preschool

Things to Consider When Choosing a Preschool

Child.

If you are hoping to enroll in a preschool, there is a lot to consider. A great place to start is scheduling visits to all the preschools you are considering. This may be individual tours or open houses which could be offered while children are in classes or not. If children are in classes, it’s best to watch for happy, relaxed, busy children who are enjoying the program. Also make sure to pick up their brochure during your visit.

You can also compare preschools by visiting their websites. Print their mission statements or About Us pages then add these to the brochures from visits and compare. These write-ups should give you a good sense of their overall philosophy and lay out of what they feel is most important in the preschool setting.

Here is a list of things you might consider. While you likely can’t observe or ask about each, it can be helpful to pick the ones most important to you and compare.

  • Location, drive and cost – This is a practical place to start and can easily rule out certain preschools.
  • Schedule of program – If you are not a morning person, it can be a struggle to make a 7:50 a.m. start time. Consider the start and stop times and number of days available. Consider your abilities between morning and afternoon classes, and also full-day classes.
  • Discipline philosophy – This might be the most important thing to consider. Many preschools take a positive discipline approach. Others use time-outs and reward systems. A few religious schools hold on to the threat of corporal punishment.
  • Class size and ratios – Smaller class sizes and lower ratios are often a goal. However, there are some systems, such as Montessori and Catholic schools, that tend to have higher class sizes and run smoothly.
  • Teacher requirements and ongoing training – Different preschools have different teacher requirements. Some require a high school degree, others a college degree, and others a college degree in an education related field. NAEYC accreditation (see below) requires the school to have a percentage of teachers with education related degrees.
  • How they build in academics – Think of academics on a continuum, from an academically oriented preschool that focuses on letters and numbers through worksheets and seat work; to a play based system that incorporates academic ideas; to a play based system that doesn’t focus on providing an academic foundation. I prefer that middle play based system that provides a strong academic foundation.
  • Wide variety of appropriate materials  – There should be more than enough toys, art supplies, books and other supplies for the number of children in the room. Many schools have a large storage of toys, art and other supplies so teachers can easily rotate what is available in their classrooms.
  • Mix of time – This is looking at how much time children spend in small groups, large groups and independent play.
  • Daily activities and enrichments – This is looking at what’s built in to a typical day including center, snacktime, playground and enrichments. Some schools have no special enrichments. Others offer music, science, nature, second languages, art, P.E. and other enrichments.
  • Parent-teacher communication – Some preschools offer one or two parent-teacher conferences. Some send monthly, weekly or even daily notes home. Others have classroom or school message boards.
  • Parent participation – Cooperative preschools require participation in a regular way. Some preschools have parent organizations that do fundraising and other classroom activities. Others invite parents in to the classrooms to read stories or run art projects. Some preschools prefer parents stay out of the classrooms and don’t offer much in the way of participation.
  • Previous and current families’ feedback – You might ask to speak with other families. You might also go online; in the DC area you can log onto dcurbanmom.com and scroll down to the Preschools forum to anonymously ask for feedback. You might ask parents in the neighborhood.
  • Sense of organization – If it’s during the school day, there’s going to be some amount of chaos. In general rooms should be organized, materials stored in a neat way and furniture placed so there’s plenty of room to move and work and play.
  • Cleanliness – Except for momentary circumstances or incidents, the place should generally be clean. The toys and supplies should be clean.
  • Indoor and outdoor space – Some preschools have large classrooms. Others have small classrooms, but they make very good use of their space. Some have acres of outdoor space; others have none.
  • Quality of playground area – There is a wide range of what is available on preschool playgrounds. If they are going to be outside daily, it’s good to take a look.
  • Amount and use of outdoor time – This is something to consider at both preschools and elementary schools. Nature immersion schools can spend whole days outside. Other schools may not go out daily.
  • Potty training requirements – Some preschools are relaxed about age guidelines. Some encourage potty training by a certain age, and others require it. If you aren’t there, it’s helpful to know the expectation.
  • If full-day: nutrition, eating style and naptime – Full day kids are are eating at least one meal, sometimes two at school. It’s helpful to know what is provided and the logistics around meals. Families are often encouraged to help children build healthy eating habits. Full day kids are also napping at school. It is important to know your states nap requirements and how your preschool follows them.
  • Types of preschools – There are several types of preschools available and each with their own approach. I hope to write another post soon about the differences in types of preschools, but for now, know that if you are applying to one you should know how they differ from others. This includes play based preschools, religious schools, Montessori, High Scope, Reggio Emilia, nature immersion, Multiple Intelligences programs, Waldorf and Museum preschools.

