Choosing the Best Preschool for Your Child
“Education is the key to unlocking the world, a passport to freedom.”— Oprah Winfrey
A few weeks back, I was at a party. I was talking to a few other moms and our conversation veered to the topic of schools and preschools, and how admissions to some of the schools has become so tough. That was when I saw one of the ladies, mother of a 2 year old, suddenly get very anxious. She asked – “Have admissions in ABC preschool already closed for the next academic year?” She has only one child and since she did not want to send him to school before he was 3 years old, she did not think of enquiring about admissions ‘so early’. Now admissions for that school were definitely over, but I tried to reassure her that there are many other preschools as well. In any case, ABC preschool was very far from where she lived and her son would have to travel over 40 minutes one way if he joined the school! – Just imagine!!
Her logic – “My friend’s child is studying in that school. I have heard that it is an expensive school and has a good brand. I will be so embarrassed to send my child to some unknown brand?”
Her response intrigued me and I spoke to many parents after that on this topic and I realised that for many parents, most of their reasoning for choosing the right preschool for their children is based on unstable and irrelevant premises. A few of them, however, are spot on and enquire about the aspects that really matter for the development of their child.
Based on these discussions, our own experiences of having worked in the education space and other research, We would like to list some of the factors that a parent must consider before deciding on which preschool is the best preschool for their child.
Initial shortlist – First shortlist the schools based on location, timing and fee. The school should not be too far. There is a high likelihood that you might have to pick up and drop the child. Even if transport is available, pre-schoolers are too young to spend hours in travel. Timing and fee is dependent on what works for you in terms of your daily routine and budget. After the initial shortlist is done, the real analysis begins!
Teachers – While it is easy to be swayed by the curriculum and methodology that is used in marketing materials, we need to understand what are the most significant factors that affect the child’s education and learning while he/she is at school. While curriculum is important, for pre-schoolers it should not rank among the top criteria. The top factor while choosing a good preschool is the teacher. You must also see how long most teachers have been at the school. A high attrition rate does not speak too well of the school. Are there training programs that they attend during the year to improve their skills? Visit the school and see how the teachers interact with the students. Are they upbeat, smiling, energetic? Is there laughter and engagement in the classes or do the children appear apprehensive in talking. It would be great of you have a chance to observe how they deal with the ‘troublesome’ kids and how do they ensure that the ‘shy’ kids participate more.
School and Class Environment – The environment of the school and of the classes needs to be welcoming. It should feel like spring – warm, bright, colourful, welcoming, which brings a smile to your face. The classes should have children’s work displayed, should have items for sensory exploration and these items should be accessible for a child. Apart from these basic aspects, the environment should be one that your child feels comfortable in. They are too young to be put out of their comfort zones completely. The most popular school might not be the best for your child. Do not go by brands. What environment does your child like – completely unstructured and a lot of freedom or does he prefer it if there is more routine and structure in the day? Does he like more of activities and play or does he like some bit of play and some bit of relaxed quiet time which brings out his creativity?
Outdoor Space – This is also a must in a preschool. Children must spend time playing outside with other children. They learn to play, help others, to develop friendships, to fight and make up after a fight – important social skills that no classroom environment can develop.
Curriculum – There are many curriculums philosophies which schools follow – Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia and many schools follow their own curriculum as well. What is important for you to understand is – what do they expect the child to learn by the end of a term or a year and does this expectation match with yours. There must be hands on activities and atleast some other activities like music, dance, theatre. It keeps the children engaged in a fun way and also exposes them to new experiences. The objective therefore should be new experiences for the child along with learning language, numeracy skills and social skills. They do not need to do worksheets every day or learn about complex concepts which they will in any case learn as they grow up.
Communication from school – While this might not seem very important while you are taking admission but trust me, it is an important criterion to understand beforehand. It will impact your day to day experience with the school. The school should have some way of communicating regularly with the parents – through an app, emails, diary – the mode may be anything. Ask to see an existing child’s diary or whichever mode of communication they use and see how frequently they are communicating. Is the communication only one way (from school to parent) or are they ok with the parents asking queries as well. If it’s the first time your child is attending school, you will have many queries and questions in the first few months. A school which communicates well helps ease the anxiety which helps settle both you and your child into the new routine faster.
How can you get this information?
Visit the school – Visit your shortlisted school and see for yourself how the school is functioning, how the children are in class – are they sitting quietly or do they seem to be having fun; is there complete silence, too much mayhem or a soft happy hum of quiet chattering. See how teachers are behaving and how welcoming the environment is.
Ask for referrals – Talk to people whose children are already studying in the school. Keep an open mind and ask your own questions because what might be good and fun for one child might not be the same for your child. Take information and see how it fits with your child’s nature and behaviour.
Ask the school director/principal about a usual day at school – How much time do children spend in class, how much time outside, how much of the day is structured and how much is unstructured play. See if it fits with what your child likes – it will be so much easier for him to adjust to the new school.
In the end, make your decision based on your particular child – his likes, dislikes, behaviour patterns. I spoke to the parents of children studying in grade 1 and 2, to understand what was the biggest impact that the preschool had on their child. None of them mentioned curriculum or writing or learning difficult concepts. What they mentioned were basic things – but oh so important for the right development of a child. They said they were so happy their child learnt to make friends, learnt social skills, learnt to help others, learnt better manners, learnt to speak without feeling so shy.
Therefore, choose a school, not because of the brand but because of what your child will be able to gain from it. Afterall “Intelligence plus character that is the goal of true education.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
We would love to hear about the factors you considered while choosing a preschool. Do let us know in the comments section.