Prepping for Preschool

How Staten Island Families Weigh Their Early Education Options

If your toddler has reached the age for admission to daycare or preschool, it may be an emotional milestone for you — and them — to overcome. But, the decision-making and adjustment process can be less stressful if you prioritize your goals, have realistic expectations, and do your homework.

Staten Island parents said their top criteria for selecting a daycare or preschool ranged from socialization needs to classroom atmosphere, teachers’ experience level, and the schools’ reputation, among other factors. None of the parents interviewed mentioned cost as a determining factor, though that consideration depends on individual families’ financial budgets.

With safety the prime concern for Rosalie Russell of Castleton Corners, she made the decision on daycare for her 18-month-old son, Brayden, after site visits comparing three day care programs.

That gave her and her husband, Ryan, a more in-depth look at the facilities, the staff, the curriculum, and the environment.

Many schools have open houses prior to the application and enrollment process. Parents should know that as part of admissions, many schools require that incoming students meet age requirements, have health forms, be up to date on all vaccinations, and have a physical by a family physician in compliance with the New York City Department of Health.

Mrs. Russell, now a retired police officer, was also concerned with the credentials of the teachers and day care directors, as well as the curriculum and social activities.

“The children were learning daily — whether it was coloring, numbers or just simple sharing,” she said. The school provided daily updates on his progress and send photos throughout the day, which increased her comfort level, she recalled.

Her son, now 3, has advanced to the school’s three-year preschool program. She also sent her son, Preston, now 5, to daycare at 18 months old, and her daughter, Madison, now 14, to preschool from age 2 to 4.

“Daycare was very important to me,” said Rose Garcia Brown, an educator and native of Huguenot who ultimately sent her children to a South Shore daycare provider — her son at eight weeks old and her daughter at eight months old.

“I wanted a loving caring environment — but also an opportunity for learning,” said the assistant principal for the Department of Education at a Staten Island school.

She researched daycares on the Island, spoke to other parents, and looked for a small setting that provided personal attention and a home-like feel. She also wanted a low ratio of student to teacher — and the daycare she chose has a 8-10 children for every three adults.

“He’s so loved there,” Mrs. Garcia said. “He has opportunities to learn, play, do arts and crafts, but it’s also like he’s home,” she added.

Her two-year-old son is still enrolled at the same daycare provider, while her eight-year-old daughter is now in third grade.

Nicole Sorrentino, a North Shore resident, said she began considering a two-year-old preschool program for her first daughter at just 18 months old in order to build her socialization and separation skills.

“It seemed odd to consider it at such an early age,” said the special education teacher who provides early intervention services on Staten Island.

“As a stay at home mom, I knew she was meeting all her milestones and was on par cognitively,” but was lacking social interaction, Ms. Sorrentino explained.

“That was my main goal of a two-year-old program,” she added. She also wanted an environment where imaginative play was encouraged.

She identified two schools with stellar reputations that both respected the developmental continuum of children.

“Professionally, I listened for positive reinforcement,” she said. “It was important for me to hear negative comments put into a positive form,” she continued. “I needed to see group interactions — not only among the kids, but teachers.”

Ms. Sorrentino, whose oldest daughter is now 15 and younger daughter, 13, said once she was content that the social and educational criteria were met, she also considered the teachers’ experience and nurturing qualities, as well as secondary factors.

“The aesthetics of the environment, along with the cleanliness came into consideration as well,” Ms. Sorrentino said.

Ultimately, the deciding factor was based on her and her daughter’s need to socialize. Ms. Sorrentino did so by utilizing the schools’ drop off and pick up option outside the classroom, while her daughter benefited from extra-curricular playdates.

“This process allowed me to talk and socialize with other moms,” she explained.

“In a climate of working mothers, this was important for me,” she added. “I wanted to connect with other people and meet new people to go to the playground, parks, and museums with.”

For Denise Durante of Tottenville, the decision was made a little easier by the fact that she taught at a North Shore Catholic elementary school that offered pre-K.
But, she still needed to establish a comfort level — for herself and her daughter, Demi, who was two years old when she began the process.

“I was very happy that my daughter loved the teacher and felt comfortable in a safe environment, and that she felt loved — to me that mattered the most,” she said.

Besides practicality, Ms. Durante liked the faith-based environment and socialization.

“Demi went to mass and learned her prayers,” she said. “They were also able to celebrate holidays, such as Christmas, and birthdays.”

Prepping the Preschoolers

With the selection process ironed out, Staten Island parents say they prepared their children — according to age — with positive reinforcement about spending time apart from them and practicing separation techniques for short to intermediate time spans ahead of admission.

“When kids are infants it’s important you let close family and friends help,” Mrs. Garcia advised, suggesting parents take the time to go food shopping, get themselves pampered, or other errands.

In addition, children enrolling in daycare or preschool for the first time should also become involved in extracurricular activities or sports — to spend time away from Mommy and Daddy.

This can help ease separation anxiety for both the toddlers and their parents — and build socializing skills.

She said she encouraged social interaction for her kids through organized activities, like sports or dance, as well as leave them with relatives, so they got accustomed to separation.

“Enroll [them] in something that allows your child to be without you,” Mrs. Garcia recommended. “Pre-k cannot be the first time a child is without a parent. ”

Others said leaving their children for the first time in a preschool school setting was tough, but necessary.
“It was important to me that my daughter separate from me with relative ease,” Ms. Sorrentino said. “Because she was so young, I never wanted her to feel abandoned.”

But, parents said promoting the experience in a positive way and pointing out its advantages outweighs the negatives — even at a young age.

“I highlighted the social aspect of making friends to my daughters, and they were sold right away,” she recalled.

For some, the transition can be smooth and the roles become reversed.

Mrs. Russell said her son Brayden was able to separate without difficulty each day because of his young age.

“I didn’t have to do so much preparation since he was only 18 months old,” she explained. “It was more on my part to mentally prepare myself daily. He’s my second child — my first didn’t go to daycare — so it was upsetting,” she explained.

“It took several weeks — if not months — until I didn’t get upset,” Mrs. Russell added.

Her advice?  “Most importantly, I never let him see me upset.”

By Christine Albano