Play school is the first step of a child in the outer world. Before that children are cocooned in warm and safe surroundings at home. Their every activity and milestone is personally monitored by parents and family members. A Play school is a place where an outsider (not a family member) takes care of the child. This caretaker is entrusted with the safety, growth and development of the child. Going to a play school is a big milestone for child as well as parents. Both parents and child face separation anxiety at this point.
Having worked as an early year’s educator and being a parent myself, I feel these factors can make a lot of difference. These six factors should be kept in mind before selecting a play school for the child. They can make the transition easy for the child and soothe the parents also-
1) Infrastructure– School should be equipped to face any contingencies like fire or earthquake. Many schools also carry out mock drills to follow an emergency evacuation plan. In the wake of recent terror attack in neighboring country, school readiness is an important issue. Swings and slides should also be child friendly. Old adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ is apt here.
2) Experienced teachers– Teachers are the face of any school. They should be well qualified and trained in handling young children. Smile and patience are the two virtues of a playschool teacher. As I always say a teacher should have the passion for her profession and be compassionate towards little children. Her overall demeanour has a deep impact on a young impressionable mind. The lower employee attrition directs towards a happy and satisfied staff.
3) Teacher student ratio– This is a very important factor. Initially the number of students per teacher /caretaker should be limited. Total number of students per class should not exceed beyond a limit.
4) Material and teaching aids-Children can have different learning styles. A child can be a visual learner (learn by seeing) or an auditory learner (learn by listening) or a kinesthetic learner (learn by doing). Children can be music smart, word smart, logic smart, body smart, nature smart, people smart or self smart . School should have all the equipment/ material to cater to children with different intelligences and varied learning styles. This will help the child in honing his skill while improving the opportunity areas. Puzzles, craft activities, building blocks, sand pit, library/books, Yoga, free play, rhymes/music, role play, and theme corners should form a part of teaching aids.
5) Medical contingency– As young children are prone to getting hurt, so there should be a trained medical staff on campus or a doctor on call to handle such situations. If the child is availing school transport then parents should check whether the cab drivers or support staff in the cab is trained to deal with such emergencies or not. There should be a proper emergency plan in place.
6) Teaching methodology–There are different types of methodologies used by play schools .Some of them could be Reggio Emilia approach, Multiple Intelligence approach, Observational learning, Experimental and Experiential learning, Montessori approach to name a few. What you select for your child depends on your personal choice. One can see overlap of different approaches in one play school. An eclectic mix of different approaches can also be good for the development of child. Most imperative thing is that curriculum should be implemented in a playful manner. There should be a child centric approach. One needs to be wary here as schools might use these as a packaging and selling tool. Parents should see how these approaches are actually implemented in day to day activities in school.
Some people find verbal feedback from existing set of parents as credible. I take that with a pinch of salt. I assume that if parents are sending their child to a play school then they like the philosophy of that school. So most of the times feedback from existing parents is positive .Except in such cases where parents are very unhappy with the school and are about to withdraw admission of their child, these cases are rare. So use your acumen , observe the school environment and trust your instinct in finalizing a play school for your child.
It is not necessary that a school backed by a big brand name will fulfill these criterions. A small school without fancy façade can provide a robust foundation to the child. A playschool should be a place where child feels happy and looks forward to go to everyday. The learning should be in form of life skills, group skills and social skills. As parents, we often commit the mistake to look at the academic curriculum rather than a safe and happy environment.
As mentioned in my post on free play, early years of a child’s life are formative years where the child should be left to explore in natural surroundings. But we do exactly the opposite and focus on pouring as much information as possible into their brains. This is not healthy for their development. So think smart and act wise!
(This article has already been published in http://www.mycity4kids.com/parenting/3cs-children-competition-and-compassion/article/6-tips-to-help-parents-pick-the-best-preschool-for-their-child)