(This blog post is a reprint article written for the January 2014 First Things First newsletter. See www.azftf.gov for additional information on early childhood education.)
You may ask, “How is it possible to find the best school “fit”? Is it possible to find the right balance for my child and family? ” The simple answer: “Yes.” The challenging question: “How?”
You are the “coach” for your child’s schooling. You’re his best advocate. You know your child and your hopes for him. How will you guide him to door-opening experiences? Whether vocational or college-bound, what learning along the way will be necessary? Building a strong foundation of knowledge and experience in Preschool through Grade 12 matters.
Research supports the importance of preschool and early childhood education for social growth and language growth. The number one indicator of success in school is the size and breadth of vocabulary. (Talk with your child, a lot!) A child may be behind by age 2 if their vocabulary is lacking. Vocabulary affects reading ability. Reading ability affects learning in every subject. Then, the most important school factor for your child’s education – at any age or grade level – is the quality of the teaching.
So, how do you select the environment that will best enable your child to build vocabulary, enhance her strengths, explore new interests, develop to her fullest potential, and thrive in all aspects of school life?
This is where we shift the focus from you and your experience to your child’s experience. We want balance between their unique needs and interests, and your long-term hopes for their education and career.
Important things to consider when looking for a learning environment:
Daycare and Preschool:
Both have similar requirements for licensing and accreditation. Daycare allows for diapers; preschool (age 2, to 5 or 6) typically requires a child to be toilet-trained. Cost may be similar for set preschool hours, plus before- and after-care, compared to flexible, extended daycare hours. Consider, also, summer options.
Daycare, Preschool and Elementary School:
Look at program philosophy, approach and curriculum for building vocabulary, general knowledge, and common core skills, and specific provider or teacher qualifications to deliver this. Observe the quality of teacher interaction with the children. Consider actual class size and student-to-teacher ratio. Keep in mind balance of travel distance between home, school and work, and the number of years for which you would be making this commitment. Consider school or center policies, including parent involvement and safety. Consider how the environment feels to you. Each daycare and school is unique, and has its own culture, just as your child is unique and has her own personality, interests and needs. Then, ask yourself the question, “Will my child thrive there?