You are here today because the search for the best preschool has finally arrived.
Before you start, you need to know that this may get pretty intense.
Take a step back and breathe when that happens.
In this article, we are going to help you as best we can. At LittleLives, we build software that serves over 180,000 parents across the world. Through keeping up with parents' needs, we've learnt that finding a good preschool isn't about finding the perfect one. It is about finding the preschool that will be just right for your child.
"At this age, it is more important to expose my daughter to activities such as music and outdoor sports. This helps to build her immunity, agility, social skills and empathy. Intellect will come naturally and every child develops at a different pace." says Ms Praveen, Head of Finance at LittleLives, whose daughter has recently started attending preschool.
Is the school's education philosophy important?
Yes and no.
When you talk to preschools, you will notice that most like to emphasize their pedagogy. Coupled with society's focus on academic achievements, parents believe that they need to pick a preschool that gives their child a head start in their academic journey. Academic success should not be the deal breaker in the grand scheme of things.
In a panel discussion organised by the National University of Singapore in 2019, Mr Ong Ye Kung, previous Singapore's Minister of Education, mentioned that he hopes that this culture will shift to something that is a lot more nurturing, a lot more compassionate for our young and that grades must become less important.
It is more important to understand how the school strives to build a strong foundation in all five domains of developmental areas. From the basics of learning to hold a pencil, to learning to share, taking turns and even problem solving.
Here are four factors you may consider when choosing the right preschool for your child.
1. Your child
Every child is unique and no one knows your child better than you do.
Your child's personality and inclinations are the most important to consider when selecting the right preschool.
Some guiding questions you can ask yourself are:
- What kind of environment do they excel in?
- What makes them nervous, excited, uncomfortable, or at ease?
- Do they need more structure or more freedom to express themselves?
- Will your child be able to cope with extended separation from you?
- Does your child have difficulty making friends?
- Is your child receptive to following directions?
- In what areas would you like to see the most growth in your child after a year of preschool?
2. The location
As parents, we would go to the ends of the earth for our children, but that should not be the literal distance you have to travel twice a day for drop off and pick up.
While some may place more importance on picking the perfect school even if it means going out of the way, choosing a location that is reasonable for you isn't a selfish consideration.
Of course distance may not be an issue on a normal day. But what happens when your child is sick on the day you have a big meeting? Or if you're stuck in a traffic jam and the school is at the other end of the town?
Picking a preschool that is near your home, workplaces, or the home of a caregiver, such as a grandparent, is definitely more convenient.
It can be very difficult to let go when you find a school that meets all your needs that is beyond your comfortable travelling distance. To avoid the paradox of choice, you might want to limit your Google research to 'schools around your vicinity' instead of 'best preschools in your country'.
3. The teachers
Trusting relationships is the bedrock of early child learning. Studies confirm that children learn better when teachers are nurturing.
Here are some characteristics to look out for:
- Positive interaction. They ask thought-provoking questions and help kids to think deeper. They encourage speaking up, praise positive actions and inspire learning.
- Engaging activities. They teach through songs, stories, crafts and hands-on activities. They encourage children to be active contributors to the classroom.
- Being positive and caring. They wear a smile on their faces. They answer children’s questions and don’t dismiss or ignore their concerns. Positive teachers are nurturing. They try not to engage in negative interactions such as scolding or yelling at the child.
- Executing positive discipline. Let's be honest, even the most patient and nurturing parents and teachers can sometimes lose it when facing a defiant little human. But instead of punishing, teachers should be practicing positive discipline through explaining and teaching.
It is important to consider your child's personality, and what sort of teacher will be the best connection for your child.
4. The school itself
By this point, you would have shortlisted a couple of schools that tick most of your boxes. It is now the time for a site visit to confirm your research.
1. The scheduled visit
Preschools typically have open house visits when the new year's enrolment is round the corner. Visit the school together with your child to get a look and feel of the environment and the members of the school.
Here are some things to look out for:
- Health and security. The school should have secure check-in and visitor management systems like LittleLives Little Check In.
- Hygiene. The school and classrooms should be clean and orderly.
- Child friendly. It should look like children can play there and not get injured. Sit down and see from your child's perspective. Are items easy to reach? Is the furniture and the decoration of the classroom conducive to a child's view or an adult's?
- Children inspired creativity. You want to see an exhibition of children's art. Creatively drawn or made art pieces that do not appear mass-produced or "fixed" by adults.
- Space for different occasions. See if there are areas for hands-on sensory exploration, block building, dress up, art, and a quiet area. You want to see a balance of quiet areas and play areas as well as space for outdoor activities.
- Bathrooms. Typically, the preschool years are the time when most children are potty-trained. Are the bathrooms accessible? Can the sink and toilet be used by a small child independently?
2. The unannounced visit
This was a neat trick shared by some of our parents. Drop in during class time unannounced and see if you like the way the preschool runs when there are no visitors.
Watch the children and observe how they interact with one another and with their teachers. Are their interactions characterised by warmth and trust? Do the children spontaneously greet the principal and teachers happily? Do the principal and teachers engage the children in an encouraging, gentle and patient manner? Look out for signs like teachers shouting and tugging.
Additionally, see if children are active in the classroom or are they expected to sit for long periods as passive listeners? Such observations can give you good information on the culture of the school.
The final call
If there's one key takeaway from you, it's this: There is no perfect preschool.
Know what factors are important to you and make a list of deal breakers. Feel free to use this checklist we have prepared for you!
Ask yourself if your parenting values align with the school’s culture, curriculum approach and culture. You play the biggest part in ensuring that their preschool experience is a positive one. At the end of the day, be present.
Be an involved parent, keep yourself interested and participate actively with the school. Your child will match your vibes and enjoy their school days naturally.