Beth Freeman wasn't sure where to start when her daughter was ready to attend preschool. "We had just moved to the area last year from Philadelphia," she explained. "I tried asking around, but you get a lot of different opinions and not a lot of details."
With the number of preschools in the area, the Naperville mother of two could have been overwhelmed by the task.
Fortunately, she had heard about a preschool guide published each year by the Parent and Child Education Society.
The PACES guide contained more than 40 area preschools and information about each one.
Freeman was able to determine her priorities and use the guide to match a preschool to her needs.
"I was looking for a small teacher/student ratio," she said.
"I wanted more of a preschool, not a daycare.
And I wanted afternoon hours."
After narrowing her choices to a few and visiting each place, Freeman registered her daughter Holly at Zion Lutheran Preschool.
Freeman's search is no different from hundreds of other parents across the area.
And PACES understands this.
With the release of its 1999 "Guide to Preschools" set for Tuesday, Nov. 10, PACES -- a nonprofit organization promoting educated parenting -- once again will provide a service to area parents who are seeking the right preschool.
"Because it's the first learning experience for the child outside of the home, parents want that first school experience to be a pleasant one," explained Anna Fattore, this year's guidebook coordinator along with Johanna Lewis.
"There are a lot of good schools out there.
It's just a really easy and simple way to get a lot of information in a short period of time."
The Naperville/Aurora PACES region includes Naperville, Aurora, Bolingbrook, Lisle and Wheaton.
The guides cost $5, and it can be purchased at the PACES meeting from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 10 at Grace United Methodist Church, 300 E. Gartner Road, Naperville.
Also featured at the meeting will be a panel discussion with several area preschools directors. They will answer questions and discuss the selection process involving preschools.
The guide then will be available at three area bookstores: Anderson's Bookshop, 123 W. Jefferson Ave. in Naperville; Borders Books and Music, 336 S. Route 59, Naperville; and Family Bookstore in Fox Valley Mall, Aurora.
Many area preschools begin registration in January.
To be included in the guide, preschools must be accredited and pay a $30 fee, Fattore said.
The guide then gives one full page to each preschool, and information includes enrollment, licensing agent, student/teacher ratio, religious affiliation, daycare availability, hours, ages of children it serves, field trip possibilities, outdoor play area availability, special programs and the preschool's philosophy.
Fattore said all 400 copies of last year's guide were sold.
This year, 600 guides will be printed.
"We've had people calling us wanting to be in the Concord MA Preschool guide," she said.
"There is no other vehicle like it out there."
Nancy Doddridge, one of the regional coordinators for the Naperville/Aurora PACES, was a coordinator for the guide last year.
She was overwhelmed by the response to the guide.
"I was amazed," she said.
"Preschool directors told me they would refer their families to the guide if they couldn't help them.
The stores who sell it for us call us when they run out.
We even get calls from people in other communities where there isn't a guidebook."
For Freeman, the guide was invaluable.
She expects to use it when her son Jake, now 2, enters preschool.
"It helped us find out what fit our child's needs," she said.
"I would encourage people to use the guide when looking at preschools.
There are a lot of options out there."
For more information on PACES, call Nancy Doddridge at (630) 585-6097 or Joy Black at (630) 904-5969.
HOMEWORK HELPS PARENTS MAKE RIGHT DECISION While the PACES "Guide to Preschools" provides important information, parents need to do their homework before choosing the right school.
Paula Olson, director of the Hobson Cooperative Nursery School in Naperville, often informs parents about the PACES guide.
"It's a very valuable tool," she said.
"Many parents don't know the distinction between a preschool and a daycare.
Or they may have a one-item agenda."
"With PACES, they can narrow down their choices a bit.
It's particularly of help to new residents who can't rely on word of mouth."
Parents should keep several points in mind, Olson said:
• Watch the teacher/child interaction.
Are teachers respectful of children? Are children allowed to move about the room and make choices?
• Look for a wide variety of activities.
• During a specific activity, like art, is the child doing the project and not the adult?
• Every parent must visit their final choices before selecting one, because they can learn about each place just from walking in the door.
Anna Fattore, co-coordinator of this year's guide, added that parents should continue checking out their school of choice.
"Even if you've been happy with it the year before, things can change from year to year," she said.
Hobson Cooperative Nursery School director Paula Olson combs Jamie Grimes hair for school pictures while Norm Malkusak, the photographer, talks to Jamie. (NS/LS--Svehla photo) | Four-year-old Jason Gaca works on a project in his preschool classroom at New Beginnings Christian Montessori School in Bolingbrook. (BS/Stanford photo) | Children play before their lunchtime at First Care of Wheaton, an early-learning center. First Care is among the many preschools profiled in the PACES Guide to Preschools, a publication the Parent and Child Education Society has provided to help families find preschools. (WS/Meese photo) | Ryan Kennedy, left, is rocked right of of a boat by his playmate Nolan Bialek on Friday at the American Preschool in Aurora. (60504/Henderson photo)