As families become smaller and parents find themselves juggling ever demanding careers, house chores and meeting childcare needs, playgroups and good preschools are increasingly becoming important for families with small children. In the bigger metropolises, currently there is a profusion of playschools and preschools, but needless to stress, the curriculum and principles on which the institutions rely to manage and teach children are widely different. For new parents, it is no easy task to choose a good preschool for their children. There are some pointers, however, that can help one make an informed decision.
The most obvious rule of thumb is holding off the final decision on picking a preschool without visiting a school physically and interacting with the class teacher. Parental intuition is almost always right and if something in the pre-school environment makes you uncomfortable, even if you cannot put a finger on it, it would be best to look for alternative solutions instead. If a preschool is reluctant to schedule a visit prior to admitting your child that would probably be the first red flag for a parent.
However, the following specific parameters might help in selecting a preschool or kindergarten for your child.
Curriculum: For most parents, this is the first criteria on which they choose a preschool. Most good preschools should be able to walk you through their principles of teaching and the building blocks of their curriculum. Many excellent curriculums are used all over the world. In India, the paradigm is shifting from clearly demarcated constructivist (structured syllabus, activities, worksheets, familiar grading) versus traditional Montessori (Experiential, student-led learning, with a very loose structure and non-traditional grading metrics) curricula. Most leading preschools and playschool service providers today take an integrative approach blending together best practices from different curricula that focus on different domains of development – fine and gross motor skills, coordination, cognitive skills, and social and ethical development. Without going into lengthy debates about each of the different approaches to early childhood education, the best option is to pick a curriculum that matches your own value system and metrics of success but does not undermine holistic development of the child to an individual. Parents should also not underestimate the time allotted to free play even within structured curricula. Free play teaches valuable social, motor and cognitive skills to children that cannot be mimicked by any other activity. Second, if you are really impressed by a particular method of pre-school education such as the Waldorf or the Montessori method, it might be worthwhile to check if your selected school follows the method they advertise rigorously. The easiest way to do this is to check their certification for that method.
Personnel: A school environment is determined by teachers more than a curriculum. It is imperative that the preschool should hire properly trained educators in its pedagogy. As in other fields, experience should never be overlooked. Teachers with years of experience in dealing with young children or an educator with a proven track record of excellence in teaching and development is always a game changer for many parents.
Nutrition: Plenty of preschools offer meal plans which, no doubt can be a boon for working parents, who don’t have to worry about packing breakfast, snacks and/ or lunch before 8 am in the morning. If you choose to opt for a pre-school which offers meals, it can be a good strategy to ask the teacher or an administrator to share the monthly or weekly menus with you ahead of time, so that you can check whether the preschool is serving a balanced and healthy diet to your child. Most pre-schools will not allow prospective parents to visit the kitchens on grounds of sanitation and cleanliness, but it is worth its while asking about how stringently cleanliness is implemented by the staff in the food area.
Safety, security and contingency plans: Parents only rest easy and focus on their work when they are assured of the safety of the environment that the child is in. Fire safety of the building, child-proofing of the premises, and sensitivity of the teachers and attendants are of crucial importance. Many pre-schools have started imparting good touch versus bad touch training combined with ownership of their body in preschoolers, which is extremely relevant in India. Also, it is always good to check the standard protocol the preschool follows if your child is suddenly taken ill. Many preschools have pediatricians on call for emergencies or for the time it takes for the parent to arrive. Bigger pre-schools might have their own infirmary for immediate needs.
In the end, most parents would want to pick an environment that fosters all round development of a child to an individual while they are in a safe and loving environment. There is no formula or fixed answers what will work best for every child or parent. The child will spend 4-5 hours in school but the largest timeshare will still be spent at home, and the quoting JK Rowling, 'home is where the heart is.'
-This article has been contributed by Pankaj Kumar Singh, Founder and Managing Director at JALSA VENTURES PRIVATE LIMITED, Social Entrepreneur and Angel Investor