We have spoken about the need for young children to have varied experiences, be in an emotionally supportive environment, and have plenty of time outdoors. In addition to establishing a positive environment at home, it is important to choose a preschool (early childhood center) that supports these standards. These incredibly valuable caregivers become stand-in parents while our children are at school, so it is important to make sure our children are being cared for appropriately.
Many first-time parents have a very hard time knowing what to look for in a preschool. So we put together some questions for parents to consider when touring prospective schools:
1. SAFETY: Is the program state licensed? Are they meeting basic safety standards? Are they in compliance with all state requirements? Are they complying with the state’s ratio of the maximum number of children permitted per qualified adult? What training do their teachers receive?
2. PUBLIC OPINION: Have you spoken with other parents who chose the program for their child? What do they love about the program? Do they have any concerns?
3. ENVIRONMENT: Are classrooms clean, bright and friendly, with furniture, toys and equipment sized to be at a child’s level? Are students’ creations featured around the room, at their level? The areas in classrooms should be clearly defined so children can easily navigate the room – a reading area, a dress up and imaginative play area, blocks and building materials, and an art area. Look to make sure that electrical outlets are covered, dangerous supplies aren’t within children’s reach, and corners of furniture and play equipment are rounded.
4. STAFF: What is their staff turnover rate? When you watch teachers interacting with children, do they crouch down to the child’s level? Do they make eye contact with the child? What is their tone? Is the room filled with smiles and laughter? Do they engage with children while they are engaged in purposeful play? Do the children in the room spontaneously hug or show affection to their teacher? This would indicate that the children trust their caregivers.
5. BEHAVIOR: How do teachers address behavioral concerns? How do they help children navigate conflict? Do they work to instill and nurture age-appropriate, positive values in children (ex. sharing, empathy, perseverance, etc.)?
6. CURRICULUM: A good preschool should appear to have a lot of play time. But when you ask teachers what the goal of the play time is, they should be able to articulate the purpose of play; for children to learn by exploring their environment. They might explain that a group of children playing with blocks are developing spatial reasoning, an understanding of basic physics concepts, and basic cooperation skills; children engaged in finger painting are learning color theories when mixing primary colors; children jumping from one rock to another are developing gross motor skills. As the child gets older, how does the school help prepare the child with adequate pre-reading and pre-writing skills?
7. ACCOUNTABILITY: How does the preschool track child development and screen for potential problems? How does the school communicate with parents? How often do they communicate with parents?
We hope this list gives you some guidance and food for thought when making this decision for your child, and for your family!
Also remember the importance of listening to your gut. As a parent, if something doesn't feel right, don't discount your intuition.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.