The first five years of a child’s life are the most crucial when it comes to intellectual and social-emotional development. How we care and who cares for our children during this time will influence them for the rest of their lives.
As an early educator and now preschool director, I am passionate about helping families make the right choice for their children. After fielding many questions on the subject, I wrote these five tips for parents choosing a preschool. As we approach the back-to-school season, I hope this article brings some clarity and calmness to the decision-making.
1.Choose small class size
When touring schools, you should consider classroom size and the student/teacher ratio. The Georgia staff-child ratio standards are 1-to-6 for infants and increases up to 1-to-18 for 4-year-olds. In my opinion, these ratios are not strong enough and children will suffer from lack of individual attention. Search for schools that boast a low staff-child ratio. Ideally, an infant program should be 1-to-3. Regular preschool classrooms should be no more than 1-to-8.
2. Know the teachers
Preschool should be a loving and warm environment that fosters creativity and self-confidence. The teachers and staff are an integral part of shaping this atmosphere. Make sure the teachers have degrees in early education or at least five years’ experience. Observe the teachers in the classroom and notice if they are truly interested in what kids have to say. Do you see smiles and hear laughter? Are the teachers getting down to the children’s eye level?
3.Familiarize yourself with the teaching approach
There are many ideas and methodologies around early education. In my opinion, play-based learning is essential to a child’s success. Some schools subscribe to the self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play of the Montessori method. Other schools might follow the student-centered and constructivist Reggio Emilia philosophy. Both these methods are proven effective and focus on play-based learning. Look for a classroom organized in centers. Observe if children are encouraged to explore on their own.
4. Pick a school for its values and academics
Preschool should not just be about learning colors and ABCs. These formative years are a time when we teach our children the difference between right and wrong. We guide them in how to think and how to act. A good Jewish preschool will instill the important values of tikkun olam (repairing the world), tzedek (fairness), kehillah (community) and more, all while teaching academics.
5. Meet other parents
A healthy preschool is more than a place for your child; it is a community for families. A strong preschool will offer activities for the entire family and will tout its committed and close network of parents and grandparents. Attend an open house and talk to other parents. Get a feel for the energy and types of families attending the school. The most highly successful schools are ones where families are enthusiastically involved.
As you choose the best preschool for your child this fall, consider this guide in your decision. Your child’s preschool environment will influence and hopefully inspire them for years to come. Make sure your school is working to build a solid foundation both academically and morally for your most precious young ones.
Sarah Shinsky is the director of the Weinberg Early Learning Center at The Temple, which recently opened a new infant room and now serves children from 3 months to 4 years.