Finding the best preschool for your child is a daunting task! Working in multiple day cares and preschools over the years, I have been amazed at the different approaches parents take to their young child’s care and education. Some parents have gone so far as to ask interview-type questions of the teachers, yet some seem satisfied with a simple greeting. Based on my experience in some less-than-desirable preschools and some with incredibly high standards, here are my recommendations.
There are countless curriculum resources available to preschool teachers. I have found that the best teachers utilize a basic framework for teaching, such as The Creative Curriculum, and basically build their own curriculum. Research indicates that during early childhood (and beyond), learning occurs most effectively when the child is interested in a topic. Thus, a curriculum that the teacher designs around the interests of the children is the most effective. I frequently find myself asking my students what they want to learn about, in addition to simply observing their interests.
Look for a program with a balance of academic and play activities. Ask the teacher how play is utilized to emphasize the current concepts being taught. (If the teacher cannot answer this question, look for another teacher!) The current topic of study should be evident from the materials available in the centers at any given time.
Kindergarten teachers today expect incoming students to already grasp some academic concepts; thusly a preschool program should address these concepts. (These standards vary from school to school.)
Above all, the curriculum should be FUN! If a curriculum is fun and the teacher displays enthusiasm for the topic, you have yourself a winner!
Different states and types of preschools have different recommendations or requirements for class size. The general recommended ratio is 10 children per every adult. In a class with children with behavioral issues, this ratio should be smaller. In a class of generally well-behaved children, a skilled teacher should be able to manage up to 14 children.
Of utmost concern is the safety of your child. Many preschools now have video monitoring of both the doors and the classroom. Some offer key-code security systems as well. Depending on your community and comfort level, a simple secretary at the front door may suffice.
Outdoor play areas should be fenced in regardless of the location. Appropriate surfaces, such as mulch or shredded rubber, should be underneath climbing equipment and swings.
The classroom itself should be bright, homey, and child-centered. There should be some natural light available. The classroom should be divided into clear learning centers (reading, science, blocks, etc.). Shelves should be very sturdy and should not move if pushed or pulled by a child. Toys and other items should be organized on the shelves in a logical and orderly manner; labels on the shelves are a plus! Walls should have a large amount of child art displayed prominently.
Your child’s teacher should at least have a CDA (Child Development Associate) and ideally a Bachelor’s degree. Note that some of the best preschool teachers simply “fell” into teaching and may not actually have a degree in the field. Ask the teacher for a copy of the current lesson plan and newsletter. These will give you a good idea of how much thought the teacher puts into planning engaging activities for the student and communicating effectively with parents. The teacher should welcome parent involvement and greet both you and your child warmly. However, if he/she is currently with students, expect the teacher to focus on them.
The staff at the preschool should be open to parents’ dropping by to check on their child and simply watch the class through a window. Some of the most involved parents I have worked with have come to pick up their child early or left late, simply wanting to watch how the class functions through a window. Before committing to a preschool, feel free to drop in and do this as well.
Full Day vs. Half Day
Full day preschool seems to be the best choice for children from dual-earner families, but note that your child will not be learning all day. Nap time is generally a significant portion of a full day preschool’s day- usually 2 to 2.5 hours. Add to this 30 minutes of your child simply waking up, 30 minutes for snack time, and you have almost accounted for half of your child’s day. Thus, for those parents choosing half day preschool, rest assured that your child will not be “missing out.”
By following the above tips, you may take solace in knowing that you are making an educated decision for your child’s early educational experiences. Though this could be a time-consuming process, your child’s welfare and education are well worth effort. Good luck in finding the best preschool for YOUR child!