Just six short months ago I was spending my days and nights researching colleges for my 18 year old. Fast forward to my last three weeks visiting five nursery schools, with two more schools scheduled to visit next week. Is choosing a preschool really such a big deal? I believe so and I’ll do my best to explain why and what you should be looking for in a quality preschool program.
When to Send
At two? At three? At four? Back in the day, preschool literally meant “before school” and that was typically at the age of 4. Nowadays, it can be used to describe a two’s program. So when is the right time? Research shows that there is no benefit to child attending a program before the age of three. Now for my two older children, I was working full time and it was not a choice. For many of us, it is not a choice. In that case, you should look for the highest quality program you can afford- focusing not only on the facility but also on the educational backgrounds of the caregivers.
To put it simply, most children under three are not equipped with the skills needed to interact with other children successfully and may not be ready to separate.
Of course, there are exceptions and there are children who do amazing in the twos and there will be children at three who are not ready. Every child is an individual. This is also not to say that sending your child to a twos program will hurt them; research just shows that it does not have a measurable benefit.
“There is no evidence that daycare is advantageous to children from middle-class families,” Oliver James writes in his most recent book, How Not To F*** Them Up. “If daycare is as distressing to under-threes as many researchers believe, it would not be surprising if it affected their cortisol levels: when distressed we usually secrete the hormone.”
These terms are often used interchangeably but there are subtle differences.
- A preschool tends to focus on learning and development
- A nursery school tends to focus on play and socialization
- A daycare tends to focus on the care of young children
Not surprisingly, many of these places, even if they call themselves one thing or another, incorporate all of the ideals mentioned above in the day of a young child,
Different Philosophies (most common)
Play– The focus of the day is learning through play. Any academic skills are taught through theme-based activities. The teacher serves as a facilitator of learning, not as a direct instructor.
Academic– In an academic-based preschool, the teacher is the direct instructor. Children spend the majority of the day learning letters, letter sounds, numbers, colors, shapes and handwriting.
Montessori– The Montessori method is known as a child-centered learning approach. Children are placed in mixed age classrooms and learn through working with carefully chosen materials set at their level. Teachers are specifically trained in the Montessori method.
Cooperative– Known more commonly as a “co-op”, cooperative schools may have varying philosophies but the main thing is that parents are very involved in the classroom, often working along side the teachers.
What to look for (in no order) and questions you should be asking
- Secure facilities– How difficult was it for you to get in? Was the door locked? We’re you buzzed in? ASK– Do classroom doors lock? Do they have a policy for lockdowns and lockouts? Who can come into the classroom at any given time?
- Classroom setup– Look to see if materials and board (if there is one) is at a child’s eye-level. Are there bathrooms in the classroom? This is important for young kids who are still working on independent bathroom skills.
- Teacher backgrounds– Certification to work in a preschool varies by state. In most areas, all someone needs is a certificate earned in as little as two weeks. ASK– Do head/lead teachers have degrees in education? Are all employees CPR trained? Do all employees undergo background checks?
- Curriculum– There is no set curriculum a preschool must follow. There are, however, guidelines set by the state. ASK– Does the school follow the state guidelines? Are teachers responsible for creating lesson plans? Who decides what is done in the classroom on a daily basis?
- How do they deal with a child who is having difficulty separating?
- What is their potty training policy?
- How do they handle discipline issues?
- Is the school/classroom nut free?
Preschool may be your child’s first time away from you on a regular basis and will be their first educational experience. This experience will shape their feelings and thoughts toward school, peers, and usually the first non-family adults they will spend time with regularly. Choose wisely!