Choosing a preschool can be an extremely daunting task for parents. For many children, preschool is the very first time they are spending time away from mom or dad. While this is an important milestone for little ones, it can also be so, so scary!
As a preschool teacher (and mom) myself, I can speak first-hand to the anxiety that parents feel when they bring their child to school for the first time. Most of the time it’s mom shedding more tears than the child!
My husband and I have been very fortunate to find an in-home preschool for our 2.5 year old where he is thriving with an incredible teacher that we’ve known for years. But for parents in the midst of choosing a preschool for your child, here are 5 important factors to consider:
1. Play-Based Teaching Philosophy
For me, this is the #1 priority in choosing a preschool. Young children learn best through exploring their environment, hands-on experiences, and through play! I love seeing preschool schedules that allow for long stretches of independent play.
The more time that children have to explore and play on their own means the more time they have for interacting with peers, navigating conflict resolution, and building on their imagination (all things they need to be successful in Kindergarten!).
Many early childhood teaching philosophies (Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, to name a few) have one similar characteristic that is so important to look for in your child’s preschool: the teacher acts as a guide.
Instead of assuming that we need to sit kids down and teach them the alphabet, play-based environments may set out alphabet blocks and let the children explore on their own, posing questions as needed to enrich the child’s thinking. This leads to more meaningful, interest-based learning for the child.
2. Discipline policy
Discipline is another huge question to ask about when you are touring prospective preschools. Preschoolers are still very new at being able to regulate themselves, and they are still learning about how to interact with peers in a socially appropriate way.
In terms of discipline, it’s so important to find a preschool that emphasizes depth in conflict resolution, and views children as problem-solvers. Giving children a time-out and making them say “sorry” isn’t enough.
Check out the post : Why I don’t make my child say “Sorry”
Children need to understand the reason why they are being asked to take time away from the group. For example, a teacher may say “I cannot let you hurt Billy, you need to take a break to calm your body down.” Then when the child is calm, they need to be encouraged to make amends with the child they have harmed. Over time, this teaches them how to behave with other children, personal responsibility for their actions and empathy towards others.
Viewing children as problem-solvers when it comes to conflict resolution is another important factor in a school’s discipline policy. Imagine two children are fighting over the same toy, and a teacher approaches them to help. Many times a teacher may say “Johnny had the toy first, so Billy you need to wait until he is done with it.” In this scenario the teacher has “solved” the problem and the children are required to follow her directive or risk being disciplined.
Instead, the teacher has the option to “facilitate” conflict resolution between the children by saying “I see that you both want this toy, what can we do to solve this problem?” You’d be amazed at some of the solutions that children come up with on their own! This approach builds children’s confidence in their own abilities to collaborate with one another.
Preschoolers are at a critical stage of development when they naturally begin to do more things on their own. Since independence is rapidly emerging during these early years, it’s important to find a preschool that will encourage independence through it’s environment and teaching strategies.
This means having child-sized equipment, tables, chairs, shelves, step-stools (when appropriate), and lower toilets and sinks. Children should be encouraged to try to do everyday tasks for themselves, and only ask for help when needed.
Being independent is one way your child is building their self-confidence, so it’s not something to take lightly. Without it, children may struggle in kindergarten where they are expected to do most everything on their own.
4. Teacher to Child Ratio
The ratio of children to teachers in a preschool program can vary a ton from program to program. General guidelines for ratios are set by the child’s age, and most programs have at least a 1:8 adult-child ratio for preschool aged children. Keep in mind that the 1:8 ratio can be met with teacher assistants and aides, and that a certified preschool teacher can supervise up to 28 children in some cases.
It has been my experience that the lower the ratio of teachers to children, the better quality the preschool environment. With lower ratios, teachers are usually less stressed and have more opportunities to facilitate interactions between the children rather than just supervising large groups. There are also more opportunities for in-depth projects and activities that are derived from the children’s interests.
This one is a no-brainer. Germs are abundant in all preschools, so finding one that has a high standard for cleanliness is really important in minimizing the amount of illnesses your child experiences. Ask any prospective preschools what kind of illness policy they have (these policies can vary a lot between programs).
Most places do a good job of wiping down toys and taking care to wash things that have been directly in children’s mouths. Some places have a “wash bucket” to put toys in throughout the day that need extra sanitizing. Frequent hand washing procedures also helps a ton to reduce the risk of spreading illness.
So there you have it – my top five things to look for when choosing a preschool program for your little one… What was your #1 priority in choosing a preschool for your child? Share with me in the comments below!