By: Judy Lyden
Looking for preschool is always a little daunting for parents searching for the first time. Questions about what age to send them and what kind of program is best to get children ready for big school are questions most frequently asked. I recommend that all parents look for places that are teaching environments, because these preschool years are too precious to waste.
Should I send my two year old to preschool?
Here the answer depends on the child. A two year old far from potty training and far from sitting for any length of time, or one who can't listen will miss the point of preschool.
Most two year olds need a lot of individual care. If a preschool is set up to give a child that care, go for it, but remember too that a two year old's time should be mostly his or her own to use as he or she wants, and that's important. Children learn by playing, and play should attract and encourage children.
Most two year olds are not ready for much structure. Too much structure will make any child unhappy. Curiosity and security are bred by an environment a child can trust. Trust comes from stable unchanging team of teachers and regular times and regular activities.
Learning is at its best when children gravitate toward what a teacher is doing simply because they love the teacher and want to know too. It's as endearing as it gets.
Choosing an open place where a child can be around older children learning is the best choice.
Should I send my three year old?
At three, a child is ready to learn a few facts. He's ready to sit, to have some structure, but play is still the primary part of his day. He needs to learn how to play, how to make things work, how to do things especially build.
Teachers should show children how to work puzzles, how to use art materials, play games, and work with other toys, but more importantly than any other thing, teachers will teach a child to listen, and that has to start at three. A four year old who does not know how to listen is a child who is behind.
Choosing a place where a lot of short teaching episodes are spaced thoughtfully through the day is the best choice for a three year old. Make sure there is a lot of play time available.
Is my four year old ready?
A four year old is ready for most kindergarten work. Fours have speech down pat and are ready to make language work. They love putting letter sounds together and making numbers grow with addition and subtraction. Art is always an experiment, and the discovery subjects like geography and science are a whole safari waiting to be explored. So do send the inquiring four year old; it will make a big difference in his life, but choose a place where he can stretch intellectually.
Is there such a thing as a full time preschool?
Yes. There are a few full time places that teach all day. But teaching times should be short and there should be time for children to play. A curriculum should be available for parents to review. Questions like, "How does the day unfold for the children?" should be a question easily and enthusiastically answered by teachers.
What about ordinary childcare? Isn't that really enough?
That depends on the childcare. If a child is learning, then it's enough. If a three or four year old is watching TV all day and still can't put a puzzle together that's made for a two year old or draw a simple drawing or listen to at least part of a story, no, it's not enough.
Studies show that children who attend a preschool enter kindergarten with fewer problems than children who don't. Kindergarten is no longer the place where a child learns his letters, how to count and how to use art materials - he should already know these things, and that's what preschools do.
Where do I go to find a place for my child?