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Choosing The Right Early Learning Program For Your Child – 4 Things You’ll Want To Consider

Back to School, BC Parents, Education
15 min read

How important for you parents is the decision of what type of early learning program to register your kiddos in? It’s a bigger one than you might initially imagine as this is the bridge from home to society for your precious littles. 

As hard as it is to let them go, once they reach that preschool age, starting an early learning program might be the best way for them to gain some social skills and learning foundations with their peers. Luckily, we have interviewed a group of very dedicated and passionate early childhood educators and other early learning professionals who are ready to teach them a lot more than their ABC’s, 123’s, and Do-Re-Mi’s.

During this transition from being home full-time to starting their very first preschool or daycare program, parents and their kiddos alike can experience a lot of anxiety. The good news is there are a lot of ways to safely set our children up for success while helping them reach their developmental stages.

From smaller home-based settings to larger classrooms, and everything in between, nowadays children and families are spoiled for choice when it comes to preschools, daycares and other early learning options. Though many will be impressive to you in their environments and presentations, before you make your final decisions about whether to place them in part-time preschool or full-time childcare this fall, allow us to help you make informed decisions. Starting off with Parent Packs, each early learning program should include these four important categories and offer them to you as part of the interview process.

  1. PHILOSOPHY – the methods, goals & values of the children and their learning
  2. ENVIRONMENT – the space, the materials, the equipment, and their daily routines
  3. POLICIES & PROCEDURES – the expectations and the practices of the staff, children and their caregivers
  4. CURRICULUM – the daily plan staff & teachers develop and follow to organize and implement schedules, activities and teachings

Each child is unique, special and deserving of an early childhood program that fits their need for play, growth and success. That’s why it’s important for parents to understand the different types of childcare programs available. This can ultimately affect how well the child progresses, finds their passions, and develops social and emotional intelligence. Equally, educators must find the right childcare program to fit their teaching philosophy and match their approach to curriculum delivery. When this balance is found between the child, teacher and family the optimal learning environment is achieved.

Nika Lakhani, Founder of Educator Connect/Early Learning College Instructor

We are so excited to be reporting to you from play-based and parent participation programs to early academics and other specialized academies to a more nature-based approach including Reggio-Emilia and Montessori inspired programs. Though extensive, this list is still just a starting point to introduce you to the many early learning philosophies and curriculums available to your kiddos entering into their first programs.

I would like to start off our lineup of programs with one very enriched choice that isn’t a huge leap from the feel of home for these young children. This unique gem is tucked away in South Delta and led by Early Childhood Educator Extraordinaire, Natasha Homen, founder of Seven Senses Nature School. Offering a blend of almost everything you will read about in this story, Natasha draws from her love of play, exploration, and learning. Holding a BA with minors in both psychology and sociology, along with teachers licenses in Montessori, Early Childhood Education, Special Needs, and Infant Toddler, it’s safe to say Natasha is well equipped to teach, guide, and care for our kiddos. She runs this program from her home and takes the children on field trips almost daily where the children vote on where to go to take ownership of their days. “I believe that Early Childhood Education should be a time when children are given the opportunity to explore and build upon their own confidence by making their own choices in their social, emotional, and academic development.Natasha Homen, Owner/Teacher

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Photo by Haylee Holmes of @hayleeh.photos

PLAY-BASED PROGRAMS

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I cannot think of any way I would rather start off this section than with a quote from Dr. Deborah McNamara, PhD, of Kids Best Bet, who is the go-to person for anyone who needs any help with advice for parents and/or teachers on how to guide our young children. According to Deborah, “There are three essential characteristics to play: it is (1) not work, (2) not for real, and (3) expressive and exploratory. This definition can be used to evaluate what activities truly foster ideal conditions for play.

And we are happy to use Creative Kids Learning Centres as our example for play-based programs. Founder, Sandra Christian, offers such a program by ”providing a safe, nurturing, and enriching program that each child has the benefit to explore at their own pace and ability. Passionate educators embrace and encourage each child to reach their maximum potential through quality programming to set the stage for their bright futures that are full of possibilities.

NATURE-BASED PROGRAMS

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I have chosen three nature-based programs here to show various ways to provide such an enriching, inquiry-based opportunity for kids to learn in their natural surroundings, in parks, in forests, and even on a farm at Hazelmere Acres!

According to TK Hannah, Manager of Saplings Outdoor Program, “Nature-based programs offer young learners a unique opportunity to nurture not only their cognitive and physical abilities but also their wellbeing and social emotional learning. The natural environment can cultivate empathy, resilience, and problem-solving skills, improving mental and physical health. This holistic approach to education fosters a strong foundation for lifelong learning, well-being, and a deep connection to the natural world.

