Choosing a Preschool
By the age of 3, most children show a strong desire for companionship as well as a desire to refine the skills they have thus far acquired. Preschools serve both these desires. Whether your child's needs during this stage can be met more effectively at home or at a preschool depends primarily upon your child and your family situation. There are a few points you can consider when deciding.
Education Begins At Home
Parents are still the most effective teachers. Preschool education begins at home, and an outside facility should add to and complement the home education, not be a substitute for it. You may, therefore, initially wish to send your child only a few hours each week and let her extend her time at preschool at her own pace.
The preschool should be an extension of the home. The facility you select should have the same childrearing values and priorities as you. Ask advice about various preschools in your area from other parents who share your principles of childrearing. Parents sharing the same values of childrearing have been responsible for the "co-op preschools" (parents take turns staffing the school). What the co-op may lack in structure and organization, it makes up for with high parental involvement.
Visit the preschool for a preview. The four major aspects you should consider are the teachers, the equipment, the curriculum and the child interaction.
Call ahead to find out the best time to visit. Surprise visits have mixed benefits. For a variety of reasons it may not be a truly representative day, or the director and particular teacher may not be available if you arrive unannounced. Take your child along. You will get different reactions from your child at the various schools. Mothers are especially intuitive about their child's positive or negative feelings.
Questions To Ask
Discuss the general philosophies of the school with the director and observe the specific qualities of the teacher who will be working most closely with your child. Is she basically a kind and nurturing person who knows how to get children excited about learning? Is she someone your child will enjoy being around? How does she handle apparent misbehavior? Does the child get the needed support when he is apparently failing an effort? Are the groups small (maximum of 10 children per teacher)? Are the children really enjoying themselves and interacting? Are they smiling? Are they interested? Do the children's creations decorate the walls? No matter how crude a child's creations may be, are they praised and respected? Are the snacks nutritious? (All preschoolers should have mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks because of children's tendency to low blood sugar following prolonged activity.) Is there alternating active and quiet play, so necessary for this age? Examine the outside play equipment. Is it safe and well planned? For example, climbing equipment is generally safer and more instructive than swings. In addition to checking the climbing equipment, which teaches gross motor development, examine the arts and crafts equipment used for fine motor development. Are children taught that everything has a place? This encourages a sense of order. Are they encouraged to "mess a bit" in something such as finger painting? If you are big on "preparedness for school" then you will want to examine the preschool's methods of reading and writing preparation, their "cognitive stimulation" activities.
If the school does not seem suited to your child, shop around. There are many other factors, such as cost and distance from home, which may also affect your decision.
Three-year-olds have some separation anxieties, so initially accompany your child into the school and remain with her as long as your intuition tells you it is necessary. Be sensitive to your child's anxiety; yet be sure you are not projecting your anxiety onto your child. If Mother is anxious, the child will feel it and believe there is something to worry about.
Daycare Centers Vs. Preschools
Your primary need may be daycare, particularly if you work outside the home, but at this stage your child needs more than just babysitting. Preschools, which are designed to stimulate and educate, naturally provide "daycare." You get much more for your money (and so does your child) by enrolling your child in a good preschool rather than depositing him in a daycare center.
Sometimes, whether or not he is ready for a preschool is a question which can only be answered by your child. If you sense a mismatch between your child and either teacher or school, make a change. You want the child's first school to be a positive experience. Concerning placement in a school or any social group, operate on parental intuition: when in doubt, take him out.