How to Choose The Right Preschool for Your Child
Want to choose a good preschool for your child? Here are some useful tips to help you make the right decision.
By Chitra Satyavasan
Ever since two-and-a-half-year-old Maya started attending a preschool two months ago, her family has been delighted with the manners that the little one has learnt.
“Her teacher has taught her to say, ‘Thank you’ and ‘Welcome’. So, nowadays, for every cupcake you give her, she’ll smile and say ‘Thank you' politely!” says Maya’s mother, Priya Mohanty, a publishing professional based in New Delhi.
That’s not all that she has learnt.
“Recently, when we sat down to dinner, she folded her hands, closed her eyes and said, ‘Thank you, God’. That took us by surprise and we were quite amused. When asked about it, she said her teacher had taught her to do that. Be it an apple or an ice-cream, she’ll say, ‘Thank you, God!’ before eating,” says Priya.
It was when her daughter became too clingy with her grandmother and the maid that Priya had thought of sending her to a preschool. She had also felt it would be a good idea as it would prepare the child for regular school. Today, Priya is glad that she admitted her daughter to this particular preschool.
“Before choosing a preschool, I decided to do some research. My priority was finding a place where Maya could happily spend some time playing with the teachers and other kids,” Priya says.
She visited three neighbourhood preschools in three days, with her parents and daughter in tow. By Day Three, she had zeroed in on one she liked.
So, did she have some essential criteria in mind as she went about the task of choosing the best preschool?
“Well, I wanted a preschool near my home so that my mom would find it less of a hassle to drop off and pick up Maya on the days when our maid is absent. Also, I got positive vibes from this particular school and the people there, and the children looked very happy. So, I thought it would be a safe and nurturing environment for Maya,” explains Priya.
More than teaching Maya the letters of the alphabet and numbers, Priya was keen that the preschool should encourage hands-on activities, with story-telling and song sessions thrown in.
“The fact that after the first few days of whining my daughter now looks forward to meeting her teachers makes me feel that I have made the right choice,” says an excited Priya.
"Here are some factors to ascertain the right preschool for your child:
Child-friendly and child-safe spaces: Safety and security of the child is the top priority for any parent. So, a school which assures that is recommended. From the use of child-safe, non-toxic toys and learning equipment, to the stringent yet necessary security policies and procedures the school follows, a parent must consider all the factors before selecting a school. A good nursery school will ensure that the child is healthy and safe at all times.
An intellectually stimulating environment:
Following are some questions parents should consider:
• Will the classrooms and activity areas of the school help piquing the curiosity of the child without overwhelming him?
• How are the classrooms and learning centres set up for the day?
• What does a day at the preschool for the child look like?
• Are the children eager to start their day there?
Well researched and holistic curriculum: A holistic curriculum is one that lays emphasis not only on the academic learning outcomes, but also on the social and emotional development of the child. The curriculum at the school should focus on the all-round development of the child.
Adult-to-child ratios: The lower the adult-to-child ratio, the greater the supervision of an individual child. However, smaller children need greater adult supervision compared to older ones, and so the adult-to-child ratio changes with the age of the children.
Trained teachers and staff:
Check for the following things at the school:
- How is the teacher-student interaction in the school?
- Do the staff members seem to love what they are doing?
- How skilled and trained are the teachers, not only in teaching, but also at following required safety procedures."
— Priya Krishnan, Founder & CEO of KLAY and Founding Years Learning Solutions Pvt. Ltd.
The importance of early education
Early education plays an important role in the overall development of a child. Are you on the look-out for a good preschool for your child? If so, just as Priya is thrilled that little Maya has learnt to be polite and kind in addition to mastering her ABC and 1-2-3, you too can be thrilled at the way preschool transforms your little one. But for this to happen, you must be clear about what you want from the preschool. As your child takes baby steps into the world of education, you must make sure that you select a school that will build up his curiosity as well as bring out hidden talents. There are other points too that will influence the outcome of your child’s first formal or semi-formal learning experience.
