What to Look for in Preschool Programs

Apr 16 2013     /     , , ,

Article by: OurKids.net, Canada’s trusted source for camps and schools.

It’s understandable when parents are leery of preschool. Perhaps they simply want to keep their child(ren) at home as there are many benefits to keeping preschool-aged children as close as possible to their parents. On the other hand, preschools offer children a wealth of educational benefits that carry forward much later in life.

In addition, as Canadians realize the huge learning potential of their very young children, early childhood education and care programs are in demand as never before.

“Parents and the public have realized that little kids are not a blank slate when they get to kindergarten,” says Martha Friendly, co-ordinator for the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, Centre for Urban and Community Studies, at the University of Toronto. An early childhood development program “is the foundation for lifelong learning,” she says.

“We cannot afford to postpone investing in children until they become adults, nor can we wait until they reach school age – a time when it may be too late to intervene,” note Dr. J. Fraser Mustard and Hon. Margaret Norrie McCain in their paper The Early Years: Three Years Later, a follow-up to a report for former Ontario premier Mike Harris on preschool education.

Across the country, just over 500,000 registered preschool spots exist for the more than 2 million children aged 5 and younger, 1.5 million with working mothers. Yet Canada has no national early learning strategy.

There is some history of recognizing the need; “infant centres” were established for needy families in the 19th century and Canadian kids first had access to kindergarten in 1870.

Today, early childhood education and care is in great demand with double-income families or single working parents, and large numbers of immigrants who want to integrate their little ones. As well, there is a growing acceptance that preschoolers benefit from a learning environment.

Some parents look to private preschool programs to fill the gap, and Friendly says opting for an independent school is more about the child, and less about appearances.

“Canadians are less obsessed with getting ahead, for instance having their 5-year-olds taking tests to get into the right public schools, so they can go to the proper high school, and then on to Princeton or Harvard,” Friendly says. “Canadian parents want a good quality of care and development, not the opportunity to make the “right” connection or network into the right school.”

Even the dividing line between the concepts of “education” and “care” has blurred as educators recognize and promote the development of the whole child. In some cases, kindergarten is considered early childhood education.

Booking their unborn child a spot in a respected daycare was a priority for Yogini and Altaf Walli. The couple enrolled their child in McMurrich Sprouts Day Care at McMurrich Jr. Public School in Toronto – where Altaf works as a teacher – when Yogini was seven months pregnant. “My friends have all been through this and really encouraged me to be pro-active and find a place early,” she said.

Maureen Myers, executive director at Sprouts, says she has 300 names on her waiting list for early childhood care and development that focuses on learning by play. “We don’t sit down and teach by rote or repetition but the ideas and concepts of letter recognition, language, math and sciences are learned by very hands-on activities,” Myers says.

As for her waiting list, Myers says “it’s the biggest wait list I’ve heard of. I’ve been in this field for 25 years and the demand has always exceeded what has been available. “Right now the demand is the greatest it’s ever been. The majority of families have two parents working – and it’s the norm. Governments haven’t quite recognized that.”

What to look for in a preschool

Martha Friendly of the University of Toronto says parents should take the following into account when searching for an early childhood program:

  1. Make sure the school or centre is provincially registered and adheres to all standards.
  2. Staff should be trained in early childhood education, and there should be three staff for every 10 children up to 18 months, two for every 10 toddlers, and one for every eight children in preschool classes. “Staff ratios and qualifications are one of the main factors connected to quality,” Friendly says.
  3. The environment should be inviting, with a well-maintained, safe outside play area, nutritious snacks and well-prepared meals.
  4. Check the hygiene practices for children still in diapers.
  5. Visit the school or centre and look for children involved in activities that are interesting and not too rigid. “It should not be a free-wandering but also not a too-structured curriculum,” Friendly says.
  6. Look for “play-based, developmentally appropriate programs. To find out what these are, go to a couple of really good childcare centres and watch what they do,” Friendly says.

Read more from this article on the Our Kids website here: http://www.ourkids.net/school/article.php?id=22

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