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  1. Preparing for preschool can seem like an overwhelming process. Although there are many different preschools in Chicago, there are some common elements to preschool that every parent needs to consider. In this intimate recorded live discussion, preschool experts will discuss the logistics of preschool and answer your questions. You will walk away from this discussion knowing: 1. What to expect the first week of preschool 2. What to bring the first day, when to expect a phone call from the teacher, and more 3. How to plan for the entire year such as celebrating birthdays at school, field trips, and more A parent Q&A followed this discussion from our esteemed preschool school panel, which consisted of: The Ancona School Black Bear Academy Florence G. Heller JCC Near North Montessori School Thank you to our Presenting Sponsor The Ancona School
  2. until
    Preparing for preschool can seem like an overwhelming process. Although there are many different preschools in Chicago, there are some common elements to preschool that every parent needs to consider. In this intimate live discussion, preschool experts will discuss the logistics of preschool and answer your questions. You will walk away from this discussion knowing: 1. What to expect the first week of preschool 2. What to bring the first day, when to expect a phone call from the teacher, and more 3. How to plan for the entire year such as celebrating birthdays at school, field trips, and more There will be time for Q&A at the end! Our esteemed preschool school panel consists of: The Ancona School Black Bear Academy Florence G. Heller JCC Near North Montessori School Thank you to our Presenting Sponsor The Ancona School Please email Amy Johnson at amy@npnparents.org with any questions.
  3. Starting preschool is a big deal for both parents and children. From separation anxiety to making new friends to learning new skills, there is a lot to consider and prepare for. Take this opportunity to learn from experts about how to make this a smooth and happy transition for everyone in your family. Preschool experts will discuss how to prepare for the first day of preschool and beyond, how to handle separation anxiety and some things parents and children can look forward to during these special years. You will walk away from this discussion with the following: 1. How to prepare your child for preschool 2. How to handle separation anxiety on the first day and beyond 3. What to expect on the first day Thank you to our preschool panelists: Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph School, Ancona School, Lycée Français de Chicago, Park West Co-Op Nursery School A special thank you to our Presenting Sponsor Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph School
  4. until
    Starting preschool is a big deal for both parents and children. From separation anxiety to making new friends to learning new skills, there is a lot to consider and prepare for. Take this opportunity to learn from experts about how to make this a smooth and happy transition for everyone in your family. In this intimate live discussion, preschool experts will discuss how to prepare for the first day of preschool and beyond, how to handle separation anxiety and some things parents and children can look forward to during these special years You will walk away from this discussion with the following: 1. How to prepare your child for preschool 2. How to handle separation anxiety on the first day and beyond 3. What to expect on the first day Plus our experts will help you prepare yourself for the first day too, and there will be time for Q & A at the end! Our preschool panel consists of: Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph School Ancona School Lycée Français de Chicago Park West Co-Op Nursery School Thank you to our Presenting Sponsor Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph School Email Meredith Marzano at mmarzano@npnparents.org with questions.
  5. This NPN Live at Lunch panel series is a 30 minute preschool panel discussion followed by a 15 minute Q&A about what to look for in a preschool. We hope that you will walk away from this discussion with three things: *The signs of an organized, safe, happy, and enriching preschool program * A better idea of what is most important to you when it comes to preschool * How to ask questions that will help you determine if a program is a good fit for your family
  6. Video
    This NPN Live at Lunch panel series is a 30-minute preschool panel discussion followed by a 10-minute Q&A about applying to preschool. We hope that you will walk away from this discussion with two things: * An understanding of components of the application process and how to apply * Answers to common questions that parents have about this process
  7. While Chicago is replete with hundreds of school choices ranging from public options (open enrollment, magnet, selective enrollment) to private religious and independent options, all schools will require some forethought in planning except one school into which you are automatically accepted and there is never a deadline: your assigned neighborhood Chicago Public School. Each Chicago address is guaranteed an assigned neighborhood elementary (K-8th grade) and high school (9th–12th grade) that allows for immediate enrollment any time of year. Find your assigned school. All other schools (including other neighborhood schools) can be viable options for families but typically do require at least an application to be filled out and, in the case of private schools, can require a lengthy, multi-step process that begins one year before your child will start the program. Some private schools do have rolling admissions, but most schools start their application processes one year prior to enrolling. The key for families is to be prepared and not to miss their window of opportunity, with the “entry year” (i.e., age or grade a program starts) of a school typically being the time when most spots may be available. Most Chicago schools also have a fairly strict cutoff date of Sept. 1, so if a school accepts students who are 3 by September 1, you should apply the fall when your child is 2 by Sept. 1. With the exception of Suder and Drummond (both start at 3 years old) and Inter-American (starts at 4 years old), CPS schools start in kindergarten, when your child is 5 by Sept. 1. Private elementary schools typically start at 3 or 4 years-old. While Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have a centralized application portal (www.go.cps.edu) with a set open and closing date for applications (typically the 1st Monday in October to the 2nd Friday in December), private schools have varying application deadlines that can start in late August and end in February. Be sure to check with each private school to determine application requirements and deadlines. Public schools may offer tours and open houses, but attendance is not a requirement for admissions. Their applications are also straightforward with one for up to 20 non-selective programs and another for up to six selective (test-based) programs. Private schools, however, typically do require participation in a coffee/tour, as well as require a playdate or shadow day, parent interviews, and recommendations. While some private schools share online documents (via Ravenna or similar online platforms), each has its own application requirements and deadlines, so it’s important to keep track along every step. Whichever schools or programs you are interested in, the key is to be ready to apply by understanding the timeline. It really is a process that requires at least a year foresight so we recommend families of any age visit NPN’s Preschool & Elementary School Fair to ask about entry years and find the open house dates and deadlines for each school they are interested in. Updated Spring 2021
  8. Video

    Preschool Philosophies

    Thinking about preschool for your toddler but don't know where to start? Watch this informative discussion about the different preschool philosophies featuring expert panelists from preschools across the city. Topics include: Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia and other philosophies How to decide if these philosophies or others are a good fit for your child How preschool works during the pandemic Participating schools: Bennett Day School British International School of Chicago, South Loop Cardinal Bernardin Montessori Academy Mary Meyer School Urban Prairie Waldorf School Thank you to our presenting sponsor British International School of Chicago, South Loop.