Let’s take a look at why pre-schooling is important, and also how to go about choosing the right preschool for your kid.
When it comes to choosing the perfect preschool for your child, there are various things to be kept in mind. With so many preschools offering quality education nowadays, you need to have lots of specific information before you can identify the one that perfectly suits your child’s needs and meets your expectations too. Apart from the type of learning imparted and the method of imparting it, there are practical considerations that you will have to take into account too, to ensure that the whole preschool experience fits well into your family’s life.
Choosing the right preschool
Always keep in mind that preschool will be your child’s first experience with schooling, and it will lay the foundation for her attitude to learning in the future. Obviously, you want to make sure that the preschool you send your child to is absolutely great. Choosing the best preschool is easy if you have a clear vision of what you want for your child. Katherine Glenn-Applegate, PhD, Assistant Professor of Education at Ohio Wesleyan University, whose research interests include preschools, provides vital tips for selecting the right preschool in her publications such as, ‘Caregivers’ preschool selection factors and their degree of agency in selecting high quality preschools’. Here’s a ‘choosing a preschool checklist’:
Look for one that fits your needs: Families often want to choose the single ‘best’ option when it comes to preschools, but the best option for one family may not be so for another. One family’s priority may be space for their child to run around and burn off energy, while another family may be looking for a preschool which can best serve their child who has a disability. Think about your needs and those of your child. Do you want your little one to learn the alphabet or is developing his creative interests more important? Should the school be willing to look after your child from morning till evening, or do you want him to be away from home only for a couple of hours each day? Make a list of things you want the school to provide before starting the search.
Understand the teaching methods: Preschools usually adopt one of these educational methods – Play-way, Montessori and Activity-Based Learning. If you are unsure about which one to choose, do not hesitate to ask the staff at the playschools you have shortlisted for details, and find out which method will best suit your child’s needs.
In general, considering the limited attention span of young children, it is useful to let them learn through ways which interest them, rather than imposing learning through formal methods. This will go a long way in creating a life-long love of learning. Make sure that the preschool you select dedicates a lot of time to play and learning through play, alongside a bit of formal teaching.
Many preschools use technology to both teach and measure learning outcomes. Find out more about the teaching methods used in the preschools you are considering. Also, with newer technologies becoming available, it is vital for our children to keep abreast of advancements. Talk to the principal, director and teachers of the preschools to find out if they are open to constant innovation and upgrading.
Check out the curriculum: Check with the teachers about the daily schedule your child will undergo. Ask them questions such as - What do the children do in a typical day? Is the scheduling rigid or do the children have the flexibility to try one activity of their choice after another? Do the activities aim at developing age-appropriate skills such as communication, learning, thinking and so on? Is there room for development of creativity?
Education at the preschool level should ideally be a mixed bag with lots of choices. A child should be at liberty to explore and choose what he wants to learn, as opposed to being forced to follow rigid guidelines.
Also, ask if your child will be taught about health, hygiene, safe touch, morals and manners at the school.
Assess the teachers and teaching methods: The single greatest factor that influences the outcome of the schooling experience for a child is perhaps the quality of teachers. Teachers should demonstrate warm enthusiasm for the children under their care, have a desire to explore and learn with them, and genuinely enjoy their job. They should be knowledgeable and experienced in child development and early education. They should be friendly and patient. Talk to them to find out how well-informed they are. Find out if your child will be encouraged to come to the teacher if she feels uncomfortable in any way.
Evaluate the infrastructure: Check the school campus for cleanliness, safety and spaciousness. See if the toys, craft materials, furniture and playground equipment are child-friendly and safe, and whether there are enough resources for all children so that they don’t have to wait for too long for their turn. Also inspect the other safety measures at the school, including fire safety, and the preparedness to handle emergencies. A doctor on call would be a great advantage.