Hazelmere Acres Preschool And Daycare fosters the happy, healthy development of children as they grow in their understanding and knowledge of themselves and the world in which they live. “I believe children strive for their best potential when they are guided gently and patiently to explore learning with their own unique viewpoints and ideas. When children are encouraged to question and have thoughtful role models to help seek the answers, they can confidently develop a positive desire for education.” Natalie Freeman, Owner/Teacher.

Kate Dawson, Program Coordinator, begins by explaining that,”Terra Nova Nature School is a community-based, not-for-profit outdoor school, offering licensed preschool for children ages 3-5 as well as seasonal programs for children from birth to teen. Situated in a beautiful municipal park, the landscape offers unique opportunities for learning from and with the land. Our Early Childhood Educators weave together educational philosophies from Reggio Emilia, the First People’s Principles of Learning and land-based pedagogy, so that children enjoy learning holistically, through free play and with ample time to explore what it means to live well together as a group.

MONTESSORI PROGRAMS

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Play is the work of the child. Do not tell them how to do it. Show them how to do it and do not say a word. If you tell them, they will watch your lips move.”

Dr. Maria Montessori

Victoria, Founder of Little Garden Montessori explains that, “Montessori is an amazing program that any child can thrive from. The materials used within the classroom engage the senses and the students can work at their own pace and they are free to choose their work and move to the different activities that capture their interest. This is an advantage for children who require more movement and physical activity.”

“A critical development at this early age is learning how to effectively and positively socialize with peers, which we emphasize at Westside Montessori Academy,” says WMA co-founder Sarah Gatiss-Brown. “Being gently guided with kindness by older role models helps children learn through their interactions and to use appropriate language and social skills. The children are set up for success at all stages of their journey. Maria Montessori believed each child is like a sponge with an innate desire to learn. In our classrooms, children explore using beautiful Montessori materials in a positive, nurturing environment, learning at their own pace in their own style.”

“At Nido de Montessori, children are at the forefront of their learning and actively participate in developing their understanding of the world. We combine Montessori and Inquiry-Based Learning and our goal is to support and inspire children to discover how they learn, rather than simply seeking out ‘the right answer.’ We provide developmentally appropriate opportunities for children to actively engage with their surroundings and expand their understanding of self and others. As students explore connections, patterns, and experiences amongst peoples, cultures, and nature, they build their understanding of our shared humanity and their place within it.Rika Motohashi, Principal.

LAB SCHOOLS, ACADEMIES & OTHER SPECIALIZED PROGRAMS

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How best do kids learn? Through play!” According to Peter Salvador, Vice President of Innovation and Marketing at CEFA, “Really it’s no different than how adults learn too. If the learning experience is enjoyable and fun, the more children are engaged, the more they are interested, and the more they learn. Teachers at Core Education & Fine Arts turn learning in key areas of brain development into fun and engaging games and activities in Language, Numbers, Peer Social Skills, and Emotional Control/Emotional Intelligence, which make up each section of the framework of our curriculum.”

Sara Sutherland, Manager, Capilano University Children’s Centre offers that, “The Children’s Centre at Capilano University provides the University community with a vibrant academic resource, welcoming both faculty and students, and we work in partnership with the Capilano University Centre for Childhood Studies in the provision of the education of future educators. We take up the lab school model in a very intentional and particular way – we are not a place where children or educators are studied, but rather the vision we hold for the lab school model is one that is an immersive space, a site for experimentation and a lively space of and for relationships and encounters. Our accomplishments come from functioning not only as a provider of childcare but from the role of a lab school where educators and faculty are in collaborative and generative partnerships that inform Early Childhood Education curriculum and course development.”

“Childhood is a special time that is not to be rushed! We take this important journey together with the children, knowing that the children we are working with today will need essential life skills in problem solving, creative and imaginative thinking, compassion, curiosity and collaboration if they are to be the innovators and leaders of tomorrow! We accomplish this by building the skills children will need to flourish in an ever-changing world, while focusing on the individual that they are today, in this moment. Using their imaginations to challenge themselves, children learn to ask questions, test out theories and ponder the magical question, “what if…?” Lynda Smith, Director of Curriculum for Rothewood Academy.

