The 5 Red Flags at Preschool That Should Make Parents Wary
Above All Else, Parents Must Remember That Owning a Preschool Is a Business
If you're still coming to grips with there being no Santa Claus and no Easter Bunny, stop reading now because another beloved icon is about to be debunked: the perky preschool teacher. Her outward cheerfulness is an act because, in reality, she's fed up with her low-status, low-paying job (average wage is $11.95 an hour).
Moreover, even though she earned a degree in early childhood education and knows all about developmentally appropriate practices, she has little autonomy in the classroom. That's because the owner of the preschool determines how it operates and all teachers must comply to her wishes. The school reflects her vision, not necessarily the vision of its teachers.
Parents Must Stay Vigilant After Choosing a Preschool
The perky preschool teacher has to compromise what's best for her students in order to satisfy an owner whose goal is keeping costs low. After all, the owner of a preschool, no matter how concerned she seems about the children, is a businesswoman who needs to turn a profit. That's why moms and dads must stay vigilant about their child's preschool education and be open to making a change if things aren't how they should be. Here are five red flags that should cause alarm:
1. The Class Size Keeps Growing
A low student to teacher ratio is essential to a quality preschool program. An owner may brag that her talented faculty can manage large numbers, but parents shouldn't be conned by this. They should understand that a big class means less individualized attention, fewer small group activities, more conflict between kids, and a teacher who's getting burned out fast and may not survive the school year.
With bigger numbers, teachers must spend too much time doing whole group instruction at circle time. Because of their short attention spans and need for hands-on discovery, children find circle time frustrating, repetitive, and boring. It's adult-centered, not child-centered, resulting in a less than optimal learning experience for kids.
In their 2012 findings, Hanover Research reported the following about class size at preschool:
“Smaller class size and lower student-teacher ratios are strongly correlated with achievement and learning, especially in younger students. The accepted teacher-student ratio for a pre-K program is 1:10, as stipulated by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) However, the ratio is further parsed to address the different needs of different pre-K groups, with a 1:6 ratio preferred for students age 2.5 to 3; a 1:7 ratio for 4-year olds; and a 1:8 ratio for 5-year-olds.”
****If the class has children with special needs, the student-teacher ratio needs further reduction.
2. The Owner Promises the Moon
Preschool owners are notorious for co-opting lessons used at elementary schools and thrusting them on their young students. Most of these aren't developmentally appropriate and, therefore, cause undue stress and turn kids off to education. Sadly, many ill-informed parents are fooled into believing their youngsters are learning at an accelerated rate and imagine their kids becoming young geniuses. In fact, some moms and dads pay higher tuition for preschools that offer STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and foreign languages such as Spanish, Japanese, and French.
Many parents buy into the myth that preschool is the ideal time for children to acquire a second language. Some preschool owners are more than happy to propagate this falsehood in order to make a buck. According to prevailing research, though, young children need to become proficient in their native language (which takes 5-7 years) before tackling a new one. Otherwise, they may suffer from “double semi-lingualism,” meaning they know a bit of both languages but are adept in neither. Contrary to popular belief, research suggests that early adolescence, ages 11-13, is the best time to learn a second language.
While parents should be leery of preschool owners who promise too much, they should trust those who advocate play. Owners who know its value and can articulate that to moms and dads are the champions in early childhood education. They're well-informed, knowing that decades of research show that play is the best way for youngsters to build their vocabularies, enhance their communication, expand their imaginations, practice their social skills, promote their curiosity, and develop empathy.
Today, we have companies around the globe seeking employees who possess a high degree of emotional intelligence (EQ). It's these "people person" skills that are in great demand. In fact, there are now a plethora of books and workshops that claim to help people cultivate emotional intelligence so they can thrive in the workplace and move up the corporate ladder.
Yet, any preschool teacher worth her salt knows that EQ is best fostered at an early age and through one vehicle: play. Instead of trying to teach it to adults through classes, emotional intelligence is best learned organically during childhood as kid talk, negotiate, share, compromise, pretend, and interact with one another. That's why any owner who doesn't see the supreme importance of play at preschool is waving an enormous red flag that moms and dads would be foolish to ignore.
Dr. John Gray explains why play is so important for children and society as a whole.
