By Lori Bonnema
Is preschool for our children a luxury or a necessity?
Increasing evidence is that children absolutely gain from going to preschool. They are exposed to letters and numbers, writing and counting, colors and shapes, but most importantly they learn social competence, they learn to be part of a group, to take turns, to raise their hands, to share the teacher’s attention, to have and to be a friend.
Play promotes learning, physical play helps children develop perceptual, motor and cognitive skills. Creative play helps children develop problem solving skills, social competence, and helps children understand their feelings. Early childhood teachers use carefully selected materials to maximize the play environment. In addition to an enhanced environment, preschools provide the opportunity for the socialization so necessary to early learning. While it is possible to provide your child with many opportunities to practice social skills, it is difficult to duplicate the kind of group interactions children encounter in a preschool school setting.
The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has found that 80% of four year olds and a slightly lower percentage of three year olds were enrolled in an early education program in 2008(the lower percentage is believed to be due to lack of accessible programs for three year olds). Over 40 states now offer funded preschool programs. These programs meet state standards developed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and cross referenced with Head Start standards. Evaluations of these programs have demonstrated a significant increase in children’s language skills and a substantial reduction in the need for special services in all settings. Children enrolled in quality programs whose parents were involved showed the greatest gains in language development. High quality preschool programs generate $3.00 in benefits for every $1.00 invested.
Preschool is the foundation for a child’s education. The skills and knowledge, not to mention aptitudes and attitudes, developed in early childhood will have dramatic impact on future success in later school years. Preschool helps children to develop a sense of mastery and self esteem. Children gain confidence when learning is easy and fun. If a proper foundation is not set children may struggle in school and eventually in life.
Choosing A Great Preschool
Begin investigating options as early as possible. Quality schools fill up fast. Some options include, private schools, child care centers, district funded preschool, religious schools and parent cooperatives. Check to be sure the school is licensed insuring the facility meets minimal safety and staffing standards. Ask about accreditation from NAEYC or evaluation through Qualistar. Schools are carefully evaluated on curriculum, teacher qualifications, parent partnerships, class size, and health and safety standards. Call the schools you are interested in. Ask about hours, tuition, admission policies. Schedule a visit to each school you are interested in. Visit with your child to see how he/ she responds to the environment.
When visiting each school look for the following:
What does the classroom look like?
Is it clean, neat, orderly and spacious? It should be full of a variety of play and learning materials.
What does the playground look like?
Is the equipment well kept? Is it fenced? Is it easily supervised?
Ask about the discipline policies.
Discipline should be positive, helping children to further their own self-discipline and to learn from mistakes.
Ask about the curriculum.
The curriculum should be balanced between free play activities and teacher directed activities. Learning should be imbedded in the daily routines and activities that are planned.
Ask about the teachers.
What are their credentials and training? How long have they been teaching? How long at this school? Effective preschool teachers are able to engage the child and offer lessons through playful avenues. Ultimately the most important qualification is the ability to instill a joy of learning that stays with their young students for a lifetime.
Ask about adult-child ratios.
The lower the ratio of children to adults the more time adults have to engage each child individually. For 4 year olds the ratios should be no more than 8-10 children for each adult. For 3 year olds the ratios should be no more than 6 children for each adult.
Ask about toilet training policies.
If your child is not fully toilet trained ask about policies. Typically preschools are not equipped to change diapers but in a two or three hour program children may be allowed to attend in diapers even if they are not completely trained. In any case, all preschools understand there will be mistakes when a skill is new and should work with you to help cement the concept of toilet training.
Ask how parents are involved in the school.
How much time will parents invest in school activities? Most preschools operate on a thin budget and may ask parents to provide snacks, participate in fundraising or plan major events. Many schools are fueled on parental energies. Cooperative preschools require the most time commitment hence usually have lower tuition. Being involved in the school gives parents an opportunity to make new friends. This gives families an enhanced sense of community which fosters children’s overall well being.
This list is by no means complete. You can call the Larimer County Early Childhood Council for a more complete listing at (970) 377-3388.
Public Barton Early Childhood Center | 490-3204
Call for information about developmental screenings and need or income based preschool programs.
Poudre School District Tuition Based Preschool Programs | 490-3204
Cooperative Fort Collins Preschool | 221-1345
First United Methodist Co-Op Preschool | 482-0343
Religious Peace with Christ Lutheran Preschool | 226-4721
TLC Preschool | 221-9852
Harmony Christian School | 225-9597
Congregation Har Shalom | 223-5191
Private Children’s House Montessori | 484-3623
Discovery Montessori | 223-2445
Mountain Center Preschool | 482-3118
The Learning House | 226-0844
Spring Creek School | 224-4240
Rivendell | 493-9052