7 things to look for in a preschool‏

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Today’s mothers have so much pressure to deal with. On the list of concerns are the following: the polluted environment, pesticides, GMOs in the food their children consume, and the drawbacks of too much technology, among other things. There’s something even more daunting than all of those issues combined; children’s education.

Research into child psychology has revealed so much about how children develop. Mothers are becoming more and more aware of the importance of the early years and how education can either hinder children or help them reach their full potential.

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Preschools seem to be popping up around every corner in the city. There are different categories, and just like there are top schools, there are top preschools as well.

“If you want to get your child into one of the top schools, you had better send him or her to one of the top preschools,” is the advice many mothers receive.

It seems that the high-strung, fast-paced competitive nature of this 21st century world has started to rub off on children as well. As a mother, it is very easy to lose sight of what really matters in the face of so much pressure.

Mothers need to keep their eyes on the goal, which is not the school, or the test score, all supposed means to an end which are becoming ends unto themselves.

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The goal here is the child. Before sending your child to a preschool, make sure that it will add to the development of their emotional health as well as cognitive abilities, not hinder them. The following criteria can ensure that your child’s home away from home will enable him or her to develop in the best way possible:

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1- Child to teacher ratio

It is a proven fact that the smaller the size of the classroom, the better children do (There are exceptions to this rule, namely the Montessori classroom, where children of mixed ages are engaged in independent activities, and the older children guide the younger ones). Young children learn through interaction, and if a teacher is overwhelmed, outnumbered, or distracted, it’s likely she won’t be giving each child the proper attention.

The average ratios should be one adult to every three children in the 12 to 28 month age group, one adult to every four children in the 21 to 26 month age group and one adult to every seven children in the 2.5 to 4 year age group.

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2- Qualified teachers

Preschool teachers should have experience working with young children and preferably a degree in education or child psychology. A CPR and First Aid certification is essential in case of emergencies.

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3- Open communication between parents and staff

Always ask about the communication policy of the preschool you are considering. How do the teachers communicate with the parents? How often are reports about the children given? How do they address complaints or concerns the parent may have?

A preschool which has nothing to hide should have no problem providing a reference, which may be in the form of the email address or phone number of another parent. In addition to this, you should consider whether an open door policy is important to you. Preschools which have an open door policy are inviting, since that means you can drop in and see your child at any time. Some preschools, however, prefer to keep things more formal, and some parents prefer it that way.

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4- Licensed

This may seem obvious, but some preschools operate without a license. It is extremely important to check whether there is a valid license or not. Preschools which do not have a license may not fulfil the minimum requirements a childcare facility needs to meet. They also may face closure or relocation at any moment.

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5- Safe

It is vital for a preschool facility to be child-proof. When you visit, inspect it carefully and check that there are no hazards around. Also, a very clear pickup policy is essential. Who can drop off and pick up your child should be agreed upon in advance, and exceptional and emergency situations should be accounted for.

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6- Nurturing

Observe the teachers and caregivers with the children during class and maybe more importantly, during breaks. Are the teachers attentive, warm and welcoming to interaction? Young children need to feel comfortable and safe in the environment they are in.

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7- Age-appropriate

Check that the activities offered to the kids are age-appropriate. Young children learn best when they are challenged and engaged.

The focus at this age should be on hands-on activities that involve building things, taking things apart, sorting, making patterns, singing, dancing and painting. A preschool which uses a lot of technology or incorporates television as a daily part of the children’s routine is probably not a good one. Children will have plenty of time to use technology as they grow older, but the early years of life which are pivotal to brain development are definitely not the right time to focus on electronic gadgets and games.

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In your search for the perfect preschool, don’t hesitate to ask as many questions as you feel necessary. What your child experiences during his first few years will affect his emotional and mental capacity for the rest of his life, and though a nurturing, loving, and engaging home environment is essential, a preschool – which is a home away from home – should have the same qualities for optimal development.