Preschool, the first step on your child's academic journey can serve as the basis for all future learning. Aside from starting to learn the basics like the alphabet and numbers, preschool teaches important social skills like how to be independent, how to share and how to follow directions.
Once you decide your child is ready, choosing the right preschool can seem like a daunting process, but a lot of it is knowing what you want and what is best for your child. Generally geared at kids ages 3 and 4, some programs accept children as young as 2. From academics to socialization, and transportation to how long the school day is, here's how to carefully weigh each aspect of preschool and make a decision that is good for you and your child.
- When Do I Start?
Many preschoolers start to take applications in January, and may hold open houses even sooner, but you should check with each individual program. Start looking at schools the September before you want your child to start to attend -- in many cases this is when the child is 2. Check with the school to find out the details on age qualifications and other factors such as potty training.
- Figure Out What is Important to You
No matter what all the experts say, you are your child's biggest advocate and the best judge of what type of environment he'll do best it. Think about your child's personality. Is he shy? Does she make friends quickly? What do you want from your child's preschool? Are you looking for a rigorous academic program or something more socially-based?
- Compile a List of Schools Near You
There are a lot of different options out there. It's up to you to weed through them all and determine the best fit. So where do you start? Ask around. Anyone you know with kids is a good person to query, whether you know them from work, the neighborhood, playgroup or the library. In particular, focus on the folks who have kids close in age to yours and whose kids have similar personalities. You may even want to have a chat with your pediatrician about what she thinks, especially if your child has some underlying medical issues.
- Reflect on Each School's Philosophy
You may think you know the credo behind the different options -- Montessori schools are known for fostering independence, Waldorf schools for their creativity, the High/Scope method sets personal goals for kids, Bank Street focuses on child-centered education and the Reggio Emilia approach follows a child's natural development -- and for the most part they fit, but remember that each individual school sets their own tone and has their own method. So do your research. You can also find programs run through churches and temples where religion is part of the everyday curriculum. Other options include cooperative programs run by parents, programs affiliated with community groups such as the YMCA and state-run programs that are often free for all residents or low-income families. You can also explore programs run by companies-- there are many "stand alone" programs that can be found in many towns as well as schools run by daycare centers. The possibilities are nearly endless.
- What to Look for No Matter What Type of School You Choose
To meet an child's individual needs, you want to find a school that offers small class sizes and low child-teacher ratios. A good guideline is one adult for every seven 2 1/2- to 3-year-olds or ten 3- to 5-year-olds with no more than 14 students in a room for 2 1/2- to 3-year-olds and 20 for 3- to 5-year-olds. The classroom should have lots of toys and other play items that are clean, safe and in easy reach of little people. If there is an outside play space, make sure it is fenced in and ask if the staff is trained in first aid.
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