Preschool choices for families stationed in Europe

by Carly Williams
Stripes Europe

Parents stationed in Europe with preschool aged children find that their options for preschools are limited. Preschool education has many beneficial effects for young children and helps them learn many of the skills required for school readiness. Researchers have demonstrated that quality preschool education has long-lasting positive influences on children, however, it is often difficult for parents to find schools while overseas, so here are the options you may want to consider:

Preschool education within DoDEA schools: The Department of Defense schools overseas usually offer some forms of preschool, but the spaces are usually limited. There are classrooms that offer support for young children with additional learning needs and there is the option of enrolling in the Sure Start class for families who meet certain requirements. It is recommended enquiring about what preschool options are available within your installation’s school system, and for information about how to apply as the schools within DoDEA have a good reputation for academic attainment and provide learning at a high standard. 

Host nation preschool options: Many American parents can access good preschools in the local area they reside in, such as the preschools in England, or the “asilos” in Italy. These are often available at no or low cost to parents and provide opportunities for children to learn about the local culture in an authentic way. Parents will need to make the decision as to whether this is the right option for their child as there are considerations such as language differences that must be taken into account.

Child Development Centers: For parents wishing to keep their children amongst American peers and caregivers, the CDC may be an option. Naturally, the priority is given to the children of dual active-duty parents, but it is worth contacting your installation’s CDC as there may be space available. One consideration parents must be aware of is the cost of placing their child here, compared with the other options mentioned.

Homeschooling Preschool: This is the most flexible approach and allows parents to choose what is taught to their children and when. In addition, families can incorporate learning into their everyday lives. While you need not hold a degree in early childhood education to adequately help your child to learn, it is a good idea to get some information about the direction you’d like to take. Below are some tips for parents considering homeschooling their children at preschool age:

  • Consider what skills your child will need in order to be ready for kindergarten. While this includes developing literacy and mathematical skills, it can also mean encouraging your child to sit still for short periods of time, follow directions, take turns, and other objectives.
  • Refrain from sitting a child down at a table and formally trying to teach them the concepts that they have to learn. Children do not learn well in this manner at such a young age, it’s not fun, and everyone will eventually get frustrated. While it is important that there are opportunities for preschool-aged children to sit at the table for periods of time to complete quiet activities such as coloring or puzzles, the learning of numbers, for example, is much better incorporated into everyday activities such as climbing stairs or playing games.
  • Seek out groups, classes, or activities near your home where your child can be amongst peers. This will help them to develop their social skills, make friends, explore new environments, and also extend their learning in many diverse ways.
  • Finally, keep it fun. Play games, do crafts, build towers, visit museums, do nature walks at the park or the beach, read books, create books, cook meals, chalk the sidewalk, make music. The list is endless, but the learning that can take place during all these activities is important for developing young minds.

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