Every child is an individual and unique. Some children may be ready for a structured program as a toddler, while others may benefit from a less formal playgroup setting. The child's personality and demeanor need to be considered. Observation of interactions with the adults as well as other children in their lives may also give clues to readiness. Children should be comfortable in a group setting. They should be able to communicate their wants and needs to adults. Some programs have requirements about the child's ability to use the bathroom on their own. The child's ease in separating from their parent or nanny should also be taken into consideration.
Infants and toddlers typically should have some experience with playgroups or play dates before considering enrollment in a program. This gives the child an opportunity to "practice" interactions and gives the adult an opportunity to observe those interactions. This is also a wonderful chance to teach appropriate group behaviour and peer connections, as well as encourage problem solving skills. Some children are not ready for a more formal program and do better in these small informal group settings ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) classes are good introductions to social groups and adults are encouraged and supported as well.
When looking at preschool programs, keep in mind that there are a variety of philosophies and styles. Group size, classroom environment, schedule and staff are all important points to consider. Early childhood education experience are meant to be a positive stepping stone into the school years.
- Accreditation - Some preschools have gone through an accreditation process. Not all accreditation is created equal so it is appropriate to ask questions about the process they went through and how often they are re-evaluated. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has a very thorough and balanced accreditation process that is highly respected in the early childhood field. Other accreditation bodies may also have strong requirements.
- Staff - Preschool or Early Childhood staff is a significant part of screening the program. How long has the current staff been with the program? Staff turnover is always a concern. Some turnover is to be expected, but excessive turnover may point to staffing issues. Ask about classroom staff to child ratios. Most classrooms/programs have a lead teacher and may have an assistant teacher or aide. What does the program require in the experience and training qualifications for each of these positions? Does the program require and/or provide continuing education opportunities for their staff?
- References - It is always appropriate to ask to talk with other parents who have enrolled their child in the program. If you have been referred to a program by a friend or relative as them about their experience. Are parents/nannies welcome and encouraged to volunteer or observe?
Part Two will focus on different programs and their philosophies.