Prepping for Preschool
A local early childhood expert weighs in on what’s important when deciding on a preschool.
Researching preschools can be a little daunting, but being armed with the right questions and a solid checklist can make it a smooth experience. Early childhood expert Sally Oginni – with more than 18 years working as a teacher and administrator of early education programs – offers some food for thought when making this important decision in you and your child’s life.
“In a good preschool classroom, teachers focus on all areas of learning,” explained Oginni, who is the director of the new Sage YMCA Early Learning Center in Crystal Lake. “The curriculum, teaching strategies and environment reflect research-based knowledge about the way children develop and learn.”
She encourages parents to spend time in the classroom and observe the children and teachers.
A high-quality preschool can be a critical step toward developing and stimulating a child’s brain.
Is Your Child Ready for Preschool?
Children between the ages of 3 to 5 are great candidates for preschool. “With elementary school just around the corner, these children can benefit from classes that develop their social-emotional and cognitive development, including math and literacy skills,” Oginni said.
“Research tells us that 90 percent of the brain develops within the first five years of a child’s life,” she added. “A high-quality preschool can be a critical step toward developing and stimulating the brain, and helping to build academic readiness and social skills.
“These children typically start kindergarten with better pre-reading skills, richer vocabularies and stronger basic math skills. They also learn how to engage with one another, take turns, problem solve and build confidence and self esteem.”
Good preschools teach children how to engage, take turns, problem solve and build confidence.
A Preschool Checklist
The following is comprehensive list of questions Oginni suggests having answers to in order to make the best decision about your child’s care and education:
- Are the programs state-licensed, which ensure that a facility meets safety requirements and has adequate staffing?
- Does the environment have good resources, such as educational toys, and encourage individualized learning? Licensed programs are also monitored to ensure that there are ample and age-appropriate materials and books.
- What are the qualifications of the teachers? Ideally, lead teachers should have a minimum of an associate’s degree and formal training in early-childhood education.
- Do the teachers respond to children in an age appropriate manner? Are teachers and children actively engaged and demonstrate strong relationships with one another?
- What is their discipline policy?
- Are the location and schedule convenient?
- What are the admission fees and admission policy?
- What are the class sizes and teacher-to-child ratios? A big plus would be a preschool that exceeds state requirements. Classes with fewer than 20 students and with fewer than 10 students per teacher, mean children will get more individual attention.
“Lastly,” she adds, “listen to your gut instinct, especially if something doesn’t feel right for your family and your child. Parents know their children best.”
The typical preschool day should include large-group activities and free play.
An Ideal School Day
The typical preschool day, according to Oginni, should include large-group activities and free play, where specific activities are set up for children to explore.
“We know children learn best through play and experiences that focus on all areas of development at a time,” she explained. “It’s also important for them to develop strong relationships with their parents, peers and adults – especially their teachers – and be in a preschool environment that supports that.
Daily activities may include the following:
- Cognitive Development: Puzzles, sorting objects
- Gross Motor Skills: Bicycling, jumping and outdoor play time
- Social Development: Playing with each other, taking turns
- Mathematics and science: Counting games, playing with blocks, number and shape recognition, discovery tables where children can explore rocks, plants or other natural objects
- Language and literacy: Reading, writing, dictating and acting out stories.
- Art and music activities: Creating individual artwork with crayons, markers and paint
- Fine motor: Cutting, beading
“There also should be a meal/snack time included in each day,” she explained. “Full-day programs also include nutritious lunches and nap times as part of the schedule.”
Sage YMCA in Crystal Lake features a new preschool wing with three classrooms.
Preschool fees vary, and certainly the price of a quality preschool experience can seem cost-prohibitive at first to some families.
“It’s important to remember that preschool is an investment in your children’s learning and development that will help ensure they have the skills to succeed in school and life,” Oginni said.
And there is good news for families looking for a quality preschool that’s also affordable. “[Parents] may want to consider nonprofit programs because fees are often a bit lower without sacrificing program quality,” she said. “Plus, nonprofit programs such the ones offered at Sage YMCA and our other centers provide a high-quality preschool whose program fees are reinvested into the program.”