What to Look for in a Preschool Program

Catherine Thomson '94
How you do know if a preschool is right for your child? Being a mother and an educator, I get asked all the time how I know if a school is right for my child. Below are some things parents should consider when picking a school for their students:

PURPOSEFUL PLAY | Preschoolers should feel like they are always at play, but the activities in which they are engaged should serve a purpose. Teachers select games and activities that activate imagination, role-playing, language practice, problem solving, fine motor skills, social and emotional practice, and so much more.

RESOURCES | Look for a preschool environment that offers resources like physical education, art, a second language, or other enrichment resource classes.

ENGAGEMENT | The engagement between teachers and preschool kids should be nurturing. Listen for encouraging words and positive coaching from the teachers that not only support positive relationships but also model kindness and respect.

SCHEDULE | The preschool schedule should be broken into short increments of whole group learning, center activities and exploration. Look for opportunities for physical activity, both inside and outside, as well as times to eat and rest.

COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT | The brain develops so rapidly during the preschool years, so it’s so important to build a strong foundation. Children should be given opportunities to engage in conversations, practice problem solving, make choices, use creative thinking, compare objects and strengthen memory skills.

HEALTH NEEDS | Look for a school that attends to your student’s health needs. Classrooms should have bathrooms available in the classroom with child-size toilets and sinks to encourage independence in the restroom. When snacks and lunch are provided, foods should abide by nutritional standards while also offering a selection of child-friendly foods. There should also be an adequate nap/rest time in the afternoon.

OPPORTUNITIES TO PRACTICE SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL STRATEGIES | Students need chances to practice healthy social interactions, such as taking turns, sharing, asking someone to play, and talking through problems with a peer. Teachers should be actively present in play areas to guide and support social interactions as well as coach students through emotional moments.

OPPORTUNITIES TO PRACTICE FINE & GROSS MOTOR SKILLS | It’s important that fine motor skills are reinforced not only to build hand muscles but also to ensure appropriate grip when using tools such as pencils and scissors. It’s equally important that gross motor skills, such as body movements, balancing and coordination with balls are practiced and monitored for proper development and growth.

LEARNING ENVIRONMENT | The classroom should not only be safe and inviting, but it should be organized in a way to foster student independence and exploration. Look for various stations, such as housekeeping, art, writing, class library and a sensory station. There should be a variety of work and play areas, and materials should be accessible for students to select and help clean up. Outside spaces should have age-appropriate equipment, space to run, and toys to encourage sharing and gross motor skills.

Dr. Catherine Thomson '94 is the lower school dean at Norfolk Collegiate. She holds a doctorate in curriculum and instruction with a concentration on literacy leadership from Old Dominion University, a masters in reading education from the University of Virginia, a bachelor of science from James Madison University and has her early childhood license for pre-Kindergarten through Grade 2. She is also a K-12 reading specialist and was a first grade teacher at Norfolk Collegiate for many years.

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