Thank you for your interest in Peñasquitos Christian Preschool. Choosing an early learning environment for your child is a special and personal process. We hope that we can provide information and support on what to expect as you prepare for your child’s upcoming preschool year. Below is an article to help guide parents in selecting a quality early education for these special and formative years of early learning.
Evidence of Quality
Parents, we want the best for our children. From the moment we learn of our newfound journey, we begin reading books, visiting doctors, taking classes, and curtailing our lives around these tiny people to expand our knowledge and glean all we can to provide the best possible outcome for our little loves. And truthfully- does this ever stop?
When it’s time to prepare for their education, we similarly look for, talk to, and research the best environment for our kids to thrive. Whether it is a Parent-Toddler Class all the way to their college applications we feel it our mission to support our kids from cradle to career.
We use the term “quality” about schools and educational environments. But what does that mean? What does that look like? From my perspective, it means many things and can be looked at from a variety of angles. One blog post can’t begin to dissect the entirety of this word from the perspective of preschools, independent schools, public, private, and charter. But it can shed a bit of light on the fundamental basics.
How Shall We Define Quality?
For this purpose, it is the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind, the degree of excellence of something.
Therefore, quality in school programs is typically objectifiable and measurable. We see this in our public and private school systems when we look at how schools measure their achievements. Private and independent schools are recognized through memberships, accreditations, associations, awards, and through the standards to which they adhere. California public schools are recognized through their API (Academic Performance Index) scores, Blue Ribbon, and as California Distinguished Schools, for example.
There may be some schools, in particular, elementary or early education programs that do not regularly subscribe to particular standards yet they are (or consider themselves) quality. While this may be a more qualitative approach, it is truly up to the individuals involved, (attending and assessing each program) to determine quality if no such quantitative measurement system exists. The absence of standards of measurement does not necessarily or automatically disqualify a program from being quality.
Parents getting started in the school search process can look to some basic and foundational universal signs for which quality early education and elementary schools are usually consistent. Parents can become aware of indicators and what to look for when seeking quality programs for their children.
Indicators of Quality: Relationships
“Programs promote positive relationships among all students and adults. They encourage each student’s sense of individual worth and belonging as part of a community and foster each student’s ability to contribute as a responsible community member. Warm, sensitive, and responsive relationships help students feel secure and supported in all areas of their development and achievement. The secure environment built by positive relationships helps students thrive physically, benefit from learning experiences, and cooperate and get along with others.”
What to Look for in a Program?
Students and adults feel welcome when they visit the program. Teachers help students in all areas of their development (not just academically). Relationships focus on the whole child.
Teaching staff engages in warm, friendly conversations with the students and encourage and recognize students’ work and accomplishments. Students have time for play, and this is encouraged. Students are invited to work together. Teachers help students resolve conflicts by identifying feelings, describing problems, and trying alternative solutions.
“The program implements a curriculum that is consistent with its goals for children and promotes learning and development according to the age and stage of the program. A well-planned written curriculum provides a guide for teachers and administrators. It helps them work together and balance different activities and approaches to maximize student’s learning and development. The curriculum includes goals for the content that students are learning, planned activities linked to these goals, daily schedules and routines, and materials to be used.”
Ask about the program’s curriculum and how it addresses all aspects of student development and achievement. The curriculum should not focus on just one area of development. Children are given opportunities to learn and develop through exploration and play, and teachers have opportunities to work with individual children and small groups on specific skills. Materials and equipment spark children’s interest and encourage them to experiment and learn. Activities are designed to help children get better at reasoning, solving problems, getting along with others, using language, and developing other skills.
If looking for a Preschool, Infants and toddlers play with toys and art materials that “do something” based on children’s actions, such as jack-in-the-box, cups that fit inside one another, and play dough.
