Tips for Choosing A Preschool
By Elizabeth A. Phelps
Choosing a preschool for your child is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. Why? Because children are curious, and can soak up information as if they were sponges. They pick up on every word and action that surrounds them during the early formative years. That’s why a pre-school’s curriculum — and its staff’s ability to redirect children’s behavior — impacts your child’s development.
When watching a group of three-year-olds play, you find an array of personalities and behaviors. Here is a snippet personally observed from just 10 minutes of outdoor playtime in an excellent preschool facility:
- That cheerful boy over there, with the big yellow dump truck, has stopped to pour mulch over his head, a big grin on his face.
- That sweet little girl with the blond ponytail is offering to push a sad toddler on a swing.
- An ambitious ruffian of a girl is climbing the ornamental fence, while holding a stick in her left hand.
- Another little boy simply wants to spin in the grass.
These children have been at the preschool since 7:30 a.m. in the morning and at 4 p.m., they still have an hour-and-a-half to go. The spinning boy stops and says, “I want to go home.” I think: I would, too, sweetie.
With the stakes so high, it’s a good idea to select a preschool carefully. Make a list of questions about facilities, procedures, curriculum and staff. You will want a clear understanding of the essential beliefs of the school. What are the basic tenets of manners, behaviors, and deeper lessons the staff hopes to instill in the children? Do staff members value compassion? Honesty? Kindness? Orderliness? Curiosity? Creative thinking? Manners? Who does the school employ, and what kind of training is required? Are the facilities clean? Which products do they use? What kind of security system and processes do they use?
Melissa Chitwood is the Pre-K Director of Hope Academy in Gulfport. She believes the staff is one of the most important aspects of a preschool.
“Look for a teacher who gets eye-level with the children, and uses positive words to redirect them when they are having a difficult time,” Chitwood said. “Be sure the staff is adequately trained. Ask yourself if they are people you want to share your child’s environment. Are they tender? When a parent visits a preschool, they should find happy children…smiling faces…and teachers that obviously love the children, give appropriate hugs to them…teachers that provide the children with loving enrichment.”
Curriculum is, of course, important; ask if it includes arts and playtime. Remember, your child may spend more daytime hours at the preschool than with you.
We can all understand the feelings of that spinning little boy who said, “I want to go home.” But until his wish comes true, it is the job of the preschool to provide him with the most nourishing, happy, alternate home possible.
Elizabeth A. Phelps was raised on the Gulf Coast. She is a writer, speaker, teacher and youth program facilitator. She has won awards for writing and inspirational youth programming using the arts.