You’ve made the decision that your child will be enrolled in preschool for the upcoming year. But how do you go about making sure that your toddler will get the best pre-education? Preschool can be a challenging time for both parent and toddler, but a few tips and even more preparation can help you and your child to feel very confident about the preschool you’ve chosen.
Compile a list of possible preschools.
Take a look at the preschools in your area, browse through the phonebook or Internet, and get feedback from family and friends in order to compile a list of preschools you think would be good for your toddler. Base your decision on the location of the school, the amount of children per classroom, and the friendliness and qualifications of the staff. Be sure that the preschool is licensed by the state, and you can even check the National Association for Early Childhood Education (NAEYC) website to find a list of accredited preschools in your area.
While you’re making your list, take your schedule into consideration. Find out whether or not the preschool offers care for a full day or half a day, so even if the academic program is what you want for your toddler, you may have to major some arrangements to make sure your child can attend the school and have reliable transportation each day. So, try to choose a preschool that is as close to your home or job as possible. This way, your child will be able to make it to school on time each day, and won’t be restless or cranky by the time they arrive at school.
Find out the school’s mission or philosophy.
Another great way to help you choose the perfect preschool for your toddler is to talk to the director about the school’s philosophy and learning methods. Most preschools emphasize learning by doing, a concept based on the writings of John Dewey, and other preschools practice Montessori teachings, where a child’s individuality is encouraged. You should schedule a time to talk with the preschool’s director about which learning methods are used often in the preschool, and decide which of these learning styles will work best with your child’s personality. Ask about how much your child will be learning ‘on his own’ during the course of the day, how much time is allotted for play with other children, and whether or not your toddler’s social and emotional development will be just as much of a priority as his academic learning.
You may not be able to get a feel for all this over the phone, so schedule a meeting with a few schools, to see first hand how a typical day in the preschool is spent. You may even get a few reactions from parents who are picking their children up or dropping them off; this is an accurate way to determine whether or not your child will be happy there, since parents really don’t have anything to lose by being honest with you. Your visit will also allow you to see how clean the preschool is, how new or safe the toys or playground equipment are, and how meals are served during the day. After you schedule a time to speak with the administrator or your child’s potential teacher, ask if you can actually observe a class for about twenty minutes or so, so that you can see exactly how the class is run, how attentive the children are, and which teaching styles the instructor uses.
Talk to your toddler.
Before you make any plans to register your child at a preschool, talk to your toddler about the idea of preschool and pay attention to his reaction. If he panics at the thought of you not being around, you may want to take a little more preparation time getting him used to the idea of not being at home all day. Or, your toddler may embrace the idea of preschool. She may be excited about going to school, and will want to know about meeting new friends and having a teacher. Your child’s personality is a good indication of how he or she will behave in preschool, so if you know that you eventually want to enroll your toddler in a preschool program, observe them early to find out which classes and day care centers would be best for them.
It may also be a good idea for you to set up a mock preschool in the home, so that your toddler can get used to the idea of playing with friends, problem solving, and various forms of instruction. Invite friends from the neighborhood and/or family members of the same age over to play during the day. And, set aside times for snacks and a nap, in order to put your toddler on a schedule. Let the toddlers play independently as much as possible, and step out of the room every once in a while, so that your toddler will get used to being without you for long periods in the day. Setting up a preschool in your home may help your child cope with the idea of preschool a little better, especially if he or she is afraid. Explain to your child that the activities you do at home will be similar to what goes on in preschool; this will help to ease some of the anxiety your child may have about starting preschool. Remember, this may take some time, so get your toddler prepared for preschool as early as you can.
You may also want to let your child pick out a couple of outfits for preschool, or ask what he or she will want for lunch about a week or so before the big day. Wearing a pair of favorite shoes or eating snacks from home will help your toddler feel comforted during the day, and provide a sense of security while you’re away. On the first day of preschool, many schools allow you to stay for a good portion of the day, so that your child can play and learn in a new environment, with the security that you’re right in the next room. If you can make time in your schedule to do this, it could make a big difference-after a while, your toddler will be excited to go to school in their own, and you can be confident that your child is in a safe learning environment, developing the social skills that will be valuable well beyond the preschool years.