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5 Traits of a Good Preschool


Q. Friends say that when I'm shopping around for a good preschool for my child, I'll walk in to the right one, and I'll "just know." That's not specific enough for me. What are some things I should be looking for?


The other children seem happy and contented, it "feels" like your child would fit in, and you observe parents dropping them off and picking them up with good behaviors and "vibes." Your "gut feelings" are not all bad, you know. You should pop in at a preschool at a few different times of the day to observe staff with the children, and also other parents with the children. Look for a place where you feel you have something to give to the other parents in terms of friendship and child-rearing skill, as well as things that you think you can learn from the other families at that same place.


The teachers appear calm and competent, and there are enough of them so that the children don't seem neglected or left alone too long to cry and fall into misbehavior. Ask about continuing education for staff, how closely management supervises them, and what management is doing to prevent the frequent turnover which plagues many early-childhood education locations. Your state probably has a staffing minimum of something like one adult teacher for every 12 older preschoolers; ask how well the facility meets or exceeds that standard.


The curriculum is developmental and age-appropriate; there's a lot of hands-on play, art time, books time, physical exercise, and of course, ample time for rest and quiet play. Avoid a place that claims to focus on math and reading, and don't be as impressed with a computer in the preschool classroom as frequent plays, dance class, lots of opportunities for creative expression, and lots of clean and quality toys. Overly scripted or structured, "school-like" preschools are wrong for young children and you will regret it if you fall into the "keep up with the Joneses" trap of competitive child development.


Teachers communicate frequently with parents. Do they send home a daily or weekly report of what the child has been doing? They should. Are there parent-teacher conferences twice a year, especially for the "seniors" who will be going off to kindergarten the next year? There should be. A checklist of kindergarten readiness traits, assessed by your child's teacher, is an important tool. Ask if they have one. Even a modified type of report card is a plus in the communication process. Having a Parent-Teacher Organization in the preschool is a very good sign. Lots of parent volunteer opportunities is another good sign. Do staff and parents socialize together occasionally and get to know one another fairly well? That's the best sign of all - that mutually-enjoyable friendships are developing within a professional setting, not just a fee-for-service mentality.


There should be a good method of evaluating their program quality, with frequent surveys or questionnaires to help assess parental opinions about the preschool's teaching and management.


Homework: Here's a good article by a pediatrician, "How to Choose a Preschool":,1510,6014,00.html


By Susan Darst Williams Ages & Stages 109 2008


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