Choosing a Preschool: Simple Tips for Parents
By Julie Forslin, Early Learning Manager
It’s January and you’re probably just getting back into the swing of things after the holiday—but have you noticed there is a buzz in the air about something called “early enrollment”? Yes, in the Valley, it is time to register young students for preschool!
This is an important choice for families—and I’m here to help you focus on a few key considerations when making your choice because every preschool program is different and there are dozens of great options in our community.
First, a little lesson in early education. You may be surprised to discover that preschool plays a large role in later academic success. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “Children in high quality preschools display better language, cognitive, and social skills than children who attended low quality programs.” They have longer attention spans, stronger social abilities, and better language and math skills well into their elementary school careers. In fact, later in life, they’re still reaping the benefits – they’re more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to hold high paying jobs, even more likely to own their own house.
Start Early! With that in mind, start researching and visiting local preschools now to give yourself time to find the best fit for your family.
If you’ve already decided on preschool at Encompass, you can learn more at www.encompassnw.org or by calling Julie Forslin at 425.888.2777. Our brand new registration site is easy to use now!
Attend the Local Preschool Resource Fair. Intimidated by the idea of visiting dozens of schools (especially with a young child in tow)? A great way to see what options exist is to attend the Preschool Resource Fair at Si View Community Center on Saturday, January 23rd from 10-noon. Encompass will be in attendance, as well as dozens of other early learning program leaders. You will come away from the event with a resource guide. We will also be offering developmental screenings free of charge for those interested.
Look like a Pro. Here’s an idea—print out this article and use this it at the fair to help you ask questions.
WHAT TO CONSIDER:
Credentials. Make sure the schools you are considering employ teachers with early childhood education degrees. Ask if the school is accredited. For more information, go to www.naeyc.org, the website for the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Schedule. Preschool and daycare are different. Day care often offers more hours for kids of working parents, in a less scheduled environment. Preschool programs tend to be shorter, and more structured. Decide your needs and look for a program that fits.
Discipline. It’s important that you agree with a school’s disciplinary approach and trust their judgment – small children have a hard time with mixed messages.
Nutrition. One of the great things about preschool is that children are positively influenced by their peers – they may not touch fruit at home, but if everyone else is eating apples, they might be coerced to try them. Does the school provide lunch and/or snacks or will you pack them from home? If they supply the goods, ask what they serve. If your child has food allergies, make sure they can ensure their safety.
Look at the Art. A picture is worth a thousand words, so look at what’s hanging on the walls. Does everything look the same? Is all the crayon within the lines? Some schools emphasize facts: “Trees are green.” Others encourage imagination: “Interesting. I’ve never seen a baby growing on a tree before!”
Visiting. Does the school have an open door policy? Can parents visit at any time, or are there set days for observation?
Safety. How does the school ensure student safety? How do they keep track of pickups at the end of the day?
Philosophy. More brain development occurs in the first five years of life than at any point thereafter. Educators have different views and approaches, even as early as the preschool years. Some schools are completely “play based,” others have kids as young as three or four tracing numbers and letters to prepare them for kindergarten. It all comes down to learning style.
With all this in mind, your instincts as a parent should never be ignored—how do you feel when you speak with the folks from each school? Do the logistics of getting to and from the school work for you? These intangibles are important, too, and I encourage you to schedule on-site tours in addition to the fair. If you’re a bit nervous about your child’s transition into school—or maybe your own feelings about that—find out if the preschool has summer camps you can register for so you can all “practice” getting ready on a schedule and separating for small amounts of time.
Good luck in choosing your child’s first school!
By Julie Forslin, Early Learning Program Manager at Encompass with excerpts from Education.com
Julie Forslin has been in early learning for 23 years and is currently the early learning program manager at Encompass. As the only NAEYC-accredited early learning program in the area, Encompass offers programs for toddlers to 5-year olds as well as summer enrichment camps, pediatric therapy, parent support and resources, and more.