Last week, my husband and I decided to check out the feasible and available options for preschools in our locality. Our son turns 2.5 yrs this March end, so we had been contemplating to send him to a preschool April onwards. I had the list of schools ready and called on their registered numbers to seek an appointment. Before taking a decision, we were keen on meeting the centre in charge and also check the available facilities. What was supposed to be a two to three hours activity for the shortlisted four preschools ended up being a five hour exhausting interaction for us. The results of visit varied from were amusing to shocking barring one which had the most practical and balanced view on what preschool should be. Let me state an example of each.
Amused /Wonder- struck –
In one of the centres, the centre-in-charge brought out two volumes of books that was supposed to be the curriculum. My husband claims that those books could give serious competition to his medical school books in terms of the volume and number of pages. God save the children from such curriculum.
In one of the schools, the centre head – a lady was very clear that none of her students are allowed to converse in any language other than English. Her support staff from security to cooks had been trained to speak to those tiny tots in English only. She curtly told us that speaking in mother tongue -Bengali in our case is down market and has no place in her elite centre.
Logical outlook –
In the last play school, we were relieved to find a nurturing environment where the Principal ensured to stay updated about each student personally. The kids looked happy, they studied, played, did activities and ate together. There was a level of warmth and assurance and a lot of giggling kids that differentiated it from others.
I guess our judgement was decided the moment we saw the last play school. But as we move on to the next process of admission, let me list down SIX key check points for parents/guardians to keep in mind when they set out in this journey of searching for a preschool.
1. Visit the centre personally – Do this preferably when the students are around so that the parents can see the ongoings clearly. One of the centres claimed to have a teacher student ratio of 1:8 while when we visited we found out that 17 students were managed by one teacher only.
2. Safety first – In the current scenario of rising violence, it is advisable for parents to check what kind of safety /security measures the centre follows. One of the centres had cctv with live update access from parents mobile yet I didn’t have a good feeling about it. Strangely the one that gave me a safe feeling was the one without cctv. They had their doors locked right, teachers who checked on students at intervals and empathetic auxiliary staffs. So it is essential to keep in mind other parameters along with cctv to arrive at a decision.
3. Distance – In most of the cases, this is the first time that the kid steps out to be away from home and family for a certain time every day. It is normal to have the unsettling feeling of separation anxiety. So it is better to let the child study at a preschool near the house so that the parents/guardian/any family member is immediately accessible.
4. Mother – toddler program – it might be better to look for centres allowing mothers to be near the classroom or child for couple of days so that the toddler has the feeling of familiarity. However, a lot of established centres differ from this view since they feel it delays the child from settling in. So this has to be a personal call basis what the parent is comfortable with.
5. Talking to other parents – It might be helpful to try and interact with parents of children in the same school to understand what kind of environment/facilities and curriculum that the preschool follows. This helps in gaining a different perspective from that of the teachers.
6. Facilities – It is important to ask or check the classroom, sitting arrangements, food options (if the preschool serves one), washroom, toys and number of staffs. Most of the preschools love giving a tour of the area. It is advisable to be observant of the surroundings during this visit. My personal experience says that not always do the details on the site match with the real scenario.
I personally believe that age shouldn’t be the only determining factor to decide the right time for a kid to start preschool. Both the kid and the parent should be mentally ready to take the plunge. Speaking to the kid beforehand, getting him excited about the new life that he’s about to enter, taking him for a trip of the preschool once before actually joining might help in making the process smooth and seamless. While choosing the preschool, it is essential to do the homework right before making the decision.
Lastly, learning should be a fun process through encouragement and not made stressful through unnecessary pressure.