Preschoolers – those energetic 3- and 4- year-olds enjoying their first school experiences – are an enthusiastic bunch, excited about learning, playing and making new discoveries.
They’re capable of learning language, reading basics, even early math and science concepts. But what they glean most from preschool are crucial social, emotional and character lessons.
Early childhood programs offer learning experiences that lay the foundation for later success in school. With so many different programs, how do you choose the right one for your child? Begin by considering what kind of setting best suits your child and your family’s needs.
- Full-day programs (often called daycare) may be in an individual provider’s residence or in a commercial childcare center.
- Lab schools are affiliated with colleges or high schools and use student teachers who are supervised by professionals. Some also combine programs with research studies on effective early childhood education.
- Montessori schools are operated on the philosophy that young children learn best through direct sensory experiences such as blocks or pegboards. This philosophy is reflected differently at each Montessori school.
- Nursery or preschools are private or locally funded, secular or religious and situated in either private facilities or municipal buildings.
When selecting a program, parents should ask about the size of the school, the number of days and hours offered, the availability of extended hours, how children are grouped, class size and program cost.
After deciding which type of program best meets your criteria, you should visit more than one preschool or daycare site so you have a basis for comparison.
Parents should consider asking the following questions:
- Does the program have a clear written statement of its goals and philosophy? If so, ask to review it.
- Does it consider a child’s social, emotional and physical needs?
- Is the atmosphere warm, nurturing and accepting?
- Does the curriculum meet your child’s needs?
- Is the content culturally diverse and free of gender bias?
- Does the school offer a balance of individual, small-group and large-group activities?
- Do activities encourage self-expression?
- Is there a routine to most days?
- What is the discipline policy?
- Does the program have an up-to-date state license? Is it accredited by the National Academy of Early Childhood Program?
- What are teachers’ qualifications?
- What is the ratio of children to teachers?
- Is there frequent staff turnover? A high turnover rate may be indicative of a problem within the program, low morale, or low pay.
- Do teachers encourage and respond to children’s natural interests?
- Are teachers cheerful and patient?
- Does it look safe indoors and outdoors?
- Can you imagine your child in this setting?
- Are the children happy, relaxed, feeling good about themselves and engaged in meaningful play or learning activities?
- Is there a wide variety of materials? Are they orderly and easily accessible?
- In what ways is parent involvement welcomed and encouraged?
- Will the school’s administration refer you to parents whose children have attended the program or are attending, so you can call them for their input on the program?
Compiled from local and national reports.
What to Look For in a Preschool or Childcare Program
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) recommends that parents seek out:
- Well-trained staff – The professional qualifications and training of teachers and staff are crucial to a quality program. Ask about the degrees and certificates held by the director and teachers, and find out what steps they take to provide staff with ongoing training.
- Low child-to-teacher ratio – The number of adults and children is important because it helps determine how much individual attention your child will get. There should be at least one adult for every:
– four infants
– five younger toddlers (12 to 24 months)
– six older toddlers (2 to 3 years)
– ten 3- or 4-year-olds
- Small group size – In addition to low teacher-to-child ratios, the overall size of the program is important. Look for a program with fewer than six to eight infants in a group, 10 to 12 toddlers, and no more than 20 preschoolers.
- Low staff turnover – Teachers who have been in a program longer establish bonds with the children, and those relationships help children grow and learn. Low turnover is also usually a sign that the program values good staff and works to keep them.
- A safe and healthy environment – Check that the program is licensed by the state. Optimally it will have NAEYC accreditation, which demonstrates that the program has undergone a rigorous evaluation. Make sure that the facility looks clean, and that all children are under adult supervision at all times. Staff should be able to describe clear health and safety procedures, as well as policies for handling emergencies.
- Take the time to choose carefully. Choosing a preschool means building a relationship with people who will give your child a great start on learning.
Adapted from the NAEYC brochure “Early Years Are Learning Years.”
- Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, www.dfps.state.tx.us/child_care – Provides information on childcare services. Operated by the stte.
- Child Care Aware – 800-424-2246, www.childcareaware.org – provides information on selecting quality care and referrals to local agencies through the National Association of Child Care Resources and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA).
- Children’s Learning Institute –
- www.childrenslearninginstitute.org/ – develops and disseminates learning strategies to schools, community organizations and parents. Operated by the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
- Clearinghouse on Early Education and Parenting – 877-275-3227, http://ceep.crc.uiuc.edu – offers brochures and publications.
- National Association for the Education of Young Children – 1509 16th St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20036-1426; 800-424-2460; www.naeyc.org – offers training to teachers and administrators in early childhood education.
- Texas Education Agency – 512-463-9734, www.tea.state.tx.us – offers information about pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes.
- National Head Start Association – 703-739-0875, www.nhsa.org – Advocates policies that strengthen services to Head Start children and their failies as well as develops and disseminates research and information.