Choosing the right preschool for your child requires more research than simply choosing one that is close to home. As a parent, you want the best for your child, especially when it comes to education. A good education from the beginning sets a child up for success throughout their education. There have even been studies that indicate that preschool education reduces future crime. As a parent, you may find it difficult to hand your child over to strangers, even if those strangers are well-trained and prepared to guide your child into the next phase of his or her life. If your child has been at home with one parent since birth, this can be even more difficult.
Why You Should Send Your Child to Preschool
Many parents find it difficult to send a child to preschool, believing that they can learn at home or that they are way too small or immature to manage the stress they may feel by attending school. In fact, research shows that preschool is an opportunity for your child to grow as it may be the first experience they have in a structured learning environment. Preschool also helps better prepare children for Kindergarten, which is now mandatory in most states.
Children also develop socially and emotionally at preschool as they learn to develop trusting relationships with adults other than their parents while also being exposed to other children. Although preschool may not appear structured, it is. Preschool structures are designed so that they are invisible to children but evident to staff. It provides children with the ability to make choices and teaches them how to take care of themselves as well as other people. Research shows that children who attend preschool have better language skills and are more curious than those that do not.
Preschool students also develop better motor skills as well as math and literacy skills. However, for your child to benefit from all of these positive aspects, it is critical that you choose the right preschool to fit both your child’s needs and your own.
One thing to look for when choosing a preschool is accreditation. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is one accrediting agency that promotes high-quality early learning for children. For a preschool to be accredited by the NAEYC, they must meet or exceed criteria set forth by the agency that indicates the highest quality of early childhood education possible. The agency also offers professional development programs that provide support and education to preschool teachers and administrators to keep them up-to-date on the latest trends in early childhood education.
Consistent Rules and Regulations
As a parent, you know that children need rules. For a child to be able to follow those rules, they must be consistent in both application and punishment. Rules prepare children for the real world where limits will surround them. They also teach children socialization, like requiring a child to say “please” or “thank you.” Children need a sense of order and rules give them that sense.
When a child follows the rules, they feel a sense of competency and self-confidence. Rules also reassure children that an adult is in charge. As much as a child may act as if they want to be in control, they rarely want total control. They need to know there is an adult who is in charge. When reviewing a preschool, make sure that they have written, easy-to-follow, age-appropriate rules. You don’t want a preschool that is overly strict nor do you want to choose one whose rules seem to be lackadaisical, applied one day and not the next.
No matter how good a teacher is, having too many preschool students in a class can be a disaster. Preschool classes should have no more than ten children supervised by one teacher. It is also best to choose a preschool that provides aides to the teacher who can manage the children when the teacher is otherwise occupied. It is also recommended that you talk to the school about staff turnover as this can indicate how much the teachers enjoy working there and teaching students.
Probably the most important thing to look at when researching preschools is the preschool philosophy used at the school. There are several different philosophies on educating small children, and you want to be sure the school you choose offers a philosophy that will work best with your child. The following descriptions will give you an overview of each theory to provide a better understanding of their differences.
In 1916, Lucy Sprague founded the Bank Street College of Education in New York City early childhood program. The philosophy is that the world around us is the best teaching tool. Lessons focus on history, geography, and anthropology with artistic lessons included with scientific lessons. Toys in the classroom are basic, requiring children to use their imagination in order to play. Teachers are specially trained to help children work in groups or alone. Bank Street programs are excellent for children who learn best in an unstructured environment.
Community centers, such as the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA or others, may offer preschool programs. They may follow on or a combination of different preschool philosophies for teaching students. Many of these preschools offer sliding payment scales or may even be offered for free to lower income families.
Parents who prefer to be hands-on in their child’s preschool education may want to consider a cooperative preschool. This allows them to use any philosophy or a combination but with parents taking on significant roles at the school. Parents take turns fulfilling duties, including snack preparation, school upkeep or classroom assistance. There is usually a paid teacher, although the teaching aspect may also be handled by parents. If you prefer the cooperative philosophy, be sure to choose a preschool that is supported by a regional or state organization that regulates parent participation. If there is not one in your area, consider reaching out to other parents about creating a cooperative preschool.
