CHOOSING A PRESCHOOL
by Leslie Jamison, Ph.D.
Reprinted with Permission from GAINESVILLE FAMILY MAGAZINE
All Rights Reservedl
An increasing number of parents are enrolling their children in preschool programs. Preschools provide opportunities for children to interact with other children and learn necessary socialization skills that are important for social/emotional development. Parents also my think about enrolling their child in preschool because of the variety of activities and learning experiences they offer. Although socialization skills are and should be the main component of a preschool program, basic developmentally appropriate concepts are typically introduced. Although the reasons for deciding to send a child to preschool may vary from parent to parent, the desire to find a quality program is universal.
Choosing a preschool for your child can be a challenging, and anxiety provoking process. Preschools vary in program emphasis, size, cost, schedule flexibility, age range, teacher-child ratio, and staff degrees. I recently went through the preschool selection process and was delightfully impressed with the number of excellent preschools in our area.
Given the number of preschools available, it my be helpful to start your search by consulting with your pediatrician and/or other parents and requesting material from several preschools. After reviewing materials and talking with others you can then begin to narrow your search. The Child Care Resources, Inc., located in Gainesville, is also an excellent source to assist you in narrowing your search based on the information you give them.
Visiting a few schools to compare program philosophies, the physical environment, teacher-child ratio, interaction between staff and children, and the degree of on going communication with parents is essential, You will likely have a more successful experience if the preschool you choose has child-rearing philosophies or styles that are with yours.
Considering your child's needs and temperament, as well as the family's needs and expectations can help you choose a preschool that fits your family. For example, a shy or anxious child will likely do better in a small preschool program where the student-teacher ratio is low. A child with low frustration tolerance or who becomes overwhelmed easily would also do better in a smaller preschool.
Some preschools are very flexible in terms of scheduling. The child can attend part-play, all-day, or specific days. As a result a child who attend the five day program, may have different children in his class on some days. This works well for some children and their families. A more structured schedule offered by some preschools, in which all children attend the same number of days and time period, works better for other children. Children who are sensitive to changes in their environment and/or are less adaptable may do better in a school with a structured schedule.
For any quality preschool program an essential part of the program is the relationship between the teacher and the child and the teacher and the parent. For most children this will be their first time away from a primary caretaker. Having a positive and nurturing relationship with their teacher is very important for their adjustment an future attitude about school. When visiting preschools, observe the interaction between providers and children, both verbal and nonverbal interaction. Also, observe the general mood of the children (happy, upset, calm and teir involvement in activities. Inquire about disciplinary attitudes and expectations.
Continuity and consistency are very important for preschoolers. Make sure that there is a low turnover rate and that the same providers will be with your child daily. Even in a large preschool setting, assess how much time is given to each child. The state requires a 1:11 ratio, but most schools have a smaller ratio. Regardless of your child’ temperament, it is important that they receive positive regular attention.
When observing different preschools note if there are age appropriate toys and activities that will promote physical, social, language, and mental development. There should be a balance between active and quiet activities. Ask about the staff’s training and experience Take note if whether they seem to enjoy their work or not, or if they seem flustered or overwhelmed by the children. Ask about their policy on visitation and providing ongoing feedback to you about your child.
Preschool classrooms should be cheerful, but at the same time should not be overwhelming. If the room gives you sensory overload with too many things with no seemingly order imagine how it would feel to your preschooler. Having a sense of order is extremely important for a preschooler, particularly younger preschoolers or the easily distractible child. There are some preschools that keep the two-year very separate from the rest of the school. This often proves to be an excellent idea. For example, they have their own playground away from the older preschoolers.
Other things to consider when choosing a preschool is whether the school is sensitive to health and safety concerns. The environment should be child-centered and child-proof. Play equipment should be in good condition. Find out about the school's policies in dealing with medical emergencies and whether the staff has any kind of emergency training. If your child has any special needs, ask if there are accommodations.
Some preschools have a religious base, whereas others do not. There are quality preschools in both categories, so this becomes a personal choice. Within church based programs, there is also a wide degree of variability of the emphasis on religion in the curricula and parental participation in religious services. Also, some preschool offer extra activities that may or my not be included in the price (e.g., music, Spanish), which make them more attractive.
Any quality preschool not only has an excellent understanding of child development at different stages, but provides a nurturing, safe, and stimulating environment to facing intellectual/emotional growth.
Dr. Jamison is a pediatric psychologist who trained at the University of Florida. She completed her residency training under the supervision of Ernest J. Bordini, Ph.D. and remained as an associate for many years at Clinical Psychology Associates of North Central Florida, CPANCF.COM, (352) 336-2888. She now maintains a private practice in South Carolina. We still miss her.