NAEYC accreditation is an additional thing to consider. This certification, from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, is designed to ensure high quality learning experiences. They assess teacher qualifications, safety standards, curriculum structure and administrative efforts. I wouldn’t rule out a school that isn’t accredited, but if it is, you can check a lot of things listed above off your list.

Teaching Them How to Share

I think learning to share starts with learning to take turns. Taking turns is more concrete than sharing. The child knows, “I have this to myself. When the timer dings, or you tell me, it will be their turn. If I ask nicely and wait, I will get another turn.’ This can make sense as early as 18 months to two years old. Sharing is, ‘we might all touch it at the same time. I may not get this to myself.’ This can be a more complicated issue and can be managed more easily as children get to be three or four years old. At any age, if they have difficulty with sharing, focus first on turns. When there is difficulty, think of empathy and coaching before discipline. This is a social skill that can take a lot of time and practice to learn. It’s more than a specific behavior.

Turn Taking

If your child is having difficulty with turn-taking, you might more actively practice. If he is playing at the train table when you come in the playroom, you could pick up an unused train and say out loud, “wow! The green engine. I am going to take a turn with this train.” If he wants the green one immediately, you can say, “oh, you would like a turn? I am taking a turn, but will be done in just a minute, and you can have the next turn.” Role the train for just a bit longer, and then say, “I am done; you can have a turn now.” You might add, “when you are done, can I have another turn?” Then when he is done, if he remembers to give it back you, gush a little, “you remembered I wanted a turn; that was thoughtful!” If he forgets, you say, “Oh, remember I want the next turn,” and prompt him to hand it to you. If he does, gush a little. Again, this can take some time. (this paragraph from a previous post)

Talk them through these steps with similar language every time they are in a situation of turn taking. Turn Taking may be easier when it is about an activity like waiting to bat in a t-ball game or waiting for a turn on a slide. Use similar words to talk through these times. Also, talk about it when you are waiting for a turn at the grocery store or at the doctor’s office.

Playing board games, even cooperative board games, is a nice way to introduce and practice turns. Cooperative games like Snails Pace Race and Things In My House give an opportunity to practice turn taking without the added pressure of learning to lose.

Sharing

Again, talk about sharing whenever you see it. Talk to them about how we share pool toys with neighbors and how we share a metro ride with strangers on our way to the zoo. Talk about how well they shared the sandbox at the park. Work to share something with them everyday such as a bowl of ice cream or space in the chair when you are reading to them. The idea is to make sharing a common event and highlight the times it is going well.

It’s often more difficult to share things such as a shovel in the sandbox or a puzzle task with classmates. When you can be proactive, prepare them for the sharing that’s about to happen. In our preschool, before we take out a big floor puzzle, we talk to the children about how we are going to all work together to share the task, how we can ask each other for pieces and should listen to others’ requests. We end up reminding them to share the pieces and the space throughout the activity.

It may be a good idea to have a similar conversation about sharing before playdates. Let your child know that friends are coming over, and they will be sharing their toys. If this is difficult, you might allow your child to put away a few toys that they are not ready to share with the understanding that what is out is for everyone to use. Be ready to give reminders throughout.

Read About It

  • The Mine-O-Saur by Quallen
  • Mine, Mine, Mine by Becker
  • Rainbow Fish by Pfister
  • Share and Take Turns by Meiners
  • Sharing is Fun by Cole
  • The Boy Who Wouldn’t Share by Reiss
  • I am Sharing by Mayer
  • It’s Mine by Lionni
  • One for You, One for Me by Albee
  • Martha Doesn’t Share by Berger

Teach Turn Taking thru Role Play

At any age, if your child is not yet good at turn taking, it can be helpful to role play the process. This means to approach them when they are playing alone and happy at, say, the train table. Pick up the blue train that is not being used and say something like, “wow! The blue train. I love this train, it’s the best train on the table.” Then play with it. If the child wants it or even just looks up, say something like, “oh, you’d like a turn. Sure, I’ll be done with my turn in just a minute, and I’ll be sure to give it to you.” Then feel a little silly while you play with the train. Soon say, “I am done with my turn now. Here, you can have a turn with the blue train. Please remember that I want the next turn when you are done with it.” If they remember to give it back when they finish, gush a little. Say, “you remembered I was waiting, that was kind. Thank you for giving a turn.” If they forget, just gently remind, “hey, can I have the blue train back in my hand? I was waiting for another turn,” and gush when they give it, “you are giving me a turn, thanks!” Do this a few times a week and the child is gradualy learning the language and process of turn taking when it isn’t a fight or high emotions.

