While the jury’s still out on whether there is lasting impact of early education on a child’s academic prowess, the social benefits of the peer-to-peer interaction that preschool provides isn’t something most families can readily reproduce at home.
If you’re thinking of introducing your child to preschool, here are some things to consider:
1. When is the right time?
Preschool isn’t compulsory for good reason: because the willingness and readiness for parents and children to opt for preschool is very arbitrary. Many parents feel like preschool provide the best soil for their children to grow and fully entrust them to care for their children from as young as they will be accepted. Some parents prefer their children’s early years to be at home, with a parent or a care-giver to provide all of the child’s developmental necessities.
Most fall somewhere in the middle, guided by whether the child is mobile, can communicate, are potty-trained or any other readiness-indicating markers before they’re comfortable sending their child to preschool independently. Others decide based on their child’s learning needs such as language, playing, reading, counting, socializing and being independent in a safe environment facilitated by professional educators.
2. What kind of school to choose?
There are no standard guidelines when it comes to preschools and each one is as different as the next so it’s important to decide early on what kind of learning environment would best fit your family. Some parents like the idea of their children in a busy, active place with lots of children while others prefer small, nurturing spaces with just a few kids.
When it comes to educational approaches, most preschools define themselves as either play-based or academic and subsequently prescribe to more specific philosophies such as the Montessori, Cooperative, Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, Bank Street, High/Scope and faith-based approaches. Whichever method, ensure that the preschool and their teachers have the required accreditation and qualifications as a prerequisite of your choice.
3. What do I look for in a good preschool?
Pay attention to content and how they’re incorporated in the teaching medium. If cognitive development is important to you, look for letter and number materials such as alphabets, maps, puzzles and books in the classroom. If you value creativity and independence, your preferred school will have children’s drawings showcased on the walls. Faith-based schools always begin with a prayer.
Good preschools will have playtime in some part of the day – imaginative, physical play or both. Studies show that children who make choices on some of their activities have better long-term social and life outcomes. A school’s schedule and the availability of activity stations are indications of whether your child will have the opportunity to decide on what to do or if it’s a purely teacher-led medium of attention. Observe the teacher-student interaction in favour of positive and nurturing relationships.
4. Does the school address your child’s needs?
Nobody knows your child like you do so get into the details related to your child’s daily interactions. Look at the age groups your child will be exposed to, how big the classrooms are and the teacher-student ratio. How does the school motivate your child and what are their assessment methods?
Look at their reward and punishment methods and how they facilitate conflict resolution between kids. Take note of their rules on bullying and discrimination as well as their policies on discipline. Ask about their approaches on helping children who are ahead of the class and those who are behind. Good parent-teacher communication is important to track a child’s progress and ensures seamless learning continuity and consistency at school and at home.
5. Does the school address your needs?
One of the final deciding factors, more often than not, is logistics. Consider the distance of the school to and from home or work. How many times a week and how long are the classes? Toddlers have short attention spans and would usually still require a nap at noon if they’re below the age of five so most curriculums would range from a few hours to half a day. Parents who work will prefer preschools that offer daycare or after school programmes.
Think about fitting in pickup and drop-offs into your daily routines or talk to other parents about taking turns carpooling if the school doesn’t offer transportation services. Enquire on their safety and security procedures if you’re not shuttling your child yourself. Decide on a modus operandi in case of emergencies.
Good preschools offer open houses and tours and will readily explain further details such as their policies on uniforms, meals and snacks, the availability of sibling discounts or out-of-school activities such as field trips and visits. Many also provide trial classes to let you and your child assess suitability and ease into the experience. Take the time to explore all your options and weigh between care and convenience to get the most of your child’s first preschool experience.
Khairun is a mum to two kids and owner of Recovr Resources Sdn Bhd, a growing social enterprise in the recycling and equal employment industry. She and her family are currently living in Jakarta.
Image Credit: Flickr user Sarah Gilbert