Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Choosing a Preschool is Child’s Play

by Wendy Schrepferman, M. A. Elementary Education

December 01, 2012

In recent years, full-day kindergarten has become the norm for many of our country’s young children. As a result more parents are choosing to send their children to preschool in an effort to prepare them for entering a traditional school setting. Researching and deciding upon a program for your child can be a long process. Fortunately, understanding the traits of a quality preschool is not.

It might seem reversed, but appreciating the origins of kindergarten is the best place to begin.

The German word “kindergarten” translates to “garden of children.” Think of children as a garden of wild flowers - all growing at their own rate, all presenting their unique colors and shapes in their own way. This term was made popular by Friedrich Froebel in the 1800s. His educational philosophies of promoting discovery, hands-on activities and peer relationships continue to guide quality kindergarten programs today.

These important learning philosophies must also be the driving force in preschool settings. Preschool is a child’s first and lasting memory of what school is all about, and it is our job as parents to find a nurturing environment where our children will grow and thrive.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children is a non-profit organization with a longstanding reputation of developing research-based practices for educating small children. NAEYC awards accreditation to quality preschool and kindergarten programs that apply and complete the multi-faceted process. Parents may visit to locate accredited schools as well as a variety of valuable resources.

The process to become accredited by NAEYC is very rigorous. Marsha Lindsey of Day Nursery in Indianapolis notes, “Receiving the NAEYC stamp of approval is only the beginning. We use the standards as a measuring stick to evaluate our faculty and the learning environment monthly. We work diligently to ensure our students are receiving the best early childhood experience possible.”

Signs of a Great Preschool

If your child is in the three to six year age group and attends a preschool, day care or kindergarten program, the NAEYC suggests looking for these signs in the classroom.

Children should have the opportunity every day to:

Spend the majority of their time playing, working with hands-on materials and interacting with peers. They should rarely be asked to sit still and participate in whole group learning.

Access a wide variety of activities such as dramatic play, building blocks, a variety of art materials, picture books and puzzles.

Play outdoors. Outdoor time should never be sacrificed to gain more instructional time.

Learn numbers and letters in the context of everyday experiences which might include exploring patterns in nature, cooking or taking attendance. Worksheets are used little if at all.

Have extended, self-directed periods of time to play and explore.

Look forward to school.

Early childhood educators should strive to:

Work with individuals and small groups throughout the day instead of only leading whole group sessions.

Decorate the activity spaces with the children’s original artwork where writing with invented spelling is proudly displayed.

Read books to children individually or in small groups throughout the day, not just at group story time.

Adapt the curriculum for those who are successful as well as those who need additional help.

Recognize that children’s different backgrounds and experiences mean they do not learn the same things at the same time or in the same way.

After reading the inventory of standards above, perhaps you are thinking, “As a parent, I want what’s best for my child, and I want them to be successful in kindergarten and elementary school. Why would I send my child to a preschool to play all day?”

“It’s not about simply having fun. It’s about proven methods; mindful, research-based methods that provide children with the experiences they need to make sense of the world around them,” says Mindy Hutchinson of Meridian Hills Co-op Preschool and Kindergarten. “Co-ops are unique because parents are actively involved in their child’s school experience. At Meridian Hills, the strong sense of community and our joyful philosophy of play are our greatest assets.”

Barbara Willer, Deputy Executive Director of NAEYC, weighed in on the subject of play stating, “Play encourages children’s physical development, but also their intellectual, social and emotional development. When children play, they develop and practice new skills, learn to negotiate and cooperate, make friends, use vocabulary and regulate their emotions and behavior.”

We are fortunate in the Indianapolis area to have a variety of quality programs to suit all ages and needs. Early childhood education options include:

-Multi-age Montessori programs

-Family-oriented co-op programs

-Pre-k programs serving families wishing to enter a private school setting for elementary school

-Museum and nature center-based programs

-Traditional programs that incorporate a variety of early childhood learning philosophies

-Programs with a religious education component in addition to their early childhood learning philosophies

Early winter is the perfect time of year to contact preschools in your area to schedule visits. It is best to visit schools when the students are present to see what a typical day might look like. Take the above listing of standards with you and ask specific questions about the school’s core philosophy. If appropriate, ask the students what they like about their school as they are the true ambassadors.

Although parents often feel pressure to have their children excel academically at an early age, it is important not to sacrifice a child’s natural instincts to discover and explore the world. Just as we wouldn’t remove the training wheels from a child’s bike before he or she was ready, we must be mindful when introducing them to formal academic settings before they are developmentally prepared.

So, let’s play! We might all be surprised by what we learn!