  9. Overwhelmed by school options in the city? Chicago parents have many choices (and questions!) when it comes to private preschools & elementary schools. How do you know which school will be the right fit for your child? How will you fit in as a parent? How can you put your best foot forward during the application process? What do you want to know about financial aid but are afraid to ask? How do you find a "right-fit" school during a pandemic? Join us for an intimate panel discussion with admissions directors from some of the city's most sought-after private schools. We'll talk about different educational environments, how to find the best fit for your child and family, managing the application process, financial aid, school during a pandemic, and much more. Schools represented on the panel include: Bennett Day School Daystar Academy Latin School of Chicago Near North Montessori University of Chicago Laboratory School Thank you to our presenting sponsor, Bennett Day School.
  10. Video

    Preschool Primer

    This session is for anyone who wants to learn when to start the preschool search, what to look for in a preschool, the various types of preschools available, how to determine "school fit" for a 2-year-old, when you should think about making a change, the difference between public and private preK, Chicago's universal preK initiative, and how to best prepare your child for preschool. When discussing preschool programs, this session will focus mainly on private preschool options and touch only briefly on public options. Recorded on 9-14-2020 for the NPN School Fair; all information is current through then.
  11. Public preschool admissions, procedures and offerings have been an ever-changing process year after year. This year is no exception as CPS is once again in the midst of changes to their Chicago Early Learning programs (formerly known as Ready to Learn, Preschool for All and others). The newest change is a Universal PreK (UPK) component, but CPS is rolling it out in phases, which further confuses and muddles the landscape. This latest initiative was announced by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who left office before it could be fleshed out or implemented. While the intent was to have all 4-year-olds in Chicago eligible to receive free preschool (at a local school or community site) by the 2021-2022 school year, the actual details were unclear—and Covid has stretched the timing even further. Needless to say, the rollout has been confusing for many parents but the hope is that it will provide more opportunities for all students. [Related: How to apply for CPS preschools] The original plan was to have the first phase provide 28 highest-need communities on the South and West Sides (and one in Uptown) access in their neighborhood schools and nearby community sites. Then in the 2020-2021 school year, 35 more high-need communities were expected to roll out and, finally, in the 2021-2022 school year, all Chicago 4-year-olds were expected to have nearby neighborhood or community sites available to them. Due to Covid delays and funding issues, the actual timing is in flux. Read more at Chicago Early Learning & UPK FAQs. The original neighborhood phasing for UPK is here. As background, preschool is not required in Illinois, but families do try to have their children enrolled in some programs for socialization or kindergarten readiness. Besides the myriad private options, there are several “public” options that are not necessarily tuition-free. CPS houses preschool programs in school facilities with space, and this past year many programs were through Chicago Early Learning, which had sliding-scale tuition for mostly 7-hour-a-day programs for 3- and 4-year-olds. These programs opened their applications in the spring and, as of now, there are still many available spots in various centers but that also has to do with pandemic challenges. [Related: Preschool vs. Pre-K: What's the difference?] CPS also hosts a small number of Tuition-Based Preschools that are typically popular with families whose older child attends that school (but there is no guarantee the preschool child can attend the same school for kindergarten without applying first). CPS also has three tuition-free programs that begin at age 3 (Suder and Drummond) or age 4 (Inter-American) and the student can stay until 8th grade. These are the only preschool programs you apply to via the go.cps.edu portal. With the addition of Universal PreK, the goal is to ultimately provide free preschool to all Chicago 4-year-olds. Unfortunately, the actual implementation has encountered some speed bumps along the way. Updated fall 2021
  12. Video

    CPS Preschools Decoded

    Learn the differences between CPS magnet preschools, tuition-based preschools and Chicago Early Learning preschools. Get insight on finding the right preschool setting for your little one. This hour-long video covers the various types of programs available, factors to consider, application processes, and how to time your search to find the best preschool option to meet your family’s needs.
  13. As summer nears, families across Chicago inevitably start to ask themselves if their child should go to preschool or pre-kindergarten. If they are currently enrolled in an early childhood program, they start to wonder if they need to find a pre-kindergarten program when their child turns three, leaving their current program even if they are happy there. In a city full of early childhood options, it’s no surprise that families find themselves asking this question as they start to think about where they would like to send their 3- or 4-year-olds for early education experiences. The number of options can make the decision an overwhelming task! But it’s important to note that when it comes to preschool and pre-kindergarten in Chicago, the two are used interchangeably for programs that provide care and education prior to the start of kindergarten. [Related: Play all day? That's exactly what your preschooler should be doing] What’s the difference? The biggest difference in these labels is actually a political one. The national conversation around universal pre-k centers around the idea that all 4-year-olds should have an opportunity to participate in early childhood programs. The term pre-k is used to define the year prior to kindergarten, while preschool is the term used to define all early learning programs from birth to age five. In Chicago, the differences between a program that refers to itself as a preschool and a program that refers to itself as a pre-kindergarten are rooted in the program’s individual philosophy, marketing techniques, and the image the program wants to present to families. What are parents really asking when they are asking about preschool or pre-k? I’ve discovered over the years that when families ask if their child should attend preschool or pre-k, what they are really asking is which program will best prepare their children for kindergarten. That answer isn’t as simple since each family needs to take into account their own ideas about early childhood education, their child’s personality, and what program makes the most sense logistically for their family. [Related: Chicago Preschool Primer (members-only video)] What questions should families be asking if not “preschool or pre-K”? Do we need an early learning program that also provides full daycare? Do we want our child to attend an independent school that may start admissions at 3 or 4 years instead of kindergarten? Does it make more sense for our family to have our youngest child attend a CPS preschool program in the same school as our older children? What do we want our child’s early learning experience to be? For example, do we want a program that promotes outdoor education, or is rooted in the arts or the sciences, or is centered on community and learning to be a good citizen? If there isn’t a difference between preschool and pre-k, what should families look for in an early learning setting? Is the program clearly able to articulate their philosophy, curriculum, and child development? Do the teachers and administrators have training in early childhood education and child development? Do the classrooms focus on the development of the child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive growth?
