Study up on how to find the right program for your child.
It’s no secret that attending preschool will prepare your child to succeed in kindergarten. But according to research, kids who attend a quality program also have higher reading and math scores a few years later – and they even tend to make more money as adults. While it may seem early to begin thinking about preschool now, most parents start researching and planning a year or more in advance. Parents’ most common pre-K queries.
Q. What is a preschool?
A. Preschool isn’t considered formal education, so the definition is flexible. But it generally refers to the one to three and is placed in a day-care classroom with other preschool-age kids and has a teacher who follows a set curriculum with structured learning activities, he’s basically in preschool.
Q. What will my child learn?
A. Although your kid will certainly do things like paint and sit in a circle for story time, she’ll also get practice in sharing, cooperating, resolving conflicts, and being independent. These social and emotional skills will help prepare her for kindergarten-and life in general. In fact, according to a study of kindergarten teachers, 95 percent said that children who had attended preschool were better prepared socially and academically. Without looking at school records, they could tell which kids had been to preschool by the way they played with their peers, behaved in the classroom, and performed with pre-reading skills and math concepts.
Q. When should I start looking?
A. Each preschool has a different admissions process and timeline. If a school has a wait list, you may be able to add your child as soon as he is born. Generally, you don’t have to start looking until about a year before the month your child would actually start school, typically around age three or four. Some parents opt to start their kids at age two; although there’s no huge educational benefit to doing so, it sometimes make it easier to get into a competitive program, rather than waiting another year and hoping for a spot to open.
Q. What different kinds of schools can parents choose from?
A. One main difference between program is how structured the curriculum is. Schools also differ in how much emphasis they place on building social and emotional skills versus academic skills, how teachers interact with students, and what kind of toys and materials are used.
The most popular approach in the U.S., known as “play-based” or “developmentally appropriate,” assumes that kids learn best through play. Student in these programs generally choose their activities and learn at their own pace.
Another popular approach (found in Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia schools) is child-learning, where kids choose their activities based on their interests. Montessori schools aim to foster independence, encouraging kids to work independently using special toys for hand-on learning. Waldorf schools encourage imagination and emotional health through creative projects such as gardening or baking. In Reggio Emilia programs, teachers create projects based on the interests of the kids to help them explore how to get answers and later reflect on what they learned.
Other programs include academic or “traditional” preschools, which are generally teacher-directed (students follow a set schedule of activities focused on pre-reading and pre-math skills) as well as religious preschools and parent-run-co-ops. Remember, there’s no “best” type of school; you want to find one that’s a good match for your family’s needs and values, and your child’s personality.
Q. How can I find a good school?
A. Word of mouth! Talk to friends and other parents you meet. Some hold preschool fairs where you can meet different directors and learn about multiple programs at once.
Q. What makes a good teacher?
A. The ideal preschool teacher will be warm, attentive, enthusiastic, organized, and patient. She will recognize differences in her students so she can adapt the curriculum to fit their individual need. Your child’s teacher should also have some formal training in early childhood education, or ECE. She should be trained in CPR and first aid.
Q. What should I look for during a visit of the facilities?
A. Don’t expect to find desks in rows. Instead, there should be areas for different play activities, such as a reading nook, a puzzle table, and a make-believe corner. Look at what’s hanging on the walls – are there samples of the kids’ artwork? You should see many pictures, but not all of them draw the same way or with the same colors (when the children’s artwork is original, it shows that the school encourages creativity). Decorations and supplies should be at a child’s eye level and labeled with orders in order to expose kids to letters and numbers. You should also ask about security procedures. If someone other than you is picking up your child, will the school check her ID and make sure she’s on the list of authorized caregivers?
Q. Does class size matter?
A. More important than class size is teacher-to-student ratio. The fewer kids per adult, the more one-on-one attention your child will receive. The National Association for Education of Young Children recommends at least one teach for every 10 students for classrooms of four-year-olds. It’s typical for class to have one head teacher and an assistant (or two).
Q. How can I help prepare my kid?
A. Set up playdates with future classmates so he’ll feel more comfortable socializing with other kids and being apart from you. Do story time at the library or take a toddler class to get him used to classroom behavior, like focussing on a teacher, taking turns, and sharing. Your child will feel confident and independent if you teach him to be self-sufficient – i.e., eating by himself, putting on his own jacket. Finally, boost your child’s cognitive skills by pointing out letters, numbers, shapes, and colors, and by reading books to build up his vocabulary.