Preschool Program

 Frequently Asked Questions

 1.       What is the difference between Preschool and Kindergarten?

Preschool and Kindergarten are essentially the same thing – they refer to the year of care and education offered to children prior to the commencement of formal schooling. Preschool programs offered in private schools may also be referred to as “Early Learning Centres” or “Pre-Prep programs”. Some Preschool programs are affiliated with a particular Educational Philosophy or approach (eg Steiner, Montessori, or Reggio Emilia). All Preschool Programs use a variety of play experiences to stimulate and extend children’s development and learning in a range of areas (social, emotional, physical, cognitive and creative).

Funded Preschool programs are available in a number of settings including long day care centres (like Neighborhood House), “stand-alone” sessional Kindergartens (with or without extended hours) and private schools. State government funding is provided via the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) for eligible children attending recognised Preschool programs.  All services must employ qualified early childhood teachers in order for their Preschool program to be recognised by the Victorian government. 

No one setting offers an intrinsically better Preschool program than any of the others. Rather, there are aspects of the different settings, and the programs they offer, that will best suit your child, yourself and other family members. Your task is to find the program that is the best “overall” fit.

2.       How do I choose which will be the best Preschool setting for my child?

The choice of a Preschool program for your child is likely to depend on a whole range of factors including affordability, accessibility, program content, compatibility with work and/or family commitments and links to Primary schooling choices.

Some things you may need to consider are:

Fees:

Generally, Preschool programs offered in sessional Kindergartens are less expensive than Preschool programs in long day care centres. However, some costs that may not be immediately apparent also need to be taken into account. Consider whether there will be additional fees for before-care, after-care and/or holiday care. (Please note- sessional Kindergartens operate for 39 weeks per year as opposed to long day care like N. House which operates for 49 weeks per year.) You may also need to provide a packed lunch each day. Note that Child Care Benefit (and Child Care Rebate) is generally not applicable to sessional Kindergarten fees (although it may apply to after-care and holiday program fees). Find out if there are any additional levies and or charges.

Accessibility:

Most Preschool programs, whatever the setting, will have waiting lists for enrolments. You may need to place your child’s name on the waiting list (and pay a fee) well in advance in order to have any chance of being offered a place for your child. You need also to consider the practicalities of getting to and from the Preschool program at the appropriate times especially if you have other children in care, or at school, elsewhere. Working parents may need to ensure that before-care, after-care and/or holiday program facilities are available.

 Links to schools:

Many of our local schools are now enforcing “catchment zones”. It may be important to you that your child attends a Preschool program that is in the same zone as the school you intend your child to attend. Some private schools recommend that your child be enrolled in the Pre-prep program to ensure a place at the school in the following year.

Educational Philosophy:

As mentioned previously, some Preschool programs are based very specifically on a particular Educational Philosophy. Even where the program is not “labeled”, the particular interests, skills and resources of individual teachers will tend to be reflected in the program they provide. Take the time to visit the Preschool programs that you are considering. Don’t just rely on word-of-mouth or local gossip – some programs and settings will be more (or less) suitable for your child than others.

3.       Which schools do the children from Neighborhood House typically attend?

Of course, many of our children will go on to school at Galilee, Albert Park or Middle Park primary schools. As well, we have children who go further away to St Kilda Park, Port Melbourne and Elsternwick primary schools. Most years, we also have some children enroll at one or other of the nearby private schools – most commonly St Michael’s, Wesley, Melbourne Grammar or Christ Church. We always get very positive feedback from parents and schools about how well our children have made the transition to “big school”.

4.      Is it better to have 3 year olds and 4 year olds in separate programs?

Stand-alone kindergartens tend to offer separate 3- and 4-year old groups while it is more common for these age groups to be together in long day care. Regardless of the ages of the children, skilled early childhood teachers plan a program that caters to the specific needs, interests and abilities of the individual children in the group. Most often, the activities provided in the program are intentionally “open-ended” (more on this later) so that each child can participate at their own level and develop skills at their own pace. By keeping careful records of each child’s interests and development, staff can tailor the program appropriately. Because children’s development can be so variable, separating 3’s and 4’s is less important than ensuring that all children’s needs, interests and abilities are carefully monitored. We are very fortunate to have exceptional staff/ child ratios at Neighbordood House (1 to 5 in the Kindergarten room  and 1 to 7/8 in the Preschool room - Regulations state 1 to 12 in these age groups) allowing many opportunities for individual observation, one-to-one and small group interactions .

5.       What about enrolling my child in two Preschool programs – sessional Kindergarten and the long day Preschool program?

While this may seem the ideal solution in some ways, it’s probably wise to think carefully before choosing this approach. Being in two different settings necessarily means that your child will be dealing with at least two sets of staff (more, if after-care has different staff), two groups of children, two routines and two sets of rules. This places great demands on your child and does not necessarily assist them to build the skills and confidence they will need to make the very big transition to primary school in the following year.

Remember, too, that only one service is able to claim the funding from DEECD in any given year - generally the service where the child attends for the longer number of hours. If your child will be attending another Kindergarten at any stage, you will need to inform both Neighborhood House and the other Kindergarten of the hours so that both Services will not be claiming funding for your child - this would be "double dipping" and is illegal.

Additionally, there is a huge demand for funded Preschool places in the City of Port Phillip and priority for enrolments at Neighborhood House will be given to those children for whom it will be their funded program.

Unless it is truly unavoidable, or there are very specific reasons for choosing to enroll your child in two Pre-school programs, it is probably best to stick to one setting.

6.       What if I want my child to attend for more days in the Preschool program at Neighborhood House than they have in previous years? 

Priority will be given to existing members over and above new members. Our normal routine provides you with the opportunity to indicate which days you would prefer your child to attend in any one year. Forms for this purpose are circulated in early August and are due to be returned in early September. Confirmation of places is usually possible in early October. Once places have been confirmed, it is not always possible to make changes although we do try to meet everyone’s needs.