  14. As you are researching preschools for your little one and weighing your options, did you know that Chicago Public Schools offers many part-time and full-day, school-based and affordable preschool programs at select CPS schools across the city? Perhaps more importantly, if you thought you missed the preschool application boat for next fall, it’s not too late to apply for a seat in this program for the 2019-2020 school year. It’s called Chicago Early Learning (CEL), formerly known as “Ready To Learn” or “Preschool for All.” The application window opened on April 30, 2019, and will stay open until seats are filled. Unlike CPS’s full-time, tuition-based pre-K (TBPK), which requires you to apply directly with each school for admission, the CEL program’s application process is centralized with application sites located throughout the city and tuition is based on a sliding scale. You can apply online at www.chicagoearlylearning.org and find out quickly if you have a spot or will be put on a waitlist. Here are a few more details about Chicago Early Learning: Programs are either half-day (2.5 – 3 hours) with morning and/or afternoon sessions available at each school, or full-day (7 hours, which CPS has been increasingly adding) options, so be sure to filter your search. (The outgoing mayor’s “Universal PreK” for 4-year-olds is gradually being implemented, with 28 sites this fall.) Programs offer a well-rounded and evidenced-based curriculum with assessments to ensure students are on track for kindergarten. Tuition is on a sliding scale based on household income. Families can search for and review sites with the Find & Compare online tool, which can filter by hours, duration and program feature. Out of 600 school and community-based programs, each child may apply up to 2 sites but can only be accepted to one. Separate applications for each child can be made under a family’s account, but CPS cannot guarantee that siblings will be placed together. Chicago Early Learning does not include private schools, magnet, Montessori or tuition-based schools. Priority is given to 4-year-olds for CPS based programs, while 3-year-olds will have community-based program sites to choose from. How to apply: All Chicago residents, regardless of income, are welcome to apply for a seat to any CEL program location. Families can apply online, in person at one of several Family Resource Centers, or by phone at 312-229-1690. When applying online, there are 3 steps: 1) create an account, 2) fill in family employment and income info, child’s info and rank up to 2 program choices, and 3) if selected, you will be instructed how to verify your child’s spot. Verification requirements for CEL include: Proof of child’s age (children must be 3 or 4 years old and potty trained by September 1 of the entry school year), proof of residency, and proof of current income of parent(s) or guardian(s) of child. The City of Chicago prioritizes eligibility for these programs based on factors such as age, income, and child or family history. Starting in June, families may be notified immediately if they are placed in a program or if they will be put on a waitlist. If a family is offered a spot to their top-ranked school, they will not be placed on a waitlist for their second-ranked school. Families have up to 2 weeks to “verify” placement by visiting a Family Resource Center. After verification, the final step is to enroll your child at the preschool site. Many parents across the city find the Chicago Early Learning preschool program not only affordable and convenient, but also a great way to transition children into a preschool curriculum with the flexibility of a shorter school day, if available, or full-day options nearby. With many CEL programs housed in neighborhood and/or magnet schools, they're also a good way to help you determine whether a particular CPS school (or public school, in general) is a good fit for your child and your family. These programs do not guarantee admission to the participating school’s elementary program, however, unless that school is your assigned neighborhood school. Visit www.chicagoearlylearning.org for more information about the program and to access a complete list of program locations and application sites. Helpful FAQs can be found here.
