Besides the location, schedule and cost, there are many other important factors in choosing the right school for your child.
Accreditation/ Licensing- In the state of Pennsylvania, preschools are typically licensed by the Dept. of Education. Child care centers are licensed by the Dept. of Public Welfare. Licensed schools will have their certificates posted in the school. Licensing ensure that basic standards are met in the school for safety, supervision and curriculum. In the state of Pennsylvania, there is a quality initiative called Keystone STARS. Schools can participate in this program to improve their program using the standards set by the state. Schools begin at STAR 1 level and move up to the maximum STAR 4 level by increasing professional development, improving curriculum and learning environments, having highly qualified teachers, and increasing parent/teacher relationships. School can also be accredited several accreditation agencies. The most popular agency is The National Association for the Education of the Young Children, NAEYC.
Curriculum/ Philosophy- There are many types of schools. This is not an exhaustive list, but the types prominent in the Lancaster area.
- Traditional- Traditional schools are very much like what you may have attended when you were a child. Typically, they will focus on basic academic skills through worksheets and games. They have a structured schedule with a circle time, snack time, art time, etc. Many times, the children will all be completing the same activity at the same time. Children will need to be able to pay attention for longer periods of time.
- Play-Based -Another popular type is play based programs. Play based programs believe that the child learns best through hands-on, minds-on activities. Children will have long periods of time to play in centers. The teacher will create the environment so learning is embedded in the play. One of the primary goals of a play based program is to teach the children how to work together, solve conflicts and other social skills.
- Montessori- In Montessori programs, the teacher is a guide and the child has freedom to explore the room and learn at his/her own pace similar to Play-Based programs. However, Montessori programs have a very specific scope and sequence to the activities for the children. The teacher will change the activities in the room as the children progress through the sequence.
- Waldorf- Waldorf programs focus on the creativity of the child. They will do many sensory experiences including typically painting, sewing and woodworking. They value natural materials, so you will see glass, wood and other natural materials in the classroom instead of plastic.
Philosophy of Discipline- Your parenting style should mesh with the school’s philosophy of discipline. The school should have an established method of discipline. Some programs will use more traditional and punitive approaches such as time-out, loss of privileges, etc. Other programs will use guidance and see misbehavior as opportunities to learn and problem solve. The National Association for the Education of Young Children, a leading professional organization for Early Childhood, recommends using positive discipline and guidance in the early childhood classroom. Some of the techniques you will see in a guidance classroom are active listening, problem solving, and redirection. The teachers will help the children to solve problems and learn how to cope with strong emotions such as anger.
Teachers- What is the turnover rate for teachers? The field of Early Childhood Education is a high demand, high stress field with a high turnover rate. But teacher consistency is very important for the education of your child. Early Childhood is an interdisciplinary field, so teachers may have a degree in something other than education. All high quality teachers will have training in some way in child development, curriculum, assessment, communication and health and safety. Teachers should also have experience with young children in a group setting beyond raising their own children.
Instinct- Take a tour and meet the staff. Your instincts will help guide you in choosing the school that you feel will best fit for your child. Different children will thrive in different schools and you know your child best. After all, you are the parent!