AFTER 58 years of mandatory parental participation, Upper Lonsdale preschool is changing its approach to early education next September in the hopes of boosting sagging enrolment.
Each parent with a child enrolled at the preschool had been required to spend two or three sessions volunteering at the school each month, but with changing neighbourhood demographics and an increasing number of working parents, school officials decided it was time for a change.
"It's been very beneficial for many years, but what we have been struggling with . . . is that parents simply don't have as much time to volunteer," says Jitka Holt, a communications manager with the preschool.
The modifications to the program, effective next September, allow parents to assist the teacher and prepare activities based on their availability and interest.
"Generally speaking, it's a big relief for working parents," Holt says.
The mandatory participation program frequently ensured one adult for every five students, but despite the benefits, the school needs to adapt to the more hectic schedule of neighbourhood parents, according to Holt.
"We've had enrolment issues for the past two or three years," she said. "In January there is a preschool fair that's organized, and usually by January we have a lot of inquiries about the following school year starting in September. And that really hasn't been happening."
The trend of busier parents with less time to volunteer is becoming prevalent throughout the province, according to Holt.
"It's just becoming increasingly difficult, so a lot of participation preschools have been struggling."
The school, located on Lonsdale Avenue near Osborne Road, has been utilizing the same parental participation model since 1954, but making the change next school year has thus far received nothing but support, according to Holt.
"We looked at our budget as well, and we thought, we asked around, we surveyed the parents, and realized the participation as a mandatory component is a barrier for many."
After going over Upper Lonsdale's budget, Holt said the school officials made the decision to add another teacher, maintaining a low child-to-adult ratio.
"We have hired another teacher, an assistant teacher, so that we meet the licensing requirements," Holt says.
Parents will be permitted to bring babies and toddlers with them when they help out at the preschool, and close relatives are also invited, according to Holt.
"They don't need to stay for the duration of the class," Holt says. "We are really hoping that rather than pushing for the volunteering we are going to pull people in by continuing the quality programming."
Visiting the classroom is advantageous for the students, teachers, and parents, according to Holt.
"By being in the classroom, parents learn how the children interact outside of their house, they learn a lot about the other children and they learn about parenting techniques from the teacher."
The school may also have had difficulties drawing new students because of its emphasis on play, according to Holt.
"We have a play-based program, which is also a bit of a rarity because a lot of the preschools these days push for academic programming," Holt says. "If children get to know the world through play and get a good emotional and social grounding, they do much better."