  15. As with all things pandemic, it’s been quite the year for Chicago parents who have applied for Chicago Public School (CPS) seats at Open Enrollment, Magnet, Magnet Cluster and Selective Enrollment Elementary Schools for the 2021-2022 school year. CPS has announced that first round notifications for three magnet preschools (Suder, Drummond and Inter-American) and all lottery-based and selective enrollment elementary (K-8th grade) results will be released after 5pm on Friday, May 28, 2021. This is over a month after the results are typically released, prolonging an already unusual application year. An email and a robocall will be sent to the contact information in the student’s online application file with directions on how to access the online notifications and how to accept an offer, if applicable. Let the nail-biting begin! Are you a first-time CPS applicant, or just curious about the process? Here’s a quick run-down on what to expect from your notification(s): Magnet, magnet cluster and open enrollment lottery applicants: Once results are available, online applicants at GoCPS will see a “View Application Status” button next to each student’s name on the Student Dashboard. The results screen will list all of the schools you applied for and next to each school’s name, an indication of whether your child was offered a seat or waitlisted. If waitlisted, there will be a number indicating your child’s waitlist number. It is possible to receive offers from more than one lottery school, and it's also possible to be waitlisted at every school. If your child is on a waitlist that is not the general waitlist, this will be indicated as well (e.g., sibling, proximity, tier). You can also click on “View & Print Notification Letter” to see the traditional CPS letter showing the same information. Note: proximity and tier waitlists are only for the Entry Year of CPS Magnet programs (typically K only). Selective enrollment elementary school (SEES) applicants: All SEES applicants who have completed the testing requirement for the program(s) they have applied to (Classical and/or Regional Gifted Center) will receive either ONE offer or no offers. No multiple offers are given to SEES applicants applying to early elementary grades. Thus, the GoCPS portal will include your child’s test score(s) and which, if any, SEES program to which your child has been offered a seat. It will also indicate if your child has not been offered a seat yet and additional information regarding subsequent acceptance rounds. You can click “View & Print Notification Letter” to see the traditional CPS letter showing the same information. Waitlist numbers are not given for SEES applicants as open seats are filled based on test scores. Tier information is only shown for the Entry Year of a SEES program. For all programs, your GoCPS portal will indicate a deadline by which you must accept or decline your child’s seat at any of the offered schools. As of this writing, CPS has yet to release the deadline to accept a first-round offer, but in the past, families were given about two weeks to make their initial decision. The waitlist process then opens a few days after the first-round acceptance deadline. You should use this time period to virtually visit or re-visit those schools to help make or confirm your school choice. Schools should post virtual info session dates for accepted students and parents on the event calendar at the CPS website, go.cps.edu, or check each individual’s school website for more details. For lottery-based (non-selective enrollment) schools, acceptance at one school does not remove your child’s name from the acceptance and/or waitlists at any of the other lottery-based schools. In other words, you may accept an offer you received and if you later receive an offer from a school where your child was waitlisted, you may accept that offer instead and notify the previous school of the decision to withdraw. For those accepted to a SEES program, accepting your child’s seat at that program will remove your child’s name from the applicant list at all other SEES programs ranked on his/her application. If you decline an offered seat, your child’s name will remain on the applicant list(s) for all other schools ranked on their application. Accepting or declining a seat in a SEES program has no bearing on your child’s separate non-selective lottery application, if applicable. Bear in mind that after this initial notification period, waitlists will continue to move and offers will be given via phone and/or GoCPS (not mail) through the spring and into summer (and sometimes fall). It’s also important to note that when parents of waitlisted students are contacted, they are given only 48 hours (or as little as 2 hours in late summer) to accept or decline a seat. A second-round application process (formerly known as End-of-Year Citywide Options Program) will also be available (no dates released yet) to fill any open seats at magnet, magnet cluster and open enrollment schools. Please note that selective enrollment schools are NOT typically part of this “remaining seat” process with the exception of new programs or attrition years. Updated Spring 2021 Want more info? Visit go.cps.edu to learn more about CPS acceptance and notification and follow the CPS conversations on the NPN Discussion Forum. Plus, check out School Resources Map to help you make your final school decision. New to CPS applications? NPN members can watch a 4-part video on everything you need to know about CPS. Grace Lee Sawin is a co-founder of Chicago School GPS (ChiSchoolGPS.com). Chicago School GPS helps Chicago families navigate the often confusing world of public and private school searches, from preschool to high school, so that they can arrive at their school destination, no matter when they begin their journey.
  16. As a parent, you want to ensure that your child receives every opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential. Preschool can play a significant role in achieving these goals. For children who may not fit into a standard preschool setting because of a disorder, diagnosis, or disability, a therapeutic preschool program can be life-changing. If your child would benefit from a therapeutic preschool, it is critical that you do your research. In my own experience, I found the following factors incredibly important. [Related: How to advocate for your special-needs child in CPS] Your goals as a parent A therapeutic preschool can provide support by meeting critical developmental milestones in areas such as speech and language, social skills, feeding, expanded gross and fine motor skills, and more. It is important that the program meets the unique goals you have in mind for your child. Flexibility of the program The more flexible a program is, the more it will meet your child’s needs. Does the program require you to make a year commitment or allow month-to-month? Does it offer both morning and afternoon sessions? Are you able to start at two days a week and increase if it is going well? Rigid rules and policies may not fit your child’s specific needs. Well-educated and experienced staff Top therapeutic programs tend to employ individuals with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. This additional education will manifest itself in better outcomes for your child. A multidisciplinary team This means a team of professionals with expertise in speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, feeding therapy, ABA therapy, and more. This diverse team allows children to receive the most well-rounded and comprehensive care and allows a program to treat the whole child. Student-to-teacher ratio A program with a low student-to-teacher ratio can provide more personalized care. A standard preschool program may have 8 to 10 children for just one teacher, while a good therapeutic program may have just 3 or 4 students per teacher. [Related: IEP 101 (video)] Reviews and results In my time as a speech-language pathologist, I have had a front-row seat in observing therapeutic services for children with a wide range of developmental delays. I have discovered that the gains children make vary greatly from program to program. The progress your child makes in a therapeutic program is a direct result of the effectiveness of the clinicians. Look for online reviews and references from satisfied parents so you know that your child is receiving the best care possible. Open-door policy The best therapeutic programs want parents involved in their child’s progress. An open-door policy that allows parents to drop in to observe their child’s day (such as through a two-way mirror) is the hallmark of a quality program. The results of a therapeutic preschool program can be truly transformative for your child. Ask questions. Ask around. Look online for reviews. Doing your research will pay off, as you will find the right program to become your “partner” in helping your child reach their full potential.
