How to Spot a Developmentally Appropriate Preschool

By Susan Rudich, M.Ed


Preschoolers are sensory learners and get the biggest benefit from hands-on activities. PHOTO BY ANISSA THOMOPSON/FREEIMAGES.COM

It’s spring and if you have a young child, there’s a good chance that preschool is on your mind. If you want to find the right place for fall 2017, I recommend that you start your search now. Good schools fill up quickly!

There are plenty of things to consider when choosing a preschool. Clearly, proximity to home or work is a biggie as are cost, hours of operation and safety. But how do you know if a school will provide a positive environment that supports the natural curiosity of your young child?

If you tour a school, you will find yourself zipping through a series of classrooms while you size up the competition (the other parents on your tour), being wowed by art projects on display and trying to get an overall sense of the teachers and enrichment activities offered. But in your quest for a program that nurtures your child and creates a rich learning environment, the most important question is, “Is this program developmentally appropriate for young learners?”

Research on brain development tells us that preschool-age children take in and absorb information differently than their early-elementary-age counterparts do. Therefore, a quality preschool is not a watered-down kindergarten. Children in these early years are sensory learners and they reap the biggest benefits when provided with meaningful, hands-on activities.

As you tour schools this season, consider whether each school encourages:

  • Active learning through participation. (Are the children digging a moat or are they only looking at one in a book?)
  • Openness to varying ideas. (Are children welcome to express their thoughts without being told that answers are right or wrong?)
  • Time for collaboration. (Are children permitted to work in groups, as well as individually?)
  • Opportunities for developing friendships. (Is there time for free-choice play? Are children required to walk single-file and be quiet?)
  • Messy play. (Does the program offer plenty of time with sand, water and paint or are students expected to stay clean?)
  • Participation at each child’s own level. (Is each child valued and seen as capable of achieving tasks in their own time?)
  • (Are the children praised for taking a chance and trying something new?)
  • Time for thinking. (Are children given time to ponder and process what they have experienced?)
  • (Does the program show a willingness to change gears to study something that is of interest to the children?)

As you set out, I suggest that you take along a notepad, ask questions and don’t be afraid to schedule a second visit. For most children, preschool is their first time away from the immediate family circle. This is a big decision!

Susan Rudich, M.Ed, is the Director of The David Preschool, a science-based program located in Rancho Palos Verdes .

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