Pick the Right Preschool for Your Child
What to Look For
It’s hard to believe how quickly the time has gone by. It seems that only yesterday my husband and I welcomed our first child into the world. And now our little baby has grown into an active toddler—and preschool seems right around the corner. At first, we were overwhelmed by questions. How would we even begin our search for a good preschool?
A 2004 National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) report comparing several different state-funded preschools found that good programs depend largely upon where a child lives and his parents’ income. The report further explains that preschool education programs have widely expanded in both the private and public sectors (although at different rates), and private early childhood educational facilities are now predominantly operated by either for-profit, non-profit, and/or religious organizations.
Learning which of these facilities best fits you and your child’s needs is dependent upon a variety of factors. In our own search, we quickly found that with little planning, discussion, and research, we were able to make the right decision. You too can find the right preschool program for your little one—here are some helpful points to get you started in your search.
Is curriculum your most important priority? Does the school need to be near your home or workplace? Does class size matter to you? Parents should first sit down and write a list of needs and priorities that a preschool facility should reflect—for them as well as for their child. “Parents should look for a program that fits the needs of their child. It is very important that a program be developmentally appropriate,” says Stacey Rees, owner and educational director of Island Kids Early Childhood Center in Northport, New York. “Children should be participating in a variety of hands-on learning experiences each day. These experiences should help them to develop fine motor, gross motor, cognitive, social, emotional, and self-help skills.”
Visit, Interview, and Check References
Preschool education can provide parents with an opportunity for their child to be cared for by someone who is not a member of their family, and for their child to further develop her newfound social skills with other children within her age group. An early childhood educational setting can also assist your child on the road to further developing communication and problem-solving skills, and learn to work together to accomplish these goals with other children.
“It is important that parents understand that not all preschools need to be licensed,” explains Rees. “In New York State, only programs in which children attend more than three hours are required to be licensed by the state. Licensed facilities must follow regulations including employee fingerprinting and background checks.”
Licensed regulation also must mandate child-to-teacher ratios, adds Rees. You should always research the background of any facility that you’re interested in by contacting your state’s department of education for a list of accredited schools near you. You can also visit the National Association for Family Child Care and search for a list of accredited preschools within your area.
If you have settled on a few facilities that seem acceptable, make an appointment with their staff and directors, and make sure you bring a core list of questions to ask at each appointment. Discuss all of your requirements, questions, and concerns with the staff, and ask to tour the facility. Be sure to observe the environment, advises Rees, who also stresses that “parents should make sure that the facility is clean and well equipped. They should ask about the facility’s procedure for cleaning toys, since they should be disinfected on a regular basis.” Note the student-to-teacher ratio and how the teachers react to the children. “A good preschool will have an open-door policy, meaning that as a parent, you may stop in at any time while your child is at school,” says Rees.
Timing Is Everything
The facility’s policy on security should be on the top of all parents’ lists when they are considering enrolling their children in preschool. “Every school should have some kind of security system in place to ensure children are only released to persons authorized by their parent or guardian,” says Rees, who adds that her own school building employs a system which can only be accessed with a security card.
Don’t feel pressured into making a decision about whether or not the time is right for your child to go to a preschool. If you feel that your little one is just not quite ready to take that step, don’t worry that your youngster will lack social and learning benefits by staying at home. You can provide these skills to your child by offering him an enriched and loving environment. Attend parent and child times at local bookstores, museums, pottery or art stores, and the YMCA or other family-friendly gym on a frequent basis. Visit your local library (or search on the Web) and check-out (or purchase) age-appropriate story books, activity workbooks, and materials that you can share with your child. All of these activities will help to develop your child’s learning and cognitive abilities. These special outings and one-on-one learning sessions will not only nurture a warm and secure relationship between you and your tot, they will also further your child’s social, developmental and cognitive skills.
“Take the time to look at several schools and go with your instincts. You have to find a school that is a good match for your child. A school that is good for your neighbor’s child may not be right for yours,” explains Rees, who adds that parents should, “decide what is most important to them and look for that when you tour a facility.”
For further information, please visit:
- National Child Care Information Center
- Zero to Three: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families
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