Choosing A Pre-School
Your Child Will Blossom At A Place That's Right For Them
The First Step
Starting kindergarten or pre-school is an important step for you and your child. This is their first experience of education and you want it to be right. Young children may be not as able to tell you when things are not going well for them and you need to feel confident that you are leaving your precious child in the best hands.
So how to choose? Personal recommendation from another happy parent is worth its weight in gold but if you want to make up your own mind there are a few tell-tale signs you can look out for when you make a preliminary visit.
A Gold Standard Checklist
What to look for when you visit for the first time:
- How many adult heads can you see when you look through the window? In a good setting staff will be down at the children’s level playing with them and supporting their activities.
Following on from that how many staff are in the kitchen or the office? During the session the staff should be with the children. There will be tasks to do, such as preparing the snack, but two staff chatting in the kitchen while the session is in progress is a mark in the ‘no’ column.
Are any children wandering aimlessly? In a good setting children will be purposefully playing or engaged in activities. Any children looking lost will be soon spotted by a member of staff.
What kind of activities are there for the children? Can you spot at least one activity that has been specifically designed to encourage the children to use their imagination and creativity, something you wouldn’t have thought of at home? Lots of colouring-in type activities aren’t going to inspire or extend your child.
Books To Look At And Stories To Share
Try to stay for snack time as this will give you a useful insight into the setting. In a good setting the staff will sit at the tables with the children and engage them in discussion. They might be talking about what they have been doing so far, or what they would like to do next. It should be a proper discussion, not just the adult talking. They will be taking into account the language levels of the children and giving them plenty of time to answer.
Is mess an issue? Children do need to learn to pour their own drinks and spread their own sandwiches and this should be more important than avoiding spills The children will be trying to do things for themselves rather than the staff doing it for them.
My heart always sinks when I see staff standing directing rather than sitting participating, but also look out for adults sitting with the children but chatting to each other over their heads, this is paying lip service.
Questions To Ask
How do you support children who don’t settle easily?
What trips and outings have you taken the children on in the past 3 months?
How do you record children’s learning and progress? Can I see some examples? Can I contribute to this when we learn things at home?
When do they spend time with their key person?
How are the children’s interests taken into account when planning activities?
Activities To Challenge And Develop New Skills
For young children, who don’t have as many words as adults or older children, unwanted behaviour can be seen as a form of communication. The intention behind the behaviour could be:
‘you’ve got what I want’
‘I don’t like what you’re doing’
‘I want someone to notice me’
‘I can’t tell you how I’m feeling’
Or it could be intended playfully. You will be expecting staff to demonstrate an understanding of this, not just by how they deal with situations, but by their comments. References to ‘naughty’ behaviour, or even comments like ‘they’ve been good today’ don’t show a professional understanding of child development.
The End Of The Visit
At the end of your visit check your gut feelings. Did you get a feeling, not just of enthusiasm and energy but skills and professionalism? Did you observe positive relationships where children are able to discover their uniqueness? Most importantly notice how your child reacts and don’t forget to involve them in the decision. Its their future after all!