The 'readiness’ for preschool does not depend only on age. There are more important physical as well as psychological facts involved in the development and maturity of your child.
Starting preschool is a foreign concept, not only to your child but to yourself as well! Compared to starting your infant at play groups or Day Care programmes, preschool is not limited to just looking after your child while you are away, but committed to providing the creative and stimulating environment your child needs to broaden their academic, social, emotional and physical development.
There are certain other aspects that will help your child make the most and excel through his or her preschool experience. The most neglected but important is the child’s potty training. According to pediatrician Jill M. Lekovic in the best seller, book “Diaper-Free Before 3”, states that “ potty-trained preschoolers are more independent than preschoolers who are not potty-trained, and that being potty trained for the toilet gives them, an amazing amount of confidence in the world of preschool socialization.” Potty training helps to give a child a positive self-image and control over his or her own body. Most preschools will expect you to have your child potty trained; some may assist you with the training process as the child settles in. If your child is not potty trained, make sure youaddress this with your preschool.
Your child’s ability to handle a structured morning without being cranky and sleepy is another important attribute. Telltale signs of frustration displayed at home will give you a healthy insight to the child’s ability to stay focused and follow a routine. Having a structured home environment for your baby, will be a key stepping stone in achieving this balanced state of mind and discipline.
Basic life skills like eating independently, may it be eating a sandwich alone or open their water bottle and drink water off it are little things that your child can learn while at home. This does not mean that you have to teach everything at home but your child will feel more confident when facing the new environment all by him/herself. Children will gradually learn to do things for themselves without the help of adult spoon-feeding, leading to building of their character. Of course there are teachers in these pre schools who will help your child with all of these activities and provide a comfortable safety-net for when they need assurance and guidance.
Finding the best school for your child
Once you have decided to start preschool for your child the next step is to find out the right school for your child.
➢ Preschool license and registration
The governing body for all preschools is the Preschool Statute Implementation Unit which is led by the Education ministry, who's office is situated in Colombo 5.
Although all preschools should register under this governing body, it is unfortunate that many preschools and Montessori schools do not follow this process. The registered preschools and Montessori schools are governed by periodic audit checks to ensure minimum standards outlined by the government education ministry are adhered to at all times.
Among the criteria requires following are a few I feel should be considered significant.
• Qualified teachers (all teachers should holds their diplomas and training from institutes recognised by the Preschool Implementation Unit).
• Acceptable teacher child ratio Make sure the preschool has a staff large enough to give your child the attention and care he/she needs. A group in a classroom should not be bigger than 20 children. And there should be a teacher for every 7 – 10 students. A good preschool will have small groups of children to encourage interaction and development.
• The facilities, hygiene, and the administration of the school are closely monitored by the school inspectors.
It is always better for parents to be aware of the above and feel free to ask for the registration certification when you visit a preschool.
➢ Look for a stimulating curriculum.
A good preschool has a daily schedule that include plenty of time for a lot of physical activity, story time, group programs, socializing, art and crafts, individual activities, meal/ snack time, and free time. TV and videos should not play a big role in your child's day at a preschool.
A well-structured curriculum will help your child develop his fine motor skills. At this age, children can begin learning things like how letters and numbers are formed and how we use them in everyday life. But don't evaluate a school based solely on how many numbers and letters your child is learning during a week or a month, preschoolers aren't ready for a rigorous academic program yet.
The school curriculum should change over time, giving your child the space and freedom to try new things. The curriculum should also adjust to match the skills and abilities of different children.
Some preschools follow Montessori AMI (Association Montessori International) which has specific educational philosophies. It is best to look for a program that encourages independence and builds your child’s character and creativity.
Look for a school which has a variety of age appropriate toys which has an educational inclination. And see whether these toys and educational materials are within reach for your child. A Preschool should have its educational material available for children all the time. They should NOT be locked in cupboards.
➢ Caring staff
Of course, a license/ registration aren’t a guarantee of quality – This is why you have to evaluate the school and the teachers for yourself.
Observe the teachers more than the classroom beauty when you visit a school. It is true that the environment counts but you are about to handover your child’s life to a 'teacher’ who’s going to be your child’s role model for the next few years in preschool. Good teachers will ask detailed questions about your child to help determine whether their preschool is a good match for what you have in mind for your child.
Getting your child ready for preschool
➢ Dealing with Separation Anxiety
It is the hardest thing you’ll have to do as a parent, and it starts here at preschool. Understand that this day will come where you have to let go and prepare both your child and yourself for it. Children who have been apart from their parents before settle into the preschool set up easily and don’t find the transition from home to school as a permanent separation from parents.
If your child is too clingy and if you have not been separated from him since birth, it is advisable that you do so earlier on. Give him some time with the grand parents/ uncles/ aunts and cousins. The best way to handle this is to give it short time spans. Most of the pre schools will allow you to start off with an hour or two until your child settles in and gradually increase the time to a entire day’s session.
A very important note to all mums is that you need to understand that your child will be new to this environment, and similarly the teachers to your child.
Preparation for the First day of school
The first day will most likely be alright, because of novelty and exploration. However as your child gets to know the routine the second or third days could be more challenging. Most children who have been with parents/ caregivers at home and are used to a very flexible setup at home find this transition more challenging than others.
Try to leave after a brief good bye and don’t linger. The longer you stay the longer it takes for your child to settle.
Now those decisions are made, and you and your child are about to enter a new phase, it’s going to be a whole new experience for both of you. Do you know, What to expect on the first day of Preschool and the preschool years?
Coming up next!
AMI (Munich- Germany)
Directress, International Montessori Children’s House