-effective, and as with private incorporated preschools, special programs in the main school may be reflected in the preschool. This is especially true of Montessori, IB, and Vanguard magnet schools. Additionally, some magnet schools with incorporated preschools allow PreK students to advance to the main school without reapplying.
  • Cons: Not all schools allow PreK students to advance automatically into kindergarten, and not all schools have special programs that can be implemented at the PreK level. You’ll want to be careful and follow up with each potential school individually to make sure that you’re not losing out on potential benefits.

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