Nashville’s Unique Preschools

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Today’s top-notch preschool programs are carefully planned where every activity is aimed at developing your tot’s fullest potential.

Many smart mamas get their unborn progeny on preschool waiting lists as soon as they learn they’re expecting. They have to — for cracker jack programs, it’s often tricky to snag a prized spot should it open up. And preschools are the new educational arenas, constantly evolving amid buzz phrases like, “Kindergarten is the new first grade!” A lot of emphasis nowadays is placed on getting your child into the right preschool to ensure that he’s ready for big school. Read on to discover the various  programs available in our area.

THE ACADEMY SCHOOLS

While The Academy schools are not accredited, they have 200 full-time teachers that are degreed and experienced. The Academy schools offer hands-on learning experiences for ages 6 weeks to 12 years in both a developmental and academic base as well as enrichment classes which are included in the tuition and seasonal field trips for The Academy TASK program for school-age children. “At The Academy, children have a balance of teacher directed activities and free choice, too,” says Lesley Hosford, chief operations officer of Never Grow Up, Inc. and The Academy schools. “The schools each share the same focus and start at age 6 weeks, but go up to either 5 years or 12 years depending on the school.” The student-to-teacher ratios are one-to-four in infants, one-to-six in toddlers, one-to-seven in age 2, one-to-nine in age 3 and one-to-16 in ages 4 and 5. While the school doesn’t offer scholarships, they do offer sibling discounts.

CAMBRIDGE ACADEMY

This 3-Star rated preschool opened its doors in 2004 for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old. Owner Jennifer Rivera launched an innovative approach combining Montessori, traditional and contemporary learning techniques. Teacher directed activities are combined with structured play for the various ages of children, paying close attention to child development. State-of-the-art security cameras are in every classroom and every parent has a private PIN number for check in and check out.

Cambridge prides itself on a developmentally appropriate curriculum in keeping with early childhood development that has been researched and practiced. The philosophy is that children learn best through hands-on activities. Programs are for infants 6 weeks – 12 months;toddlers 12 – 24 months; twos ages 24 months – 3 years; preschool ages 3 – 5 years; and “Ready for K” for 5-year-olds. An enrichment program provides dance, music, sports, drama, gymnastics and Spanish. The school currently has a waiting list which parents can add their names to on the website — cambridgeacademypreschool.com; to learn about fees, request more information.

THE GARDNER SCHOOLS

Ashley Drinnon, marketing manager for The Gardner Schools (TGS) says that TGS schools have a Tennessee 3-Star accreditation and are developmentally and academically based for children ages 6 weeks – PreK. Their fees vary by location and they do offer a 5 percent discount on the oldest sibling’s weekly tuition. Teacher-to-student ratios vary by age and are compliant with Tennessee State licensing guidelines. There are on average 30 – 35 teachers at each location.

“Our degreed and highly qualified teachers are carefully selected based on their education, previous teaching experience, love of children and ability to bond and effectively communicate with their students,” says Drinnon. “All lead teachers are required to have a four-year degree in early childhood education or a closely related field. This high standard is one of many that sets TGS apart,” she adds.

The school’s educational philosophy is to encourage a learning environment that stimulates and nurtures children’s growth and development.

“Our teaching philosophy incorporates structured activities, while remaining flexible enough to foster self-discovery that will help each child explore and learn at his own pace,” Drinnon says.

The atmosphere incorporates a blend of traditional and Montessori styles of learning through teacher-directed activities and structured play.

A typical daily schedule for a child enrolled at The Gardner School includes a balanced program with a full day of developmentally and age-appropriate lessons and activities. Preschoolers receive lessons and activities that help them develop  physically, emotionally, intellectually and socially.

Preschoolers visit various enrichment classes based on their interests, which are held in an enrichment studio and computer lab. All the classes incorporate varied materials to practice each theme in new contexts, and each preschool classroom has a computer and access to iPads to guide the children through lessons using this technology. All students go outside twice a day and eat a nutritious breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack.

Enrichment can include art, drama, gymnastics, dance, tennis, soccer, Spanish, Mandarin, computer-based learning and more.

LINDEN WALDORF SCHOOL

Waldorf education began in 1919 when Austrian scientist and philosopher Rudolph Steiner found the first Waldorf school in Europe. There are currently 1,600 Waldorf preschools on six continents across the world with one in Nashville. Aside from the Waldorf school for grades  1 – 8, the school offers PreK: A “Buttercup Program,” which is a parent/child class for 18 months – 3 years and a mixed-age early childhood class available for ages 3 – 6 in five-day or three-day options. Early childhood education at Linden Waldorf emphasizes a home-like environment both protective and secure where activities happen in a “predictable and regular manner.” Children will bake, paint, garden, craft and take note of the changing seasons. Children’s imaginations are nurtured with free and fantasy play; toys of natural materials are used in addition to objects from nature that the children collect. The early childhood three-day program is $6,395. The five-day program is $8,720. Tuition assistance is available for families demonstrating need. Admission is through application only, which includes a visit, fee of $100 and an interview.

MONTESSORI

Middle Tennessee boasts 20 Montessori schools, including two housed within the Metro Nashville Public Schools system. What is it, exactly?

The Montessori education model was developed in 1897 by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori. There are two basic principles: 1) Children absorb learning effortlessly and unconsciously from the physical environment; 2) If left to choose from certain materials available, children will naturally refine their motor skills, language and sensory experiences.

“Montessori creates a prepared environment and educated guides,” says Sherry Knott, executive director of Abintra Montessori School in Nashville. “It allows for freedom of movement, a challenging curriculum and is based on the observation of the individual child and his needs,” Knott adds.

Montessori education is more developmentally based, says Kathy Conlin, educational director at Cool Springs Montessori. “Children are motivated from within and absorb knowledge by interacting with their environment and responding to it,” Conlin says.

“Eighty percent of an early childhood Montessori day is self-directed, whereas in more traditional schools, adults are directing most of the day,” says Knott.

So, what are the benefits of a Montessori education for your preschooler?

“Everything the child does is education,” says Brenda Bernstorf, senior director at Montessori Academy in Brentwood. “The child is encouraged to follow his interests while still getting a well-rounded curriculum,” she adds.

“Montessori students learn how to learn,” says Conlin.

“Children learn to ask questions, make decisions and seek challenges,” she explains, noting that Montessori children transition to a traditional classroom with ease. “They have the foundation to be well-rounded, responsible and productive members of their classroom community,” Conlin says.

Bernstorf says a typical day in the early childhood and toddler classroom “will have a two- to three-hour work cycle, morning snack, group time, morning recess, lunch, rest time and an afternoon work cycle before dismissal.”

Check out different Montessori facilities, as they can vary. “All Montessori schools are different. Parents need to visit a variety of them to find the one that most suits their child’s needs,” says Knott.

PRIMROSE SCHOOLS

The Primrose schools are developmentally and academically based schools, accredited through AdvancedED and are open to infants through kindergartners. Their fees and sibling discounts vary by location and you can sometimes get a scholarship. The teacher-to-student ratios vary by location as well and generally have 30 – 35 full-time teachers on board. “The teachers for ages 2 and older at Primrose School of Brentwood all are degreed and every staff member is first aid and CPR certified,” says Amy Jones, owner of Primrose School of Brentwood who is also opening a new location in Nashville this year. The Primrose School of Brentwood also offers 21 hours of other training per year for their teachers. Everything is included in their programs including music, physical fitness and Spanish — they take field trips, too — and the amount of allotted playtime varies.

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