Dear Dr. Heather,
What should I be looking for in a preschool for my son?
Cory in Kihei
I consult at preschools a lot. What I’ve noticed is how much the atmosphere varies from classroom to classroom. A great classroom is filled with busy, happy, cooperative kids. Other classrooms are noisy and chaotic. What makes a great classroom GREAT? Is it fancy supplies and equipment? Smart kids? Nah – it’s the teacher.
A good preschool teacher knows that her little students WANT to be busy, happy, and cooperative. But they don’t automatically know HOW to be that way. A good teacher creates a community environment that is constantly teaching those skills – from the second they walk in at drop-off, throughout every activity, and until the moment of pick-up.
Little kids need structure that guides them through their day with the help of the entire classroom. Great teachers choose books for circle time that emphasize turn-taking, patience, and fairness. They praise children for finding creative solutions to problems. In great classrooms, hitting, impatience, screaming, and biting are rare. Creative problem-solving, kindness, and friendliness are common.
Good thing, because kids can’t settle down to learn their ABC’s until they can settle their minds and emotions. In fact,major studies of young children have found that social skills and emotional regulation at age 5 predict both social AND academic success in later life. Emotional regulation and social skills are the main tasks of learning in early childhood. And those skills take a lot of practice – and guidance – from parents and teachers. Fortunately, there’s a growing trend towards including these skills in the curriculum of preschools. Good preschools understand that character education is an essential component of all learning to come.
Make sure your child’s preschool is informed by The National Association for the Education of Young Children in creating its program. NAEYC understands that teachers must create a community of learners – a classroom community that understands, supports, respects, and cares for each other – just like a family. Good luck!