The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 7, 2005


Preschool proliferation: as more schools open, programs not filling

Grace and Nate accompany their mom, Stephanie Blunt. Their family can choose from several preschools in town. (Photo by Lois d'Annunzio)
Most preschools in town still have openings in their programs this fall, continuing a trend that has been going on for the last several years. With six preschool programs going, including the public preschool at the Carlisle School and five private ones, schools are faced with increasing competition to educate the youngest members of the population. Where families once applied to preschools the previous year, there are now spots available throughout the year.

In the last ten years three preschools have opened: the Carlisle Integrated Preschool at the public school, the Concord Montessori School at St. Irene Church on East Street and the Carlisle Early Literacy Preschool which opened last fall just across the street at the Extended Day program. Montessori director Robin Jean, who began the program in Concord in 1975, sees it this way: "There's a lot of schools for a small town. There's a lot of choice."

Along with more preschools in town, there appear to be fewer children in the age group. There are fewer preschoolers statewide, not just in Carlisle, says Sally Jackson, director of the Red Balloon, the oldest preschool in town, now in its 35th year.

Lingering effects of recession

One reason there are fewer children applying may be the lingering effects of the 2001 and 2002 recession and its impact on the local economy. There are more mothers and fathers at home now, including parents working more flexible hours, and some families with nannies who may be less likely to send kids out to preschool with someone at home, says Jackson.

With the recent closing of the Carlisle Children's Center, a long-time day care facility on Lowell Street, the only program that still has spaces for infants is the Children's Place on Carleton Road. The infant/toddler program is full but the center has openings for older children, says director Lillian DeBenedictis. The home-based business has operated for over 30 years, and every now and then there is a lull in enrollments, she says. "There are fewer kids now and there are fewer kids at the public school." This year there are three kindergarten classes at the Carlisle School, down from four classes in recent years.

The Early Literacy Preschool at the Carlisle Extended Day program now extends its program to include children as young as two years, nine months old.

Traditional preschool programs are still the standard, but with MCAS tests putting performance pressure on teachers and school curricula statewide, some may be looking for more in a preschool. "Parents are looking more closely at what children are doing at preschool" these days, according to Debi Vigilant, director of the Carlisle Early Literacy Preschool, who says the school is seeing a new trend: "Parents want their children to have more skills going into public school."

While some parents see the need to prepare kids for higher expectations in elementary school, both real and perceived, all the preschools agree that creative playtime with other children is the cornerstone of their program. "Learning will take place anyway. It's important to get social skills down pat," says the Red Balloon's Jackson, who points out that what children most benefit from is the social time that the preschool years allow. "Children learn to share with other children," she says "to sit for 20 minutes in a circle, to put on their coats, and to develop self-help skills" that are most important for kindergarten-readiness.

Though area programs have not been full for a few years now, enrollments tend to go in cycles. "This year things are picking back up. There seem to be more kids this age now," says Noah's Ark director Diane Melanson who has operated the program out of rented space in the Congregational Church for the last 25 years. Noah's Ark, the Red Balloon, and Concord Montessori all use classroom space rented from the three churches in town, though the programs are not affiliated with the churches. The private preschool programs encourage parents to visit their classrooms to observe the programs in operation. Some children in Carlisle also attend the preschool program at the Children's Meetinghouse in Concord, near the town line on Lowell Road.

The public Carlisle Integrated Preschool educates preschool-aged children both with and without identified special needs. It opened in the fall of 1998 as an alternative to sending preschool students with special needs out of the school district. Because of its limited openings for students, the public preschool is the only one that does not have any spaces available.

Carlisle Early Literacy Preschool
142 East Street, at Carlisle Extended Day program. 1-978-369-5558
Director: Debi Vigilant
Age of children: Two years/nine months to pre-kindergarten, or age five.
Classes: One mixed-age preschool class.
Program: Curriculum is based on the theory of multiple intelligences. The program allows children who are developmentally ready to participate in literacy instruction.
Hours: Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. -12:30 p.m., with additional extended day hours available from 7:30 a.m. to 6:15 p.m.
Years in operation: Opened in the fall of 2004, it is the newest preschool in Carlisle.
Teacher/child ratio: One teacher plus one assistant/eight preschool children.

Carlisle Integrated Preschool

At the Carlisle School. 1-978-369-3758
Director: Dr. Linda Stapp
Age of children: Ages three years to pre-kindergarten, or age five.
Classes: One mixed-age preschool class.
Program: Public preschool, serving both special needs and typically developing children.
Hours: 9 a.m.- noon, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, with special-needs students also attending on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for specific therapies. Extended program offered from noon - 1 p.m., three days a week.
Years in operation: The public preschool started in the fall of 1998.
Teacher/child ratio: two teachers, plus two to three support staff for children with special needs, plus ten non-special needs preschoolers.
National Association for Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accredited.

Children's Place

54 Carleton Road. 1-978-369-6640
Director: Lillian DeBenedictis
Age of children: Infants through pre-kindergarten, or age five.
Classes: Infant/toddler program, and preschool program.
Program: Preschool program includes pre-reading skills, science, math, music, and art.
Hours: 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, with additional hours available from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., as part of day-care program.
Years in operation: Since 1974.
Teacher/child ratio: two teachers/seven infants/toddlers, one teacher/eight preschoolers

Concord Montessori School

East Street, at St. Irene Catholic Church. 1-978-371-3015
Director: Robin Jean
Age of children: Age two for pre-primary class, ages three to five for primary class.
Program: Based on Montessori philosophy.
Hours: 9 a.m.- noon, two - three days a week for pre-primary class; five days a week for primary class. Optional extended hours from noon -1 p.m., 2 days a week.
Years in operation: In Carlisle since 2000, the school was started in Concord in 1975.
Teacher/child ratio: two teachers/nine children for pre-primary class;
two teachers/16 children for primary class.

Noah's Ark Nursery School

147 School Street, at Carlisle Congregational Church.
Director: Diane Melanson
Age of children: Ages 15 months to pre-kindergarten, or age five.
Classes: Toddler class for ages 15 months — two years/nine months. Preschool class for ages two years/nine months to age four. Pre-kindergarten class for ages four to five.
Program: Offers a group experience to help guide a child towards discovery and understanding. Though not a co-op program, parental input and involvement are encouraged.
Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, 9 a.m.- noon, with an optional extended day on Wednesdays until 3 p.m. Closed Tuesdays. Preschool attends three mornings, and pre-kindergarten attends four mornings.
Years in operation: 25 years.
Teacher/child ratio: one teacher/four toddlers, two teachers/10 preschoolers, two teachers/12 pre-kindergarten children.

Red Balloon Preschool

27 School Street, at Unitarian Church
Director: Sally Jackson
Age of children: Age three by September 1
Classes: Preschool class, ages three -four; Pre-kindergarten class, ages four - five.
Program: Cooperative preschool with parental involvement. Child-centered program.
Hours: 9 a.m.-12 p.m., three mornings a week for preschool, four times a week for pre-kindergarten. Extended program offered two times a week from noon -1 p.m.
Years in operation: 35 years.
Teacher/child ratio: Preschool: two teachers/15 children maximum, plus one parent helper daily. Pre-kindergarten: two teachers/19 children maximum, plus one parent helper daily.
National Association for Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accredited.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito