We are all looking for the best preschool or daycare for our children. Who would want to leave their child in a center that is just average? And what teacher or program would want to offer anything less to their students? But what is “the best” center? Well, that depends on YOUR CHILD!
The truth is, “the best” school is the one that accommodates your child BEST! Most preschools and daycare centers will offer your young children lots of activity and a good social and academic foundation. Hopefully, they also employ staff who love the children in their care and attend to their every need. But there are so many other factors to consider when choosing the right preschool or daycare for your child. We all want the best. But you have to make sure that means for your CHILD, not you. Just because a friend sends her child there, does not mean it will be good for yours. As a mom, teacher, preschool director, and child advocate, I would like to share a few things that can help you decide what program is best for your child.
Do your research. Tour ALL the centers recommended to you. Ask questions! What experiences and qualifications do the staff have? Is anyone certified as an early childhood or special education teacher? What is the daily routine? How will they specifically accommodate YOUR child? During your search, keep an open mind and don’t make any decisions until you have seen all the programs available! Traveling distance, cost of tuition (remember, you get what you pay for), and parent recommendations (everyone has their opinion and good connections, but that doesn’t mean they are good programs) are things to consider. But recommendations are not everything!
ENVIRONMENT AND ATMOSPHERE
Minimal classroom distractions are best for all children. For very active kids, outside noises, children coming in at all hours of the day, and classroom disruptions can derail the learning (and add to “behavior” issues) that is happening in the classroom. And active children fare better when the student-to-teacher ratio is lower. Less students in the room mean more time for your child to be given individual attention. Likewise, a reserved child will need encouragement from the teachers to participate in the activities provided and fewer students and classroom disruptions mean that your shy one won’t be overwhelmed.
How do you feel about the school and classrooms when you walk in the door? Atmosphere can be your biggest determining factor when choosing the best center for your child. What is your impression of what you see, hear, and (yes) smell? And most importantly, how does your child fare while in care? Give it a trial run for a month. You are allowed to pull your child any time you are not satisfied!
All children benefit from a structured, consistent daily schedule and time to transition from one activity to another. Observe how the teachers get the students’ attention to wrap up an activity. Does she give them fair warning that they will be cleaning up soon? Do the students know what they will be doing next? How does the teacher accommodate the children who need extra time to transition? This is where meltdowns happen, people. What about the child that helps other children clean up? Does the teacher acknowledge or reward her behavior so that she is motivated to continue to help others? During your tour, take note of the schedule and the classroom “flow”. It can help you determine what is the best routine for your child.
CURRICULUM AND INSTRUCTION
Look for programs with a curriculum and teaching philosophy that is appropriate for your child. Some programs offer theme-based learning that allows the children to learn collectively, are teacher guided, and center around a topic of student interest. Other programs offer hands-on, play-based instruction where children engage in learning activities that are student directed. There are many wonderful educational methods out there. And a good school, and a great teacher, will know how to incorporate them all and tailor it to your child’s learning styles.
Developmentally appropriate activities are also very important in finding the right program. Are the activities and lessons provided age-appropriate and is your child developmentally ready for them? When a child is given an activity that is beyond their developmental level, it can be very frustrating for them. Children can disengage from the lesson and become disruptive. This is often misinterpreted as a “behavior problem”. Be wary of programs that teach children anything that is not age appropriate.
How do you know if what the teachers are teaching your child are appropriate? They’re the experts, right? Not necessarily! The American Academy of Pediatrics, and most early childhood educational organizations, are excellent resources to help you discern what activities your child should be engaging in at his or her age. Additionally, teachers who have Child Development or Early Childhood Education degrees from accredited universities are more likely to engage your child in developmentally appropriate activities. Their pedagogy and practices were taught by experts in their field and the teachers have an arsenal of educational weaponry to apply to your child’s specific developmental level and learning style.
The following link from the National Agency for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has a few more wonderful tips on finding a quality program for your child. Check it out!
Every child deserves a great educational experience! I would love to see every preschool, daycare, and elementary school begin to offer a more developmentally appropriate, play-based, hands-on, exploratory curriculum that will help children apply what they learn in the classroom to the world around them. Methodist Preschool’s teaching and educational philosophies are child-centered, meaning the curriculum and lessons are developed with the whole child in mind, address the needs of young children at their developmental levels, abilities, and preferences, and allow the child to direct their learning by engaging in activities that interest them. I would love for you to consider Methodist Preschool. But that’s not what this piece is about. Finding the right preschool or daycare is tough! I hope I have given you something to consider when researching your options. And I sincerely hope you find the best program for your child, even if it is not with us.