“Programs use developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate and effective teaching approaches that enhance student learning and development in the context of the curriculum goals. Students have different learning styles, needs, capacities, interests, and backgrounds. By recognizing these differences and using instructional approaches that are appropriate for each student, teachers, and staff help all students learn.” NAEYC
- Teachers carefully supervise all children
- Teachers provide time each day for indoor and outdoor activities and organize time and space so that children have opportunities to work and play individually and in groups
- Students recent work (for example, art and writing, stories) is displayed in the classroom to help students reflect on and extend their learning
- Teachers modify teaching strategies and materials to respond to the needs and interests of individual children, engaging each child and enhancing learning
- Assessment is a part of the program and curriculum is adjusted to support students in reaching assessment goals
“The program is informed by ongoing systematic, formal, and informal assessment approaches to provide information on student’s learning and development. These assessments occur within the context of reciprocal communications with families and with sensitivity to the cultural contexts in which children develop. Assessment results benefit students by informing sound decisions, teaching, and program improvement. Assessments help teachers plan appropriately challenging curriculum and tailor instruction that responds to each student’s strengths and needs. Assessments can also help teachers identify students with disabilities and ensuring that they receive needed to support”
The program supports student learning using a variety of assessment tools. Assessment methods are appropriate for student age and level of development and encompass all areas of development and learning, including math, science, and other cognitive skills; language; (social-emotional (classroom behavior); and physical (physical education).
Teachers use assessment methods and information to design goals for individual children and monitor their progress, as well as to improve the program and its teaching strategies.
Families receive information about their student’s progress and learning on a regular basis, through meetings or conferences.
“The program promotes the nutrition and health of students and protects students and staff from illness and injury. Students must be healthy and safe to learn and grow. Programs must be healthy and safe to support student’s healthy development”.
The staff has training in pediatric first aid. If a preschool or child care serving infants, infants are placed on their backs to sleep.
The program has policies regarding regular hand washing, and a facility is routinely cleaned and sanitized all surfaces in the facility.
There is a clear plan for responding to illness, including how to decide whether a student needs to go home and how families will be notified. Snacks and meals are nutritious, and the food is prepared and stored safely.
“The program employs and supports a teaching staff with the educational qualifications, knowledge, and professional commitment necessary to promote student’s learning and development and to support families’ diverse needs and interests. Teachers who have specific preparation, knowledge, and skills in child development and early childhood and elementary education are more likely to provide positive interactions, richer language experiences, and quality learning environments”.
The teaching staff has educational qualifications and specialized knowledge about young children, teaching, child development, and education. Ask, for example, how many teachers have associate degrees, bachelor degrees, master’s degrees, and teaching credentials.
Ask how many teachers aides are working toward their credentials and placed in a classroom with a fully credentialed teacher.
Preschools according to the State of California, for example, allow teachers to be fully qualified and if in ratio, alone with children with only 12 post-secondary community college courses. This would be, 1 Child Development Course, 2 Curriculum Courses, and 1 Home, Family, and Community Course. Ask if the Preschool requires more education beyond the state minimum for fully-qualified teachers.
The program makes provisions for ongoing staff development, including orientations for new staff and opportunities for continuing education. Teaching staff have training in the program’s curriculum and work as a teaching team.
“The program establishes and maintains collaborative relationships with each student’s family to foster development. These relationships are sensitive to family composition, language, and culture. To support student’s optimal learning and development, programs need to establish relationships with families based on mutual trust and respect, involve families in their student’s educational growth, and encourage families to fully participate in the program.”
All families are welcome and encouraged to be involved in all aspects of the program. Teachers and staff talk with families about their family structure and their views about their child’s learning and they use that information to support the curriculum and teaching methods for individual children as well as the group. Professionals work as advocates and on behalf of students in consultation with all members of the family unit. The program uses a variety of strategies to communicate with families, including family conferences, new family orientations, and individual conversations, letters, emails, and phone calls. Program information—including policies and operating procedures—is provided and when/if necessary in a language that families can understand.
“The program establishes relationships with and uses the resources of the student’s communities to support the achievement of program goals. Relationships with agencies and institutions in the community and around the world can help a program achieve its goals and connect families with resources that support student’s healthy development and enhance learning opportunities.”
The program connects with and uses museums, parks, libraries, zoos for field trips; other schools in need (adopt a school), or even mission trips for older children and other resources in the community.
Representatives from community programs, such as musical performers and local artists, are invited to share their interests and talents with the children. The staff develops professional relationships with community agencies and organizations that further the program’s capacity to meet the needs and interests of children and families.
“The program has a safe and healthful environment that provides appropriate and well-maintained indoor and outdoor physical environments. The environment includes facilities, equipment, and materials to facilitate student and staff learning and development. An organized, properly equipped, and well-maintained program environment promotes the learning, comfort, health, and safety of the students and adults who use the program.”