3. Phonological Awareness Is Not Taught in an Explicit Way
Instead of learning a second language, preschool students should become proficient in their native one. Parents should make sure the owner has a program in place that emphasizes phonological awareness—the sound related skills that are prerequisites for reading. Preschool teachers promote phonological awareness with the following activities:
Reading nursery rhymes, poems, and rhyming books such as Dr.Seuss.
Asking the children to name phonemes in words (cat has three phonemes kuh-aaa-tuh). Asking them to name the beginning, middle, and ending sounds.
Having the youngsters clap the syllables in words (food has 1 syllable, pizza has 2 syllables, spaghetti has 3)
Stressing the sounds of letters over the names of letters (it's more important children recognize that cat ends with the sound tuh rather than the letter t).
- Playing music that rhymes by singers such as Raffi, Dr. Jean, and Hap Palmer.
Promoting phonological awareness should always be done in a fun and lighthearted manner. Because it's about the sounds of language, it should be taught orally and not with workbooks or other paper-pencil tasks. Workbooks of any kind aren't developmentally appropriate for preschoolers and are another glaring red flag parents shouldn't ignore.
- Teach Your Child to Read by Promoting Phonological Awareness
What is phonological awareness and what is its connection to reading, writing, and spelling? Why are parents so adept at teaching it to their children? A former early childhood educator explains.
4. The Children's Art All Looks the Same
Many preschools do elaborate craft projects: a magic wand made from a paper towel roll and adorned with paint and glitter, a stained-glass vase made from tissue paper squares, glue, and a soda bottle, a picture frame made from Popsicle sticks and rhinestones. These showy crafts impress parents who love to display them in their homes or give them as gifts to grandparents.
Unfortunately, these teacher-directed craft projects do little to stimulate creativity, decision-making, and self-confidence. In fact, they may very well do the opposite. That's because teacher-directed craft projects are taught in a step-by-step follow-my-sample sort of way. It's not unusual for youngsters to become discouraged and even cry when their work doesn't look as good as the teacher's. Instead of being inspired by the artistic process, kids are left feeling defeated.
A quality preschool art program is child-centered and focuses on simple but empowering projects: painting, collage-making, drawing, and molding with clay. With child-centered art, the process is always more important than the product. Youngsters are encouraged to participate but are never coerced. They make things that are unique and reflect their personalities and interests. They learn to talk about their art and what it means. Most importantly, they see making art as a joyful activity that's soothing to their souls and lets them express themselves in a way other than words.
5. There Are Few Math Manipulatives
A preschool classroom with little or no manipulatives—counters, Geo-boards, Unifix cubes, sorting objects, Cuisenaire rods, pattern blocks, dice, number lines, scales, and play money—should make parents question how math is taught. A solid program guides young children from the concrete (manipulatives) to the abstract (numerals). It stresses hands-on learning, independent exploration, and consumer math as a meaningful part of everyday life. Teachers should integrate numerals, counting, pattern-making, and problem-solving into the curriculum through dramatic play, games, art, finger-plays, and songs.
Elliot Eisner, the highly regarded professor of Art and Education at Stanford, argues that teachers should set out the same manipulatives again and again throughout the school year. By repeatedly using the same materials, he says that youngsters develop “automaticity,” which translates into a strong, deep knowledge of math principles. Kids need long, uninterrupted blocks of time to explore these materials deeply and creatively.
Today, many preschool teachers use the calendar as their primary means of introducing math concepts such as counting, sequencing, and patterning. Experts in early childhood education, though, argue that letting kids explore with math manipulatives is much more effective and developmentally appropriate. In their article entitled, "Calendar Time for Young Children: Good Intentions Gone Awry, " the authors say that math is best taught in small groups where kids handle materials and the teacher guides their exploration. This is far more powerful than calendar time where kids sit passively while the teacher goes through the same old routine about days of the week, months of the year, and yesterday, today, and tomorrow. That's because these concepts of time are meaningless to preschoolers.
Early childhood education should be a magical time when learning is new, fun, and empowering. If parents stay vigilant about their children's preschool, they can help them become passionate self-motivated learners. If they see red flags and choose to ignore them, though, they risk making preschool a less than inspiring experience for their kids and that's a shame.
What Do You Think?
What do you see as the biggest red flag at preschool?
© 2015 McKenna Meyers