January is registration primetime for Kindergarten in Victoria, BC. There is plenty of discourse around what and when a child’s first experience in school should be, but regardless of which thought camp you belong to, registering for school is the start of an important learning journey, and a major transition for families as a whole.
As children reach age three, families --who are just coming to terms with how fast their little one is growing up, btw-- are faced with a dizzying array of options for early learning. Day care vs. preschool, Montessori vs. Reggio-Emilia, part-time vs. full-day options, school-based Junior Kindergarten vs. waiting to start school in Grade 1, public vs. private vs. independent… and so on.
Unfortunately there’s not an easy answer, unlike some might claim. As any educator, or parents who have already been through the process, can tell you there is huge variance even within each category.
Preschools can range from a pure childcare option to programs with full-blown early literacy, or second languages like Spanish or Mandarin are taught. School-based early learning programs, like that at St. Margaret’s School for girls, are more frequently curriculum-driven, and while they may share similarities with leading philosophies like Reggio-Emilia, classroom experiences vary from one school to the other. And finally, within any early learning environment, you might have the best, most child-centred philosophy on paper, but if the child is not receiving the individual support and appropriate challenges she needs, it is not a good fit.
Making broad-stroke generalizations about one early learning approach over another can be perilous, not to mention doing little to honour the field of early childhood education and the professionals who deliver it.
At St. Margaret’s, we’ve been educating girls and working with families for over one hundred years, and our leading early learning program is widely-recognized. As an independent school (we are a registered non-profit society, i.e., our funding model is different from that of private schools), our performance standards are those of the BC Ministry of Education, our program is certified by a national body, CAIS, and our fees are kept competitive with other early learning options. As Western Canada's only all-girls day and boarding school, we offer empowering education from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12, and opportunities unique to our environment and program.
School readiness is not just a child thing. Parents also go through their own transition when their kids go to school that can be very emotional and challenging. Our early childhood educators acknowledge this “whole family” transition, and a collaborative and inclusive model is encouraged at every turn, from the way we communicate with parents and include them in an active role both by inviting them into the classroom and sharing activities to try at home.
There are also significant advantages to choosing our Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12 school, where the transitions between grade levels, are naturally less daunting. Inter-age group pairings provide enriched learning opportunities, a sense of connection between peers, while also giving girls a chance to get to know upper level teachers before they are in their classroom. SMS offers an unparalleled continuum of education where time and energy aren’t wasted in traditional educational transition points (and the anxiety that frequently accompanies them) like the move from Kindergarten to Grade 1, or from elementary to middle school.
An expert in all-girl education, Dr. JoAnn Deak, recently paid us a great compliment: “Never have I seen a school working so hard to address both the cortical and the sub-cortical development of girls.” Our nurturing model takes into account very basic needs of children at this age (including physical and emotional health and their needs for nutrition and rest), while offering a wide array of skill development, including: general knowledge, language skills, early literacy and numeracy, motor skills, socialization, and – unique to our program – inquiry-based learning to develop early STEM literacy. Most importantly, bonds of trust with teachers are built and a love of learning is forged, preparing your child to succeed in Grade 1 and beyond.
Show me an early learning centre that doesn’t call itself child-centred. Can’t find one? Neither can I. But what does a balanced approach look like at SMS? Play-based learning is structured around intentional opportunities, encouraging open-ended exploration and discovery, and complemented by teacher-led activities that are more curriculum driven. A strength of our program is its ability to integrate leading philosophies and teaching techniques, drawing from a number of sources to provide a rigorous learning environment. At its core the program is flexible in order to meet individual girls’ needs, to focus on readiness rather than rote learning, exposing children to ideas and skills at an age- and development-appropriate pace.
Our program is led and developed by a team of certified early childhood educators – one of whom has been awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Early Childhood Education. But more than that, educators at all levels in our school benefit from the wealth of resources and expertise of their team through collaboration and a regular professional development opportunities. In fact, we actually train numerous educators from schools around Victoria in our community workshops every year.
In addition to expert educators, our superior facilities support girls learning inside and out. Our LEED certified building (Leadership in Engineering and Environmental Design), nature classroom, high-quality art and music supplies, and designated playgrounds are all located on our natural 22-acre campus. A proponent of nature kindergarten, our Outdoor While Learning Program (OWL) exposes girls to STEM learning naturally in our very own slice of west coast forest.
We know girls. Girls need to repeatedly perceive themselves as worthwhile, capable and significant. Girls develop their natural talents and interests in an environment that is social, cooperative, and emotionally supportive. Girls tend to feel anxiety more keenly than boys, and need challenges and safe risks to practice perseverance to become resilient life-long learners. And strong role models have the biggest influence on a girl’s success.
Finding the right fit for your daughter in your school of choice is important, and her first experiences in school have a huge impact on the learner she will become. We encourage you to consider the advantages posed by a school like ours: being able to take a girl from making her first friends to ABC’s to graduation in an environment that is designed uniquely for how girls learn best and thrive.