Coquitlam pre-school changes frustrate parents
Coquitlam is getting out of the licensed pre-school business and that has some parents scrambling to find spots at other centers in the city.
Pinetree Community Centre announced last week it will provide a more recreation and play-based program instead of a licensed pre-school in September following the success of a similar transition at Poirier last year. The change will free-up more resources and foster healthy activity for young children, according to community recreation manager Mary Morrison-Clark.
But the short-notice has left some parents in a difficult situation. Jennifer Harris and Sandra Aubertin say they can't find room in other licensed pre-schools for their children — they have four pre-schoolers between them — and the new program with its focus on physical activity lacks emphasis on literacy and numeracy skills that preschoolers need before entering kindergarten.
"It's not a pre-school. It's a recreational supplement program… it's missing the educational component, which is important especially for the 4 or 5 year olds. They need to get prepped for kindergarten," Aubertin said.
The two say parents should have been consulted or told earlier about the change, or it could have been introduced gradually, but Morrison-Clark said although the timing was unfortunate staff are now calling parents after a letter went out last week to explain the changes and let them know they will get priority for registration in the new program.
"It's not the way we would have like to have told people, but regrettably this is the timeline we ended up with," Morrison-Clark said.
As many as 37 children ages 3-4 and 4-5 years are affected by the switch, and Harris and Aubertin say other families are in a similar tight spot and may struggle financially as well because privately-run pre-schools are more expensive.
"Every parent that's in the program has been calling and asking questions because they desperately want to remain in that program for next year," Harris said.
KIDS OBESITY CONCERNS
However, Morrison-Clark defended the program change and the removal of licensing requirements, saying that children will benefit from more recreation and play-based learning and that the city already exceeds licensing requirements in its programs for children. Eliminating the designation provides more flexibility in the use of resources, Morrison-Clark said, and children need to spend more time in active play.
"We've all been hearing for years about obesity (in young children). At some point you have to start making decisions on how we provide programs. We're a public institution similar to public education and public health; we are obligated to provide programs that fulfill our obligation," Morrison-Clark said, adding that staff will have early childhood education as well as other designations in the new Play and Learn Program, but children will be exposed to a wider variety of recreational pursuits as well as music, art and dance.
However, she agreed that academics will not be the focus of the new program. "Having your child be active is just as important as getting your child ready for school, we are trying to bring some equilibration, and do what we do best," she said.
But Aubertin says lengthy waiting lists for pre-school suggests the city does need more licensed pre-school programs with an academic focus. "All of our children are active already. They're offering us a Strong Start program [public pre-school available at some neighborhood schools]. We don't need another parent and tot drop in program, which is what that is," Aubertin said, noting that most pre-schools started registering in January and are now full. She and Harris have placed their children on waiting lists at 10 different schools, hoping for an opening.