Picking a Preschool

By Sean Telles
August 22, 2013 • 466 views

Before researching a college or planning a wedding for your child, one of the most important decisions a parent can make is to find the right preschool, and that process should be taken just as seriously and methodically. Statistics show a majority of children in California attend some type of daycare, and while that experience can differ widely – ranging from a licensed facility to a neighbor’s house – the importance of a quality experience for a child cannot be understated.

Additionally, the first five years of a child’s life are developmentally important, academically and socially; a quality preschool can help identify any early learning disabilities or other special needs a child might have thus minimizing any long-term effects; and preschool sets the tone for how a child will view school for the next few years, so it’s best to have a positive experience. Here are some tips to help select a great preschool for your child.

The first tip is to visit more than one preschool. It might shock a newbie parent to see the range of childcare that exists both legally and illegally, but there is a whole spectrum of schools. The best way to understand those differences is to become accustomed to that world.  Look for a dynamic environment with lots of talking and exploration. You want it to feel like an extension of your values, a home away from home.  Keep in mind this is going to shape their feelings about school and if preschool is a negative experience, just think how they will expect kindergarten to be.

The second tip is to ask questions. Not only are you are advocating for your child, but many people who work in childcare have dedicated their lives to helping children and are happy to explain their process. Places that won’t or can’t explain their management structure or educational perspective should be avoided.  A preschool can be a wonderful place for a child, but it can also be a dangerous one, in which a child could choke to death in an instant if a location or classroom isn’t managed or supervised properly.

The third tip is that teachers make a difference. Not all preschool teachers are the same or have the same experiences and qualifications. Believe it or not, some people who are authorized to watch children in a daycare have little to no education or experience with children. Other teachers have degrees in education and decades of experience. Just as is in any career, learning how to do a job through a balance of both educational training and experience makes a person better at that job.

So ask about teachers’ qualifications and see how long they’ve have been working there. Just keep in mind high turnover due to low pay is not out of the ordinary. According to First 5 California, child care remains one of the lowest-paid professions in the state and turnover rates are extremely high. Seventy percent of early learning teachers earn poverty-level wages.

The fourth tip is spending some time in a classroom to watch the instructor work. Most learning centers will not have a problem with this. Watch the teacher and imagine your child in that setting. The teacher should be passionate about teaching and ignite curiosity in children, without just telling them to do this or that.

See if the teacher spends time on the level of the children and if he or she encourages learning through exploration, as well as encouraging children to interact with each other. Also, see if the educator is teaching children to manage their own actions. The teacher should be helping them understand it’s really important for them to sit still sometimes, it’s important to listen, raise your hand, to take turns, use the restroom and then return to their original activity.

The fifth tip is that curriculum matters. Some people don’t know preschools should or do have a curriculum, but a quality center will have this map to a child’s success. More than just learning numbers and letters, a good curriculum shows forethought and includes academic lessons, virtues, outdoor activities, the arts, and even leaves room for the unexpected.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, but there should be a plan.

The final tip is to seek out local resources.  There is no reason to do it alone. Google “preschool” and see what pops up on the screen. Don’t be afraid to call an agency and ask for recommendations. Chances are you are a few phone calls away from someone who is passionate about helping you. Even your friends and neighbors are an easy, great place to start.

Finding the right preschool is worth the time and energy that a good search will take. Not only will your child benefit academically and socially, but when you have found the right place, you guarantee yourself peace of mind, save yourself from last minute phone calls to your job, and avoid having to start the search over if things don’t work out the first time. Many studies link quality preschools to increases in positive experiences, such as academic success, and decreases in negative experiences, such as incarceration. While those statistics can be debated, it is inarguable that a positive preschool experience will excite a child for school and calm a parent’s nerves.

Sean Telles is an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with FIRST 5 Mendocino as a Social Entrepreneur. You can email him for comments or suggestions at development@mendochildren.org. These tips were taken from First 5 California, FIRST 5 Los Angeles,  and FIRST 5 Mendocino.

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