Special Section

The Right Fit

How to choose a preschool in a sea of options.
By Emily Gaines Buchler —

dropcapSingle mom Megan Kelly, who lives in Ruxton, wanted something more than “just a daycare program” for her daughter Emerson, now four years old. “I wanted an engaging and stimulating preschool experience,” she explains, “something educational that would take advantage of Emerson’s sponge-like ability to learn and grow as a young child.”

A nurse at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital, Kelly understood the importance of the preschool years. “The brain develops so much in the first years of life,” Kelly says.

“These years matter.”

A product of a Montessori preschool herself, Kelly knew that she wanted Emerson to attend a program based on the teachings of Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator in the early 20th century. “I loved learning and gravitated to the Montessori environment, where I could follow my curiosity and learn at my own pace,” Kelly says. “I knew Emerson would thrive in a place like that, too.”

In particular, Kelly liked the mixed-age classrooms offered at Montessori schools. Educating the whole child, instead of focusing only on academic goals like learning letters and numbers, was another appealing feature.

“As crazy as it sounds for a young child, I wanted Emerson to start learning how to be a helpful, empathetic member of society,” Kelly says, “and to be socialized with children from diverse nationalities and cultures.”

“Young children are capable of more than we give them credit for,” says Katie Rooney, director of early childhood education at Irvine Nature Center, which runs The Nature Preschool. “In our program, students spend the bulk of time in nature and learn to be stewards of the environment.” They even go home and nudge their families to do things like cut down on waste and live a greener lifestyle, Rooney says.

Aside from a well-rounded curriculum, other factors mattered to Kelly as she searched for a fit—cost, location, hours, safety measures, and even outdoor play space.

As a healthcare provider, Kelly cares a lot about safety. Although she enrolled Emerson before the coronavirus pandemic started, she trusted the school’s approach to safety from the beginning. Others attest to the importance of trusting your child’s early learning provider.

“First and foremost, parents need to feel comfortable with the health and well-being of their child,” says Ameka Smith, executive director of early childhood at the Y of Central Maryland, which operates five preschools in and around Baltimore. But comfort doesn’t come easily when parents can no longer tour programs in-person or drop by to observe.

“Before COVID, parents could go into a center and see firsthand how children engage with teachers,” Smith says. “That’s not possible with virtual tours.”

Smith advises parents to spend time during or after a virtual tour talking to the director and teachers. “Get a sense of who they are as people and how they run their program and classroom,” she says. Ask how they communicate with parents—and how often. “Open, ongoing communication is crucial because it eases the anxiety families feel from not being able to pop in the classroom,” Smith explains. “It also helps parents support and extend their child’s learning at home.”

Make sure the curriculum is both age-appropriate and designed to foster skills like creativity and problem-solving, she says. “Some parents want to see step-by-step crafts like the perfect-looking reindeer or bunny,” Smith shares. “More meaningful art projects are thought-provoking and less teacher-directed.”

Natasha Morton, preschool director of the Y Preschool at Weinberg, advises parents to look for programs that value hands-on learning and movement.

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“Preschoolers really should not be sitting down for more than 10 to 15 minutes straight for any kind of learning activity,” Morton says. “They need to be playing and interacting with their environment.”

Morton says parents sometimes misinterpret what it means for preschoolers to play. “Children learn all kinds of things through play,” she says, from social-emotional skills like sharing and taking turns to academic skills like naming colors and learning to count.

With countless preschools and childcare options in the Baltimore area, parents face a difficult decision and “ultimately need to figure out which one best fits your family,” says Morton, who has taught in or directed preschools for 29 years.

“Research has told us for a long time now that children learn best through play,” says Rooney of Irvine Nature Center. “Yet in our rushed lifestyles and inundation of information about what our kids should be doing—music lessons, art lessons, sports teams— unstructured play can get left out.”

The solution, Rooney says, is for teachers and parents to slow down and give kids time and space for unstructured, or free, play. “When we toss out our agendas and see the world through kids’ eyes, that’s when the deep learning, the magical stuff, happens.”

The Right Fit Preschools

Starting Your Early Education Search

Here’s a list of selected schools and day care centers in the Baltimore area.

Apple Ridge Montessori School
200 Ingleside Ave., Catonsville, MD 21228.
410-818-2000. appleridgemontessori.org.

The Baltimore Montessori
Canton: 1001 S. Potomac St., Baltimore, MD 21224.
Locust Point: 1530 E. Fort Ave., Baltimore, MD 21230.
410-980-7449. thebaltimoremontessori.com.

Beth El at Federal Hill
1530 Battery Ave., Baltimore, MD 21230.
410-528-6001. bethelbalto.com/beth-el-federal-hill.

