Choosing a quality preschool program for your family is a big decision. The art supplies, play centers, and story times seem innocent but how and why these activities are introduced can have a lasting impact on your child’s development during these formative years. High-quality preschool programs promote “play with a purpose” and understand the large role preschool plays in early brain development and later academic success. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “multiple studies have shown that children who attend high-quality preschool programs score higher on mathematics and reading assessments” than children who do not attend such programs. The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, states that the benefits can even be seen years later with increased graduation rates and higher paying jobs.
While most preschool programs
offer some sort of art activity and circle time, not all programs are created equal. You can find many published checklists on-line for standards of high-quality early childhood programs. These checklists cannot make a decision for your family but will provide a guide for things parents should consider. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (www.naeyc.org) is an excellent resource and a good place to start your search.
Most communities offer a variety of public and private preschool options but not all programs are right for every child and family. When choosing a preschool program it is important to consider your child’s characteristics, the teachers who will be working with your child, the program and philosophy of the school, and the physical environment.
The first thing to consider is the characteristics of your child when deciding what preschool would be the best fit. An active child could thrive in an environment with a lot of open space, outdoor activities and free play. A quiet child could learn best in a calm setting with structured activities and quiet areas for reading books and talking with friends. A social child might enjoy a larger class with lots of new friends, while a shy child could be more comfortable in smaller class sizes where he/she has the opportunity to enjoy a few close relationships.
The teachers and directors are a key factor in a quality preschool program. Their education, training, competence and relationship with children are imperative to your child’s success.
- Teachers should be able to tell you not only what they are doing, but also why they are doing it.
- Do teachers assess students on a regular basis?
- Do you relate well with the director and teachers? Would these be people you would want to spend time with each week?
- Does the ratio of adults to children comply with state requirements?
- Is the staff stable or has there been a lot of turnover?
- What have the teachers studied and how many years have they worked with preschool children? Most preschool programs cannot pay salaries that attract credentialed teachers. Look for teachers who have a blend of college courses in child development and an inherent love for children.
Educators have wide variety of views and approaches, even at the preschool level. Some schools are completely “play based,” while others are more academic. It all comes down to philosophy and learning style.
- What is the philosophy of the program and do you agree?
- Is there an open door policy?
- Is the program accredited?
- Is there a purposeful daily plan?
- How do they deal with conflict and discipline?
- Is there an established curriculum?
- Does the program provide on-going assessments?
- How do they establish and maintain relationships with families?
- Does the curriculum foster growth in all areas of child development – cognitive, emotional, language, physical and social?
The physical space where your child will be spending time should be comfortable and appealing. It needs to “feel right” for your family, and that feeling is created by the teacher. The design of the space does not need to be grand with cutting edge architectural elements, but it should take into consideration its precious inhabitants.
- Is the space well lit with plenty of outdoor light?
- Is there a spacious outdoor area for safe, active play?
- Where are the bathrooms located and at what height are the toilets and sinks?
- Is there a sufficient number of games, books and art supplies?
- What artwork is displayed on the walls?
- Are there small, quiet places where children can find solitude?
Preschool is an important experience in your child’s life. Finding a preschool that is a good fit for your child and family is time well spent.