  17. Article
    Preschool in Chicago is not required, but many families consider enrolling their children into a local preschool option when their child is 3 years old. To attend a CPS-based preschool, however, requires understanding the differences between the options. If you’re thinking about CPS magnet schools for preschool next fall, the time to look into those programs is…now! Because you can apply nearly a full year before entry, this is the fall to apply, presuming your child was 2 by this past Sept. 1st (so they'll be of age next fall, for programs that start at 3 years old). Applications for the 2022-2023 school year for two magnet preschools (Suder and Drummond) opened on October 13, and are due December 15 at 5pm. Parents can create their student’s CPS ID at Go.CPS.edu. If you are thinking about other preschool programs hosted in CPS schools (Tuition-Based PreK or Chicago Early Learning Programs), the deadline varies as outlined below. [Related: Getting into Harvard doesn't need to start in preschool] Here’s a quick rundown of the programs and application requirements for CPS preschool programs: Tuition-Based Preschool (TBP): Full-day programs that provide childcare in addition to preschool (10-hour day; hours may vary by school). Housed in seven elementary schools, children must be age 3 or 4 and potty-trained by September 1. Applications are processed one year before entry either first-come, first-served or via selection criteria directly through each school. Priority for open seats goes to returning students and their siblings. Tuition for 2020-2021 is $15,275, which includes a $700 non-refundable deposit required to hold your child’s spot in the class, if offered. Visit the CPS Tuition-Based Preschool page for a list of school locations and to print an application. Chicago Early Learning Preschool (CEL): Either half-day (2.5–3 hours) or full-day (7 hours) programs housed in select elementary schools, with tuition determined by a sliding scale or waived (announced pre-pandemic). Children must be age 3 or 4 and potty-trained by September 1. Typically, 3-year-olds are hosted by community-based sites while 4-year-olds can be in CPS school-based locations. The application process is completely online, with a limited number of application support sites. Applicants are typically added to a waitlist until the number of open spots is determined. Visit www.chicagoearlylearning.org for application information and updates; the application period will begin in Spring 2022 for Fall 2022 entry, but some sites may have rolling availability. Magnet Preschool Programs: CPS offers Montessori preschool programs at two magnet elementary schools, Drummond and Suder; children must be age 3 and potty trained by September 1. Seats in magnet programs are awarded via a computerized lottery, with priority given for applicants who are siblings of current students. In the entry year of a magnet program, priority is also given to those who reside within 1.5 miles of the school and then any remaining entry year seats are distributed evenly by CPS Tier. The Choice Elementary CPS application is required for the two magnet preschool programs; the online application period for 2022-2023 opened on October 13 and closes December 15 at 5pm. Go to go.cps.edu to apply. Acceptance into the magnet preschool programs does guarantee admission into the school’s K-8 program, making spots in these programs highly competitive. [Related: What's up with Universal Pre-K? Here's what we know.] COVID has shifted some tours and open houses to virtual formats this year and it’s always best to call each school you are interested in to get the details on how to apply and/or get on their waitlist; some programs have not yet determined the number of seats that will be open for next fall. A couple of important notes regarding CPS preschool programs: Residing within the neighborhood boundaries of an elementary school that offers a preschool program does not guarantee admission into that school’s optional preschool program; an application is required from all entering students, and acceptance into a CPS preschool program that is not your neighborhood school does not guarantee admission into the school’s K-8 program (except for the magnet programs described above). Want more info? Visit go.cps.edu to learn more about CPS acceptance and notification and follow the CPS conversations on the NPN Discussion Forum. Updated Fall 2021
  18. To school or not to school? Wait, is that even a question? For hundreds of Chicago-area parents and many more across the nation, it is a very real one. In the past decade, there has been a nationwide surge in parents choosing to homeschool, unschool, or choose a non-traditional school without a fixed curriculum or grades. But why? Self-Directed Education Proponents believe that unschooling provides opportunities for children to explore their interests without the limits of a traditional classroom. Unschooling allows children the freedom to direct their own education and learn at their own pace, without fear of disapproval from teachers or bad grades. It helps preserve the natural love of learning that people are born with, and helps children develop skills of creativity, initiative, leadership, independence, collaboration, and self-confidence. [Related: How to apply for CPS preschools] Some parents, like myself, dip their toe in the water of unschooling by choosing a play-based preschool, where children’s interests drive the classroom experience and there is no preset curriculum. At that age, it is a broadly accepted philosophy that children are born with a natural ability and desire to learn. Many parents continue to follow this philosophy after preschool by homeschooling or unschooling their children. Still others are intrigued by the tenets of unschooling or homeschooling but it’s not the right fit for their family financially or logistically. They seek out one of the many non-traditional schools putting down roots across the Chicagoland area. These schools are hybrids of unschooling and traditional school. They follow the philosophy of self-directed education, but add a level of structure to the student experience and a general expectation of student attendance during school hours. My Story I had two bright and happy children who were doing fine in our excellent local public school. However, as they approached upper elementary grades, their zest for learning was starting to wane. As standardized testing pressures ramped up and homework loads increased, school started to become more of a battle and less of a joy. I did some research into alternative options and, as an educator myself, was intrigued by homeschooling. I longed for the ability to personalize the learning experience for my children’s abilities and interests. Unfortunately, despite my promise of a long recess, my kids did NOT share my interest in homeschooling. [Related: Getting into Harvard doesn't need to start in preschool] Luckily, we were able to find a non-traditional school that met most of my homeschooling objectives but gave my children the separation from me that they craved. While the fear of taking the path less traveled was pretty intense for all of my family members, we took the leap into self-directed education and haven’t looked back. My kids are ahead of a traditional school curriculum in some subjects, and behind in others, but spend every day learning about something that interests them, so we are all content. Best of all, they now wake up every morning excited about going to school. Options For every story like mine, there is one with a different ending. Every family has a unique set of needs. The great news is that there are so many education options in Chicago and support networks for those trying them out. Take the time to explore and see if self-directed education might be best for your family. Learn more about homeschooling through local networks like the Chicago Homeschool Network and Northside Unschoolers Group. Find schools with a self-directed education mindset on the NPN website or by talking to schools at the NPN School Fair (it’s where I found my children’s first school!).