“Our early learning centre is a unique model of an academically enriched curriculum, enhanced through music, dance, theatre, and visual arts. Focused on nurturing and developing children’s whole selves from Reggio Emilia and Montessori principles, our educators work with skilled performance and visual arts instructors to create learning environments in professional, specially purposed spaces where your children’s creativity can flourish.” Linda Shirley, CEO/Head of School, Renaissance Academy Of Learning.

PARENT PARTICIPATION PROGRAMS

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“Tom Thumb has been in the Dunbar community for over 70 years! Our program is unique as it is a non-profit, parent involvement preschool. We are different from other preschools because we offer a more inclusive, collaborative, and transparent educational environment. At Tom Thumb, parents, children, and teachers all contribute to and participate in a creative learning environment for growth. Parents have the opportunity to be with their children and support the teachers in the classroom and to have a voice in the administration of their child’s school by being on our board of directors. Being a non-profit, all of the money we collect goes directly back into our school environment.” Jessy Bal, Manager, Tom Thumb Parent Involvement Preschool.

One philosophy that we were not able to cover specifically in this story that warrants some attention is that of Reggio Emilia, Vancouver Reggio Association is a great resource to find their members and programs.

“The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations, and the richer their experiences.”

Loris Malaguzzi, Reggio- Emilia Founder

PLANTING THE SEEDS OF CREATIVITY WITH EARLY LEARNING CLASSES

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Another option in the early years is to start with early learning classes that build fundamental skills and abilities which help kids navigate the world in whatever they go on to do! One such very special place is Arts Umbrella. “In all disciplines, students are guided to use their imagination, intellect, and emotions for creative exploration and expression. Through active participation, students acquire and experience fundamental techniques and concepts, including practical knowledge, art language elements, and social and emotional learning.” Susan Smith Alexander, Senior Director, Programming.

Regardless of the program you choose, once you’ve done your due diligence and completed your interview process, you will still never know if it’s really a good fit for your child until you audit the program, and preferably with your child, so you can see how comfortable they are in the environment, and with the staff who work in the room with your children.

4 GREAT EARLY LEARNING PROGRAMS!

ARTS UMBRELLA EARLY LEARNING

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Developed by early childhood education exerts, Arts Umbrella’s Early Learning sessional classes are a great way to have your student introduced to specialized programming in Dance, Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts. Classes are led by industry professionals in the state-of-the-art Vancouver-based facility and provide a unique opportunity for children ages 2-6 to learn in a fun, supportive, and inspiring environment.

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Photo by Devan Francis

RENAISSANCE ACADEMY OF LEARNING

renaissanceacademy.ca

12491 No 2 Rd #1, Richmond, B.C. 604-774-8154

Renaissance Academy of Learning provides opportunities for self-expression through enriched educational experiences integrated with fine arts to empower children to become creative thinkers, problem-solvers and socially adept citizens. We believe student’s learn empathy by observing the behaviours of adult role models in their lives and by participating in charitable activities; leading them to create a future filled with kindness.

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SAPLINGS OUTDOOR PROGRAM

saplingsoutdoorprogram.ca

Saplings Outdoor Program provides an educational experience that connects children with the natural world, fostering respect, curiosity, and creativity. Through holistic, experiential and inquiry-based learning, our approach nurtures children’s whole selves, developing their minds, bodies, and spirits. It empowers children to take an active role in their education while building a community that values and celebrates each learner’s unique voice.

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Photo by Tilly Nelson

WESTSIDE MONTESSORI ACADEMY

westsidemontessoriacademy.ca

Westside Montessori Academy co-founder Sarah Gatiss-Brown notes that introducing the Montessori process early can instill skills and confidence that follow our students throughout their academic years. WMA’s dedicated staff have proven instrumental in bringing out the creative, confident best in our students. Now that we are moving to our new location at 5550 Fraser Street, we hope to bring our love of learning to more Vancouver families.

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NEW EARLY LEARNING HUB!

EDUCATOR CONNECT

educatorconnect.ca

Educators must find the right childcare program to FIT their teaching philosophy and match their approach to curriculum delivery. When this balance is found between the child, teacher and family the optimal learning environment is achieved. Educator Connect allows Centers and Educators to dive deeper into finding the right FIT through personalized profiles and teaching portfolios. Educators can view school profiles, view their introduction videos, and current job postings. If it’s the right FIT simply like the post! Centres can view the educators resumes, watch their  introduction videos and view their portfolio of teaching projects. If it’s the right FIT they simply connect and hire! Additionally schools and teachers can connect through the SubHub with on call teachers, Practicum students, and part time educators all in one place. 

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READ MORE EARLY LEARNING STORIES WRITTEN BY LORRIE AT KIDS NEWS & REVIEWS!

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