Finding the Right Preschool

You and your child have already seen many milestones together. Remember how happy you were the first time your child rolled over, said her first word, took his first step? And nothing matches the thrill of knowing you will never have to buy diapers again! But now it’s time for a milestone that will not only inspire the joy and excitement of previous feats, but also sadnessâÂ?¦your baby is growing up! For some the transition to preschool is a smooth one, for others it may be bumpy. In either case there are things you can do to help you and your child get through preschool with flying colors!

Do your homework first!
Check a variety of schools to see which one is right for you, and which one is right for your child. The fact of the matter is that not all preschools are created equal, do some research. Word of mouth will be one of your most valuable resources. You can also call preschools in your area and see if they allow visits while “class is in session”. Most reputable schools will have no problem with parents checking them out ahead of time, and many will encourage it!

Ask questions –
” What is the teacher-to-child ratio?” This will be a big factor in determining how much one-on-one attention your child will get. Six or fewer students for each teacher is a good indicator that your child will receive individual interaction, as well as being allowed to participate in the group setting. This is not always possible in many schools, especially if they are out to make a profit. But if there are more than eight children for every teacher, you must seriously consider the value of the setting – is your child getting something from the class, or is it a large playroom? After all, you can set up play dates for free!

“What types of activities are done?” Do the children sit at tables all day or are they exposed to a variety of things? Some classrooms have more structure than others. And some children respond better to more structure than others! Most preschools cover the basics such as letters, numbers, and shapes, how does the school include these in the activities? Do they photocopy color pages and have the child color them, or do they get the child involved by say gluing leaves in the shape of an “L”? Is the learning all teacher-guided, or is it child-guided, or a combination? Are there hands-on activities regularly?

“What are the teaching and discipline philosophies?” Ask the lead teacher to describe her teaching approach, or to give you a brief summation of what he or she thinks teaching is, or why they feel preschool is important. Some will say it is for the socialization, some will say it is “to prepare them for kindergarten”, and some may feel it is a chance for the parent to get a break. My particular philosophy is that any child can learn anything and that preschool is a place to spark their imaginations and stimulate their minds. Your child’s teacher will be an important part of their life at this time and it is important to find one that provides the type of learning environment you are looking for.

The same holds true for discipline, find out ahead of time how problems will be handled, and if that is in accordance with your beliefs and values. Will your child be reprimanded in front of the other children? Will they be isolated for inappropriate behavior? A member of my own family is afflicted with autism in the moderate to severe range and his mind has trouble understanding consequences for his actions. He was having behavior problems in school and as result was being forced to sit in his desk with it facing the wall for hours at a time. Sitting and staring at the wall for hours is next to impossible for any child, let alone one with mental processing challenges. So be sure that you are aware of the school’s policies regarding discipline.

“Is there a waiting list?” It sounds crazy, but many of the leading preschools have a waiting list! I know because I was forced to get up and wait in line at 5:00 am, in 38-degree temperatures, with my lawn chair, to sign my son up at his school! I was the first in a long line of parents scrambling for two morning and four afternoon spots! Preference had been given to returning families, which is why so few were left! So before you get your heart set on one school, make sure the school is even an option.

Communicate!
Take a minute or two when you pick up your child to visit with your child’s teachers and find out at least one thing the class did that day. Ask your child about it. Human beings as a whole tend to respond more to specific questions such as, “Did you read a story about airplanes today?” rather than general ones like, “How was your day?”
If you did not pick up your child at school, if they go to a sitter or daycare for example, talk about artwork they bring home, ask who they saw at school-get to know the names of their friends, ask the child’s teacher to send a weekly note of what they are doing. Many preschools will provide monthly calendars of general topics the children are learning about. If your child refuses to talk about school, or seems agitated discussing it, be sure to speak with your child’s teacher to see if there is something that may need to be addressed!

More Homework! Reinforce basic skills with your preschooler at home. This doesn’t have to mean sitting down with workbooks after dinner-unless that is what you and your child enjoy. There are ways to be creative with this. Ask your child what shape their plate is, or a door, or a table. Count how many peas are left to eat, or how many coins you found in the couch. And never forget to read to your child! There are many opportunities to read to your child beyond his or her favorite books. Look around and see how many words and letters surround you- labels, magazines, even junk mail! The important thing is that you read SOMETHING to them! They are little sponges and you will be amazed at what their little minds retain!

Preschool is a time for fun and excitement, a time for you and your child to grow through learning and exploration. This will set the tone for your child’s future educational experiences. With planning, communication, and reinforcement, you are providing your child with the necessary tools to maximize their potential and ensure their success.

After all, college is right around the corner�

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