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Tips to determine if your child is ready for preschool

Tracy Borstad reads to a group of students in her preschool class at Community Christian School in Willmar. (DAN BURDETT | LIVE IT!)

With a greater emphasis on early childhood learning, experts believe preschool programs are a necessity for preparing children for kindergarten. However, finding the best options for a child can be a taxing process for parents. Here are some helpful pointers:

What’s the difference between preschool and childcare centers?

Childcare centers are an option for working parents who need their children to be taken care of during the day. Centers will often care for babies as well as toddlers, and are full-time, full-year programs. Preschool refers to an early-childhood educational program that usually caters to 3- and 4-year-olds. Many operate for three hours a day, three days a week, from September through May.

How old should my child be when starting preschool?

Most preschools serve children ages 3 to 5, with the majority beginning at age 4. Typically, parents will begin investigating preschools about one year before they want their child to attend.

How do I choose the right preschool?

Research is key. The schools you investigate will likely be determined by the geographical location in which you live.

You’ll want to check whether the schools are state-licensed, which ensures the facility meets safety requirements and has adequate staffing for the number of students enrolled.

Call each school you’re considering and ask about fees, admission policy and curriculum.

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, schedule a visit and ask to spend time in a classroom to observe the teachers. It can also be beneficial to visit each school with your child to see how he/she responds to the environment.

What should I look for during a visit?

Make sure the facility is clean and safe. Keep your eye out for smoke detectors and first-aid kits. Also check for: a well-kept outdoor play area; ample supplies of art materials, age-appropriate toys and books; students’ work displayed in the hallways and around the classroom; and a fun and friendly environment.

What are the advantages of preschool?

  • Good programs feature a wide variety of fun activities: singing, dancing, arts and crafts, storytelling, free play, and both indoor and outdoor games and projects. These activities are designed to teach children different skills. Children may also learn some academic basics such as counting and the alphabet.
  • Most preschool teachers have training in early childhood education, so they know what to expect from your child developmentally and are able to help him/her along accordingly.
  • Children in preschool have the opportunity to socialize with other kids their age in an environment that is likely more structured than that of a traditional daycare provider.

What are the disadvantages?

  • In some preschools, emphasis on groups can overshadow the individual attention many children need and crave. This is a particular risk if the preschool doesn’t follow the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s recommended teacher-child ratio of no more than 10 preschoolers ages 4 to 5 per staff member. The organization also recommends one teacher for every six to nine 2½- or 3-year-olds.
  • If your preschool is closed for holidays or staff training, you may have to find backup care.
  • If the preschool requires children to be toilet trained and your child isn’t ready for the potty, they may not let him/her attend.
  • You may also have to pay higher fees than traditional daycare or add those fees to pre-existing daycare costs as preschools only operate for a certain number of hours each day.

Sources: www.parents.com, www.babycenter.com and The National Association for the Education of Young Children

Dan Burdett

Dan Burdett is the community content coordinator at the West Central Tribune. He has 13 years experience in print media, to include four years enlisted service in the United States Air Force. He has been an employee of Forum Communications since 2005, joining the company after spending two years as the managing editor of the Redwood Gazette and Livewire in Redwood Falls. Prior to his current position, Dan was the presentation editor at the Tribune.

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