Beth Tfiolh
3300 Old Court Rd., Baltimore, MD. 21208.
410-486-1905. bethtfiloh.com/preschool.

Bolton Hill Nursery School
204 W. Lanvale St., Baltimore, MD 21217.
410-728-0003. boltonhillnursery.org.

Bright Horizons at Harbor Point
1201 Wills St., Baltimore, MD 21231.
877-624-4532. child-care-preschool.brighthorizons.com/md/baltimore/harborpoint.

Calvert School
105 Tuscany Rd., Baltimore MD 21210.
410-243-6054. calvertschoolmd.org.

Celebree Schools
1306 Bellona Ave., Lutherville, MD 21093 and other locations.
410-515-8650. celebree.com.

Chapelgate Christian Academy
2600 Marriottsville Rd., Marriottsville, MD 21104.
410-442-5888. chapelgateacademy.org.

A Child’s Place, Notre Dame of Maryland University
4701 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21210.
410-532-5399. ndm.edu/childs-place.

Children’s Magnet and Children’s Manor Montessori Schools
7105 Dogwood Rd., Windsor Mill, MD 21244 and other locations.

Columbia Academy
Multiple locations.
410-312-5233. columbiaacademy.com.

Downtown Baltimore Child Care
237 Arch St., Baltimore, MD 21201.
410-659-0515. dbcckids.org.

Dulaney Day Preschool
6915 York Rd., Baltimore, MD 21212.
410-377-2702. dulaneydayschool.com.

Emmanuel Methodist Preschool
10755 Scaggsville Rd., Laurel, MD 20723.
301-725-6600. emmanuelpreschool.com.

Garrison Forest School
300 Garrison Forest Rd., Owings Mills, MD 21117.
410-363-1500. gfs.org.

Gilman School
5407 Roland Ave., Baltimore, MD 21210.
410-323-3800. gilman.edu.

The Goddard School (Canton)
1000 S. Highland Ave., Baltimore, MD 21224.
443-842-5300. goddardschool.com.

Goldsmith Early Childhood Center of Chizuk Amuno Congregation
8100 Stevenson Rd., Baltimore, MD 21208.
410-486-8642. chizukamuno.org.

Govans Presbyterian Preschool
5826 York Rd., Baltimore, MD 21212.
410-435-8189. govanspres.org.

Grace Preschool
5407 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21210.
410-532-2235. gracepreschoolbaltimore.com.

Greenspring Montessori School
10807 Tony Dr., Lutherville-Timonium,
MD 21093. 410-321-8555. greenspringmontessori.org.

Harford Day School
715 Moores Mill Rd., Bel Air, MD 21014.
410-838-4848. harfordday.org.

JCC Early Learning Center
3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., Owings Mills 21117.
410-559-3589. jcc.org.

Kiddie Academy of Locust Point
1215 East Fort Ave., Baltimore, MD 21230.
667-930-3677. kiddieacademy.com/academies/locust-point/

La Petite Academy of Baltimore
2434A W. Belvedere Ave., Baltimore, MD 21215.
888-330-2878. lapetite.com.

The Park School of Baltimore
2425 Old Court Rd., Baltimore, MD 21208.
410-339-7070. parkschool.net.

Peabody Preparatory
21 E. Mount Vernon Place, Baltimore, MD 21202.
667-208-6640. peabody.jhu.edu/preparatory/ways-to-study/departments/earlychildhood

Redeemer Parish Day School
5603 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21210.
410-435-9510. redeemerpds.org.

St. Paul’s Schools
11152 Falls Rd., Brooklandville, MD 21093.
410-825-4400. stpaulsmd.org.

Step By Step Children’s Learning Center
47 Loveton Cir., Sparks, MD 21152.
410-771-4151. stepbystepclc.com.

Stoler Early Learning Center of the JCC of Greater Baltimore
3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., Owings Mills, MD 21117.
410-559-3554. jcc.org/elc.

Towson Presbyterian Preschool
400 W. Chesapeake Ave., Towson, MD 21204.
410-337-2762. towsonprespreschool.org.

Waldorf School
4801 Tamarind Rd., Baltimore, MD 21209.
410-367-6808. waldorfschoolofbaltimore.org.

Woodbrook Early Education Center
25 Stevenson Ln., Baltimore, MD 21212.
410-377-8919. weecenter.net.

Y of Central Maryland
Catonsville: 850 South Rolling Rd., Catonsville, MD 21228.
Towson: 301 W. Chesapeake Ave., Towson, MD 21204.
UMBC: 1000 Hilltop Circle, Baltimore, MD 21250.
Weinberg: 900 East 33rd St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
Y Chipmunks Preschool: 2102 Old Westminster Pike, Finksburg, MD 21048.

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