How to Choose a Preschool: 5 Things That Should Make Parents Wary
Note to Parents: Above All Else, Remember Owning a Preschool Is a Business
If you're still coming to terms with there being no Santa Claus and no Easter Bunny, stop reading now because I'm about to expose another beloved icon as fake: 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). Even though she earned a degree in early childhood education, she has little autonomy in the classroom because the owner determines how the school operates. The perky preschool teacher has to compromise what's best for her students to satisfy an owner whose goal is keeping costs low and profits high. Above all else, remember that owning a preschool is a business and making money is the bottom line. That's why parents must stay vigilant about their child's preschool education.
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When I taught preschool, I butted heads with an owner who put profits first and saw her teachers as disposable and replaceable. Therefore, I urge parents to stay vigilant about their child's preschool – making sure it's safe, nurturing, and educational. While moms and dads get easily enthralled by a cutesy caterpillar made from an egg carton and an entertaining finger-play about five little monkeys jumping on the bed, they need to remember that running a preschool is a business and greed trumps learning. Parents need to open their eyes, ask questions, advocate for their children, and never become too trusting. Here are 5 things that should make parents wary:
1. The Student-Teacher Ratio Keeps Growing
A low student-teacher ratio is essential to a quality preschool program. An owner may try to persuade parents that her talented faculty can manage large numbers. But moms and dads must understand that it comes at a price with less individual attention and fewer small group activities. With a large class, teachers must spend too much time doing whole group instruction at Circle Time. Because of their short attention spans, children often find this frustrating and boring. In their 2012 findings, Hanover Research reported the following:
“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 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).
At the preschool where I worked, the owner promised a teacher-student ratio of 1:10 in pre-K as recommended by the NAEYC. However, she proceeded to enroll children throughout the year, increasing the class size to unwieldy numbers. I recommend parents immediately complain to the owner when the teacher-student ratio rises above what she originally promised. If parents stay silent, the owner will add more students because it adds more money to her pocket. The owner where I worked would have added a kangaroo, a lion, and a rhinoceros if no one complained!
If You Don't Want a Kangaroo in Class, Speak Up!
2. The Owner Promises the Moon
Preschool owners are notorious for stealing the latest trends in elementary school education and using them with younger children. Sadly, many of these practices are not developmentally appropriate for preschoolers. Parents mistakenly believe their youngsters are learning at an accelerated rate when the preschool offers STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), SST (sustained silent reading), 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 and, of course, owners are more than happy to propagate this falsehood. According to prevailing research, 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. The research suggests that early adolescence, ages 11-13, is the best time to learn a second language.
Learning a Second Language
When do you think is the best time to learn a second language?
Preschool Owners Will Offer You the Moon...If You'll Pay
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.
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4. The Children's Art All Looks the Same
Many preschools have youngsters do elaborate art 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 projects do little to stimulate creativity, decision-making, and self-confidence. In fact, they may very well do the opposite. When I taught preschool, the owner required us to lead a teacher-directed project each week in a step-by-step follow-my-sample sort of way. It was not unusual for youngsters to become discouraged and even cry when their work did not look as good as the teacher's. We often had to take them away from an activity in which they were engaged -- building with blocks, playing with trains, or digging in the sandbox -- in order to complete the project and, of course, this frustrated them. How could these reluctant artists create something amazing? Why were we turning art into a joyless event? Why weren't we facilitating projects that fostered their imaginations and expressed their individuality?
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 create but are never forced. Children make things that are unique and reflect their personalities and interests. They learn to talk about their art and what it means.
Preschool Art: If It Looks Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is
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) and stresses hands-on learning, independent exploration, and math as a meaningful part of everyday life. Teachers should integrate numerals, counting, pattern-making, and problem-solving into the curriculum with the calendar, games, art projects, and free choice time.
According to Elliot Eisner, the highly regarded professor of Art and Education at Stanford, teachers should set out the same manipulatives again and again throughout the school year. By repeatedly using the same materials, Eisner believes that youngsters develop “automaticity,” which translates into a strong, deep knowledge of math principles.
Children Need Quality Materials to Stimulate Math Exploration. Cuisenaire Rods Do the Job!
Every preschool and every home with a preschool child should have Cuisenaire Rods. They're a wonderful tool for promoting exploration of math ideas: patterns, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, measurement, and fractions. They represent hands-on learning at its best and kids love them.
Preschool is a magical time for children when learning is new and fun. If parents stay vigilant about their child's preschool education, they will help their youngsters gets off to a great start in their educational journey.