  19. “When is the best time to begin my school search?” is a question often posed by families looking to start the always dreaded but ultimately necessary rite of passage known as the “Chicago School Search.” Sometimes the question is followed up by a plaintive, “Oh my goodness! Am I too late?!” Rest easy, Chicago families. The answer is not as cut-and-dried as one would think — and ultimately, you are never “too late.” [Related: Getting into Harvard doesn't need to start in preschool] As the third largest city in the U.S., Chicago is home to a vast range of school types, sizes, options, and admissions processes. Even within Chicago Public Schools (CPS), there are various pathways for entry from preschool to high school. Overlaid with the multitude of private and parochial schools, there are always choices for parents whenever they embark on their school search. That being said, one of the keys to increasing your odds in any endeavor is to know when those odds are at their best. “Entry Year” odds For school admissions, when a program begins is known as the “entry year” of a school (e.g., a K-8 school’s entry year is kindergarten). This is typically the time when the school has the most spots available. But it can have the most applicants, as well. For example, a school with two kindergarten classrooms of 25 students each will have 50 spots to fill, and perhaps 500 applicants (a 10% admit rate). Conversely, that same school’s first-grade class may have just one spot open, but only five students applying — so it could have a 20% admit rate in a non-entry year. Considering how difficult it is to predict if any upper-year spots may be available, a good strategy is to be in the applicant pool of the entry year for your desired school. Some common or little-known entry points are: Infants (6 weeks: Montessori Academy of Chicago) 3-year-olds (University of Chicago Lab School, Frances Xavier Warde, many Montessori schools) 4-year-olds (Chicago City Day School, Inter-American Magnet) 5-year-olds (most CPS schools) 5th grade (additional spots at Latin School) 6th grade (additional spots at Francis Parker) 7th grade (CPS Academic Centers) 9th grade (high schools) [Related: Want to make your community better? Consider your neighborhood school] September 1 cut-off Most preschool and early elementary programs have a strict age cutoff date of September 1, so keep that in mind when determining your child’s entry year. Once a school’s entry point is confirmed, be sure to apply one year before the program starts to be in the running for available seats. In other words, if you are interested in a school that begins at 3 years old, then plan to apply that fall when your child is 2 years old. Whatever year you enter a school, you are allowed to stay until the school ends, which is typically 8th or 12th grade. Targeting the entry year can increase your odds of acceptance at a school of your choice. Good luck with your school search journey, and may the odds be with you! Updated Spring 2021
  20. Article
    So, you think this fall is the right time to start preschool? If your child is three and potty trained, you’re ready to catch a ride on the pre-kindergarten rollercoaster that will decide who your parental friends are, whether or not you should move, where your child will grow up, and who their lifelong friends will be. Yes, it sounds overwhelming, but it’s never too soon to start researching. When I thought my first little one was ready, I didn’t have any “mommy friends” to consult. I panicked and started to Google, “What age do kids start preschool?” and was immediately overwhelmed by all the information I was gathering. After a few informal polls at the neighborhood park, I quickly realized every parent of a child my age was just as unprepared as I was. I had to find parents of children who were already in kindergarten to get the data I so badly needed. Through them, I developed a list of questions—all of which, for me at that time, could be answered with a “YES”: I have to go back to work. Will I need someone to watch my child all day? Is my child potty trained and able to ask to go to the bathroom when needed? Will my child be comfortable with other adults if I’m not there? Can my child listen, follow directions and handle a structured schedule? Does my child need to be socialized and learn how to play well with others? Another Google search later and I had a list of preschools in my area, and hit the road to check them out. And this was the hardest part: How do you make one of the most important decisions of your child’s formative years and know that you will not regret your decision? Answer: You go with your gut. Here is a list of basic questions to ask a preschool provider: What are your hours? Do I pay upfront, weekly, etc.? What if I’m late picking up my child? What is the extra fee? What is the ratio of kids to caregivers? What are the children’s ages in each group? Is breakfast served? Snacks? How are allergies handled? How long is nap time? Can we bring our own blanket, toy, etc.? What is the approach to socialization? Playtime? Inside? Outside? Will I be given updates on my child’s progress, how their day was, what they learned/achieved each day? Will I die without seeing every little milestone that will be accomplished when I’m not there? (Just kidding, but I know you were thinking this.) (As for No. 8: Of course you will be OK, and you’ll look back later and wonder what you would have done without so-and-so provider to help you through this portion of your child’s life.) Once you have determined who will have the pleasure of being around your child all day while you’re busy at work or wherever you need to be, you can ask for a “playdate” with the provider to let your child have some input. This will help your child to get acquainted with their new home-away-from-home and will help you to feel at ease and know that you are a great parent, and you will survive. Nikki Arana is a mother of two boys, ages 7 and 9, who attend St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic school in West Town. She works at a law firm downtown and her free time is spent as a parent ambassador to help other families learn about their wonderful school.
