If you've just started thinking about sending your child to a play-group, child care center or preschool, you're probably at a loss for where to begin. This is because children are different, and so it's important to assess your child's options in that light. This is all the more important if you have a child with special needs. This article discusses a general list of what you need to look into before making your final decision.
1. Structured and unstructured play
The purpose of preschool is to give your child opportunities to grow their reasoning and social skills through structured and unstructured play. In today's world, outdoor play is taking a back-seat in favour of technology (TVs, computers, video games etc.), but children's needs haven't changed.
Therefore it's important that your pre-school option focuses on structured play which features adult supervision and a set of rules and regulations, as well as unstructured play which nurtures the child's imagination and allows them to get their daily quota of physical activity. Unstructured play is also important for the development of executive function skills. Playing in natural light improves eyesight, whereas sitting indoors watching screens can destroy it.
Your ideal school should have provisions for structured and unstructured play in a safe environment with different possible activities.
2. Family needs
You must consider what you need out of your preschool. For instance, if you work long hours, you want a facility that offers extended care. Additionally, you should choose a facility that's close enough to your home for the commute not to be stressful for the child. Nothing is worth subjecting a child to extra-early wake-up times and long commutes – not even the best school. In the end, the extra benefit of the school will be negated by the physical strain on such a young body. If your child has special needs, learning and playing programs should be structured to meet these needs.
3. Culture and practice
What you read in a brochure is only a tip of the iceberg when it comes to the preschool's operational culture. There are plenty of opportunities to glean what a school truly stands for, and you'll learn most of them by visiting the facility and observing interactions between the teacher/instructor and other children.
Here are some things to look for:
1. Communication — the adult should be addressing children in a nurturing way by getting down to their level, speaking gently, addressing them by name and listening/attending to their queries. Positive communication is easy to spot, as children will often be at ease around the instructor
2. Discipline — children that behave badly are helped rather than punished. Toddlers and pre-schoolers haven't developed their social and emotional skills like older children, and so self-expression, when they're frustrated, isn't usually done in the best way. The instructor should take these opportunities to instil positive socio-emotional skills
3. Fun play — children use play to learn, and so the classroom environment should be a fun atmosphere with engaging activities. At this young age, they shouldn't be drilled with tests, flashcards or other forms of age-inappropriate learning tools
4. Happy teachers — it isn't easy working with children, so happy instructors indicate that the school management offers them adequate support. Happy staff nurture happy, well-adjusted children.