Preschoolers – those energetic 3- and 4- year-olds enjoying their first school experiences – are an enthusiastic bunch, excited about learning, playing and making new discoveries.
They’re capable of learning language, reading basics, even early math and science concepts. But what they glean most from preschool are crucial social, emotional and character lessons.
Preschools and nursery schools abound in Massachusetts, offering learning experiences that lay the foundation for later success in school. With so many different programs, how do you choose the right one for your child? Begin by considering what kind of setting best suits your child and your family’s needs.
• Nursery schools or preschools are privately or locally funded, secular or religious, and are located in either private facilities or municipal buildings.
• Cooperative preschools require parent involvement in the classroom. Parents serve as teachers’ aides for a few days per month or share in other tasks, such as bookkeeping and maintenance.
• Montessori schools are operated on the philosophy that young children learn best through direct sensory experiences, such as manipulating blocks or pegboards. This philosophy is reflected differently at each Montessori school.
• Lab schools are affiliated with colleges or high schools and use student teachers. Some also combine programs with research studies on effective early education.
• Full-day programs (often called “daycare”) are located in an individual provider’s home or in a childcare center.
When picking a program, find out the size of the school, its location, the number of days and hours offered, the availability of extended hours, how different ages are grouped, class size and the cost of the program.
After deciding which type of program best meets your criteria, visit more than one preschool or daycare site so that you have a basis for comparison.
Ask yourself the following questions:
• Does the program have a clear statement of goals and philosophy?
• Does it consider a child’s social, emotional and physical needs?
• Is the atmosphere warm, nurturing and accepting?
• Does the curriculum meet your child’s needs?
• Is the content culturally diverse and free of sexual bias?
• Does the school offer a balance of individual, small-group and large-group activities?
• Do activities encourage selfexpression?
• Is there a balance between quiet periods and vigorous activities?
• Is there a routine to most days?
• Are expectations and limits clear?
• What is the discipline policy?
• Does the program have an up-todate state license? Is it accredited by the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs (NAECP), a division of the National Association for the Education of Young Children? (Accreditation is a voluntary self-study of staff qualifications, physical environment, curriculum, parent questionnaires and observations by the staff and a representative of the NAECP.)
• What are teachers’ qualifications?
• What is the ratio of children to teachers?
• Is there frequent staff turnover?
• Do teachers encourage and respond to children’s natural interests?Are they cheerful and patient?
• How do the adults interact with the children and with each other?
• Does it look safe indoors and outdoors?
• Can you imagine your child in this setting?
• Are the children happy, relaxed, feeling good about themselves and engaged in meaningful play?
• Does the setting foster productive interactions between children?
• Is there a wide variety of materials?
Are they orderly and easily accessible?
• Do equipment and toys encourage individual and group play and improve gross and fine motor skills?
• Is parent involvement welcomed and encouraged? How?
• Will the school’s administration refer you to parents whose children have attended the program or are currently attending, so you can call them?