When my son turned one, everyone began asking me about preschool. How many tours had we gone on? Were we on a wait list? It seemed extreme since he wouldn’t be setting foot in one of these places for more than a year. But I quickly learned that preschool is a big deal in Charlotte, with wait lists and midnight registrations and, for me, lots of anxiety.
Parents here are fortunate, because the Queen City is home to many, many preschools who are leading the way in early childhood education methods. Gone are the days of sitting at a table and trying to stay in the lines on a coloring book page.
Here are three innovative preschools that aren’t afraid to think outside the box:
This 50-year-old program has the distinction of being Charlotte’s first racially integrated kindergarten, and Director Sheila Locklear says the school still follows the progressive philosophy on which it was founded. Although Open Door School is a mission of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte, you won’t find Christmas trees, Easter eggs or other religious symbols displayed during Christian holidays. Locklear says those should be celebrated at home.
Students in the program, which serves 2-to-5-year-olds, focus on hands-on learning rather than rote instruction.
“We don’t teach them ‘this is red because Ms. Sheila says so.’ Instead we give them red crayons or paint let them experience it,” she said. “We use that same approach whether they’re doing math or social studies as well.”
You also won’t find a time-out chair or treasure box at Open Door School. Staff focuses on reasoning and conflict resolution rather than a reward or punishment system. That’s because Locklear believes social and emotional development is just as important as academics.
Open Door School: 234 N. Sharon Amity Road
Part of the ALC (Agile Learning Community) network, the K-12 school ALC Mosaic also has an early childhood education program and a half-day pre-K co-op for kids 4 and younger. Director Lacy Manship said 2-year-olds can attend, but they must have a parent or caregiver present.
Children ages 2 through 8 spend time in the same “flow” in ALC Mosaic’s “Roots” early childhood education program. On a typical day the structure is loose, with some kids joining staff or “facilitators” on walks through the woods, making boats out of tin foil or removing their shoes and taking some cleansing breaths before beginning calm indoor play.
Manship told us her basic philosophy is that children are people and deserve the same amount of respect and rights as adults.
“Children are learning as they play — we don’t have to prescribe a certain set of information or skills on them,” she said. As a result, kids who come out of the Roots program often don’t have the same identity hangups as other kids: “I’m not a good reader” or “I’m bad at math.”
ALC Mosaic: 401 E. Arrowood Road
Run by the YMCA and operated out of the Ballantyne Arts Center, this preschool uses an arts-integrated curriculum to help kids develop cognitively, socially, emotionally and physically.
Disclaimer: this is the preschool we chose after a tour with Director Meghan Nance, who told us that it’s all about using art — visual art, theatre, music, etc. — to teach kids.
For example, if students are learning about the number four, they aren’t counting and writing the number four over and over.
Instead, they might explore a well-known painting by Henri Matisse called Goldfish, noting the four goldfish swimming in the fishbowl, before using paper and four orange handprints to collage a piece of art that represented the number four. Later that day, they might dance along to a silly song all about goldfish during their dance special, make goldfish faces and practice counting with goldfish crackers.
Nance told us, like any good artist, she drew inspiration from many sources, including other innovative preschools, to create BPA. All staff members there are professionals in their craft, whether it’s early childhood education or various artistic endeavors.
She said it’s engaging for kids to have a creative, sensory-driven curriculum but it’s also critical for them to learn the skills they’ll need for elementary school, including standing in line and eating at a table with other students. The balance is what makes BPA unique.
Ballantyne Preschool of the Arts : 11318 North Community House Road
Know of any other innovative preschools in the area? Let us know in the comments.
Photo Credit: Ballantyne Preschool of the Arts
This story was written for CharlotteFive’s latest channel for parents in the QC, called QC Playground. Sign up for the weekly QC Playground newsletter here.