Each year, hundreds of parents are faced with the difficult task of finding the perfect preschool to nurture and educate their children. Looking can be burdensome, especially when there are so many things to consider.
“I usually cover all bases with my families,” says Assistant Administrator Meghan Gravina at Discovery Years Learning Center in Warwick. “I make sure I give a pretty thorough tour.” As a parent herself, there are many things she feels families should know when touring the school. While she shows them the large, colorfully-decorated classrooms with art-adorned walls, there is a wide range of topics she discusses with them.
A number one priority for many, there are several safety aspects to consider when finding a school for your child. Gravina says things to consider are such procedures as: Is the front door locked? Who is allowed to enter the building? Are pick-up people asked for ID? Is there a system in place to ensure safety of all children?
Safety also includes other key components. Rhode Island requires schools to maintain safe adult-to-child ratios, depending on the age of the children. For preschool-age children, the ratio is 1 adult per 9 children, and for pre-K, it is 1 adult per 10 children. Adequate supervision and accountability should be provided both indoors and outside. Outdoor playgrounds should be fenced in and free of harmful obstacles or dangerous play equipment.
Other things to look for are if the classroom is clean and organized with age appropriate toys and materials, as well as safe and comfortable sleep areas. Find out if a health care professional is available at least part of the day and if staff is CPR/First Aid certified. Notice if teachers and children wash their hands frequently and if safety rules are taught and practiced on a continuous basis.
Teachers and Assistants are the backbone of any quality preschool. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), there are 12 characteristics which make early childhood teachers (and assistants) effective. They are as follows: passion, perseverance, risk-taking, pragmatism, patience, flexibility, respect (for themselves and others), creativity, authenticity, love of learning, high energy, and last but not least, a sense of humor.
It is imperative to notice how each adult staff member responds to the children. It is also important to notice how the staff interacts with each other as well. This is because adults model behavior for the children in their care. Take time to see if they seem happy at their job, and with their co-workers. Do they stand by and support each other, or undermine each others authority? Even young children will pick up on the adult ‘vibes’ in the classroom, and so will prospective families.
Gravina also mentions the importance of finding out how long staff has been at the school, as well as their qualifications to teach in that program. She also says communication between teachers and families is essential and to find out how this is supported.
At Bambini Academy in Cranston, communication with families is also essential. President and Director Vanessa Parente stresses the importance of being sure the director is approachable and available. “I work over 40 hours and parents not only have my email, but house and personal cell (numbers),” she says. She not only communicates with them during regular business hours, but nights and weekends as well, making sure their needs and concerns are taken care of.
She also feels one of the most common things parents look for is the appearance of the classroom itself. Is it inviting? Warm? Conducive to learning? Many parents like Bambini’s smaller classrooms with their tranquil colors, and they also have inviting rooms with bright colors and stimulating boards.
Parente also says it is important that parents feel their child will be prepared for kindergarten and also advises exploring what kind of curriculum can be seen in the classroom. Her center uses a good mix of structure and play, and their programs are guided by Creative Curriculum, which is nationally approved. She also says that parents look for education and want to know if the staff are knowledgeable on the growth and development of children, as many will base their decision on this.
Both centers have a security system with cameras located throughout the premises and no one is allowed to enter either facility without being cleared by their respective systems. Each prides itself in providing a safe, nurturing environment and providing quality early childhood education for the children in their care.
While not an exhaustive list for either location, it is fair to say each item is equally important to both centers, along with many other things not mentioned due to space constraints.
Be sure to check several locations and see if children can join you. Figure out what’s most important to you and your family. Is it convenient hours, how they handle discipline, or inclement weather policies? How do they handle transitions such as drop-off, or a child who may be attached to a teacher? Do they meet the child where they are, or try and force growth when a child isn’t ready? (It is actually best to meet the child where they are). In the words of Lois Anderson, a preschool teacher for 31 years, “Baby steps turn into big steps eventually.”