February 25, 2010

Picking the Perfect Preschool

Choosing the right preschool for your child can be a daunting task.  This may be your child's first experience with care outside your home, and will certainly be their first school experience.  It is important to get off on the right foot.  Yet there are so many programs to choose from, and even within a school, each teacher has their own energy and classroom philosophy.  What can a parent look for to guide them towards the right school?

There are obvious issues such as safety and cleanliness, student-to-teacher ratios, travel distance and cost.  But I think that parents also need to seriously consider the way their children are taught, and perhaps take the road that is currently less traveled: a preschool curriculum that focuses on play.

The preschool age group is supposed to be learning how to work and share with their peers; how to make friends and play well with others; how to listen and follow directions; and how to separate from their parents and trust another adult.  They should also be exposed to books and stories, counting, the alphabet, physical activity and arts and crafts, to name a few things.  But the social and interpersonal goals of this group should not take a backseat to more academic pursuits.

It is absolutely vital that preschoolers learn by playing.  A skillful preschool teacher makes the learning part of the fun.  The students learn about science and nature by going outside, collecting leaves and seeds and having a classroom collection.  They learn about colors by mixing finger paints.  They learn about shapes with puzzles and games.  And the students should still have plenty of time in their day for outdoor recess and indoor play.

Too much seat work is not good for this age group.  Preschoolers are usually simply not capable of sitting at desks for long periods of time.  At best, they become good at sitting still at the expense of their social and emotional growth; at worst, they don't learn well or get into trouble because of the unreasonable demands placed on them.  No one wants a preschooler to conclude that he is dumb or bad or that school is no fun and not worth any effort.

The transition from a play-focused day to one more dominated by paper and pencil work should be gradual and occur over the years of preschool through 1st grade.  Parents should be wary of a preschool curriculum that focuses on seat work and paper and pencil tasks.  As you choose a preschool, keep all your child's needs in focus, not just the idea of "academic excellence."

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