Choosing the best fit for your child’s early education is vitally important to your child’s development, wellbeing and early formative experiences. What are some of the things you should look for and questions you should ask a potential kindy or early education centre?
As new learners, everything is a discovery and a child’s desire to know, uncover, deduce and reinforce is an adventure. During the early years, we have the opportunity to plant the seeds for a love of learning which will grow for the rest of their lives. Parents and family are key in their children’s development. Most children experience much of their early learning within the home, with early education and preschool as a critical and positive addition
Philosophy and balance
A very important factor in your choice is finding out the centre’s philosophy and values. The fundamental principle they subscribe to may be traditional or a hybrid; it may follow the teachings and ideas of Piagét, Steiner, Reggio Emilia or Montessori. You may find programmes run through churches where religion is part of the everyday curriculum; cooperative programmes run by parents; affiliated with community groups; or state-run centres (kindergartens).
You will surely have a view about the balance between play, planned learning, socialisation and care. Most centres will have elements of all these, but the relative balance between them is an important discriminator in your choice
Having identified the centre’s philosophy, can you observe it in operation?
- How are the teachers relating to the children?
- Can you hear teachers encouraging the children to be confident learners by inviting them to make choices, decisions and be part of the activities in progress?
- Are they treating children, families and each other with kindness, respect and care?
- Can you hear talking, laughing, singing, asking questions, and expression of ideas?
- Do you see children moving about the room, engaged in activities, working with their hands, exploring materials and at play with one another?
- What is the balance between free play and directed activity; indoors and out; informal and structured learning; and individual, small group and larger group activity?
- Is there an outdoor area where children can run, climb, walk, explore, climb, and participate in other types of play?
- Does the environment reflect colour, stimulation, ongoing maintenance, pride and systematic organisation?
Trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. However, if you like what you see so far, bring your child along for a visit and see how they respond.
Questions to ask teachers
- How long have you been an Early Childhood teacher?
- How long have you been with this preschool/centre?
- What is your teaching philosophy?
- What ways do you believe children learn best?
- How you will handle children’s inappropriate behaviour?
- What kinds of rules will you expect the children to follow?
- How do you assess ‘progress’?
- In what way(s) do you provide parent communication?
- How do you feel about parents visiting or volunteering
There really isn’t a recipe for helping you choose the ‘perfect’ centre for your child. In the end, it will be your job to find one that seems to be the right fit for you and your child. It is important that you love the centre and feel accepted and appreciated as the parent of your child. Trust your own instincts in the process and find one that makes you comfortable and confident leaving your child, making the early learning years for your child and your family a successful experience.
What else for under-5’s?
Common contagious nasties
There are quite a few to avoid during the preschool years. As always, handwashing (in particular) and other good hygiene practices, such as washing towels and bedding regularly, are the main ways to avoid catching viruses such as chicken pox (varicella) which causes a fever and itchy, blister-like rash; hand foot and mouth disease (fluid-filled blisters that appear on the hands, feet and inside of the mouth); or rotavirus (vomiting and diarrhoea bug). Headlice can often be avoided by tying long hair up, checking for eggs regularly, combing teatree conditioner through the hair and treating hair promptly if any sign of an infestation is found. Vaccines for rotavirus and chicken pox are also available from your GP.
We can, of course, kick a ball around with our kids at any time or take them to the local swimming pool and teach them the basics of water confidence, but not everyone has a big backyard anymore and parents are often busy or working. If an activity is booked and paid for, it’s often more easy to schedule into the family diary and you’re more likely to make the effort to attend. And also it’s not just about the kids – it’s a great way for parents to meet other parents, as well as being a chance for socialisation for the kids. And the added bonus is that you don’t need to buy your own equipment.
Here are some fun activities you might want to consider:
These are usually weekly, hour-long music sessions encourage music-making, singing, dancing and movement. It’s a wonderful way to encourage a love of music and offer early exposure to a variety of sounds, instruments and body movement.
There is a plethora of ball-based organised activities available to choose from for your little one. Often starting from 18-months onwards, your child can learn the basics of kicking, throwing, running and teamwork. Confidence, coordination, hand-eye coordination and memory improvement are all benefits of early exposure to ball-based activities.
This is an essential life-skill and all children in NZ should have some experience of learning to swim with qualified instructors.
There are many many dance schools around the country where your child can experiment with different types of dance (ballet, jazz, hip hop, tap, etc) and an increasing number of these cater for under-5s in a fun, pressure-free environment.
Maria Johnson is married with four teenage sons. She owns five preschools called Little School. Maria is primary and early childhood qualified and has worked in education for over 25 years. She is also the President of the Early Childhood Council of NZ.