Experts agree that it’s very important that your child attend a high-quality preschool program. It will prepare them for kindergarten and pave their way for success in life. However, choosing the best option will take some time and research.
To help you in this endeavor, here are some answers to relevant questions:
1. What’s the difference between childcare and preschool?
Childcare centers are willing to take babies and toddlers for full-time, full-year care. However, preschool educates children who are three or four years old. Your preschool might only offer a program that goes from September to May.
However, the words daycare and preschool can be used interchangeably. A childcare center may serve as a good substitute for a preschool. Many preschools are actually part of a childcare program.
2. Is preschool important?
Today, evidence is mounting about the importance of time spent in preschool. There, your child will gain familiarity with basic things (such as letters, numbers, and shapes). They’ll also learn social skills. Activities (such as circle time) make up a part of their day.
Some statistics show that a majority of children attend at least one year of preschool. Children who attend a good preschool will be able to enter kindergarten with strong pre-reading skills, better vocabularies, and basic math skills.
It’s positive for children to have a preschool experience before they enter kindergarten. In preschool, they more formally learn to be students than they can in daycare. For instance, your child will learn how to take turns and get the teacher's attention by raising their hand. They’ll also learn how to spend time away from their parents without getting anxious.
These skills help provide a better transition to kindergarten. Kindergarten teachers say that students are more successful if they have skills that they’ve learned in preschool. Since preschool is so successful at preparing children for kindergarten, about 40 states now provide state-funded pre-K programs.
3. What will your child learn in preschool?
In addition to learning social skills, your child will begin to develop a sense of identity in preschool. Children who attend preschool gain the confidence that they can do things for themselves. A quality preschool experience will help your child get answers to questions that they’re interested in.
4. Will your child learn the ABCs?
Your child will be ready to learn letters and numbers. However, teaching them these things directly is not the proper way to go about it. Your child will learn these things best by engaging in activities that reinforce the ideas. For instance, the teacher might help the children learn language skills by telling them stories.
You should be aware of the fact that young children need to have fun and acquire social skills. It’s not good to directly emphasize academic milestones. The teacher should emphasize creative play, rather than formal learning sessions.
5. How old should your child be when they start preschool?
Most preschools enroll children who are three to five years old. Some preschools even start accepting kids at age two and a half. However, your child may not be ready at that age. You will be able to choose between a part-time and full-time program. The type of program you pick will depend upon your specific needs and your child's temperament.
It’s a good idea to begin looking at your options about a year before you want your child to actually attend a program. If you live in a large city, there might be a lot of competition for a spot. Therefore, you’ll need to start looking even earlier.
6. How do you pick the right preschool?
You need to do a lot of research to pick the right program for you. You must pick a good location and schedule. You can choose between a program at a private school, a daycare center, a religious institution, or a state-funded school.
You can begin your search by asking other parents for recommendations. It’s important to check whether or not a program is licensed by the state; this will ensure that the program is safe and has adequate staffing.
The best programs will be accredited from the National Association for the Education of Young Children. This organization evaluates programs based on curriculum, teacher qualifications, class sizes, and health and safety standards. Only about 8% of preschools have this accreditation.
To conduct your search, you should call every school that you’re looking into. Ask them about their cost, admission policy, and curriculum. After you’ve picked a few possibilities, you should schedule a visit to each program. Many programs will have open houses that you can attend. Meet with the director of the program, and spend some time in the classrooms to observe the teachers. You should bring your child along to visit the program too.
7. What should you look for during your visit?
Some basic things about a program are important:
You should make sure that the program's facilities are clean and safe. You should look for smoke detectors and first-aid kits.
Next, make sure that the program has all of the right equipment. Does it have all of the art supplies that it needs? Does it have a lot of good toys and books?
You need to also check out the atmosphere. Is it friendly and fun for the students? Does the program proudly display the work of the children?
Each classroom should have a variety of activity areas. It should have a place to read, an art station, and a place for nap time. Also, you should get a sense of your comfort level with the program in general. Do you feel good about it?
8. What makes a good preschool teacher?
You should check into each teacher's training and credentials. It’s best that the head teachers have an associate's degree and training in early-childhood education. Research indicates that teachers with college degrees do a better job of interacting with their students.
There should be at least one teacher for every eight to ten students. It is important to have a low child-teacher ratio, so that the teacher can give adequate attention to every student.
You should speak to the teacher about how they work with their students. Look for a teacher who’s sensitive to the individual needs of their students. The curriculum should be adapted to serve the needs of both faster and slower learners.
You should visit a class while it’s in session. A proficient teacher talks with the children a lot. A good teacher will ask a lot of questions and patiently answer the children's questions. They’ll make their students feel welcome and bolster their self-confidence.
Speak to the teacher about what their typical day is like. How will they keep you informed about the progress of your child? If they answer your questions in the way that you want them to, then you’ve possibly found a good fit for your child.
A Checklist for Your Visit
When you have your meeting with the program's director, then you should ask the following questions:
1. Does my child need to be potty-trained to attend the program?
Many preschools require this training.
2. How do parents involve themselves in the program? Is there a parent association that plans programs (such as family picnics and parties)?
You should also talk to other parents about their experiences with the program.
3. How will the teacher keep me abreast about the progress of my child?
Parents should be kept informed through newsletters and parent-teacher conferences.
4. How do you react to fights between children?
It’s important that you are onboard with the disciplinary policy of the school.
5. What is the daily schedule of the program?
A good program will have proper structure for daily activities.
What Is the Educational Philosophy of the Program?
Every preschool has its own educational philosophies. Some programs are very keen on administering an aggressive educational program, which will make sure that your child is prepared for kindergarten. Other programs are more relaxed about this issue.
You need to make sure that the educational philosophy of the program matches yours. Find out if the program has detailed requirements for the progress of your child—or if it merely has vague requirements. Some parents don’t want a program to pressure their child. They’re more concerned that the child has fun and feels loved by their teachers.
What Is the Activity Level of the Program?
To find out whether your child is a good fit for a preschool program, you must determine whether they’re prepared to be active at the level that the program demands. Some programs maintain a frenetic pace—with loads of activities scheduled for every day of the week. Other programs are more laidback, allowing the children to have more free playtime.
A good match for your child is a program that maintains an activity level that your child is used to at home. Of course, every child needs a challenge. Therefore, if a program is a little busier than what your child is used to, that's okay.
We’ve seen that preschool is an important step in the development of your child. Picking the right program will make a difference about how well-prepared for kindergarten your child is. It pays to spend some time researching and investigating your local preschool programs. Finding a good fit for your child and a program will make the difference between a good and mediocre preschool experience.