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  • Writer's pictureCafe McMullen

What Makes a Preschool Great?

This week my daughter started her second year of preschool. Now I am looking at all those wide-eyed parents walking into their child’s first day of preschool. As an educator and mother of a preschooler I get asked a lot about what parents should be looking for in a preschool. Should I be looking for a preschool that emphasizes creative playtime or should I be looking for a preschool that emphasizes reading and writing at this early stage?

Many parents are petrified of kindergarten and 1st grade and I am going to be honest, I am too. All parents want to give their child the leg up so that they can prosper and thrive. One study, titled “Is kindergarten the New First Grade?” compared kindergarten teachers’ attitudes nationwide in 1998 and 2010 and found that the percentage of teachers expecting children to know how to read by the end of the year had risen from 30 to 80 percent. For many parents this must mean starting early on reading and writing readiness. Memorizing shapes, colors, and vocabulary list become a parent’s guiding light. However there are far more important and valuable lessons to be learned by our youngest learners. Our smallest learners need to learn investigation, curiosity, and discovery by play, social interaction, while having gentle guided adult involvement. Open-ended adult questions can help kids develop cognitive thinking - a skill encouraged by thinking out loud. These are some of the things that I think about when I look for a good preschool.

One of the most important elements of a preschool is the teacher. “ In a high-quality program, adults are building relationships with the children and paying close attention to their thought process and, by extension, their communication. They’re finding ways to make the children think out loud.” A skilled teacher can weave into their language many pre-literacy and pre-math concepts. They can provide a child plenty of complex and interactive language. Teachers develop their students social and emotional skills, some of the most important lessons early learners need to master. Communication and self-expression are just as important a learned and developed skill.

In all great preschools play is central to learning. Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well being of children and youth. Play allows a child to learn, discover, interact and engage with the world around them. Confidence and resilience is discovered through games and the community of the classroom. Story time allows a child to work on pre literacy skills, while playing in the sand box with water and a spatula can ignite the science lover in them. Experimenting for our youngest learners is such a key and intrigal part of what you child should be doing in preschool everyday.

It’s hard for adults to sometimes appreciate the delicate and nuanced leaning that goes on in preschool. We as adults usually don’t remember what we liked or didn’t like as 3, 4, or 5-year-old leaners. Parents will often think how can learning your ABC’s as early as possible not be beneficial? Parents want to give their kids the best start and why not start with formal education as soon as possible? “Stressing formal learning can turn off preschoolers, many of whom aren’t physically ready to hold a pencil or sit still and complete worksheets,” says Lorayne Carbon, director of the Early Childhood Center at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville, New York.

It has also been shown that kids who start more formal modes of education earlier often do not turn out to excel in elementary school, but in fact deteriorate due to losing eagerness for learning. After years of performing the same tasks students will start to check out.

Preschool is the very beginning of your student’s education. It’s always scary to start things, especially when we want only the best for our kids. Remember that you are there to guide and always be an advocate for your child. Being involved and a part of your child’s preschool will give you first hand knowledge of how you child is flourishing. Get to know the teachers, director, office staff…. All these people your child is spending their day with in one-way or the other. Parent involvement in schools is one of the most important ways a school can be successful.

Originally published in the Huffington Post.

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