Picking a preschool
Now is the time to enroll your child in preschool — while seats are still available. But all programs aren’t created equal
• By Rebecca Long Pyper •
Preschool is your child’s first foray into the world of education, and it’s important to make a good first impression. But selecting the right one isn’t as easy and eeny, meeny, miney, mo. Carol Grimes of ISU’s College of Technology’s early childhood care and education program, a former preschool teacher herself, offers these tips for finding the right school for your little one:
1. First, understand the way things work locally. Most parents expect preschool to be a part-day program and want to see their children working on worksheets and “producing” something that comes home everyday. Also, “in this area, there are many at-home moms who provide ‘preschool’ for children they know from church and/or the neighborhood,” Grimes said.
No matter the preschool, most early childhood professionals agree that the most important goals for preschool should be learning how to function in groups, solve social problems and listen. “If children have these skills going into school, they are much more likely to be able to learn the academics that are required of them,” Grimes said.
2. Education and experience both matter. Idaho doesn’t require any certification for those working with young children, but many people still have training and education. If education matters to you, ask about the professional-development system Idaho STARS; if teachers are part of this system, they receive ongoing training and support.
Locally, ISU’s College of Technology offers three early childhood education degrees for people currently working with kids or who want to. And if a teacher says she has a CDA, she is referring to a beginning degree in the profession, similar to a CNA in nursing.
3. Consider the time. If a child is attending a program for a few hours a week, the class should be safe, fun and interesting. Be wary of longer classes; if a child is in a program every day for eight to 10 hours, “the impact of quality — or lack of quality — will be greater on his or her development and learning,” Grimes said.
4. Student-teacher ratio is important. Just because Idaho allows more children per adults than many other states doesn’t mean the more, the merrier. For 3 to 5 year olds to get the adult interaction they really need, there should be no more than nine to 10 children per adult, and the entire group should not be more than 20 people.
5. And the most important thing you can do? Visit the classroom. “The program should welcome parents at any time; you should get a feeling that everyone is busy but also calm and happy,” Grimes said. If you see conflict or an unhappy child, pay attention to how the adults work through the issues with the children — look for compassion, positive guidance and a real effort to figure out why unhappy children are having a hard time.
What you shouldn’t see is TV or radio. What you should see is “children engaged in productive, interesting activities,” Grimes said.
The bottom line is that most kindergarten teachers want their students to have positive social skills with peers and adult, follow directions, listen and function as part of a group, and an effective preschool program can get your child there. “A quality program can help children achieve these goals while exposing children to the wider world of reading, writing, drawing, painting, counting, patterning and science,” Grimes said.
Having trouble finding a preschool? According to Carol Grimes of ISU’s College of Technology’s early childhood care and education program, word-of-mouth is the way most people find neighborhood preschool programs, so ask around. Don’t know a lot of other local parents? Stop by the library’s storytime to meet other families.