Finding the right preschool can be a daunting endeavor! There are many options: in-home daycare, daycare centers, “academies,” schools, etc. Parents need to decide what setting will best fit with their child’s needs and with the family’s schedule and beliefs. There is no one “perfect” program for everyone; it is about finding the best match for each family’s situation. Nonetheless, we know a lot about the elements of a good early childhood learning environment. Parents can begin to narrow their options by asking the following questions when they are visiting different programs.
- Are kids allowed to be kids? With all of the pressure to “get ahead” in our educational system, some preschools are asking children to follow schedules and engage in tasks that are not developmentally supportive. Young children need ample time to explore, ask questions, take risks, practice independence- all within a safe and attentive environment. More and more data is showing that there are long-term benefits to allowing young children to engage in playful activities in school. Here are two good discussions:
- Do I feel accepted and welcomed here? From the beginning of the inquiry and application process, to enrollment, and through the school year, parents need to feel respected, valued, and heard. Are you treated as a number in a business chain or an appreciated individual who is entering a collaborative community? Prospective parents can ask to talk with current parents to get an insider’s view if they wish.
- How many children are in one room? Programs must adhere to specific student-teacher ratios, as mandated by the Office of Childcare that oversees preschools and daycares. However, even with appropriate ratios, having 24+ students in one classroom can be overwhelming for young children. It also makes it difficult for the “lead” teacher to fully know each child. Smaller class sizes allow teachers to get to know individuals better and to respond their particular needs.
- Is there student work on the walls? Children want to have their learning validated. Posting drawings, paintings, writing, etc. indicates that this work is important and that student efforts are honored. Pre-printed posters and teacher-made bulletin boards are often colorful and esthetically pleasing, but tend to quickly be ignored. What is presented on the walls indicates where time is spent and what is considered important.
- How are children “disciplined?” Making mistakes is an important part of learning- in academics and in acquiring self-management skills. Children will always forget the rules, test limits, and lose control. How adults respond to “mis-behavior” is important in how children learn from their mistakes. Are they encouraged to grow and practice self-management skills or are they shamed? Are they talked to or scolded? Time-outs can be part of an effective method of helping children to learn, but they can also be a way to exclude or belittle children. Ask what behavior management methods are used and why.
- How much time are children allowed outside? There is increasing data that indicates being outside in fresh air and in nature supports cognitive, social, emotional, and physical growth in children. Although beautiful, expensive playgrounds are nice, they are not necessary. Allowing children time to run around anywhere outside is positive!
- Do I have a positive gut feeling about this program and community? Parent feelings about a preschool program are very important! Your feelings of comfort and trust or unease and worry will be conveyed to your child. If you are uncomfortable, they will be uncomfortable. It is important to find a preschool program where you believe in the philosophy and practices, and where you feel that you and your child belong, are accepted, and welcomed. Even if you don’t understand it, follow your gut feeling!
I encourage parents to get involved in the process of finding a preschool program that is a good match for their child by visiting programs and asking questions.
Learn more about preschool at Seneca Academy.
- View our preschool class options and tuition.
- Visit our Preschool Admissions page or Parents’ Day Out page for more information.