Choosing a preschool early learning program that is a good fit for your child can be an exciting, as well as overwhelming, process. As a parent, you want to be confident that you decide on the right program for your child, budget, and family values, but how do you make the best choice?
Determining what age to enroll your child, evaluating the child's developmental readiness, family dynamics, and schedules are among the competing factors that play a role in the decision-making process. However, there are five overarching indicators that measure quality of preschool early learning programs that parents can quickly refer to when making this important decision.Quality Teachers
The first and foremost factor is high-quality teachers. This means that the teachers are trained in early education, understand childhood development, and can facilitate different areas of learning in developmentally and age-appropriate ways. Teachers who have specific preparation and ongoing professional support in early childhood development and learning are more likely to have effective, positive interactions with children and their families, offer richer language and other content experiences, use a variety of appropriate curriculum and teaching practices (including play) for individualized and group teaching, and create more high-quality learning environments. Although these factors can be hard to judge and identify from one visit, after taking time to visit a school and talking with some of the teachers, the level of quality and their passion for teaching should be clear.Student-Teacher Ratio
Student-teacher ratio is a factor that impacts children differently. Some students require more attention and guidance to excel, while others can thrive in a larger group with little individual attention. Low teacher-student ratios enable teachers to focus on the individual needs of all the children and engage them in meaningful interactions more often and with ease. It is important that parents select a program that is conducive to their child's age, development stage, and learning abilities.
Children need a physical setting—both inside and outdoors—where they can play, explore, and learn safely. The learning environment needs to include engaging and developmentally appropriate materials that are presented to children in a way that promotes independence and exploration. Toddlers and preschoolers use objects in complex combinations and engage in socio-dramatic play with one another. Their environment needs materials that spark the imagination, such as play kitchens. There needs to be ample qualities of equipment that is regularly changed so that children have new experiences. In addition to the indoor learning environment, children need access to outdoor space where they are safe to move around and engage with peers and nature.
Quality preschool early learning programs honor a strong relationship between parents and teachers. Parent involvement can be as elaborate as staffing the classrooms like in a coop model or serving on the board of directors. However, open communication and genuine engagement with family members is a critical component of a quality preschool early learning program.
Philosophy and Values
Understanding the core set of values and guiding philosophy that shapes the school's culture and informs decisions, policies, and programs can also help parents determine if a school is a good fit for their family. Some educational philosophies to consider are "play-based," which engages children in hands-on, play-based activities while incorporating developmentally appropriate educational lessons. Other programs introduce reading and math earlier, and many schools incorporate multiple philosophies. A few common preschool education models include the Montessori Method, the Waldorf approach, the Reggio Emilia system and more.
In the greater Seattle and Bellevue areas, there is an abundance of high-quality preschool early learning programs. I encourage parents to take time to learn about the options, understand each school's educational programs and philosophies, and seek insight into its unique culture and community.
At St. Thomas School (STS) we believe the seeds of lifelong learning lie in the wonder that characterizes early childhood. With an approach modeled on child development and early learning research, our Preschool/Early Learning Center attends closely to the social-emotional needs of young children while engaging their natural curiosity, creativity, and love of hands-on learning. We strike a balance between teacher-led instruction and child-driven discovery, allowing students to form questions, seek answers, and represent their thinking based on exploration and research.
Parents and educators who focus on an all-inclusive and whole-child approach to early learning and development will best prepare children for success in education and throughout their lives.
If you are interested in learning more about STS' methods and approach to early learning, feel free to reach out to me or read more on our Preschool/Early Learning Center webpage.