Even though every preschool nursery has to meet the requirements of the National Curriculum and be inspected by OfSTED they are not all the same. Selecting the correct one for your child can be a daunting task for any parent.
Impact of Preschool
Various studies have identified that children who attend preschool can often achieve higher academic levels of attainment later in their education and have more developed social skills than their peers who did not attend preschool.
More than education
A good preschool is going to be able to provide a good balance between play and education, but the most important aspect of your selection is ensuring that your child or children will have a happy experience.
Learning the balance between play and work, which is essentially what learning at any level of education is, could help your child achieve a good work life balance as an adult.
Can you feel the warmth of the staff and a sense of community?
Does the preschool make you feel that you should be able to view them as a partner in the raising the of your child, or are you as a parent merely a customer and your child a number?
Learn to love learning
Your child has a lifetime of learning ahead of them in all sorts of situations, not just school and university. Part of the role of preschool is to set the foundations for that learning by creating a love of learning.
Opinions that will structure behaviour throughout life are set in the early years so attending a preschool that has a diverse group of staff and children is going to be in the long term advantageous for your child.
It’s not you attending the preschool
You’ve got to remember that it is not you who will be attending the preschool. So, you have to look at every school you inspect through the eyes of your child. You have got to learn about your child, what they like and dislike before you can make the best decision for them.
- What kind of environment does your child thrive in?
- Does your child an organiser putting toys away etc, or do they need more structure top their day?
- In what ways do you think they need to develop most?
Thinking about your child’s personality will help you recognise that the school which everyone else is raving about might not actually serve the needs of your little one.
What does the school actually plan to do with your child?
What will the preschool do to educate and entertain your child during the time that they attend the school? Think about daily activities and what the objectives for the full year are.
Every child is different and whilst a curriculum can’t be tailored specifically to each individual child it is important that the curriculum provides something that will meet the development needs of your child.
Don’t make the decision by yourself
No matter how many adults you ask for advice it is important that you also include the opinion of the most important person in this process, your child.
Visit your shortlist of preschools with your child and see how they interact with the staff, other children and the environment. You’ll soon get a feeling for the one that they feel most comfortable in.
What approach is used?
Ask the preschool which approach they are using as the framework for their education strategy.
Prepare yourself by learning about
- the Reggio Emilia method, where children are empowered through a child-directed learning approach,
- Ecological Systems,
There are pros and cons to each approach, and that’s why many schools use a mixture of approaches to create their own curriculum.
The curriculum should be written by educators who have wide life and work experience, so that even at this early stage in your child’s development they are experiencing a diverse perspective that lends a breadth of skills to the curriculum.
You want a preschool with great teachers and support staff
Good teacher and support staff are key to the success of your child’s preschool education.
It is difficult to explain how you can tell if the staff you meet both care about the children and are dedicated educators who are also qualified, well-trained and experienced.
Asking other parents who use the school about their experience will provide you with some insight.
A preschool teacher will have an intimate relationship with your family, if they’re not the sort of person you would invite to your home, you shouldn’t leave your child in their care.
A teacher to child ratio
The groups or classes in which children spend their time in the preschool should be small so that different learning preferences, talents and characters can be catered for.
A ratio of one teacher to five pupils may sound low but it is ideal for the development of a child’s individuality and potential.
Larger ratios can be an indication that a preschool has a rather cookie-cutter, top-down style of class management.
Good classroom infrastructure
The preschool environment should first and foremost be safe.
Some preschool educators describe the environment or classroom as a third teacher that supports the children’s learning and growth.
The spaces for toddlers should be clean and tidy without unnecessary furniture or materials.
Pathways should be clearly defined, and the space for play should meet the needs of the number of children. Some children may want to have time by themselves. They should know where the quiet places are and how to behave around them.
When playing children should be encouraged to explore and investigate their environment.
Go with Your Gut
At the end of the day you can ask lots of questions, speak to all sorts of people, collect a huge amount of information, and do an awful lot of analysis. But sometimes your gut feeling will tell you that the ideal preschool for your child is not the one that won the assessment battle.
Follow your child’s lead rather than follow the crowd of other parents that you know.
Your child does not know about different approaches or the cost, all they know and the most important thing for you to focus on is whether or not they are happy in a preschool.
Do you hear laughter from the other children?