If you are the parent of a young child, ‘tis the season to be preschool “shopping.” With so many options to choose from, it’s important to identify your family’s preferences and priorities at the outset. As a first step, ask yourself, do I need:
- A full- or half-day program?
- The option of extended days?
- A five day program or only one or two days of care?
- A play-based program, one that is more structured and curriculum-based, or something in between?
While each preschool’s approach and schedule may vary, it’s essential that any center you consider is licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care. Equally important, be sure to determine each teacher’s qualifications, their education, background and how long they have been associated with the program.
But remember, nothing you can ask will tell you more than seeing, first hand, the interactions between teachers and children. Look around; are the children busy, happy, engaged and relating to one other? Is the teacher getting down to the child’s eye level to speak with him/her? Are the facilities clean, well-lit and organized? Are outdoor activities built into the schedule? Is it a warm and caring environment?
Stories, arts and crafts, words and numbers should be part of the preschool day. But children should also have ample time to play. This is their “work.” Play helps preschoolers learn how to share, cooperate, and take turns. Through play children can be creative, observe how things work and develop language skills. It can also be a time of self-discovery and for building self-confidence.
There are many types of preschools that serve a variety of children and family needs. A quality preschool should focus on the development of the whole child: cognitive, social, emotional, and physical. There should be activities, toys and games that help the child strengthen each of these skills every day.
Remember, YOU have to feel comfortable with the school, its philosophy, rules, philosophy, size and location. Trust your instincts. When it comes to choosing a preschool, parents know best.
By Kathleen Rudnicki, M.Ed., director of the Rockwell Child Study Center; Education Faculty at Lasell College