Preschool, or what some refer to as kindergarten, marks the beginning of your child’s foray into the realm of formal learning. While most preschool classrooms would be a lot less structured than what you’d find at a Primary School level, children are still taught to listen to their teachers, experience and grapple with basic social dynamics, and begin their journey into reading, maths and art. For many of them, this will be the first time that they are away from their caregivers for at least a few hours, and have a new authority figure (ie the teacher) to look up to, so you can imagine that this is a huge transition for them.
Many parents begin their search for the “perfect” preschool for their child early on, some even from the date of birth! However it can be confusing to navigate the amount of information and reviews out there, not to mention the opinions of family and friends. Furthermore, one man’s meat can be another man’s poison – every parent has his own preferences for his child’s future learning environment.
After hearing from various parents, we have come up with a list of 10 things to consider (in no order of merit), when selecting a preschool for your child. How important each factor is to you may vary from person to person.
The closer to home, the better. For one, you can be contacted to come down quickly anytime in the event of an emergency. But more importantly and practically speaking, it saves on travel time to and from school, which has bearings on what time you need to rise and shine, and whether or not your child takes the school bus, gets personally driven there or walks to school.
2. Curriculum/Teaching methodologies
It’s always best to visit the school you are considering and talk to the teachers and/or principal there, to find out what their teaching style, curriculum and standards are like. While preschool is still more fun learning than serious study, you may have certain preferences, such as a school that emphasize on the languages (especially Mother Tongue), or one that employs a more Montessori or independent style of learning.
Some preschools, especially the private ones, only offer English and Mandarin as the core languages, so if your child requires to learn a different Mother Tongue, you might have to outsource that to an enrichment class, or consider other preschools in the area.
3. Classroom environment
School needs to be attractive to a child, for him to enjoy being in that space for a few hours every day. Does the classroom look colourful? What is displayed on the wall? Is the furniture and general layout child-safe? How are classes conducted – everyone sitting on the floor, or at small round tables, or in organized rows?
Outside of the school building, is there a space for outdoor play, like a playground? How much time do the children spend out of doors in a regular day/week?
4. School hygiene and cleanliness
As you walk around the school, take note of how well it is maintained. Check out the toilets – are they clean? How many cubicles are there? Do the children have a habit of washing hands after they use the toilet? Even outside the building, within the grounds, is the ground relatively litter free? Ask the teachers how
they handle sick children – when is it ok for a child to come to school, and when do they ask him to stay home? How do they do daily checks for childhood illnesses like HFMD?
5. Training of life skills
At the preschool level, your child is no longer a helpless infant, and will need to begin to pick up basic life skills that will allow her to grow in independence. Skills like drinking from a cup, self-feeding, wearing her socks/shoes, using the toilet, wiping her nose, keeping the pencils when she’s done – these are all essential habits for our children to learn during the preschool years.
6. Teacher-child rapport
When visiting the school, take note of teacher-children interactions. Do the children seem to enjoy school? Is the teacher friendly? Does she know how to bring concepts to their level, and make learning fun? Is she kind and patient in her conversations with them? How does she respond to the children’s questions? Do the children demonstrate a warmth/positive attitude towards the teacher?
7. Teacher-child ratio
While this varies from school to school, there should be at least 1 teacher or teacher assistant for every 12 children. A ratio of 1:8 is considered ideal, but you won’t find this in most of the public or popular kindergartens.
8. Open communication channels
Having honest, timely and effective communication between the school (principal and teachers) and the parents is vital to most parents. Frequent updates about your child’s progress will enable parents to reinforce any key lessons learnt at home, and highlight character issues to be worked on. Teachers and principals should demonstrate a willingness to work through issues together, for example helping a parent whose child has an aversion towards reading, or encouraging a child who struggles with drop-off time. It also helps if teachers are tech-savvy, as an increasing number of parents prefer frequent updates via SMS instead of FTF.
To find out how open the channels of communication are is no mean feat! This is probably not something you can “observe” from a visit to the school. Instead, look for online reviews or forums by other parents whose children are already in the school, or better yet, talk to a friend whose kids are enrolled there.
9. School/teacher values
Values are caught, not taught. As such, it would be good to get a sense of what values matter most in the school you are considering. Character strengths like kindness, patience, perseverance, trust, honesty, graciousness and self-control – these are all things we want our children to learn from young. Do the teachers themselves seek to exemplify these traits?
Look for schools that value change and growth, not perfection. You want teachers who will patiently work through issues with your child, not ones who label and stereotype them, or push them to unattainable standards. Look for teachers who love the children they are caring for, for whom this is not just a “job”.
10. Response to “misbehavior”
From talking to other parents, observing a classroom session and/or speaking to the teachers, you can get a good gauge of the school’s general attitude towards various levels of misbehavior and how these issues are tackled.
To what degree do the staff cater for the different personalities of the children in the class? When there are disputes among the children, how do the teachers intervene? What is their tone like when they are disciplining a child? Do they come down to their level to talk face to face or holler from across the room? Do they take the time to patiently help the children talk things through and understand right from wrong, or do they merely label behaviors as “naughty” or “bad”?
On a sidenote, do note that teachers are NOT allowed to use any form of physical punishment in preschool. If you do see or hear of such incidents occurring, you should report it to MFS.
By Dorothea Chow