The facility is designed so that staff can supervise all children by sight and sound. The program has necessary furnishings, such as hand-washing sinks, student-size chairs and tables, and a variety of equipment clean, safe, and in good repair. For Preschools/Infant centers, cots, cribs, or sleeping pads. Outdoor play areas have fences or natural barriers that prevent access to streets and other hazards. First-aid kits, fire extinguishers, fire alarms, and other safety equipment are installed and available.
Leadership and Management
“The program effectively implements policies, procedures, and systems that support stable staff and strong personnel, and fiscal, and program management, so all children, families, and staff have high-quality experiences. Effective management and operations, knowledgeable leaders, and sensible policies and procedures are essential to building a quality program and maintaining the quality over time.”
The program administrator has the necessary educational qualifications, including a degree from a four-year college and specialized courses in early childhood education, child development, elementary education, administration, human development, or related fields. The program is licensed and regulated by the applicable state agency. The program’s written policies and procedures are shared with families and address issues such as the program’s philosophy and curriculum goals, policies on guidance and discipline, and health and safety procedures.
Appropriate group sizes and ratios of teaching staff to children are maintained.
(References: NAEYC Program Standards www.naeyc.org)
Should We Be Concerned About Quality?
In a Simple Answer, Yes!
Research has shown that quality programming for families who choose to place children in Preschool or Child Care (whether it is because they are working or having readiness Preschool experiences) is beneficial for the entire family. If you are a parent or provider of young children and you are contemplating critical issues, NAEYC has authored fact-based position statements that face young children that directly relate to quality. Families and practitioners who educate themselves on these critical and controversial issues are better equipped to;
- Build better partnerships with each other
- Support their communities in offering high-quality programs
- Foster and educate others on developmentally appropriate practices
- Advocate for and deliver best-practices when faced with unique or unusual circumstances
- “NAEYC Position Statements are adopted by the Governing Board to state the Association’s position on issues related to early childhood education practice, policy, and professional development for which there are controversial or critical opinions. Position Statements are developed through a consensus-building approach that seeks to convene diverse perspectives and areas of expertise related to the issue and provide opportunities for members and others to provide input and feedback.” NAEYC
In developing and disseminating position statements, NAEYC aims to:
- Take informed positions on significant, controversial issues affecting young children’s education and development
- Promote broad-based dialogue on these issues, within and beyond the early childhood field;
- Create a shared language and evidence-based frame of reference so that practitioners, decision-makers, and families may talk together about key issues in early childhood education;
- Influence public policies;
- Stimulate investments needed to create accessible, affordable, high-quality learning environments and professional development; and
- Build more satisfying experiences and better educational and developmental outcomes for all young children.” (NAEYC)
Finding the Right Preschool:
A Parent’s Check List
By Kali Sakai
There may be nothing that instills more fear and apprehension in parents than the task of finding the right preschool. The choices can be overwhelming, the deadlines are impossibly early, and the pressure to get it right is huge.
Or maybe you’re one of those laid-back parents who are not at all worried about it (but those deadlines really do creep up on you, we swear!).
Either way, never fear: Follow our 10-step guide and you will be the most prepared parent on the block.
Start your search at least one School Year prior to Attending, if Possible…
Tours are typically offered October through January the year prior to the time you want to enroll, but some schools have rolling admissions that will provide opportunities to enroll and attend as soon as slots become available. If you didn’t start one year ahead, don’t freak out. Call around and visit as many schools as you can. Most have waitlists, and there are often last-minute openings. Be persistent (but not annoying) by checking back in and being proactive.
The best ways to find preschool programs are to attend preschool fairs, get recommendations from fellow parents, and scope out programs located close to home or work.
Schedule a Tour
You can attend an open house to hear about the philosophy and admission process, then submit the application and fee. Usually, you can tour the school while classes are in session, and sometimes you can even bring your child to spend time in the classroom (though sometimes having Junior along can be more distracting than beneficial). Be ready with a notebook on the tour, and bring a list of all your questions.
