A newborn baby is a full-time job. A baby eats, sleeps and goes to the bathroom, and occasionally cries.
Then you wake up one day and your child is two years old, and you want to go back to work.
Nowadays preschool education is not just about finding a safe place where your child will be happy, but as more and more studies are done on how influential the early years are on child development, it is also about finding a place that will give your child the best opportunities to develop not only learning skills but social and communicative skills also.
Kourtni Jackson of Montessori By The Sea tells parents looking for a preschool for their kids to, “Visit different schools to get a feel for the environment, the teachers and the students, and ask questions that are important to you.
This will ensure that the school you pick for your child has a similar philosophy to that of your family’s.
“It is imperative that home and school work together to best meet the needs of the child.”
Laurel Fraser is the executive director of the Launch Pad Enrichment Centre in Savannah and the chair of the Education Ministry’s Early Years Task Force, and she says that from preschool education, “Parents should expect their children to develop the joy of learning together with the essential life skills needed to succeed in school and in life.”
In practical terms, Fraser says, that means, “They should know how to share, how to play fairly, how to put things back where they found them, how to wash their hands before they eat and after they toilet, how to say they’re sorry when they hurt someone, understand and appreciate printed words in general and books in particular, know a variety of nursery rhymes, rules of games, understand how to take turns, to listen when someone is speaking, to say please and thank you at the appropriate times, to be curious about the world and to ask lots of questions.”
Jackson says that feeding the child’s natural love of learning and laying the foundation for successful future learning and educational experiences is what parents should expect from a preschool education.
In fact a good preschool education should set children up with skills that will be useful for the rest of their lives.
Fraser cites Ellen Galinsky, author and early childhood educator and researcher, who has recently written a book titled Mind in the Making.
Galinsky has put together what she calls the seven essential life skills based on findings from neuroscience and applied research on the development of the cognitive and social-emotional skills children need to succeed in life as lifelong learners.
These seven skills are focus and self-control, perspective taking, communication, making connections, critical thinking, taking on challenges and self-directed and engaged learning.
Fraser believes that parents should also be involved as much as possible. “At Launch Pad, we focus heavily on the social and emotional development of young children and the involvement of their parents in meaningful ways in the growth and development of their children.”
She says that parents like the small, family-like environment, the focus on healthy meals and nutrition and interest in books and creativity that Launchpad nurtures. There is also a shaded play area so children can play safely.
Jackson says parents of Montessori By The Sea students like the “Montessori philosophy, the small and warm community, the individualized curriculum and the caring and qualified staff.”
Because there is a large choice of preschool education on Cayman, Fraser has compiled a list of 10 standards a parent should look for when choosing an early childhood centre or preschool.
Do children and adults feel welcome when they visit? Are there warm and friendly conversations taking place? Are children encouraged to work and play together? Do teachers help children resolve conflicts and describe feelings?
Does the curriculum address all areas of a child’s development: physical, emotional, social, intellectual and aesthetic? Is it consistent with the goals they identify for children? Do children get opportunities to problem solve, use lots of language and do teachers work with them individually on specific skills?
Does the programme use developmentally appropriate teaching approaches that encourage children’s efforts? Are children’s recent work displayed in the classroom? Are children supervised by teachers and do they go outdoors every day?
ASSESSMENT OF CHILDREN’S PROGRESS
Do teachers keep observations, checklists and notes to share children’s progress with their parents and to show progress over time? Do families receive regular information about the learning that is taking place through meetings and conferences?
Do staff have First Aid training and CPR? Does the programme have policies about regular hand washing for children and staff? Is the programme clean? Do children have medical records on file indicating special conditions and allergies? Are snacks and meals nutritious?
Does teaching staff have educational qualifications and knowledge about how children grow and develop? Are there opportunities for continuous growth and learning of staff through in-service training and conferences? Does staff work well as a team?
Are families welcomed and invited to be involved in all aspects of the programme? Are they aware of programme policies, expectations and general operations? Are they given a chance to have input and are they written for them to understand?
Are community resources used in the programme? (museum, library, parks, etc)
Is the environment organised and clean? Are materials easily accessible to the children? Are shelves labelled to help children maintain an orderly environment? Are furnishings the right size? Are there a variety of materials in good repair and therefore inviting to the children?
LEADERSHIP AND MANAGEMENT
Does the programme effectively implement its policies? Does the administrator/leader have the necessary educational qualifications? Is the programme licensed? Are the written policies and are group sizes in keeping with the law for adult-child ratios?