Seeking an early education program for your child? Invest some time in your search and know what questions to ask to ensure a positive preschool experience for your little one.
“The first five years of life are the absolute most essential for a child’s development,” says Bev Adams, an expert in early childhood development and a college professor. “Trying to choose a program by reading a handbook and then going and visiting for an hour and making that choice is not a good idea. It’s one of the most critical decisions that you are going to make for your child.”
Quality early education prepares children to transition successfully into elementary school, with studies indicating that children are less likely to repeat grades or require special education. Early education can also nurture skills like self-esteem and self-confidence, which are necessary to succeed in the transition from preschool to kindergarten––more so than knowing letters and numbers.
Beginning the search
While referrals from other parents are a good starting point, personal observations are vital. Seek a program that fits your child’s personality and disposition and decide what you would like her to experience during her time away from home.
Make appointments to observe and interview licensed programs that interest you. Consider the following factors:
Attractive decor is nice, but notice what activities the children engage in and if the environment feels safe, secure and healthy. Throughout the center, you should hear children talking and see them playing in different areas of the classroom.
“A quality preschool program understands that play is essential to a child’s life, to their experiences, to their positive growth and development. They not only accommodate play, they encourage it, they plan for it,” Adams says. “Young children don’t learn best through the teacher talking to them while they sit quietly in a large group. Young children learn through their senses, through exploring, through discovering, through their activities.”
Seek experienced, warm-natured teachers trained in early childhood development. Credentialed early education teachers understand how to nurture a child’s social emotional skills.
Licensed childcare centers must meet the state’s staff-to-child ratio requirements. State requirements aside, you know your child best. Beware of programs where you have trouble finding the adult in a roomful of children. Even a highly trained teacher will struggle with providing the daily one-on-one attention and interaction that a young child needs in a crowded classroom.
Consider how the school provides information to you about your child’s day-to-day activities and her progress. While some schools will provide a hand-out of the day’s activities, others take a more high-tech approach.
For example, some preschools use a secure platform called LuvNotes to communicate with parents. Parents can log-in through the web or their smartphone to find out what activities are planned for the day, the lunch menu, as well as personalized daily reports and photos and videos of their child.
Trust your gut
From high-tech to no-frills, quality early education programs come in a variety of shapes, sizes and amenities. While compiling your wish list, decide which items you aren’t willing to compromise on and don’t feel rushed into a decision you aren’t completely comfortable with.
By taking your time, asking questions and trusting your instincts about each program you observe, you are sure to find a high quality early education program that is just the right fit for your child.
In addition to budget and location considerations, ask questions like:
- Is the school licensed?
- What is the student/teacher ratio for each class room?
- Will the program hours work with our family schedule?
- What is the policy if we need to arrange early drop-off and/or late pick-up?
- Will they accept a child who isn’t potty trained?
- What is the illness/medication policy?
- What is the school’s approach to safety and security?
- Is there an outdoor play area?
- Does the school take the children off-site for outings?
- Are the caregivers trained in first-aid/CPR?