JCC BLAUSTEIN EARLY CHILDHOOD CENTER

Searching for a daycare or preschool can be overwhelming. Dropping off your child, especially those who are teary, is tough on a good day. And because children younger than 5 are not yet able to get vaccinated against COVID-19, parents may be feeling unsure about bringing them to a childcare facility or preschool. On the upside, New Jersey’s accredited childcare facilities have been operating successfully coming out of the pandemic, adhering to COVID safety precautions and regulations from the state and CDC.

So where to begin? One smart strategy to start your search is to invite your child to come with you when you look at potential schools, says Donna Whittaker, VP of curriculum and education at Big Blue Marble Academy in Edison.

“Ask to see all of the classrooms,” she says. “Look to see if the teachers and the children in the rooms seem happy. Do you get a positive feeling just by being in the building?”

Watch and see if the teachers on your school tours are smiling, singing, talking and interacting with the children, Whittaker says. “Are the children engaged with the teachers, other children and the classroom materials?

When your child’s potential teacher is introduced to your child, does the teacher get on your child’s eye level to talk to him/her?” The answer to these questions will tell you a lot about the school and whether or not it’s a potential fit.

Adena Feinstein, director of the JCC Blaustein Early Childhood Center in Bridgewater, says parents should find a preschool they feel will take care of their child much like they would at home.

“Caregivers must visit with the school director and tour the facilities,” she says. “They should ask questions about safety and cleaning protocols, child to teacher ratios and if the staff turnover is low so there is a warm feeling of community.”

Feinstein also suggests parents watch how teachers interact with children and ask questions about access to the director and teachers so they’ll know if their questions will be answered in a timely manner.

CLASSROOMS AND CURRICULUM

The setup of a preschool classroom can also reveal a lot about the type of education your child will receive. Whittaker says to notice the materials in the room—make sure they’re age appropriate and that there are enough of them for all the kids. Shelves and bins should be labeled with pictures to help children learn to clean up by classifying toys in the appropriate bins. Skills like this will prepare them for reading and math in kindergarten, she says.

Other things to look for could include a block center with plenty of unit blocks and props to develop motor skills, promote language, math, science, engineering, problem solving, collaboration and persistence. A dramatic play center with props to play, learn and pretend is another asset. “When children play out a story, they are working toward being able to read and write a story,” says Whittaker.

It’s essential to ask what curriculum the preschool uses and why.

“A high-quality preschool curriculum will be theory, research and play-based,” says Whittaker. “Curriculum experiences should be based on state Early Learning and Development Standards. Young children learn best through hands-on multiple sensory experiences. Along with teacher facilitation, children should be engaged in these types of experiences for the majority of the day.” On the other hand, a developmentally appropriate curriculum will not require children to sit for long periods of time, so make sure kids are up and moving.

JCC BLAUSTEIN EARLY CHILDHOOD CENTER

COMMUNICATE YOUR CONCERNS

What about COVID restrictions and masks? Though New Jersey has dropped its mask mandate for preschools and daycares, most directors agree kids had little to no problem adjusting to wearing a mask when required. And while routines may need to be adjusted from time to time, even the youngest children will adapt with ease. Before enrolling your child, be sure to familiarize yourself with a school’s policies.

“At the JCC Blaustein Early Childhood Center, we prepare an updated caregiver’s handbook each school year which includes all of our school protocols and procedures,” she says. “I encourage each parent to read through this handbook thoroughly as it addresses the ‘how to’ on everything related to our school. Some examples are ‘How to help your child adjust to a new school year,’ ‘Safety and health protocols,’ ‘Pick up and drop off procedures,’ ‘What to bring to school,’ ‘How to label personal items’ and ‘How lunch is served.’”

A PLACE WHERE KIDS CAN THRIVE

One of the most important ways to ensure your kids are thriving in preschool is when they look forward to each day and come back home happy at the end of the day, says Whittaker. “Another way is to watch and listen to the interaction between your child and the teacher,” she says. If your child is thriving in preschool, they will bring some of that preschool knowledge home. Examples include singing a song they learned in class or using sign language the teacher uses.

Given the capacity limits on classrooms from the state, make sure to start looking well in advance of your planned start date and get on wait lists for centers you like as soon as possible. Happy searching!

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