Study the support staff: Look for a preschool with non-teaching staff who are friendly and congenial. They are the ones who take care of your child while at school, and hence it is very important that they have a warm and kind approach towards children. Make sure your child will be safe with them. You could enquire with parents whose children are attending these schools about the support staff. You could also ask teachers or the school management whether background checks are conducted on the staff.
Ascertain the size of playgroups and student-teacher ratio: It is important that young children get sufficient attention, as they are in the process of developing social and emotional skills. They should be given opportunities to express themselves. When a single teacher handles a large group of children, she may not be able to give individual attention to them. In preliminary education, the teacher-student ratio is crucial. As pre-schoolers, many children are likely to need an extra push to learn things. Thus, the smaller the group of children per teacher, the better the learning outcomes will be. Usually, every small group will have a teacher and an assistant/helper to play and interact with the children. The standard ratio is 1 teacher for every 8-10 children. So that’s another important point to be kept in mind while choosing the right preschool for your child.
Get the feel of it: A sure way of finding out if a preschool is a good fit for your child and family is to pay a visit there, like Priya did. Arrange for a tour of the school, and attend a session if you can.
What do you see?
- Are the teachers engaging with the children?
- Is the setting appealing to children?
- Is children’s artwork on display?
What do you hear?
- Do you hear children's voices or only that of the teachers?
- Do you hear laughter? Or is the class silent?
Find out how welcome you will be: A parent’s job does not end with admitting their kids in a preschool and handing them over to the teacher there. It is essential for parents to develop a relationship with the teacher. An important point to bear in mind while finding the right preschool for your child is their policy about visitors. Check whether you can stop by anytime to visit your child’s classroom. The teachers should be willing to talk to you, both to share information (e.g. what they notice about your child’s interests and growth) and to receive information from you. It should be a two-way conversation. Check also if the preschool organises regular programmes and sessions where they discuss the progress of a child with the parent and accept suggestions on how to deal with difficulties.
Consider these practical issues
- Proximity to your home: Logistics matter. Getting a young child ready for school is no easy task. An extra half-hour of sleep helps a lot in ensuring that your child’s first experience of school is as happy and stress-free as possible. Provided it meets other major criteria, try to choose a preschool in your neighbourhood so that dropping off the child and picking him up is easy. It was high on Priya’s priority list.
- Food as part of the package: If the timings of the pre-school you are looking for are long, and packing food for your child is difficult for you, check if the school provides healthy snacks and meals. Also, find out if children are prompted to use the rest room, encouraged to wash their hands before and after meals, and how the caregivers cope with picky eaters. Another important aspect to be checked is whether nap times are scheduled.
- The costs: The fees, pick-up and drop facilities and arrangements for day care during holidays are also aspects that you may like to check on.
"There are multiple factors that need to be considered regarding the safety of a child at school:
School environment and infrastructure: Check for:
• Any windows within the reach of children
• Sharp edges or corners, or sharp-edged toys
• The height of electrical points
• Emergency exit pathways. Check if the school has an emergency evacuation process in place, and whether you have access to CCTV footage, in case you require it.
• Check whether the staff is trained to handle injured children, and there is a system to check students’ personal medical records or allergies.
• Enquire if the staff is educated in first-aid basics and trained in CPR.
And lastly, ask how the teachers and staff deal with children’s emotions to ensure that the child feels safe and cared for in the school environment."
— Priya Krishnan, Founder & CEO of KLAY and Founding Years Learning Solutions Pvt. Ltd.
To sum up, you need to choose a preschool that fits best with the personality of your child and your own aspirations for him. The preschool experience should be fun for your child, as well as easy for you and your family to handle. So, make your own checklist, adopting or adding to the points listed above in the order of their relevance for you. Set out on your mission. We’re sure you’ll soon find a preschool that matches all your needs, and that you and your little one will be just as thrilled by the whole experience as Priya and Maya are.
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