Preschool is your child’s first step in a longer journey.
Preschool – also called nursery school – is a school that offers early childhood education to little ones before they’re ready to enter elementary or primary school. They may be either publicly or privately-operated.
Most children are around 3 years-old when they start.
Generally, preschoolers are around 2-4 years-old. After this, children attend elementary or primary school. Here, children learn essential skills that prepare them for the next stage in their education.
Selecting the right school can be a challenge.
You’ll need to pay attention to: how adults are speaking to children; whether the classroom is fun and joyful; whether children are encouraged to be active; and if the staff are supported and happy.
Finding the Right Preschool
When it comes to finding the right preschool for your child, you want to feel confident that they’ll settle in well, make the most out of their experience and make lots of new friends – but how do you know which school is right for your child?
- School Hours and Proximity
- Educational Philosophy and Outlook
- Educational Experience and References
- Active Play Opportunities
- Meals and Snacks
- Nap Time and Potty Training
School hours and proximity
If you’re at the visiting stage, be sure to enquire about all practicalities first. Make a note of the school’s hours, check what their after-hours procedures are, and then double-check the preschool’s location works for you. Is it comfortably accessible from home or work or are there any transportation options available?
Once the school ticks those boxes, it’s time to ask about the cost, class size and the ratio of children to staff so you know they’re not spreading themselves too thinly in the classroom.
Once you’re happy with the answers, it’s time to ask about the application and admission process, including timescales, deadlines and criteria – it can be competitive out there and the best preschools won’t fall short of demand. You don’t want to miss out, so it’s better to be thorough with your questions early on, even if you haven’t decided yet.
Educational philosophy and outlook
When selecting a preschool, it’s important to not only go for the one that offers the best structure or the type of program you like the look of, but also ensure that the school’s learning and educational values match your own.
You don’t want to enrol your little one into a preschool only to discover their approach doesn’t satisfy your child’s needs. For example, often toddlers like to try to do everything themselves, and so preschools should value kinaesthetic learning as it’s a child’s way of learning how to understand the world around them.
Start by taking an interest in the curriculum of the preschool and then establish whether it offers a discovery-based program. These are often found to be in the child’s best interest in terms of development since their primary focus isn’t on practical skills or drills. Instead, a discovery program will offer opportunities for your child to make their own choices about learning and will encourage them to explore and ask questions.
You also want to make sure that the preschool encourages an open-door policy. You don’t want to feel closed off from your child’s progress so if you don’t think the preschool will openly welcome you or your family into the program, trust your instincts and move in a different direction. Good preschools will encourage you to stop by at any time and regularly supply feedback on how your child is doing.
Educational experience and references
It goes without saying that you’ll want your child’s teachers to be fully qualified and experienced – so don’t hold back when it comes to asking about their training or their work with young children.
If they are truly good at what they do, they will understand exactly how children grow and will happily reassure you of this by talking you through their stages of development.
Active play opportunities
Physical activity is great – and vital – for your child’s gross motor skills. It also helps to promote health and wellbeing, so be sure to ask what active play opportunities they provide and in what frequency.
You also want to make sure their fine motor skills are catered for with activities like cutting, colouring and stringing beads. This will hugely benefit your child as it helps them develop the skills they’ll need to learn to write.
Discipline is an important topic for parents. Check what the classroom rules are and be sure they’re clear and easy for your child to understand. Ask the teacher how they will be encouraged to behave in a positive way (e.g. reward charts, praise and positive reinforcement). Then ask them what their procedures are for disciplining bad behaviour.
In an ideal world, they’ll reach for positive redirection first, but often little ones just get too far gone and will need a firmer approach like cool-down time. The emotions of children change rapidly throughout the day, so whichever preschool you settle on, be sure its teachers will acknowledge those feelings and help your child to talk about them, teaching them to express themselves in a positive, calm way.
Meals and snacks
Ask what food options are available at the preschool and what’s included – are they nutritious? Then ask things like: will teachers settle your child into a good pre-meal routine (i.e. washing their hands before eating)? What about table manners? Will they have to clear their plate in order to leave the table? Can they socialize during mealtimes? The aim here is to assess whether this will sync with their home life and vice versa.
Nap time and potty training
Preschool is a busy time for your little one, and they can often find it both exciting and overwhelming. It’s important that growing children have some time to rest during their day. It will also be worth checking to see if the preschool schedules nap time in at the same time every day (preferable) and if they provide a nap mat, pillow and sheet or if you need to get those items ready for them.
As for potty training, ask if the preschool will require you to already have them fully trained. Some schools will assist you with this, while others prefer you to have done it with them already. If they do require you to have completed potty training with your toddler, ask how they deal with accidents and what they do to ensure your child is put at ease so they’re not fearful to speak up and ask to go the bathroom. It might be a good idea to pack a change of clothing just in case – in the early days, you’ll have to account for nerves no matter how fully trained they are at home.