Know how Often and how Long you’d like your child to Attend
Children usually attend preschool for two years between the ages of 2.5 and 5 years old. Often, preschools run half-day programs around four hours every weekday or less for a nine-month school year. Some preschools have full-day programs (and some full-time daycares have a preschool component), and some half-day programs offer before- and after-school care. There are exceptions to the rule (for example, Montessori programs often have longer days). Children with special needs may qualify for 12-month programs if the nature and degree of their disability suggest that they might regress during summer months without preschool services. Some parents opt for a half-day preschool and hire a nanny if they need additional hourly care.
Signs that a preschool program is well-run:
- Assess the quality of children’s relationships with the staff. Pay close attention to the language used in the classroom and the friendliness of the staff. Observe a few different classrooms while school is in session to see how the teachers interact with students. Pay close attention to the language used in the classroom and the quality of questions and responses given to student’s language.
- The more you can observe from a few different classrooms, the better. What is the disposition of the students who are attending the program?
- Home-to-school connections are important. Parent involvement including high family involvement, fundraising, and family activities are the strongest programs. When families are involved, children do better, teachers feel supported and everyone works together for the children’s learning and development.
- High-quality preschools have a structure: They follow a specific philosophy or model and have specific guidelines for addressing challenging behavior.
- Discipline policies should emphasize positive approaches to teaching children new skills and proactive strategies for behavior management such as classroom rules, routines, and social-emotional lessons or curriculum.
Look for signs that a Preschool Program is Not Well-Run:
- Be cautious of programs that do not utilize a consistent, research-based curriculum. The curriculum should also be aligned to state learning standards for preschool, which will ensure that your child is prepared for kindergarten.
- Be cautious of programs that only emphasize reactive strategies for challenging behavior (such as punishment or consequences) without describing what will be done to help the children learn new skills to replace inappropriate behavior.
- Are the adults passionate about what they do? Do teachers have the proper training, certification, and support to implement the educational approach and/or curriculum being utilized by the school? Investigate the retention of staff: High turnover is never a good sign.
- Children need space to play and engage in gross motor activities. Notice if the classroom feels cramped, dirty, dark or unorganized. Preschool classrooms should be of adequate size with clearly designed centers and/or play areas.
- Find out policies on potty training. Many, but not all, preschools require that children be potty trained. If your target school requires potty training, figure out what your approach will be to work with your child on using the potty.
- Know the recommended adult-to-child ratios. The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends that infant groups should be no larger than 12 children with an adult-to-child ratio of 1:4. Preschool classroom groups should not be larger than 20 and the adult-to-child ratio should not exceed 1:10.
- Find out policies on potty training. Keep up on trends. Preschools also try to offer things important to their specific communities. Some trends are logistical such as offering organic, vegetarian, or gluten-free food as well as employing eco-friendly practices. Other trends relate to the approach to academics.
- Renee Metty, the founder of both The Cove Preschool & the West Seattle Preschool Association, notices a push for Japanese and Mandarin language as well as “forest” or “outdoor” preschools, which hold a significant amount of class time outside, rain or shine. “Our trend follows more of the business trends of those 21st-century skills: right-brained thinking, innovation, and creativity. We focus much more on social-emotional learning than reading, writing, and math,” Metty says. Decide what trends, if any, are most important to you.
- Know what’s important and trust your gut. Sometimes family needs will narrow your options down significantly, including considerations such as how far the school is from home or work, what your daily childcare needs are, and the cost. Ultimately, you have to trust your gut. Ask yourself when you’re looking at schools: Do they treat the children with respect? Are the school’s values in line with your family values? Will this preschool environment set your child up for success? Most importantly, can you picture your child happy at school?
(Reposted with permission from the author. Sources: Renee Metty, founder of both The Cove Preschool & the West Seattle Preschool Association; Myriah Rosengarten, Ph.D., a nationally certified school psychologist. Originally posted Here) Kali Sakai is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives in Seattle with her techie husband, preschool-aged daughter and infant son.
What’s the difference between Daycare and Preschool?
If you go to the preschool fairs, you’ll see daycares and preschools mixed together.
The primary focus of daycare is to ensure that children’s basic needs are met such as food, toileting, and supervision, while preschools typically focus on teaching children new skills and Kindergarten preparation,” says Myriah Rosengarten, a nationally certified school psychologist.
Preschool programs not connected to a daycare usually follow a specific approach to learning as well. Another main difference is that a preschool is typically half-day (with some exceptions like Montessori) while daycare is all-day and often has extended morning and afternoon or evening hours.