A Michigan educator, Dr. David Weikart, developed the High/Scope preschool philosophy in 1970 for use with high-risk urban children. The program focuses more on academic skill development than social and emotional development. Children learn collaboratively with adults and are encouraged to make their own decisions about activities. Some of the activities commonly used in a High/Scope preschool include arranging things in order, counting, telling time, singing and dictating stories. Some programs incorporate computer learning. This type of learning is best for children who learn best in a one-on-one setting and is especially beneficial to special needs children.
In Language Immersion Preschool programs, classes are conducted entirely in a new language. Teachers rarely translate what they say, but use hand gestures or motions to indicate what they are saying. Research indicates that this type of language learning is best for children while adults learn better with translation learning. Other preschool philosophies may be included in language immersion. Children develop fluency in the new language while helping improve their language skills in their current language. This type of preschool program may delay first language development at first, so children who are already struggling with their current language would not benefit from this type of program.
Probably one of the best-known preschool education philosophies, Montessori is based on the work of Maria Montessori who founded the movement in 1907. She believed that small children learn as individuals with teachers as guides. Montessori programs have play materials designed with a particular purpose so that the child learns even as they are playing. Also, personal responsibility is encouraged with children taught to take care of their own needs. This may include preparing snacks or cleaning up toys. There may be a wide range of ages in each classroom as the Montessori method encourages children to help each other learn. This type of early education philosophy has shown to be beneficial for special needs learners.
Play-based preschools are common with the primary goal to promote learning through structured play. This may include unstructured hands-on play, group story-time or themed activities. Some play-based programs include academic content as well to provide more balanced education. They often combine principles of Montessori or Waldorf as part of their curriculum.
Similar to Montessori, Project Based preschools believe students are individual learners and teachers are guides. Students and teachers work together to negotiate, plan and work through various projects. Lessons gain more meaning through real-world connections and field trips while the projects give students a hands-on approach to problem solving. The process allows students to develop positive learning habits and better problem-solving skills. Learning is as self-motivated as possible and has shown benefits for children who work better in an unstructured environment.
During the 1940s, the townspeople of Reggio Emilia, Italy, created a preschool philosophy that is similar to Montessori in that students take the lead in learning. Projects are completed by the children that reflect their own interests based on teacher observations of spontaneous curiosity. Children learn from mistakes rather than correction. Their play and projects are documented in their words and photographs so parents and teachers can follow the child’s progress. This method also allows the student to see their actions as important. The learning philosophy emphasizes creativity and artistic representation. It has shown promise with students who are not native-English speakers.
Churches and religious schools often offer preschool programs that may follow a combination of different preschool philosophies. However, they also incorporate varying degrees of religious content as well. Most church-based preschools do not require that you become a member of the church for your child to attend, but it is important to understand your child will be given instruction related to the religion of the church.
The Waldorf method of preschool education is based on the research of Austrian educator Rudolf Steiner, who opened the first Waldorf school in 1919. The underlying method for teaching children is dependable routine. Schedules at the school follow a consistent rhythm and teachers remain with the students for up to eight years. This allows the children to develop a trusting relationship with the teacher. The schools are often home-like with all-natural furniture and play items. It is a group-centered curriculum that includes play-acting, story reading, singing and other activities designed to develop the child emotionally and physically.
Children who thrive on the routine will do well in a Waldorf-based preschool. It is important to note that the school must be affiliated with the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America in order to call themselves Waldorf preschools. Also, teachers must be Waldorf-trained.
Visit the School
Once you have determined which philosophy works best for your child and have researched other factors that you feel are important in a preschool, it is critical that you visit the school to meet the staff and view the facilities. Although the staff may sound knowledgeable over the phone and the website may have beautiful pictures, you need to see, in person, that what you have been told or seen online is the case. Take your child for a visit as well to see how they interact with teachers and other students. A school may be affordable, clean and offer the perfect philosophy, but if your child doesn’t respond well, it may not be the best option.
Choosing the right preschool can be confusing and stressful, but by following these tips and gaining an understanding of the best philosophy for your child, you can make the choice that will be in the best interest of your child while giving you piece of mind that your child is getting an educational head start.