Preparing Your Child
There are a few things you should think about before committing to a preschool – such as assessing whether they’re really ready to go (and we don’t just mean potty training).
To successfully introduce your child to the wonderful world of school, there are multiple ways of preparing and easing them into the transition.
When your child makes a mistake, don’t automatically rush to the rescue. Give them the chance to correct or soothe themselves. This will help to inspire confidence in your child so when they start preschool, they won’t expect one-on-one care the entire time.
You can also encourage independence by teaching self-care. Get them to wash their own hands, open lunch containers, fasten clothing and wipe their own nose. You could even start letting them pick their outfit for the day.
When your child starts preschool, they’ll be expected to help with tidying toys and activities at the end of the day. Get them ready by teaching them these skills at home. Show them where the clothes and toys in their room belong by using colorful baskets (e.g. the red one is for fluffy toys, the green one is for building blocks) and sing along with them to make it fun. Once you establish a routine, they’ll learn to do it on their own after every play session.
Cultivate open communication
It’s so important that your child feels comfortable with talking and listening. Help develop their language skills early by chatting with them about what their favorite food is and why. You can also expand their vocabulary by reading aloud items on a shopping list and identifying them or baking and introducing them to all the ingredients.
It would also be wise to teach them some basic information – such as their full name, house number, street name and parents’ names. If they have an allergy, make sure this is also communicated on an allergy bracelet as well as to them, so they learn how to inform people themselves.
Starting preschool is not only an academic milestone, it’s an emotional one too. It is therefore extremely common for children (and parents) to get anxious and upset when they’re about to wave you off for the day.
Firstly, you are not abandoning them, so try not to take on that sort of guilt – your little one will sense this. Second, it’s important to understand that these emotions surface because your little one probably isn’t used to being away from you for long periods of time and is about to enter the unknown by themselves.
Talk to them about what to expect and introduce them to the concept of preschool early on. By the time they begin, they should be chatting to you about it – asking questions and getting involved with minor decisions like what to wear or pack in their bag.
Avoid the temptation to sneak away. This can make separation anxiety worse because they’ll think you’ve disappeared. If their anxiety is particularly bad, the best way to handle it is to go into school with them and develop a goodbye ritual.
Take them on play-dates and let grandparents or other caregivers look after them without you. This is to get them used to your absence, so preschool won’t come as such a shock.
Understand that they have only just got to grips with daily routines and family life, so everything they think they know, is about to change. Prepare them by occasionally mixing up routines and see how they adjust.
Don’t be put off by the tears. Be consistent and if they have a bad first reaction, keep going together on a regular basis and keep goodbyes brief – drawing them out will make your child think it’s a much bigger deal than it needs to be.
Send them off with an object of comfort. Having something familiar to hold onto will help soothe their anxiety and reassure them – and will probably help to reassure you too.
The Preschool Curriculum
A good preschool will help your child reach key learning milestones and provide a safe and nurturing environment so they can build self-confidence, explore and grow their talents. So, as a parent, what exactly should you expect from a preschool education?
Most preschool programmes focus on:
- Hands-on learning
- Literacy and numeracy concepts
- Communication skills
- Building independence
Colors and shapes
While at preschool, your little one will learn the names of basic shapes, colours and body parts, although you can start them off yourself before they even enter a classroom. Once they do start though, it is always a good idea to know what they’re learning and reinforce it at home or out and about.
Children will learn how to count 10 objects and be able to recognise what those numbers look like but counting in general is separate to this because it requires memory. This will also be developed, and pre-schoolers should be able to recall the order of numbers, and eventually they will grasp what those numbers and objects correspond to.
Letters and sounds
While at preschool, your little one will be able to name and recognise all 26 uppercase letters of the alphabet (and some lowercase letters, but these tend to be more difficult to pick up), they’ll be able to print their own name as well as write other basic words, and they will be able to identify some of the sounds that make letters.
Drawing and cutting
Most children can cut with scissors before they start preschool, so while they’re there they will develop this skill even further along with hand-eye coordination, various other fine motor skills and will be able to draw, glue and paint things in a legible way.
Sharing and group play
Normally, you’ll start them off before starting preschool, but when they start, they will be taught how to cooperate, share, work together, take turns, follow simple directions and be able to participate in group activities.
While it is important to remember that all children are unique and learn at different speeds, by the end of preschool you may expect your child to:
- Display more developed thinking skills: they’ll participate in make believe, be able to match objects by shape and color, know how to make mechanical toys work and can complete 3 or 4-piece puzzles.
- Have improved social skills: show affection for playmates, imitate adults and peers, understand “mine” or “his or hers” and can take turns in games.
- Have developed key physical skills: Running, climbing, kicking (sport), pedalling, balance and using alternating feet (walking upstairs and downstairs).