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It seems like yesterday you were picking out a name for your little bundle of joy and now you’re picking out a pre-school. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed by the decision which is why making a list of what’s most important to you and your child is key. Here are some expert tips for choosing a pre-school that’ll fit your little angel almost as well as that perfect name you chose.
Consider the Cost
Know how much you can spend beforehand; then, factor in any tuition assistance the school may offer. There’s no sense in dreaming about sending your child to a pricey pre-school if you have to mortgage the house to pay for it.
Factor in the Distance
If your first choice for pre-school isn’t nearby, are you willing to make a longer commute for an entire school year? That’s 180 days of schlepping back and forth by car or bus—plus after-school meetings.
Know Which Curriculum Best Suits Your Child
Learning methods fall into two categories: programs that are child-driven and those that are skill/teacher-driven, according to Dr. Alexandra Figueras-Daniel, assistant research professor for the National Institute for Early Education Research.
A child-driven curriculum uses play to teach and capitalizes on the child’s innate sense of curiosity to promote learning. The school provides the support and opportunities for learning; the child leads the way.
A skill/teacher-driven approach is one that’s guided by the teacher. More structured, it uses drilling skills and photocopied worksheets with all children working on the same topic. There’s always time for play, but learning time is teacher-driven.
Some schools use a combination of methods. You know your child better than anyone. Which method would work best? Check out www.pbs.org for an explanation of various curricula.
Public, Private, Faith-Based?
What type of environment are you looking for? How important is faith in your child’s education? Kristen Johnson, senior director of accreditation of early learning programs for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, recommends that you select a program that aligns with your family’s beliefs and goals for your child.
Visit the Preschool.
Don’t settle for a five-minute walk-through when you visit a school. Daniels suggests spending at least an hour—or better yet, a morning—at the school.
After you’ve chosen a preschool, bring your child to visit the school, too. “That way, the child gets to know the new environment and that will boost confidence during the transition to preschool,” states Johnson.
Watch the Kids
Are the kids having fun? Are some kids bored and not being challenged? How does the teacher interact with them?
Check Out the Environment
Is it safe? Well-supervised? “Preschoolers learn best when they feel safe and secure in their environment and have opportunities to play and explore,” notes Johnson.
Are there a variety of toys and activities for the children? Does the classroom feel warm and inviting? Does it promote learning? Is children’s recent work on display in the classroom? Is the facility clean and fresh-smelling?
Observe the Teacher
Do teachers and assistants enjoy working with the children? Do they handle discipline problems positively (relaxation or breathing techniques) or negatively (scolding, shouting or ultimatums)?
“Teachers should provide time each day for indoor and outdoor activities,” says Johnson. “Also, they should organize time and space so that children have opportunities to work or play individually and in groups.”
Communication is a Must
“Three-year-olds aren’t going to tell you what they did in school,” says Daniels. “That’s why it’s important that the school communicate regularly, even daily, through a website or email. Then parents can talk with their children about what they did in school and help reinforce what they learned. Do this regularly, and you’ll establish a habit of communication by the time your child’s in first grade.”
“In addition to email, the school should communicate using family conferences, new family orientations and individual conversations,” adds Johnson.
What About Sick Kids?
You have a right to know the school’s policy on sick children—and what they define as sick.
Where Do You Fit In?
Does the school allow parents to get involved, help on special days or go on field trips? You want to be part of your child’s day—and your child wants it, too.
A Word About Daycare
Returning to work after maternity leave? Since your child will be spending most waking hours in daycare, make sure both the childcare worker and the facility measure up to your standards. Demand references and check them out. For helpful guidelines, visit www.state.nj.us/humanservices/dfd/programs/child/choosing/childcenters.html.