10 tips for choosing a preschool

Want to choose a preschool for your child? Here are ten tips to help you make the right decision.

By Chitra Satyavasan

10 tips for choosing a preschool

During Dussehra every year, parents plan admissions for their little ones in preschool on Vijayadasami. If you too are in the process of choosing a preschool for your child, here are some tips to help you.

Ever since two-and-a-half-year-old Maya started attending a preschool two months ago, her family has been delighted with the ‘good 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 again mentioned her teacher. Be it an apple or an ice-cream, she’ll say, ‘Thank you, God!’ before eating,” says Priya.

Priya is glad that she admitted her daughter to this particular preschool. It was when her daughter had become too clingy to her grandmother and the maid, that Priya thought of sending her to school.

“I decided to go preschool hunting as I wanted her to get used to being away from home. My priority was that she should happily spend some time playing with the teachers and kids. I also thought it would prepare her for regular school,” she says.

Priya visited three neighbourhood preschools in three days, with her parents and daughter in tow. By Day 3, she had zeroed in on the second school.

So, did she have in mind a few essential criteria?

“Well, I wanted a preschool near my home so that my mom would find it less of a hassle when she has to drop off and pick up Maya from the school on the days when our maid is absent. And, I got positive vibes from the place and people, and the children looked very happy! So, I thought Maya would be in a safe and nurturing environment,” explains Priya.

More than teaching the letters of the alphabet and numbers, she 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 Priya.

Choosing a preschool is easy if you have a clear vision of what you want for your child. Here are a few factors that will help you make a good choice:

Katherine Glenn-Applegate, PhD, Assistant Professor of Education at Ohio Wesleyan University, whose research interests include preschools, wants parents to keep the following factors in mind when choosing a preschool:

1. Preschool which ‘fits’ your needs: Families often want to choose the single ‘best’ option, but the best option for one family may not be the best option for another family. One family’s priority may be space for their child to run and burn off energy, while another family may choose a preschool based on who can best serve their child with a disability. These are all fine priorities. Apart from safety, the most important factor is that the preschool and your family ‘fit’.

2. Excellent teachers: The greatest factor that seems to indicate better outcomes for children is excellent teachers. The teachers should demonstrate warm enthusiasm for the children, have a desire to explore and learn with them, and genuinely seem to enjoy their jobs. Too often, preschool classrooms have children in one area, and grown-ups in another, chatting among themselves, doing paperwork, or otherwise disengaged with the children.

According to Purvesh Sharma, one of the three founders of Footprints, a leading play school, preschool, and day care chain, along with good teachers, technology also plays a major role. Footprints has developed an innovative technology solution – using what is called Reado stick or SmartSpeak – which includes pre-programmed voice output through a smart pen which works like a cursor on custom paper books. The pen reads aloud, thus enabling the kids to learn with an automated teaching assistant. The data captured from the device helps teachers and parents to measure learning outcomes.

3. Friendly staff: Good teachers not only care about children, but care about their parents and families too. Choose a preschool with staff who are willing to talk with 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. Your child’s teachers should be very knowledgeable and experienced in child development and early education, but YOU know your child best. A good teacher respects this, and sees you as a partner in your child's education and development.

Raj Singhal, another founder of Footprints, stresses on the importance of verification of school staff. At Footprints, staff background checks and verification is outsourced to an agency which the provides such services to the leading e-commerce players. 

4. Low teacher turnover: Money does not guarantee excellent teaching, but there is a correlation between teachers who are appropriately compensated (in terms of both pay and benefits) and quality. Preschools that pay well attract better and more qualified teachers. This means those teachers stick around, and low teacher turnover is yet another indicator of quality.

5. Setting of the preschool: The best way to know if a preschool is a good fit for your child and family is to pay a visit to the school. Arrange for a tour of the school, and spend as much time as you can over there. 

What do you see?

• Are the teachers engaged with the children?

• Is the setting appealing to children?

• Is children’s artwork visible? 

What do you hear?

• Do you hear children's voices or only that of grown-ups?

• Do you hear laughter or is it silent?

6. Visitation policy: An important point to bear in mind is the visitation policy. Check whether you can stop by anytime to visit your child’s classroom. Hopefully, you’ll be told that you can, and are encouraged to do so. A preschool should be for the children, and the children’s families should always be welcome.

Hema Chari, the founder-director of a well-known preschool in Chennai, offers the following tips:

7. Proximity to your home: Ideally, try to choose a preschool located in your neighbourhood for easy drop off and pick-up, provided it also satisfies your other requirements.

8. Friendly principal/staff: Make it a point to have a one-on-one meeting with the director or principal of the preschool, and clarify all your doubts regarding the fees, daily schedule, size and age group of playgroups, provision for snacks and healthy meals, and availability of a doctor on call. Ensure that most of what you want for your child is provided by the school, and do not hesitate to make 2-3 visits if needed.

Don’t forget to ask about the teacher-student ratio. Usually, every small group will have a teacher and an assistant/helper to play and interact with the child, the standard ratio being 1 teacher for every 8-10 children.

9. Curriculum: Preschools usually adopt one of these educational methods – Play-way, Montessori or Activity-Based Learning. If you are unsure about which one to choose, do not hesitate to ask the staff for details, and find out which method is tailored to your needs.

10. Infrastructure: Check playrooms for cleanliness, safety and spaciousness; see if the toys, craft materials and playground machinery 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.

Ashish Aggarwal, the third founder of Footprints, opines that infrastructure should be designed keeping in mind the safety of children attending the school. At Footprints, all the centers have vinyl or wooden floors to prevent injuries from falling. All sharp edges of furniture and fixtures, including doors, are rubber padded to prevent accidental injuries. 

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