For most parents, their children’s education is foremost on their minds. At around 2 1/2 to 3 years of age, children may begin attending preschool. What should you consider when choosing a school for your toddler?
There are several things to take into account. First, is your child ready for school? What are your priorities? Which philosophy best suits your own?
Preschool is a big step in a child’s life. Before you pack your kid off, first determine whether she is ready for it. She must be socially, physically, emotionally and cognitively ready for the demands of preschool — most children are after age 2 1/2. Is your child ready to participate in a structured program with her peers? Is she independent — can she take care of her basic needs and use the potty?
Most importantly, can your child be away from you for the duration of a preschool session? Is your child able to work independently and participate in group activities? He must also be used to a schedule and able to adhere to a routine without major difficulty. In addition to this, he must be able to get through a session without needing a nap.
Once you have determined that your child is ready for preschool, you must sort through the many options available. First, decide what is important to you in a preschool. Is convenience top priority? Do you want to send your child to a school with a specific approach to learning? Do you want music, art or academics emphasized, or does free play appeal to you more?
There are four major learning philosophies that parents can choose from when considering what type of preschool they want to send their toddler to.
- The Montessori Program stresses the importance of all living things. It encourages children to find their own meaningful place in the world, while promoting independence. Practical skills and sensory and cultural awareness are taught as part of the curriculum.
- The High/Scope Approach promotes active involvement with people, ideas and events. Children are encouraged to pursue individual goals and interests.
- The Waldorf Approach believes that a person is comprised of three aspects: the spirit, soul and body. The job of the preschool is to stimulate and develop these three areas by immersing children in nurturing surroundings. At schools that use this approach, children are given time for creative free play. This approach is more group oriented than the first two.
- The Bank Street Approach is child centered education. Children are given diverse opportunities for physical, emotional and social growth. Bank Street advocates believe that children are active learners, experimenters, artists and explorers. Social studies are emphasized in this type of preschool.
If none of these philosophies match your own, or you don’t need a school with a defined philosophy, there are plenty of independent preschools that march to their own beat. There are church run programs that may or may not integrate religion into their curriculum. Many towns have community run preschools, such as at the YMCA. If you would like to be an active participant in your child’s school, there are parent-run cooperative preschools where you can share in teaching or caregiving responsibilities.
Once you’ve determined what type of program you want for your toddler, make sure you do your homework. Research the background of the school; ask friends and neighbors about it. Check local childcare resources or referral agencies. Check the school’s accreditation.
One of the most important steps in choosing a preschool for your toddler is the visit to the facilities. Take your child so that he can give it a trial run. Ask about the hours, fees, vacation schedules, discipline, and so on. One important question to ask is what the child-teacher ratios are. A good ratio for 2-3 year-olds is 1:5, for 3-4 year-olds 1:7, and for 5 year-olds 1:15.
Make sure that the facility is safe, clean and stimulating. Ask about staff turnover — if the teachers stick around, they probably like working there. Also, it’s good for your child if there is continuity of care. Whatever your priorities are when choosing a preschool for your toddler, you will no doubt have many decisions to make, and many options to choose from.