  21. When you ask your kids the question, “How was school today?”, count yourself lucky if you get an “OK” or “fine.” As parents, we all want to know: Are they having fun? Are they playing nicely with others? Are they nurturing healthy relationships with their friends and peers? And the one that worries us the most, Are they eating lunch? Every day, tons of us suffer from not being able to communicate effectively with our children. As a mother of three and a parent educator, I’ve had to learn how to communicate with young children, especially after school. Here are some tips and examples to get the communication between you and your child started. Be mindful. Know that they have been sitting for most of the day (at least six hours!), and some days they may be frustrated about the day and not ready to talk. Bite your tongue and resist the urge to wear your FBI hat. Do not interrogate them. You may want to wait until dinner or bedtime to ask. In the meantime, concentrate on making the time fun and relaxing by asking easy questions, e.g., example “What would you like to eat for dinner?” Ask open-ended questions and be specific: “Tell me about something new you learned in Math today.” “Where is the coolest place in the school? Why?” “Who is the funniest person in your class? Why?” Share something about your day and ask about theirs: “I had a tuna sandwich for lunch. What about you?” “I am getting ready for a meeting tomorrow and need to create an agenda. When is your next exam and what is it going to include?” Use their artwork as a conversation starter: “Which technique did you use here?” “What were you feeling when you drew this?” Ask silly/fun questions: “Tell me something that made you laugh today.” “If you could be the teacher tomorrow, what would you teach and how would you teach it?” Know the school schedule: “Today is Thursday: Tell me about the new song you are learning in music class today.” Don’t forget the not-so-nice questions: “Tell me about something that made you sad today.” “Is there someone in your class that needs a time-out? Why?” “What can you do when you feel sad or frustrated in school?” Finally, listen. As soon as your child gets in the car, stop whatever you are doing and be present in the moment. Let them be the first to say anything and do not come up with conclusions before you hear the entire story. Children gain confidence as they relate their day and you affirm them. Be aware of signs. Your child may be showing off more than just having a bad day. Remember to stay in constant communication with the teacher. Teaming with the teacher helps the child be successful because after all, it takes a village! Nilmari Donate is the founder of HKC Parenting and School Consulting Services. She holds a BA in Public Health and an MA in Parenting Education and Support from DePaul University. She is the mother of three young bilingual and multicultural children.
  22. Parenting a toddler can be hard enough without the pressures of finding that “perfect” school for your curious, inquisitive, rambunctious and eager little one. You’ve heard the rumors before: ”Get into the right school now so that your path to Harvard is assured. If you miss your window, you’ve missed your chance!” But is that really true? Is there even such a thing as a “golden ticket” to those coveted universities? Are we doomed to let go of those lofty dreams if we send our child to the up-and-coming school down the street? Does it really all start with preschool?! [Related: Play all day? That's exactly what your preschooler should be doing] Rest assured that the biggest predictor of student success is engaged, involved parents versus a hefty tuition bill or a storied, exclusive school. As parents, our main job is to make sure our child is thriving, growing, staying inquisitive and learning how to get along with others in whatever environment they find themselves. While rumors abound among new parents (especially from the exclusive and pricey enclaves of New York City) that a child’s path to educational nirvana starts with the right brand-name preschool, the real skinny is that it simply isn’t true. Here in Chicago, we are lucky to have a breadth of school options that can all spark a lifelong quest for knowledge. Plus, the diversity of our city makes for a rich educational experience in its own right. Angst-ridden nights worrying about how and when to get into the “right” preschool become unnecessary when parents realize that not only do kids at “top” high schools come from all pathways (public, private, well known, under the radar, selective, traditional, etc.), but the coveted colleges only accept a small number of students from each high school, no matter the caliber of students. In the end, the goal for parents is to find schools that allow your child to unleash their potential and develop their self-confidence, no matter the name on the school’s door. [Related: What's up with Universal Pre-K? Here's what we know] But what about entry years and getting into a certain school? Is it worth the anxiety? While it’s true that more spots can be available if you apply when a program starts, there is always attrition and families can and do make school changes based on a child’s evolving needs and desires as he/she grows. The array of Chicago school choices means that finding a great school fit at any time along your child’s school journey is possible. From the play-based preschool to the Reggio-inspired elementary to the international baccalaureate high school, all experiences shape each child’s unique skills, interests and goals, which combine into the thoughtful, empathetic and well-rounded high schooler that the coveted universities are looking for. Research different types of school options at NPN’s Preschool & Elementary School Fair to learn about the many school offerings in and around Chicago. Remember: If a child begins his/her early education at a school that feels right for your family but isn’t necessarily a “big name” draw, don’t fret or feel pressured to make a change. That “happy fit” preschool is creating the spark that will go on to shape the innate curiosity and interests of your future college-bound child, wherever they ultimately attend!
  23. “Play is often talked about is if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” —Fred Rogers As a parent, I always thought play is play. Sure, I knew kids learn through play—after all, that’s pretty much what preschoolers do all day—but it looked to me as if they were simply imitating what they saw adults doing, often turning recent experiences into play. When I was a child and my whole family got very ill with mumps, all my dolls ended up in Tinker Toy “hospital beds.” Little did I know that as I grated a wine cork into what I called “body crumbs” (creating my own medicine!), I was also developing my fine motor skills. [Related: Getting into Harvard doesn't need to start in preschool] Play is way more than play. It is, as my kids’ preschool teachers always emphasized, children’s work. Their preschool, Akiba-Schechter, has always offered a play-based curriculum, but not until their recent “Power of Play” project did I fully understand how essential play is to children’s development, and how much learning and physical development is accomplished through seemingly simple play activities. For example, playing with Lego isn’t just playing with Lego. It also develops fine motor skills, math and cooperative learning. Children might decide to build a Lego city and need to figure out what it will look like, who will live there and what will happen there. When two children decide to build a bunk bed in the block corner, they are cooperating. They also need to take turns, listen to one another and be considerate and open to other ideas. The same goes for cooking: so much is involved in messing around in the kitchen, and here I thought it was mainly about the end product and having a fun time. Turns out cooking with kids fosters their social and emotional development as they share, take turns and follow directions. It requires them to reason and problem solve. As kids use measuring spoons, count scoops, follow a recipe’s order and sort ingredients, they learn about one-on-one correspondence, sequential order, spatial relationships, and explore the measurements of objects and quantities. These are pre-math skills. [Related: Preschool vs. Pre-K: What's the difference?] Cooking also lays the foundation for literacy. Kids need to read labels on ingredients, decipher recipes, look through cookbooks and write down their own recipes. Stirring, pinching, scooping, kneading, and cutting develops their fine motor skills. Cooking introduces kids to science as they plan and carry out simple investigations such as combining liquids and solids and later when they discuss what they investigated. While it might be a messy proposition to have them create their own cookies, think about all the skills they are developing! Play develops life skills. So, the next time your child comes home and answers “play” to your question what she did in preschool all day, appreciate this crucial time of development that helps children be successful in life.
