For generations, it was a rite of passage for parents and their young adult children to pour over, sort through and decipher the mounds of college entrance information bombarding their mail boxes during the junior and senior years of high school. Stress about choosing the right school and, ultimately, getting in was reserved for parents whose older children could communicate, express an opinion and even help make a decision.
While that still happens daily across America, our country’s educational experts have thrown a whammy to young parents. They now say a child’s first years are the most crucial terms of mental, physical and social development and that their experiences during this time will set the stage for a lifetime of learning.
So, the pressure is on for young parents. With so much more expected out of children entering kindergarten these days, the question has become less of “Should I send my child to preschool?”, but rather, “Where?”
Add to this pressure, the simple fact that allowing young children out of the safety net of home can be difficult, if not downright scary. Knowing how to select a quality program can help a parent feel more confident and comfortable once the first bid day of preschool arrives. There are five questions that parents can ask about each school they look at that will help them make a more informed and more confident decision.
- Who are the teachers? This is a crucial question because these are the people who will be spending hours with your littles. Observe and listen to how they respond to the children in the classroom. Are they using positive versus negative words? In other words, do they say “Stop running!” or “Please remember to walk”? Always ask the teachers about their educational background, certifications, and whether they receive ongoing training and support.
- Is the environment clean, safe, friendly, and inviting? Look around carefully for cleanliness and safety yourself. Go one step further by checking with government agencies who oversee preschools and daycares. Ensure the one you are considering meets all of their requirements and guidelines. In addition to being safe, it is equally important that the facility is child friendly. Meaning, there should be plenty of child-sized chairs, tables, sinks, bathrooms, and water fountains.
- What is the daily schedule? A preschool program should provide a healthy balance of structured education activities and free play. While some large group activities are good, children at this age should have a much greater degree of individual work and play time built into the schedule.
- Is parent involvement encouraged? Education, particularly at the preschool level, is a team effort between home and school. Good preschools encourage and welcome parental involvement on a variety of levels, whether by serving on boards, volunteering in the classroom, or assisting with or attending special activities or events. In addition, good preschools encourage regular communication with parents through scheduled conferences, written notes, newsletters, and/or phone calls. Some schools even offer the opportunity for classroom observation.
- Do the children appear to be engaged and happy? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, observe the children carefully. If they are fully engaged in their activities and appear happy most of the time, this is a really good sign.
While asking these questions and following these guidelines will assist you in determining what qualifies as a good preschool, you will ultimately have to rely on your own intuition to determine what is the right preschool for your child. You know your child the best. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few good choices, look at each program carefully and compare with your child’s own learning style and your expectations. Make a decision and get involved.