I guess you could call it a blessing in disguise. My daughter has gone through two preschools and I’m jittery about where she’ll go in September. She’s not delinquent or anything…maybe just picky and stubborn! So, like Goldilocks, I haven’t found the school that hits all my top requirements and is affordable. The things important to me are: good curriculum, caring teachers/loving environment, nice outdoor play area, cleanliness, and security. 

We are lucky, though, to have so many great options in our neck of the woods! 

High End

Preschools

The Greenhouse Preschool & Kindergarten. 2070 Jones Road, Fort Lee, NJ. After hearing from my mom friends about this school repeatedly I decided to check it out. From the outside, it looks like a simple white house on any street block. Inside, it is beautifully and classically laid out. The administrators are warm and accommodating (no attitude) and the teachers look like they have masters from great Early childhood programs at good schools. It is NAEYC accredited and it shows! The art room and the library room are cozy and light-filled. There are lots of windows and it pours warmth into every room. 

Curriculum: Each day’s activities includes Circle Time, Theme related project and music/movement and outside play. The attention to detail is amazing. They have a student as “Star of the Week” and she gets to do a little show and tell. They give you great monthly reports of what the kids will be doing and what to ask them at home. They also really emphasize cultures and multiculturalism (though the students looked mostly white and Asian). 

It was clean and secure (teachers come out in the morning to get the kids so you don’t have to come in). They have great indoor and outdoor gyms. 

Now, comes the kicker. 4 and 5 years old have to be enrolled full time. 8:30 am to 3:30pm is $1,290/month for 5 full days. Ages run from 2 and half to 5 years old. This is not a daycare but a preschool. Three mornings (8:30am to 11:30am) is $690. I love the school but spending almost $10,000 a year makes me cringe. The other concern is that it’s close to Main Street which can get clogged with GWB traffic in the morning. Pick up time can also get hairy with other parents picking up on a very small street (and there is a public elem school nearby). They are booked right now but are accepting applications for next year. Location: house on a residential street. They have also bought out the location that was formerly The Young School on Grand Ave. Link here

UPDATE 5/6/2013…I went back and visited the new location on Grand Ave. It is very similar to the location in Fort Lee–bright and beautiful rooms, same curriculum, and overall wonderful facility. All teachers are certified and the ratio is 1 to 7. The difference is there is no indoor playground but they go outside alot to compensate.

They do parent teacher conferences three times a year and track kids development in 6 areas: cognitive, language, social, self-help, fine motor and gross motor. Pretty thorough!

Right now the age groups are: 2 and a half to 3 and a half yrs; 3 and a half to 4 and a half; then 4 to 5yrs. In Fall 2013 they will be adding an 18 months to 2 and a half years group. If you are interested in this school you should visit in November or December and put your name on the waiting list. They offer renewal to current parents and then in January they offer spots to those on the waiting list. Note: it’s their policy to hold the last month’s tuition as a deposit before you enroll.

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First Presbyterian Preschool and Kindergarten (FPPK).   My son attended PreK 4 here in 2011-12, so we have fond memories of our time there. If you’re the type that loves getting involved then you will love it here! Whether it’s helping get the classroom organized before school starts or participating in a bake sale you can directly contribute to your child’s classroom.

Be aware, though, that this is a co-op and you will have to spend time in your child’s class at least once a month or sometimes twice a month if you get behind. So, many of the moms are stay at home moms or ones who work part-time. I loved getting to know the other kids in the class (they are so cute!) and it’s a great way to get to know other moms.

Miss Jenny (2’s) is spoken highly of and our teacher, Miss June is excellent as well. They have taught there for many years and you can tell the materials have been lovingly gathered over many years of teaching. I thought it was heavily theme based–which is great so the kids learn through having fun. Some moms complain that there’s not enough concrete learning going on (if you want that, go to Apple Montessori!) or that it’s too much play-based. But, I think it adequately prepared my son for Kindergarten (and he is on the younger side, too).

They have a walkathon and a holiday raffle–which were such fun, community building events. We miss FPPK! FPPK also has a scholarship fund for families that need financial assistance. It doesn’t hurt to apply!

Small World Montessori. 308 Tom Hunter Road. Fort Lee, NJ. This is a hard core Montessori school and when you walk in you know it’s something different. In the entryway she has a lovable rabbit that my daughter was fascinated with. It seemed like a nice psychiatrist’s office the way it was decorated. 

You won’t see garish cartoon characters on the walls here! They have lots of unique items in the rooms and kids get to explore as they want. There is no structure in that way, imposed upon them. They are also mixed in a class with students of other ages, which I liked because I do think that kids learn a lot from those older than them. Here, you learn as you are doing things that are nature based and involve concentration, exploration and motor skills. 

Some of the things I thought were stuff we do at home anyway–sorting beads, but as you progress to more difficult things like math and reading I really respected the way they “teach” things in ways that are not like traditional lessons. This made me second guess the way other schools split things up into scheduled sections. Here, teachers just watch the kids and see where they have difficulty…the next day they work more on helping them on that. Another thing I liked was that parents are expected to get very involved, even on a daily basis with their child’s education. That might not be for everyone, though! 

