Very soon new academic year will start and we will find ourselves asking, ”Have I chosen the right preschool for my child?”

We have so much evidence that tells us that children learn the most during the first five years of life. There is so much written about the development in the first five years of life that my pointing this obvious out, makes me sound like a broken record! But it needs to be said again and again because still, not everyone understands how crucial the first five years of life are.

Former President Barack Obama once said “In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children…studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own. We know this works. So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.” 

The significance of formative years is echoed in his above statement. Quality early childhood education gives the best start to young children in life and it also helps them meet success in later years; high-quality early childhood education is crucial for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The best period to ensure that no child falls behind the majority is during these formative years.

90% of a child’s brain develops in the first five years of life. Research shows that experiences a child has during these early years play a very important role in the architecture of their brain. During the early years, the neurons create pathways called synapses and this is what makes the brain work. A young child’s brain makes these connections at a rapid speed; at least one million new neural connections every second, far more than at any other time in life. (early childhood brain development has a lifelong impact;

The first five years of life are extremely important; it becomes vital for parents to choose the right preschool for their child. Before we narrow it down to the right preschool, we need to understand how young children learn.

So, how do children learn in the early years? How do we as parents make sure that maximum synapses are built? And how do we ensure that our children have the best start in life?

Young learners will not only learn but thrive if they have the following three:

  1. Stimulating environment – A stimulation environment is varied and it enables a child’s learning and development. This environment is safe, nurturing, and promotes critical thinking and problem-solving. A stimulating environment is highly interactive. It facilitates sensory exploration and hands-on experiences.
  2. Engaging caregivers – Caregivers be it parents, grandparents, or teachers play an indispensable role in children’s learning and development. Children who enjoy a positive partnership with their caregivers, grow up to be happy, confident, and thriving individuals. Engaging caregivers respond to children’s needs and interests. They listen, observe, and challenge children’s learning and development. Young children’s development is dependent on nurturing caregivers. Engagement between a child and a caregiver will set the tone for the future well-being of a child; when caregivers use gentle tones, express love and acceptance through body language and gesture as well, believe in a child and engage in genuine conversations with a child, they are giving the best possible start to a child.
  3. Play, exploration, and active learning – Through play children understand the impact their actions have on their environment and the people in the environment. Play gives children an opportunity to think, plan, evaluate, collaborate, build friendships, and gain an understanding of what they are cable of. It is in their play, children take calculated risks, problem solve, and build resilience. Play and exploration help children learn about their interests and give them the confidence to explore new ideas and interests. When children are actively involved in their learning, they take control of their learning. They identify and correct mistakes, they try new strategies to solve a problem and they ‘keep at it’ till they are satisfied with the outcome. Play, exploration, and active learning allow for critical thinking and build’s children’s character. When children’s choices are respected and their play/exploration is encouraged they grow up to be confident, resilient, and contributing adults.

The role of an early years’ setting therefore is very important. When deciding on a preschool or kindergarten for your little one, look for the following –

  1. Outdoor space: Is the outdoor play area big enough? What kind of stimulation does the outdoor play space provide? How often and for how long children have access to the outdoor play area? What kind of safety measures are in place? Are there open-ended play opportunities available in the outdoors, for example, sandpit, water play station, mud kitchen, etc.?
  2. Indoor space: How spacious are the classrooms? What kind of stimulation is available inside the classrooms? Are there enough play material and other resources to allow for active exploration? Do children have opportunities to initiate play and learning?
  3. Safety: How is the building ventilated? What emergency evacuation procedures are in place? How safe are the play equipment and resources? How often are play equipment and resources disinfected? Toilet safety? What safety measures are in place for children’s excursions? Bus safety (if transportation is provided)? In case of an emergency, how does the school get in touch with the parents? What health and hygiene measures are in place?
  4. Pedagogy: Are play-based and hands-on experience pedagogies embedded in the culture of the preschool? How are children’s interests identified and reflected in classroom activities? Is there a balance between teacher-led and child-led activities? Does the preschool uphold children’s right to self-expression? How are children’s learning and development recorded i.e. formative assessment or summative assessment?
  5. Teachers and support staff: Are the teachers qualified? What kind of in-service and out-service training is provided to the teachers? How many teachers in a class? What training is available to the support staff such as helpers, housekeeping, bus driver, security, etc.?
  6. GO WITH YOUR GUT: Was the preschool open about giving you a guided tour of the
  7. setting? Did you receive a warm welcome? Were the preschool authorities available to address your questions? Did you feel at ease with the place and people? While taking the tour, did you think ”I wish I had a preschool like this when I was little?”

Choosing the right preschool for your child often can be a perplexing experience, especially if you are a new parent. All parents want the best for their children. The above list is not exhaustive but I sure hope it gives you some clarity on deciding what is right for you and your child.

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