Dear Dr. Debbie,
I’m deciding between two preschools for my three-year-old for next Fall. Both had lovely Open Houses and look about the same on paper.
What would you consider to be the most important factors for the best choice for him?
Spoiled For Choice
Beyond benchmarks of quality set by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), there are several important factors to consider when looking at preschools. You might get information from other parents about some of these, but it would be helpful to form your own opinion on some factors from first-hand observation.
Are the teachers warm and nurturing? There is a huge difference between a teacher who regards “misbehavior” as a personal affront, calling for punishment, and a teacher who understands and addresses the needs being expressed in children’s actions. Do the teachers seem to respect the children, setting a tone for them to learn how to respect one another? Parents should tell you that their children enjoyed going to school, made friends with other children, and spoke fondly of their teacher. A student-focused teacher is readily available when there is a conflict between children, offering guidance to help them negotiate a solution. When you observe a class in action, look for children happily engaged in activities and teachers affectionately interacting with children as needed.
Age Appropriate Expectations
The NAEYC established Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) as the standard for planning and implementing a quality program for young children. Simply put, DAPexpects three-year-olds to be three-year-olds. The science of child development, ongoing since the 1950’s, gives teachers norms of behavior and skill development for each age such that a three-year-old program expects children to scribble, draw simple shapes, and progress to drawing representations of people they love by around age four. The use of scissors similarly progresses from a crude two-handed method to effective one-handed snipping before mastering a single cut across a page. Circle Time activities for three-year-olds are no more than fifteen minutes long and engage the children with singing, clapping, group games, and discussion. Emotional control, compassion, and sharing likewise have predictable stages of development which teachers are intentionally supporting.
A Good Fit
You know your child best. Some children are fine anywhere, but others may flourish if their particular interests and personality factors can be honored. A child who loves nature would enjoy
a school with plenty of opportunities for outdoor play, gardening, and class pets. A child who prefers to direct his own play would do best with a daily schedule that allows for long stretches of self-paced and self-directed activities. An inquisitive child might prefer a program rich with novel materials and experiences. A more timid child is better suited for an environment and activities that operate from a core of stability – the furniture and decorations are basic and unchanging; the activities are reassuringly familiar from day to day and season to season.
Potential for Friendships
Ask around to see if anyone your son knows is planning on going to one school or another. It’s great to find a friend when you’re in a new environment. On the other hand, preschool is the
perfect place to make a friend. Some schools do a good job of helping parents to make friends, too. Your comfort with other parents will lead to play dates that can further help children
develop the social skills they are working on during their time at school. See if either preschool sends many children to the elementary school your son will attend in the future. This factor can
support continued friendships over the next several years or longer.
Dr. Wood is facilitating a workshop on Stress in the Classroom on Thursday, April 11, 6:30 to 9:30 pm for childcare professionals. Parents are welcome. Register through Arundel Childcare
Connections. The workshop will be held at Chesapeake Children’s Museum, 25 Silopanna Road, Annapolis.