Choosing the right preschool or kindergarten can be both exhilarating and intimidating. Helpful tips from school insiders.
Priming for Pre-K
Starting preschool is an exciting time for parents and their toddlers. Despite television shows and films that show rigid expectations for children to learn and know before attending a preschool or kindergarten, nurturing and spending time with your child is actually the best way to prepare them for this transition. You may not have even realized it, but all of the silly little songs and chats you both have had together on a daily basis — from singing lullabies, to playing patty cake, to reciting the alphabet — have prepared them for this next stage in their lives.
Of course, there are other things you can do to help prime your child to enter the world of peers, teachers, classrooms, lessons, recess, homework, and more. According to Heike Larson, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Admissions at LePort Montessori, one of the best ways to help your child get ready for preschool or kindergarten is to assist them in becoming more independent. She says parents often want to show their love by doing things for their children, yet helping them do things for themselves gives them the confidence and skills they need to thrive as they grow.
“When we see a child coming into class walking on their own, carrying their own lunch box, and being able to hang up their own jacket or sweater, we see a child who has the inner confidence to adjust quickly,” said Lucia Tompkins, Head of School at LePort Montessori in Irvine Woodbridge. Ms. Tompkins advises parents to give children opportunities to participate in their family community. Set up a low shelf in the pantry with water, crackers, or dried fruit—and have them serve themselves their own snack. Ensure they feed themselves at all meals, and have them carry their own plate into the kitchen.
“For a child to feel at home in a preschool environment, he needs to be able to be less dependent on adults. We, of course, in our Montessori preschool rooms help children learn all kinds of skills; but the more you support your child at home in their desire for independence, the easier the preschool adjustment will be,” says Ms. Tompkins. “It’s work—but it’s so worth it. As educator Dr. Maria Montessori put it so well: ‘Everyone knows that it requires much more time and patience to teach a child how to eat, wash, and clothe himself than it does to feed, bathe and clothe him by oneself. The one who does the former is an educator; the latter performs the lower office of a servant.’”
Kristen Jansen, Director, Early Childhood Education of Fairmont Private Schools in Anaheim advises that parents share their excitement with their child about their upcoming new experiences. Says Jansen, “Waylay fears by not entertaining the discussion. If your child says they are scared for example, rephrase that by asking, ‘Are you wondering what the other children will be like? I bet you will make many kind friends.’”
Jansen also encourages parents to help their children grow their independent self-help skills by allowing them to do things like choosing their daily outfits, encouraging them to pick up their own dishes and take them to the sink after dinner, and teaching them to take off their own sweatshirt or jacket without the assistance of an adult. In addition, Jansen highly suggests parents take their children to visit the school they will be attending at least once before their first day to get them acquainted and excited about the new environment.
“Point out the areas or activities where you believe your child will have the most fun. Attend group classes or events like story time at the library or a group class at the local kids’ gym. Finally, when it comes to the first day, allow for a bit of apprehension, but do not linger if your child hesitates. All educators can assure you, your child will be fine within a few minutes,” said Jansen.
Picking the Perfect Pre-K
It is important for parents to explore their options of preschools – both private and public – so they can feel comfortable with and knowledgeable on the school they choose. When taking a tour of a preschool, Larson said it is best to envision yourself in the space and with the people around the school. Questions to ask yourself include: Is this an environment you would be happy being at all day long? Is it noisy and/or cluttered? Does it feel too busy? Is it welcoming or calming? How do the adults interact with the children? Do teachers speak in complete sentences, treating their three or five-year-old charges as intelligent, worthy human beings? Or is there too much yelling, nagging and directive talk? How do the children act? Do they run around wild with screaming or pushing —or are the children engaged, focused on their activities, and kind with each other?
In order to find out the answers to these questions, it is always best to tour when school is in session; making sure you can look into the classroom, whether by stepping into a room, or by looking through a window. Larson advises parents to: “Fundamentally ask yourself what is it that you want out of the preschool experience for your child? Do you just want a safe place for them to be, with a flexible drop-in schedule? Or are you looking for an educational environment, or maybe even a place where experienced educators can be your partners in becoming the best parent you can be?”
“At LePort Montessori, even our toddler and preschool program is a school. This means our teachers have their Montessori credentials, and work with your child on a wide range of scientifically-designed learning activities,” explains Tompkins. “It also means that you as a parent need to be able to commit to get your preschooler to school each day by 8:30 a.m., as late arrivals disrupt the important learning going on.”
What you are looking for in a preschool for you, your child, and your family will help guide you in what school you select, so it’s important to have your mental checklists prior to touring a school. Jansen of Fairmont Private Schools recommends to parents who are considering which preschool and/or kindergarten for their child to find a school that matches their personal and philosophical goals as a family, as well as provides a balanced program for the students.
“Ask questions about what types of lesson are planned daily and weekly. Do the students have time to experience art often? What does the school believe about discipline?” says Jansen, “You will find that many of the strongest programs provide a balanced experience throughout the week for the young children. A balanced program will help your child grow in skills where you may not be doing those activities already as a family.”
Taking the time to explore your options and prepare for this new chapter with your child will make the world of difference when it is time to drop them off for their first day.
By Jackie Moe