Choosing Child Care and Preschool
If your child does not qualify for preschool services from your school district’s special education program, there is still hope. It may take more time in researching the community options available but the time and energy you put into it is a worthwhile investment. It can promote your child’s safe and healthy development. Many families start their search for early care in one of two ways: They either ask other parents for referrals or they call the local child care resource and referral agency. We explore ways parents looking into community preschool programs can find quality classrooms that promote their child’s needs, we touch upon the differences between a play-based programs, Montessori and other curriculums and what to look for in inclusive preschools.
Helpful Tips for Finding a Quality Child Care or Preschool Program
Child care or preschool programs should be licensed by the state where they are located. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) may also accredit these programs. Programs that are licensed or receive national accreditation go through a lengthy process and evaluation of their entire operation and must adhere to standards set by the reviewing agency, which is often associated with best practices in education and safety standards for young children.
If you are looking at early care programs they may be located in the caregiver’s home. Or they may be in a center outside of a home. Check the program’s curriculum and policies on discipline, nutrition, napping, toileting, and outside play. Find out how the family can be involved with the program. What are the guidelines for visitation, communication, and parent involvement?
According to the NAEYC, these are qualities to look for in an early care setting:
- The family and child feel welcome. The environment should be welcoming, clean, organized, and safe.
- Children and staff get along well. Look for small group sizes. Do they adhere to the required licensing ratios of caregivers to children?
- Safety and health are priorities. To protect the child’s health and safety, the state establishes a minimum standard of care for licensed facilities.
- Play and learning are valued. Look for a wide variety of materials and activities that are appropriate for the child’s developmental level.
- Staff is well trained and dedicated. Child care providers’ education and experience should be appropriate for the ages of the children they supervise. Look for teachers who are warm, nurturing, and respectful of each child’s unique personality and needs.
Curriculum Models for Child Care and Preschool
A child care facility or preschool may adhere to one philosophy or a mix of curriculum models, such as these:
- Academic: Programs stress kindergarten readiness. They include more formal lessons in pre-math, pre-reading, and language skills.
- Constructivist: Based on theories of Lev Vigotsky, Jean Piaget, and John Dewey, this model suggests that children are “active learners” and construct meaning through play. The teacher’s role is to provide the students opportunities to construct their learning experience.
- Developmental: Programs focus on play as the key to learning. They use the child’s current level or stage of development as the starting place for activities. The teacher’s role is to create an environment that encourages learning.
- Montessori: Based on methods of Maria Montessori, this model emphasizes self-directed activity by the child. The teacher’s role is to observe and model behaviors. (The teacher is often called a director, directress, or guide.) This program stresses the importance of adapting the child’s learning environment to his or her developmental level. Children also are thought to absorb academic concepts and practical skills through physical activity.
- Reggio Emilia: This philosophy promotes children having some control over the direction of their learning and their relationship with the other children, and with classroom materials. The teacher’s role is as skillful observer and facilitator.
- Waldorf: These schools are based on the teaching methods of Rudolf Steiner. They approach learning in early childhood through imitation and example. Much time is allowed for guided free play. The classroom environment is homelike, includes natural materials, and provides examples of productive work in which children can take part.
An Inclusive Child Care or Preschool Environment
Inclusion values each child as a member of the community. It honors his or her diverse and unique gifts and contributions. All children benefit from the lessons of inclusion: respect, kindness, and appreciation for everyone’s differences. These values stay with children long after they leave preschool.
If your child has special needs, familiarize yourself with your child’s rights as outlined in the American with Disabilities Act. If you decide to enroll in an inclusive preschool program that meets your needs and standards, find out:
- Whether the child care providers have training and experience with children who have special needs
- What schedules and routines the provider has, in case your child needs accommodations
- If the environment will be a good match for your child’s particular needs
Make sure the child care providers have accurate information about your child’s needs. Open discussion about any disabilities and needs is the beginning of forming a partnership between your family and the child care program. Consider concerns the provider may have. Work with the provider to ensure the best quality of care for your child.
National Association for the Education of Young Children website. “A Good Preschool for Your Child”