Types of Preschools: From Our Panel Discussion

I learned so much at our recent panel discussion on types of preschools, and am excited to share this with you. Each year we invite speakers from a variety of area preschools to speak about their philosophy and the importance of their approach. Each also talks a bit about what happens in the typical day of a child at their school. I’ve included a few highlights as well as contact information from the various programs.

Nature Immersion Preschool – Discovery Woods

Think: education through nature. If you have an appreciation for the outdoors, Discovery Woods provides a perfect environment for children to learn literacy, math, social studies and science through an outdoor curriculum. Their indoor program provides inquiry based learning with teacher-child negotiated projects while their outdoor program encourages a deep study of the local environment. An overall goal is to build early learning habits and dispositions to create a life-long learner.

Laura Champe Mitchell, Parent and Office Coordinator

Vienna, near Wolf trap

www.discoverywoods.org

Play Based Preschool – Country Day School

This school provides a play-based program that nurtures the the whole child and looks at individual progress. Over the preschool years they introduce academics in engaging, play-based ways. There is a strong focus on daily life and social skills. I am partial to Country Day, I enjoyed being a teacher and then a a parent there.

Wendy Jones, Parent Educator

6418 Georgetown Pike in McLean 22101, 703-356-4282

www.countryday.org

Cooperative Preschool – Sleepy Hollow Cooperative Preschool

Sleepy Hollow is a cooperative preschool that has a parent run board and parents working in the classrooms to support the classroom teachers. The focus for two year olds is is to help them find a sense of security in their first experience away from home. The threes and fours enjoy a child-interest driven curriculum. Added benefits of cooperative preschools often include a community of like minded parents and a chance to make lasting friendships as parents spend so much time working together.

Mary DePippo, Parent

7610 Newcastle Drive in Annandale 22003, 703-941-9791

www.sleepyhollowpreschool.com

Montessori Preschool – Brooksfield Montessori

Montessori is known for providing rich work materials that support math, language, practical life and sensorial development during independent time. Children work and meet challenges at their own pace. Brooksfield provides this classic montessori experience and adds imaginative play, creative dance and spanish.

Mary Anne Duffus, Founder

1830 Kirby Road in McLean 22101, 703-356-5437

www.brooksfieldschool.org

Reggio Emilia Preschool – Beverly Hills Church Preschool

In a Reggio Emilia inspired preschool, teachers are trained to watch, listen and learn from children to build the cirriculum around the class interests and strengths. Teachers help children to fully explore and expand on their ideas through a project centered approach. Children are also encouraged to work together to enrich the group and individual learning process. There is also a strong focus on open ended art.

Kelley Organek, Director

3512 Old Dominion Blvd. in Alexandria 22305, 703-549-7441

www.bhcpnet.org

Waldorf Preschool – Potomac Crescent Waldorf School

Waldorf is known for their open-ended all natural materials. They are focused on building a child’s imagination and creativity while laying strong foundation for later academic challenges in the preschool years. The experiential approach builds an intrinsically motivated learner.

Alice Trembour, Teacher and Director

923 South 23rd Street in Arlington 22202

703-486-1309

www.potomaccrescentschool.org

High Scope Preschool – Columbia Baptist Preschool

Columbia Baptist is newly becoming a High Scope program. High Scope strives for hands-on teacher and child initiated activities across five areas including literacy, social and emotional development, physical development, arts and sciences. Teachers observe children across experiences and note their progress through Child Observation Records. The program provides an exciting learning environment to challenge the individual child.

www.columbiabaptist.org in Falls Church

Hosted by – Parenting Playgroups

Our own Preschool Play is a small, play based program open to children two to four years old. Children participate in open play in the preschool classroom, two art projects, a sing-along, movement game, snack and story time each day.

Rene Hackney, PhD.

Falls Church and Alexandria, 703-237-0733 or 703-922-0044

www.parentingplaygroups.com

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