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Choosing a Quality Preschool Program for Your Child

This is the fourth in a series of articles on family and education-related issues written by MSU Extension. Today we hear from Carrie Shrier.

The research is clear; children who attend high quality early childhood programs are more likely to read on grade level, complete high school, and even to attend college!

However, there are a lot of programs to choose from in most communities. What is a good program? Is your child ready to go to preschool? What should you look for when you go visit? Take time to read these ten tips before going to check out a new preschool for your child.

  1. Licensing: All programs in Michigan caring for unrelated children are required to be licensed. Check out the center’s license and licensing reports by visiting the Michigan Department of Human Services website.
  1. Ratio: The state of Michigan mandates no greater than a 1 to 12 ratio, with a maximum of 24 children in a preschool room. The National Association for the Education of Young Children prefers to see a lower teacher to child ratio and group size. The lower ratios allow for more individualized attention and focus. Larger group sizes can be overwhelming to small children.
  1. Playtime: Preschoolers should be learning through play. Skills such as math are learned best by filling and pouring water at the water table, or counting out change in pretend play. Fishing for letters in the sensory table, or “writing” notes home at a writing center are far better ways to learn the ABC’s then completing worksheets. Excessive amounts of time spent in seated activities will be difficult for small children, and are not conducive to a good learning environment.
  1. Staffing: Look for centers that emphasize the education and training of their staff. Early childhood education is a skill. Lead preschool teachers should have a minimum of a Child Development Associate’s Degree, preferably a Bachelor’s in Child Development or similar, and should attend on-going staff development and training. Furthermore, a low staff turnover is a good indication of satisfaction. Ask how long your center’s staff have been employed, and what they do to support their continuing education.
  1. Outdoor and Large Motor Time: Large-motor playtime should never be sacrificed for additional instruction time. It is important for children to be able to get out and run! Look for programs that include outside time, even in snowy weather, and include large-motor movement as an integral part of their program. Many programs are offering “Motor Moms and Dads” or similar programs designed to further develop children’s large motor skills.
  1. Materials and Supplies: Quality programs will offer a wide range of materials and supplies for children to explore! Toys should be clean and in good repair, organized and easily accessed by children. There should be enough materials to avoid problems with sharing, and there should be a wide range of materials to support playing and learning in many different ways.
  1. Parent References: Most quality childcare centers site word of mouth as their best advertisement! Ask local friends and family for their opinions of the places you are checking out. Ask the center for a reference from a former parent. Try searching for the center’s name online and see what reviews pop up.
  1. Responsiveness: Preschool children have many needs, and strong opinions of their own. How responsive is the center to the children in their care? How do they handle conflicts and discipline? Children’s preferences and interests? Look for a center that is sensitive in their response to children’s needs, and has an identified discipline and guidance plan that is age appropriate.
  1. Social & Emotional Focus: Survey data of Kindergarten students at entry is finding that the skills most lacking in incoming Kindergartners are related to their social and emotional behavior. Tasks such as following directions, attending at group time, sharing, turn-taking, etc. Preschool programs should be emphasizing the development of these skills as a priority.
  1. Developmentally Appropriate: As the expectations of Kindergartner’s have risen, so too have that of many preschool age children. However, research shows that preschoolers learn best when they are taught in ways that are appropriate for their age and development. In practice, that should look like a mix of small and large group time, children active and engaged in playing with a wide variety of materials. They should not be expected to sit for long periods of time, but rather able to get up and learn interactively in their classroom environment

For more information, including lists of questions to ask when visiting a center, visit PBS Ready to Learn Families web page Choosing a Preschool or Childcare Center. Preschool is a fun and exciting start to your child’s educational experience! Take time to ensure you are starting them off on the right foot by carefully selecting their preschool program.

  • Carrie Shrier is an Extension Educator in the Children and Youth Institute. She has worked with MSU   Extension for seven years, currently providing programming in the area of Early Childhood Education. She has experience working with young children in many areas, as a former preschool teacher and center director and also as the mother of four young children. Carrie holds a Bachelors Degree in Child Development from Michigan State University."

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