General preschool FAQs

Q: What is a co-op?

preK classroom focusing on art smocks hung up

A “co-op” is short for a parent cooperative school. Co-op schools employ a professional teaching staff but are operated in part by students’ parents. In general, parents take on classroom and administrative roles, which help with the day-to-day running of the school. The schedules and specific duties, as well as who can participate (parents, other family members, or other care givers), depend on the school. Parent participation keeps the paid staff to a minimum, and tuition is often lower than at non-co-op schools. Co-ops provide parents with an opportunity to participate in their child’s preschool experience and, for many, provide a greater sense of community.

Q: What do the different curriculum options mean?

There are several common curricula and educational philosophies. The most basic distinction is play-based versus academic. According to a PBS article, most preschools offer play-based programs, also known as child-centered programs, which allow children to pick activities that appeal to their interests; academic programs are teacher directed with a structured plan in place for the day (“Comparing Preschool Philosophies: Play-Based vs. Academic,” The 2015 New York Times opinion piece, “Let the Kids Learn Through Play,” discusses research on play-based versus academic preschool programs.

One well-known preschool philosophy is Montessori—a child-centered method that includes “multiage groupings that foster peer learning, uninterrupted blocks of work time, and guided choice of work activity” (“Introduction to Montessori Method,” American Montessori Society).

The Waldorf method uses music, dance, theater, writing, and other forms of art to help children “cultivate their intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual capacities” in a “developmentally appropriate, experiential, and academically rigorous” setting (“Waldorf Education: An Introduction,” Waldorf Education).

Another well-known approach, Reggio Emilia, “begins with a particular and strong image of children, of adults, of education, and of life, and flows from a set of guiding principles” (“About NAREA,” North American Reggio Emilia Alliance).

Q: When should my child start preschool?

Child playing with soft blocks

This decision is up to you. Some schools require students to be potty trained before starting, while others do not.

Most schools have age cut-offs for class placement. For example, many schools require students to be 2 years old by September 1 to start in a 2s class—this depends on the school’s license with the State of Maryland and is generally not flexible. Other schools may offer a young 2s program, a rolling 2s class that children can join around their second birthday, or a parent-child class where the parent is required to attend.

Similarly, Montgomery County Public Schools require children to be 5 years old by September 1 to start Kindergarten. It is helpful to consider this when choosing a class level for your children and for planning how many years they will attend preschool.

Q: What are the differences between nursery school, preschool, day care, and in-home care?

The state of Maryland groups child care facilities into two categories: licensed child care centers and registered family child care homes. Both day cares and preschools fall into the former group. The state of Maryland defines licensed child care centers as “professionally staffed facilities which generally serve large groups of children. … Some centers primarily provide care for infants and toddlers. Other centers care only for preschool or school-age children. Most centers provide care for a range of ages.”

Day care facilities tend to offer child care for the entire year, five days a week, all day long, though some do offer part-time or half-day care. Day care centers can serve a range of ages, from infants to school-age children.

Preschools, also called nursery schools, follow the state’s school year and tend to offer half-day care that lasts from 2 to 4 hours. According to the state of Maryland, “Nursery schools are educational programs for children 2 years through 4 years old. These programs are approved by the Maryland State Department of Education.”

As for registered family child care homes, professional caregivers operate these facilities in private residences. The state of Maryland does not allow more than 8 children to receive care in the home at the same time, but these facilities tend to offer care all day. Whether the child care home accepts mixed age groups or a particular age group depends on the individual location.

For more details, visit “What are the Different Kinds of Regulated Care?” Division of Early Childhood, Maryland State Department of Education.

Q: How do I go about choosing a preschool?

Choosing a preschool can be overwhelming, especially given that we want our kids’ first experience with school to be a positive one.

For a quick answer, consider the location and the distance you are will to drive. Visiting the school and talking to representatives should give you an idea of what makes each school special. Pay attention to the school community, curriculum, special activities, and programs to help distinguish one school from another. Also note how you feel when you’re there.

For more detailed information to help you in your decision, explore these addition resources: