By Double Duty Mama
When I was pregnant with my first child, I began searching for day care. I spoke to parents in my community for recommendations and read everything I could about questions to ask, red flags to watch for and prioritizing our needs in a child care provider. In my last trimester, I began touring homes and centers, trying to picture my unborn child spending his days at each location. There were so many variables: price, location, hours, structured vs. unstructured activities, breastfeeding support, teacher-to-child ratio… the list went on and on.
I learned that there was no “perfect” place, and that I’d have to rely on my gut in choosing the right day care provider. I also learned that the decision of who will care for your child is a very personal one, and everyone has their own set of concerns. While I favored an in-home day care because it seemed more nurturing, some friends opted for the centers because they felt there would be more accountability and oversight.
If choosing a day care for a baby was hard, things became exponentially tougher when it was time to graduate a child to preschool. Some programs stress academics with reading and writing, others put the emphasis on learning through play. Some included lunch and snacks, while others required you to pack food every day. Every school had different policies on diapers and potty training.
Because children learn so much during their preschool years, from their ABC’s to making friends, it’s an important task to find a preschool that will continue to nurture development. Research shows that kids who attend quality preschools do better in the long run, especially in reading and math. But how do you choose which preschool is right for your child? Here are some tips:
Making sure you find the right preschool for your child can take some research. It’s a good idea to start your search up to a year before you want your child to start to give you time to evaluate different programs. Typically, children start preschool around age 3.
- Ask to see the school’s state license to be sure it meets health and safety regulations.
- Learn about teachers’ educational backgrounds. Ideally, they will have specialized training in early childhood education.
- Ask about the school’s child/teacher ratio. The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends one adult for every 10 children, which means more individual attention for your child.
Look for a Well-Rounded Program
During their early years, children develop quickly as they expand their knowledge about the world around them and learn how to interact with others. Making sure your child is enrolled in a program that gives him a solid foundation will help prepare him for success in kindergarten.
- Look for a preschool that provides a variety of activities adjusted to children’s developmental stages and needs, such as hands-on learning, teacher instruction, group and individual projects as well as active play time.
- Make sure the preschool teaches basic school readiness skills including the alphabet, numbers, shapes and colors.
- Check that the school has plenty of age-appropriate books, toys and other materials that encourage literacy and creativity.
Ask about Parent/Teacher Collaboration
Working together with preschool teachers can help strengthen your child’s ability to learn.
- Look for a school that welcomes parents and caregivers to visit and participate in activities. This helps establish collaboration between teachers and parents.
- Ask parents at the preschool about how teachers communicate with them. It benefits your child when teachers and parents share information about her progress, favorite activities and learning style.
- Ask about the program’s discipline policy to make sure it is similar to your own. Having different rules at home and at school can be confusing for young children.
For more information about preschool and school readiness, contact First 5 LA’s School Readiness page (http://www.first5la.org/Programs/School-Readiness). To learn more about licensed child care facilities and search for providers, visit the California Department of Social Services webpage (https://secure.dss.cahwnet.gov/ccld/securenet/ccld_search/ccld_search.aspx).