  24. This Trib article outlines the impact school choice has had on CPS neighborhood schools. While I haven't seen updated numbers, it's unlikely the trend has changed: Less than half of CPS students attended their assigned, in-boundary neighborhood school last year. The proliferation of charters is just one cause. Every spring on NPN we see the frenzy around trying to decide whether to take a spot at Awesome Elementary School or gamble on the wait list for Super Awesome Elementary School. Many of us elect to skip the CPS maze altogether and seek out the best private school option. While I don't intend to deprive anyone of all that fun, I just want to make a plea to anyone preparing for the next school year to consider your CPS neighborhood public school. It's easy to follow discussions on the NPN forum about school applications and individual schools and draw the conclusion that there are only a few good options for educating our kids. There are so many little neighborhood school gems that barely get airtime on this site and one of them may be walking distance from your home. Last year I posted a question about my neighborhood school, New Field in Rogers Park, and literally had zero responses from NPN members. I also looked on the Great Schools site and saw nothing. So I decided to visit and absolutely fell in love with this amazing school that was on no one's radar. We've since gotten really involved with a beautiful school community and my son is thriving, loves school, and has a classroom experience that is every bit as great as the pricey private school he attended. I wish someone had suggested to me what I'm asking of you: if you're currently fretting about what to do about school consider your neighborhood public school, too. Opting out of your neighborhood school has a real impact on that school. Funding is driven by enrollment—your child brings what is likely a substantial per-pupil dollar amount to whatever public school he or she attends. An overwhelming majority of CPS schools lost enrollment last year resulting in reduction of resources and for some, the threat of underutilization and closure. A school's success is driven, in large part, by the community that rallies around it. A supportive and engaged parent group and LSC means the world to administrators, teachers and students alike. And a thriving public neighborhood school is one of the biggest drivers in making a community great! I fully support anyone making the choice that's best for their children and family. I know there are religious reasons, special needs and other important considerations that drive where you send your kids to school. But if you're weighing your options, please make sure you pay your local neighborhood school a visit, talk to your neighbors who have children attending, sit in on an LSC meeting. Please to go forward fully informed. You may find your own little neighborhood school gem and have a big impact on that school community! This article first appeared as a post in the NPN discussion forum. Become an NPN member to join conversations Chicago parents are having about school choice, parenting, relationships and more!
  25. As Chicago parents, we have many, many questions about our children’s education. These questions start before our little ones are even born: Should I send my child to CPS, look at private schools, or move to the suburbs? What is my local school? Is it “good”? Parents of diverse learners face many more questions as their children grow: How will my child get her needs met once she is in school? Is CPS up to the challenge? How do I start the process of enlisting school support? More questions arise once your child is in school. You may start to hear teacher concerns or have your own concerns about reading, behavioral difficulties, attention, etc. Some of these questions may be: Can my child’s needs be met in her current classroom? Will he have to leave his friends and teacher? Will she be labeled or seen as “different”? Will he qualify for special-education support? In my years as a school social worker and a diverse-learner clinical staff member, I have seen how daunting these questions can be for parents. Here are some key points to help you through the process of engaging support for your diverse learner: IEP (Individual Education Plans) and 504 plans are different. An IEP is a plan based upon an educational diagnosis that is determined due to a school-based educational need. A 504 is a medical plan based upon a student’s medical diagnosis. An IEP carries with it support from a special education teacher or speech pathologist; a 504 does not. But they do look a lot alike. Students on a 504 can receive educational accommodations and modifications, such as extended time on tests. Conversely, students can have medical accommodations provided through an IEP. CPS schools are not inherently “bad” places for special education. As in suburban schools, CPS schools have uninspired, bitter teachers who are waiting to retire, and they also have knowledgeable, passionate, miracle-worker teachers who make significant gains with diverse learners. Teachers and members of clinical staff do what they do for the kids. Don’t be afraid to raise your voice. I am a social worker, not a speech therapist or school psychologist. After more than a decade on the job, I am not ashamed to say that I do not fully understand every clinical assessment of every child. As clinicians present their evaluations, please feel free to stop us to ask questions. If you disagree with our findings, let us know. Determining eligibility for support is a collaborative process. We want to make sure that we have all of the facts before making this important decision. Know where to park your squeaky wheel. Are you having an issue with your child’s special education placement? Were you told that your child would require a paraprofessional, yet this position has not been approved at your school? Ask school staff (typically the school counselor) for the name of the person who is in charge of these decisions. If that person does not call you back, contact their supervisor. Some overarching decisions do not come from your local school. You will increase your odds of getting action when you reach out to those in charge rather than rely upon school staff. Parents wield much more power than they know. Your child is your child, not anyone else’s. If you tell other parents, family members, neighbors, etc., about your child and her needs, you will find that everyone has a story about a diverse learner and the school support that the child has or has not received. Please know that this experience is not your experience or that of your child. Try to start from a place of trust, believing that your child’s school support team will do all that they can for your child. Please remember that you are not in this alone. You are your child’s life-long advocate, but you are also a member of his or her school support team. Your questions, thoughts, feelings and hopes for your child are important for the school team to know and take into account.

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