Is your child fast approaching preschool age and are you getting a bit anxious about where to send her? Are you inundated by all the choices of preschool education, with their different settings and approaches, that you don’t know where to start?
Every year, droves of parents have the very same struggles and every year, I get the same questions from parents about which preschool to send their child to; how to choose one; and what to look out for.
Therefore, I have developed a checklist for parents to use for each school they visit to enable them to stay focused on what is important and to help them select a high quality preschool for their children. Basically, there are three important factors that they need to consider when selecting a high quality preschool.
When your child starts preschool, she will be there for anywhere between three and four hours a day (depending on which programme you choose), and though it may not seem like a lot of time away from home, it is a big chunk of the child’s waking hours. As such, you will need to make sure that the basics are all looked into such as safety toilet facilities, hygiene and meal preparation).
There are also other important factors that could serve to optimise your child’s learning. You see, children (and adults too) learn best in environments that are calm and relaxed like home, as compared to offices or hospitals which may appear to be too clinical and the pace of activity too hectic. Settings that offer too much stimulation (such as too much colour, clutter, decor) are to be avoided too.
The best environment for a child to learn is one that is brightly lit, has natural elements, easy access to outdoor space and a home like appearance. I know that this may be against the conventional preschool/kindergarten wisdom. There is a tendency to crowd a room with colours, children’s artwork and lots of plastic toys and furniture that can be sterilised.
The fact is that the more relaxed and calm the child feels, the better his brain functions. There is also the other thing about the environment being child-friendly. If the environment is set up with the child in mind, it will be child-centered in that the furniture will be child sized and all the things that children need to use should be accessible to them so that they can manage on their own.
This ability to move around a space freely and to have access to items easily is really important in helping the child develop a sense of independence which translates to self-confidence. If the environment is not well- planned and the child has to rely on adults to help her to get things or carry out simple functions, then it’s not a conducive environment for developing independence.
Early Childhood Education (ECE) approach
I know that there are lots of different types of approaches out there to choose from. These include Montessori, Waldorf, as well as approaches recommending the use of multiple intelligence, the right brain, the left brain, the whole brain, brain gym, IBO-PYP, Reggio Emilia among others. All these approaches have their pros and cons and it is easy enough to find out what they offer by doing a simple Google search on the Internet.
However, the real challenge is not in just picking an approach that is suitable for your child. The dilemma these days is that many of these approaches have their origins in different countries, which have elements that are huge determining factors for their success. As such, when these approaches are implemented outside the country of origin, they often need to be adapted to the local culture taking into account the resources available especially in the quality of teachers and their training and the Ministry of Education requirements. As a result, what you get might be really different from what you read on the internet.
As such, though you may want to do some Internet research to begin with, I have slightly different guidelines with regards to choosing a quality ECE approach. Here are some things for you to consider:
- What is the focus of the ECE approach implemented in the preschool?
- Is it centered on the child’s internal motivation to learn, or on some external motivation?
- Is it mostly teacher directed or child directed?
- What is the assessment process like?
The quality and success of your child’s ECE programme is heavily dependent on the teacher she gets. Fundamentally, if you take the whole ECE system and strip it down to the bare necessities, you will find that you can do without a building or even the furniture and even teaching materials but you cannot do without a teacher.
As such, your main focus should be on finding a preschool that hires quality staff. You can easily tell the quality of the preschool by the quality of its staff. So, what exactly is quality staff? What is the measure of a good early childhood educator? For one, a lot of it is dependent on how well she manages the classroom.
It is not easy handling a classroom full of young children and one who is able to keep the children engaged and happy without the use of threats or punishment or a reward system is a really good teacher. These teachers are few in number but once you find one, she is worth her weight in gold. Teachers like these are a special breed as it takes a combination of factors before an educator can become truly gifted with young children.
Firstly, the quality of their training is super important. Yes, their training, not their ‘passion’. I hear people say that they need to find a passionate teacher. Yes, it is true that it does make a difference if a teacher actually likes working with young children. But here’s the catch, a true test of her ‘passion’ is in her perseverance in ensuring that she gets the proper training, be it through mentoring or through a really good teacher training course.
This is because classroom management skills are not inborn. Most times, they are learnt and come from lots of practice. I have made a list of questions for you to ask the principal regarding the quality of her teaching staff. You can download it, print it and use it during your next preschool visit.
I have put together a quality ECE assessment kit, which comes with a preschool assessment checklist which includes the things that you need to look out for during your preschool visit. There is also a questionnaire with important questions to ask the principal when you do meet her. Most times, parents do not know what to ask or they ask the wrong questions, which do not get them the answers that they need.