As an early childhood teacher, I often see and hear parents and fellow teachers in the community searching for the best places to take their child or to work. Whether that be a preschool, kindergarten, or daycare. It is very easy for places to make it seem like it is all sunshine and rainbows on the outside, but inside there may or may not be underlining problems. Take into consideration that this is idealistic. You may find one place with amazing teaching quality, but a poor environment. Often the perfect place is hard to find. I guarantee these places are out there, as I feel fortunate enough to work at one in New Zealand.
Here are 5 tips on how you can find and choose the best preschool for your child, or as future employment.
#1: What To Look For In A Inside Environment
- Is the environment aesthetically pleasing? You might associate lots of bright
coloursas being a ‘fun’ place, however, too many colourscan overstimulate a child’s brain. This may lead to hyper children or children who find it hard to concentrate. You want to look for a place with a neutral colourpalette (whites, greys, browns, or light blue tones). Do note that coloursare still important for children, these can come from a few resources or children’s artworkhanging on the walls.
- Is it cluttered? Do they have a lot of toys/resources? Although having resources is important you want environments where children have a few play options. For example, a preschool may have a four cubed shelf with only one item in each cube instead of three to four items. This gives children the ability to clean up at the end of the day more easily. Imagine asking a child to clean up a room that looks like a tornado just hit. It’ll feel like an impossible task for them to complete. This scenario is often reality and only sets a child up to fail. You want children to have a can-do attitude. Therefore, you want enough toys that children aren’t getting bored, but not too many that children are bouncing from one toy to the next.
- Are they inclusive? Have a look at their wall displays. Is there a cultural wall? A family wall? Photos of the children smiling and playing?
#2: What To Look For In A Outdoor Environment
- Is there a lot of open space? As a result, you want to see space for a child to run, climbing equipment, sandpit, designated mud pit, water play area, bike track, trees to climb, places to rest – books under a tree, and lastly real grass. Crazy right? Many preschools are switching to astroturf because of the wet weather turning the grass to sludge. It’s important to let a child connect with nature, especially through their feet as they are full of senses.
- Do they have outdoor loose parts? You can read my post, ‘what are loose parts’ here.
#3: Quality Of A Child’s Portfolios / Learning Stories
As a teacher, I am often writing learning stories (assessments of learning) for a child’s portfolio. This is a personal scrapbook that each child receives the day they start to the day they leave. Based on positive parent feedback and our latest ERO visit (Education Review Office in NZ), here are a few things I believe we are showing as ‘quality stories and portfolios’ that are things you may want to look for.
- How often are the portfolios updated? Is there one or more stories per month?
- How are the stories written? Is there one or two sentences, or a full page description of what a child did and what learning came out of it? Are there photos with each story?
- Do the portfolios look aesthetically pleasing? We do ours in a scrapbook style – backgrounds, stickers, a piece of artwork they have made next to every two to three stories.
- Are there multiple voices/perspectives in the learning stories? Is the child, parents, or other teachers included?
#4: How Do The Children And Teachers Interact At Preschool?
This is focused on how teachers and children talk to one another. As a result, I highly recommend asking if you can ‘stay and play’. Most places have an open door policy, a way of saying we have nothing to hide. This enables you to sit and observe how the children talk to their peers, how the children respond to teachers, how the teachers talk to the children, and how the teachers teach.
- Are the children at the preschool polite and well-mannered?
- Do the teachers speak in a calm and caring voice to the children?
- How do teachers respond to a child’s
- Do the children respect and listen to their teachers?
- Are teachers observing and interacting with the children, or are they off to the side talking all the time?
- Are the children given the freedom to make their own decisions? For example, does one piece of artwork look similar to the other twenty pieces of artwork, or are they all different and unique?
#5: What Questions Should I Ask A Preschool?
- What is the preschool routine? Do the children have time to engage in free play?
- How long have you been teaching here? Teachers that leave quite often may be a sign of deep-rooted problems at a preschool.
- Why did the last teacher leave?
- How do you support a child’s learning needs?
- What is your teaching philosophy? Click here to be taken to my blog post about the importance of teaching philosophies and their purpose. All teachers and preschools should have one.
- How would you respond if a child did [insert behaviour]?
As a result, when trying to find the best preschool for your child or for employment it’s important to learn about the ins and outs. My tips above are a guide, however, they shouldn’t make or break the choice of attending or working at a certain place. No preschool will ever be perfect, but they can at least try.
Better yet, if a preschool with quality learning stories, beautiful and inviting environments, and low staff quality doesn’t exist then build a preschool. I’m certain people will start wanting to enroll their child or work for you when word gets out. Just remember to do your homework first.