Some things that I wasn’t crazy about was that the kids wear uniforms and the outside play area had no toys. It was just a typical backyard with trees. She said the children use their imagination to play with each other. Many people say that Montessori schools kids are very well behaved. I don’t doubt that but I feel like there also needs to be some things that are plastic and bright colored. For kids who are delayed or advanced, this type of program would be wonderful for them. 

Fees: Registration, supplies comes to around $500. You have to also put two months worth of tuition down–to be applied at the end. So, that’s three months you have to pay upfront. Five full days (8:30am to 3:30pm) is $970. Ouch! Link here

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Palisades Pre-School and Kindergarten. 2324 Fifth Street, Fort Lee, NJ. This is also a very popular school. You can just tell they’ve been around for awhile (1965) and know what works. The space was a bit circuitous–not as open as some other schools. There is a nice outside play area. There were a lot of teachers interacting with children at different stations. One teacher was doing flash cards with a girl while some other kids were doing more active stuff. 

Their curriculum is child-based and they stress learning through play. They don’t teach phonics, but instead use a system by Houghten Mifflin. Their full day is from 9am to 2:45 pm and is $927/month. Location: 2 story building on a residential street. It is near the GWBridge so you may run into bridge traffic during rush hour and Fridays. Link here. 

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Les Enfants. 223 14th Street; Palisades Park, NJ. This school is located in a building that used to be a school. So, unlike all of the above, it has the most “grade school” type environment. It might be intimidating for students who are not used to school or are not ready for this type of school. But, it can also help prepare them for Kindergarten better. It’s a tough call. The thing I like most about this school is that the staff looks like they love working together and love working with kids. Mr. Joe of Kidzmusikk gave a glowing review while we were there. It’s nice that his program is included in the tuition–it’s not extra. 

The daily schedule involves circle time, center time (children choose them), outdoor/indoor play, sharing time, music and movement. The different content areas are Literacy, Math, Science, Social Studies, Arts, Technology and process skills. There is a mixture of teacher-directed and child-initiated activities. It seems the best of both worlds. The outdoor and indoor areas are nice and spacious. 

A full day is 9am to 3:45pm. A full day tuition is $1,020 a month for 5 days. For 3 days (not many schools offer 3 days) it is $765/month. Extended day is 7:30am to 6:30pm. (5 days: $1,270; 3 days $945). Infants and toddlers are located at the Fort Lee campus. Link here

The bathrooms were very clean and the security was tight as well. Location: single story building on a residential street. 

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Future’s Best Nursery Academy. 1435 10th Street, Fort Lee, NJ. This is a daycare, unlike the others above, so it would be ideal for working parents. The program runs daily from 7 am to 6pm and for preK it was $880/month (you can drop off/pick up anytime within that time period). The facility is cozy and there are different rooms for each class. It was naptime when we visited so don’t know about the lighting.

 The outdoor area is nice and big–a rarity in this area but the ground looked like artificial turf. The PreK class is in the basement and this is always a turnoff to me. I feel like kids need to be exposed to daylight. The curriculum looks strong: Circle time, Arts & Crafts, free play, playground, and individual play. The staff looks warm and motherly. It was clean and the security seemed to be good. It’s on a quiet street so probably not a lot of foot traffic nearby. (tip: their web site has a free registration fee offer–mention it and you don’t have to pay the registration fee!) Location: three story building on quiet residential street. Link here

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Apple Montessori. 8 Adelaide Place; Edgewater, NJ. This is a family owned school since 1971 with 15 locations in NJ. Obviously, they’ve found a good formula! All the teachers get a special Apple Montessori training so that there is consistency. Here, students don’t do all Montessori–it is maybe 1/3 of their day. The other areas they are exposed to are: practical life, sensorial, math, science/botany, geography. They use the open court phonics system to teach reading, learn spanish, art, technology, fast track kids program and time at the outdoor playground. 

Only the older kids wear uniforms (kindergarten). This is not a traditional montessori program but it seems to inject a lot of fun into the program so that kids can really let loose. I’ve had moms who have children who attend here proudly show me their child’s work. The kids do read at an astonishingly young age so their language learning programs must work! One criticism I have heard, though, is that the teachers have been caught yelling at the students. If you’re a tiger mom, though, you might not mind that. Location: one building and one house on a quiet residential street. Nice outdoor play area. Link here

The price is one of the more expensive ones in the area: five full days (8:30-3:30pm) $1,335/month. 

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Palisades Child Care Center. 115 River Road; Edgewater, NJ. I briefly visited this school during the kids nap time so was not able to really see the facility’s lighting and other features. The rooms were very large and had lots of toys. They were playing Enya music while the kids were napping. It looks like a very fun place to be and the outside play area was large with nice views of the city. The PreK curriculum was designed to build their writing skills and a strong understanding of group dynamics. The hours are great for working parents since they are open from 6:15 am to 6:15 pm. 5 full day PreK is $207/week or around $828/month. The facilities were clean and had great security and high ceilings “loft-like.” Location: industrial/warehouse like building off of River Road. Link here

Montessori House. 

Spring School.