When it comes to early education finding a great preschool can set your child up for future success. When faced with finding a great school, parents of preschool age children (between the ages of 3 and 6) often rely on friends and family to find a the right fit for their child. Others use the internet, review sites, and local ads to find schools to visit.
Regardless of how you find the preschools you consider the question remains how do you know if the schools you are considering are great schools? According to the Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) there are 10 sure signs to tell if a classroom is a good for preschool kids. We have broken these down to and created a list of questions you should ask and observations you should make so that you can tell if it is the right preschool or early education program for your child.
#1 – Ask – How do Children spend most of their time?
- Kids should be spending most of their time playing or working with materials – preferably in groups with other children.
- Children should not be wandering aimlessly around the class
- A preschool aged should not be expected to sit quietly for long periods of time.
#2 – Ask – What is the daily schedule in the classroom?
- Looking at the schedule Ask yourself “do the kids have access to various activities throughout the day.”
- Observe the classroom – are there different types of building blocks and other construction materials. Are there pretend play areas like kitchens or markets and is there a dress up area? Do they have picture books, art materials like easels or paints? Do they have educational table toys such as peg boards, matching games, and puzzles. Children should be doing a variety of things and not all doing the same thing at the same time.
#3 – Ask – How do about how teachers handle 1:1, small group, and whole group instruction?
—- > Each of these types of instruction are important so make sure all three are incorporated into the preschool program you choose.
—- > For example, learning centers for small group, carpet time for whole group, and 1:1 instruction during free play where they can pull kids aside to work on individual projects, assessments, or helping with a difficult concept.
—- > You can ask for examples of how teachers handle 1:1, small group, and whole group instruction. Remember teachers often have their own style so if there is more than one teacher for each age make sure to observe the different teachers and classrooms.
#4 Observe – When you enter each classroom look around to see how it is decorated.
- What is hanging on the walls? If it is sterile preprinted posters on rules of the classroom it is not a good sign. Instead look for artwork created by the kids.
- Ideally the work displayed will include the children’s writing with inventive spelling (not perfect or corrected). This is developmentally appropriate.
- A bonus would be to have stories written by the teacher but dictated by the students (often used by Reggio influenced schools but used throughout good preschools today).
#5 Ask – How children are taught alphabet and number concepts?
What you are looking for:
- For young children, these concepts should be taught in the context of everyday experiences
- A great preschool will use aspects of life familiar to young kids as teaching aid
- For example, counting leaves, how many eyes a dog has, what letter does cat start with, etc
- Additionally, engaging in “meaningful activities like cooking, taking attendance, or serving snack provide the basis for learning activities”.
# 6 Ask – Does the School Use Project Based Learning and Do They Use Worksheets.
- Early education programs should not rely on worksheets. Instead children should learn through projects and other interactive methods.
- They should also have extended periods of time (at least one hour) to play and explore.
#7 Ask – How Much Time Do Children Play Outside?
- Young kids need to have time outside. Is there outdoor play everyday?
- Make sure that outdoor play is not given up for more instruction time.
#8 Ask – How Often Do Teachers Read Books to the Children?
- Ideally books should be read either individually or in small groups throughout the day, not just at group story time.
#9 Ask – Does the Program Have Differentiated Instruction
- In every classroom kids will be at different levels. Make sure the teacher has a plan for Curriculum that can be adapted for both those who are ahead and those who need additional help.
- Good teachers and program specialists understand that their students have different backgrounds and experiences so they do not enter school with the same abilities.
- Also kids learn in different ways so it is important that each concept is approached in a variety of ways – auditory, visual, and kinesthetic.
#10 Observe – Do the Children and Their Parents Look Like They Are Happy In The School?
- Are parents talking to each other and the staff in a friendly manner.
- At drop off are the kids happy or clinging to parents – not wanting to stay at school?
- Once your child starts school some reluctance is normal and separation takes time. However, once they are comfortable pay attention to make sure they do not regularly cry at drop off or often complain of feeling sick and not wanting to go to school. If that becomes a pattern either the school is not a good fit, or your child might be struggling with something (like a relationship with a peer, their teacher, or having trouble with learning concepts).
Finding the right preschool for your child takes a bit of research but it is worth the effort. Both you and your child need to be comfortable so pay attention to your instincts.
For more information on how to find and select a Great Preschool see the following resources:
You can also call the Child Care Aware hotline (800-424-2246) to find local preschools in your area.
Please note: SensoryEdge is not affiliated with any of these organizations and provides this information solely as a possible resource. We have not researched the accreditations nor the affiliated schools.