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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 4, 2010

Do homework to pick a preschool

By Doreen Nagle

Is preschool for your child? If your child is reaching that magic age where preschool is becoming a consideration, you are likely getting lots of advice about whether or not you should enroll him. Rest assured most early childhood experts say that a truly good preschool will do a superb job of preparing your child for kindergarten and beyond. What's needed on your part is to find a preschool that will enable your child to flourish.

1. Do not confuse day care with preschool: Day care is a valuable service provided to parents who cannot otherwise care for their children (age infant and up) due to work and other commitments or conditions. While a good day care facility will do more than just "babysit" your child, most are primarily in the business to assure you peace of mind about safety and your child's daily needs. Anything else is gravy. Preschools, on the other hand, while also caring for your child's safety and basic needs, are in the business of teaching 3- and 4-year-old children in a stimulating way.

2. Call all the pre-schools you are interested in and ask for a tour or to attend an open house. Survey the general condition of the space. Is it in good repair? Are there smoke detectors? Do teachers have cell phones in the event of an emergency? Review the curriculum and learn how the daily schedule integrates that curriculum. Is there lots of light, music and colorful toys to play with in good repair? Plenty of books easily accessible? How do teachers greet the children as they come into the classroom each day? Do they get them involved in an activity right away? How many hours per week will your child be attending? How is free or creative play fostered and is there room in the schedule for art and music? Are teachers certified? Do they get continuing education on the newest teaching techniques?

3. How will your child's motor skills be strengthened? Is there a well-tended outside space or frequent trips to a local park or other play spaces? Are there scooters, tricycles, ball play to develop large motor skills? Will your child handle puzzles and drawing implements to strengthen small motor skills?

4. Socialization is an important component. How do teachers integrate a shy child? How are conflicts resolved? What about discipline? (Spanking is never acceptable). How are birthday parties handled? Some schools require kids to invite all classmates even if the party is outside of school.

5. How will you be kept informed of your child's day and how can you communicate with your child's teacher? E-mail and other technological advances are wonderful if your teacher will actually use them daily. Is there a webcam you can check during the day? When you are on school grounds, can you see into the classroom without going in which will interrupt the activities?

Tip: Help your children prepare for preschool by encouraging patience and taking turns. Most good preschools have children sit with the teacher to read, play a game or sing. Work with your child to sit still as you sing or read together at home. Praise your child for her staying power, but don't expect more than a few minutes at a time.

Doreen Nagle is author of "But I Don't Feel Too Old to Be a Mommy" (HCI).